Book: Terminus Cycle



Terminus Cycle













To my lovely wife Lori.

This isn't possible without your love and support.


001. Objects in Space

Jonah


The black vastness of space greeted Jonah through the observation deck window on the Omega Destiny while he sat marveling at the cosmos with his lunch in hand. On a ship with hundreds of thousands of people crammed aboard, Jonah always tried to find time to reflect and be alone when it seemed theoretically impossible. The observation deck had always been that quiet place for him. No one else seemed to be that interested in staring out into the abyss of space. Almost everyone aboard the Omega Destiny grew up on the ship, knowing nothing else but the great black vacuum and the confines of the starship. The deck sat by the outside of the drum, always rotating around the ship to help generate the gravity aboard, which meant the view was always shifting.

Jonah had always dreamed of the romanticized concept of home, even if he had spent his entire life aboard the Omega Destiny. He found solace in books -- old books from Earth, not the kind that were beamed through the holoscanner, either. The few scattered libraries aboard the Omega were empty at all times, just sad relics of a past that everyone had left behind.

The mission, dubbed Mission Omega, spanned generations, stretching back over 80 years. It had been 81 years and 238 days since the Omega left the moon’s orbit. The mission? To head to a planet dubbed Omega and for the 500,000-plus inhabitants to make a new home of it.

Many originally dubbed it a suicide mission, knowing that the ship would serve as a home for the inhabitants for the rest of their natural lives. A projected three generations would live aboard the Omega, with the third -- Jonah’s generation -- being the chosen ones to land on the planet and begin a new life. A life away from the dying home that was Earth.

Jonah often found himself wondering if things on Earth had gotten any better, if they had found a way to cull the pollution and resource problems that led to this mission, but he knew that he’d never get to see the planet that he’d always call his home. It’d always be a distant, digitized memory from images in his holoscanner.

His grandparents had joined the Omega Mission in hope of a better life, tired of the rigors and castes back on Earth, only to find the Omega Destiny just as suffocating. Luckily for them, the Omega needed to be cleaned like anything else; it needed caretakers. They served as engineers of a sort, doing maintenance work, but it was far from a glamorous or specialized job. Most of the people brought aboard were experts -- scientists, philosophers, engineers -- the kind of specialists who would pass their trade onto their children, then their children’s children, to help give humanity a bright future on Omega. Everything was scrutinized, from heritage to fertility, to ensure that the Omega Mission would be a success.

Those on Earth had decried the mission an escape plan for the best of the best, not realizing the gravity of the mission and ignoring the finality of it. There had been rumors of other grand starships being sent off in different directions, toward other possible homes for humanity, but they didn’t attract the same fanfare that the Omega Destiny had. Others saw the move as one to relieve Earth of some of its population.

Both the moon and Mars had been settled as well, but conditions were far from ideal, with neither environment truly suitable for human life. Attempts at terraforming both the moon and Mars were only mildly successful. The Omega Mission was the last great hope for humanity to survive, for humanity to find a new place to call home. Hence the name Omega.

Jonah was a member of the prophesied third generation, born and raised on the Omega. Earth was just a foggy mirage to all of them, a story told by their parents or grandparents or what they read on their holoscanners in school. They grew up with images, video and audio of Earth and the people there. Part of their learning involved the cultures, the wars and the planet itself as well as their art in an attempt to round out this new generation, which was the hope for humanity.

From what Jonah was told, the observation decks were always full early on in the mission because, to the first generation, it was all so new to them. Some had been on space flights before, but most of them had not; they were just common citizens who were chosen from a lottery system, qualifying due to some unique skill that they had possessed. Even though his life aboard the Omega Destiny was all that Jonah knew, the sight of the vast emptiness still filled him with intrigue, like he was witnessing something amazing with every passing day.

“Ah, Jonah,” a voice said from behind his shoulder. “I thought that I might find you here.”

“Professor.” Jonah smiled, turning around to see the aging physicist Dr. Julian Cox with an apple in hand, taking a big bite. His nose wrinkled and his thin-rimmed glasses rose up before falling down gracefully into place. “Where else would I be?”

“Oh, at work,” Professor Cox chuckled. “I know how much you love that.”

“Someone’s gotta keep the wheels in motion, right?” Jonah picked himself up and stretched, extending his arms into the air. Jonah towered over Professor Cox at about 185 centimeters with his bulky frame. He stood as a sharp contrast to Cox’s sinewy frame and wild hair with his tightly cropped crew cut and cleanly shaven face. “Might as well be me.”

“Yes.” The doctor nodded absently before taking another bite of his apple. “I suppose so. Anyway, we’ve found some interesting data from the debris that we collected last week if you want to stop by the lab and check it out later.”

“Yeah.” Jonah smiled at the professor, noting a bit less of the usual melancholy that enveloped him on the average day. “That actually sounds great, Doc. I could use a pick-me-up right about now anyway. What’d you find?”

“Oh, you are going to want to see this for yourself, I think,” he said in between bites before holding the apple out in front of him and inspecting the remnants. He shrugged and tossed it into the basket by the door before wiping his hands on his pants. “It seems like it’s mechanical.”

“What?” Jonah looked up in disbelief. “Mechanical, out here?”

“Yep,” he said, turning to Jonah with a big smile on his face. “Mechanical, out here, beyond where any human has ever traveled before.”

“Probably just a part from one of the satellites we’ve sent out here?” He scratched at the back of his head, running his fingers through his hair before turning back to the doctor. “I mean, that makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“It does make sense,” he said. “That is probably all that it is, but we’re running some tests, cross-referencing with the satellites and probes that we’ve sent out here. We’ll see if they can match it up with the schematics and identify the part we found. It is still something you have to see for yourself.”

“Oh yeah, I’m not missing out on this,” he said. “Definitely more interesting than burning my eyes out formatting those statistics on the population, which reminds me,” he said, looking down at his watch and sighing. “I was due back about four minutes ago, but how can I go back when I’m thinking about this space object?”

“Ah, sorry,” he replied. “You better get back to it. Don’t worry -- it can wait. I mean, we’re all just objects in space anyway. Just stop by later, all right?”

“Are you kidding?” Jonah headed to the door, stopping to look back at the doctor while resting his hand up against the cold metal frame. “This is likely to get me through the day.”


* * *


“Hey, Doc,” Jonah called, turning the hatch on the door to the lab, the door creaking open almost unheard with all of the noise coming from the main hallway behind him. Part of living on the ship meant dealing with the noise. There were a few main hallways that resembled what Jonah had learned were called malls back on Earth, only he imagined them being open with the sun pouring through, not the cramped spaces that they were in the B-Deck. “You in here?”

“Yes,” Professor Cox called from his stool, tapping on a few keys on the keyboard in front of him before turning toward the door. “So you finally made it.”

“Well,” Jonah began. “There was a fuel leak on C-Deck, nothing major, but after it was contained, they made me handle the spin on the story. It’s almost like I can smell it on me.” He sniffed the sleeve of his shirt and turned his nose away. “Anyway, I’ve been wondering about this thing you found.”

“Oh, you are going to like this.” He spun in his chair, his bright, unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt getting snagged on the side of the table. Cox jerked his shirt free, then turned back around slowly to face Jonah. “We didn’t find an exact match but,” he paused, quickly tapping a few keys on the keyboard to bring up a three-dimensional diagram on the holoscanner in front of them. “This isn’t just space debris. I know that much.”

“Wow.” Jonah leaned in, resting his hand on the desk and looking over Professor Cox’s shoulder. “That is definitely mechanical. Do you have the original around?”

“No,” he said, throwing his hands up. “I’m a physicist. They felt someone in engineering should have a look at it and take it apart. You know, they don’t trust me with this kind of stuff, but they’ll trust me with most of our lives with my calculations. Go figure, right?”

“The design is interesting; it doesn’t look like anything else on this ship.” Jonah couldn’t take his eyes off of it. He reached out with his fingers, tapping the image and rotating it before them. “See, right there? Looks like a solar cell of some sort,” he said, pointing to the center of it. “But the rest of the design looks foreign to me. We don’t make individual solar converters like this, do we?”

“No, we don’t,” the doctor answered, shaking his head. He leaned against the back of the stool and crossed his arms. “At least we didn’t -- maybe we do now? But I can’t explain how it got out this far if it is newer.”

“It does look almost new, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but the aging on it doesn’t match up with it being newer,” he said, shrugging. “I mean, maybe it could just be the exposure to the elements or lack thereof out here, but this has been here for a while.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Jonah looked back at the doctor, who was still sitting back with his arms crossed, staring at the electronic display of the device. “How does that make any sense?”

“Well, it could be non-Ministry,” he said. He bit his bottom lip, and a few strands of his gray beard stood up at attention. “For a while there, the Soviets and the Chinese were doing launches without telling anyone else, so it wouldn’t be unheard of.”

“Oh, right,” Jonah remembered. “I didn’t think about that. Sometimes I forget about the politics of Earth before the Ministry formed.”

“I can’t blame ya,” he said, absently reaching up to send the image swirling around again. “Not like any of us aboard right now can remember what it was like back on Earth when we’ve never set foot on it.”

“What about those in Cryo?” He pulled back, pacing around the lab with his arms crossed. “They were back there.”

“That they were, my young friend.” The doctor spun around to face him. “But it isn’t like we can just thaw them and ask them what they remember pre-Ministry. I don’t think that any of them could be of any help anyway.”

“I just mean that they have been on the planet; they’ve been somewhere other than just here.” Jonah ran his hand over his face before resting it on his mouth while he let out a yawn. “They’ve known something other than this big hunk of metal.”

“You know just as well as I do,” he said as he waggled his finger at Jonah, “that by the time this ship left Earth, most of the planet more closely resembled this ship than any of the images we get from those old books. That was why this whole mission was put together so quickly: in a somewhat vain attempt to keep humanity alive. I think that sometimes we forget that we are on this mission and have a purpose -- that sometime very soon, we are going to land on that new planet, and then we have to make a new life for ourselves out there.

“Hell,” he laughed. “If we find it even partially hospitable, we are to immediately send communications back to Earth -- which won’t get there for a while, sure -- but we are the landing party being sent to colonize a new planet. We are doing this to keep the race alive.”

“I’m sorry,” Jonah said as he shook his head. “Sometimes I just think about what it used to be, and what life could be, and...”

“I know. It’s all right,” he said, putting his hand on Jonah’s shoulder. “Look, kid, I know you didn’t pick your lot in life. You aren’t like me. I was trained by the best, and my parents were physicists. I know you got a rough deal, but you have that hunger inside of you.” He smacked Jonah’s stomach lightly and laughed. “You have more than any of them have. You keep coming to me and asking these questions, and I’ll keep teaching you whatever I can. And when we get out there, you know I’ll need an assistant for my studies. I can’t make any promises, but you know my methods better than most.”

“Those are methods?” Jonah laughed as the older man gave him a slight shove. He found it endearing that Cox still called him “kid” even though he was 25, but he had always let it slide. “All right, all right, I gotta take off now. Tonight's my night for pretend soldier training.”

“What, you don’t think we’re going to land on this planet and have it overrun with hostile little green men whom we’ll have to mow down with our automatic weapons?”

“Oh, save it for later.” Jonah waved to him as he pulled open the hatch but then stopped short, looking back at Professor Cox. “Wait, who took it?”

“Military types,” he said. “Said it was going to engineering. Don’t worry about it, all right?”

“All right, all right,” Jonah said, slapping his hand against the door as he walked out.

Jonah walked down the hall, his head swimming at the thought of the discovery. The doctor kept himself calm and loose like he always did, but they both knew that this device was out of the ordinary. A small solar device that looked like a converter of some sort, as if it converted power from the sun and turned it into energy right within that little device. Of course, it was far from the sun deep into the Omega System, but the term “solar power” seemed to stick with humanity even when they were knocking on the door of different stars. Not much about the device or how it worked made sense, but then again, it looked nothing like Ministry tech, so chances were it wouldn’t make sense to Jonah.

Everything created by the Ministry followed a very rigid set of specifications and had its own style. While it was just an aesthetic, they were taught in class how uniformity was important; as soon as one small piece of the puzzle began to stray, then more and more would deviate, and nothing would work ever again. It made sense to Jonah in an odd way, but he was never quite sure he believed that would happen.

At times, Jonah himself felt like a piece of a puzzle that didn’t quite belong. Everyone else he knew and grew up with seemed content with their lot in life, considering their society aboard the ship was mostly inherited from generation to generation. If your parents were physicists, you would be trained to be a physicist like Professor Cox. If your parents were caretakers, you would be given a mop and bucket like Jonah and expected to simply live your life like that.

Since his position was considered “non-essential” to survival, he was automatically enlisted into the reserves for the military. It never made sense to Jonah that on a ship with more than 500,000 people aboard, over half of them had to be involved in the military. There were very few disagreements aboard the ship, and even then, there was a police force to take care of that and a jail as well.

There were no signs of any sort of insurrection ever happening, which led everyone to believe that they were preparing for a possible armed conflict when they they finally landed on the new world. Being prepared was not a bad thing, but they were fairly positive that finding life on another planet was hopeless, at least within the reach of where humanity could travel. Humanity was very alone in the galaxy, and they were just clinging on to existence by the last remaining threads.

The one bright point of the military was that if you ranked up enough, you could choose which branch you worked for. Think of it like winning a career lottery and being able to hit a reset switch. For Jonah, it was his only escape from a life as a caretaker, with him being transferred to the Media Relations branch after just a few years in the service. Those years were grueling and forced him to live a very rigid life, but he found himself the better for it with more freedom and a better job.

Even then, Jonah had always hated that no matter what he did, or how well he did in his classes growing up, that he was going to have the same fate as his parents. His only hope for gaining stature within the starship would be through military service. There was no part of him that found the value in training with assault rifles and going through tactics when they were going to be arriving on a planet without intelligent life of any kind. A part of him held out hope that they’d find some new kinds of animals, different than the ones that they had aboard the ship, but deep down inside, Jonah thought this hope was childish.

Most of the tactics seemed silly to Jonah as well. In his extensive studies of Earth culture, there was a lot of military history to comb through, and he found parts of it (mainly the tactics) to be fascinating. Stuff like line battles made very little sense but served their purpose in a time before instant communication was possible. Most of humanity’s history moved toward fleet combat anyway, in an attempt to stop disrupting Earth’s fragile ecosystem. It still felt silly to him to be running those drills while heading to a planet that they knew couldn’t contain intelligent life.

But what if? What if he was wrong? That device that they just found was not like anything else he had ever seen before. That, added to the military training, was beginning to make the mission to Omega seem a bit more dangerous. In fact, things felt a bit more sinister to Jonah, like they had been lied to for generations and were now heading into something that would see humanity’s history of bloodshed continue.

Jonah stumbled into the locker room. His head was barely focused on his training at all, and he fumbled not once, not twice, but three times while entering the correct combination into the keypad of his locker.

What if they really weren’t alone? The thought made him giddy for a second before the crushing reality hit him: He was gearing up for his one night a month of training for the Ministry Military. He looked around and noticed how empty the locker room was, which meant that he was later than usual.


* * *


An exhausted Jonah found himself back in his bed, inside of his undersized living quarters with his holoscanner in his lap, unable to sleep. Everyone had told him just how lucky he was to have his own quarters, especially as a caretaker’s son. The small, dark room was the last thing that his parents ever gave to him, and it -- much like his lot in life -- was a letdown. Jonah’s father wasn’t a caretaker by birth but one by choice. Well, “choice” wasn’t the right way to say it, seeing as though he hadn’t outright said to anyone, “I want to be a caretaker, and for my son to be a caretaker,” specifically. Instead, he was born to be an engineer, and he had a natural aptitude for it. He was in a rare position where he could embrace his profession, but he didn’t choose engineering.

Instead, he followed in his brother’s footsteps and attempted to become a journalist, a profession in which he failed miserably. It was the story of Jonah’s father’s life: trying to catch up to his brother and somewhere along the way, sacrificing his personal identity as he attempted to get out from under the long shadow that his brother cast over him. Jonah had always resented his father for that -- for opting to fail instead of pursuing his passions and talents to somehow prove himself to his brother.

Then again, who wasn’t trying to prove themselves, especially in a community as small as the one aboard Omega Destiny? Everything felt like a competition of sorts. The best jobs and positions of authority were always dangled in front of them like carrots, and they were always just out of reach in the end.

His father had slipped further and further into depression and the bottle over the years until an accident on the job had put him in the hospital after a fuel line burst. A chunk of paneling as large as he was had flown at him and left him in terrible condition. The doctors had told Jonah that they could keep him alive, push him into Cryo and hope when they found their new home that they could, after a while, have the proper tools to revive him. There were no guarantees that he’d ever be the same again, or even show any signs of brain activity. It was the easiest tough decision that Jonah had ever been forced to make in his life. Jonah knew that his father, for all of his faults, would never want to live his life like that. He didn’t deserve to live like that, either.

Jonah’s mother was an entirely different story. She was still somewhere aboard the ship, but it had been years since Jonah had spoken with her. She had chosen years prior to leave Jonah and his father for her boss and the increase in stature that came with marrying a foreman. There were a few times when Jonah’s duties meant he’d have to go to the B-Deck and handle an issue, and of those few times, there were two occasions when he had run into her.

The first time, he was caught off guard by her. She was walking out from the library, and he was delivering some paperwork to his boss after work, but they conversed like you would seeing a distant relative for the first time in years. The second time, Jonah simply kept walking with a sinking feeling overwhelming him, either unsure of how to process the situation or unwilling to; he hadn’t decided yet.

There were times when it felt like Jonah’s heart would explode in his chest from caring too much. Those were the rare moments when he was alone with his thoughts, just truly alone in the vast universe, drifting through the ether as a lone organism reflecting upon existence. Sometimes the beauty of it all was so overwhelming for him, knowing that no matter what, he couldn’t freeze that moment in time and simply be. Instead, time would have to keep moving, and this moment would be lost forever. No one was dying, no one was warring or fucking, so the historical significance was less than zero, but to Jonah, it became more and more difficult to breathe.

Every part of his existence felt, for those brief, fleeting moments, like it was simply temporary and completely insignificant. Did it matter that he was laying on a bed of composite, synthetic feathers inside of a cold room of twisted, forged steel inside of the belly of a giant, lumbering beast of a starship? There was a floor-to-ceiling window that he could switch open, the steel shutters lifting up, and Jonah was, for those moments, simply alone with the space around him as long as the lights from the ship were dull enough. It was those moments when the ideas of being a cog in the wheel, the tireless military training and the bustling world-within-a-ship slipped from his being, and it was simply the cold darkness that mattered.

The past few years had aged him more than could ever be visible to the average onlooker, more than his closest friends had ever been able to understand. Most of the time, Jonah had found himself trying to recapture those moments of extreme clarity and existential reassurance that required him feeling like he was the last person in the universe, as if everyone else had simply become a blip on a radar that no longer registered. Those were the times when Jonah understood that none of it really mattered, that the mission to colonize the new planet was simply a red herring. It was like a set of blocks given to a toddler to keep them from wandering outside of their pen or destroying something of value. What was the point in finding a new home when the home that they had left behind was one of the few truly beautiful and unexplainable things found in nature?

Humanity had destroyed it, left it bleeding out much like Jonah felt he was doing as he stood at the window, staring out into the cold sky. In space, there was no night or day; those were simply labels created by humanity due to their understanding of their own existence, the conditions dictated by the sun and their moon. Light and dark became so overwhelming for humanity, serving as a stark reflection of their true nature that played out before them on a daily basis. From his reading, Jonah understood that there existed places on Earth where the sun was sometimes out all twenty-four hours of the day, and that with this came cases of madness stemming from insomnia. Jonah had always assumed that being exposed only to light, only to the idea of being good and wholesome, was enough to drive any man crazy, because it was simply not human nature to be just good or bad.

His heart was exploding, he concluded. There was no other way to explain feeling like he did while looking off into the distance at all of the stars. Medically, he was fine, but he could feel his heart inside of his chest and how alone he was in his reflections. It hurt him sometimes that he couldn’t bring his father back, but sometimes it hurt more that he understood that even if he could, it would not save either of them. Jonah was alone before and alone now. His only regret was not saying goodbye or maybe getting that extra time to sit down and talk about how vast the universe was or how his favorite songs made him feel when he sat alone in a dark room and listened to them on a set of headphones. There was never a lot of overlap between the two of them, but they both understood the power of certain forms of art, like music, and how it could completely overwhelm and change your outlook.

Neither of them had known peace, and at times, Jonah hated himself for not being able to sacrifice himself and what he believed in to simply move forward and be that cog that he was supposed to be. Jonah’s father understood his own failings, but he ultimately became a productive member of society. It didn’t matter that he had to drink to get through each and every day because to him, what he was doing was not for him -- it was for his family, for Jonah.

Jonah didn’t want to be a victim. He didn’t want to grow up to become his father. But while he reflected on space, he began to cry at times, knowing that it would be so easy to fall into the same hole and continue falling until there was nothing but a Mad Hatter with a riddle for him. What was the harm? And what was the point, really?

Many had come before Jonah and felt the same way, had seen humanity for all of its horrors, for all of its darkness, and tried to embrace it. It was hard to embrace something so hideous, so terrible in nature, yet so beautiful and innocent, blissfully unaware of their shortcomings and tragic tropes. Yet there he was, and who, really, was he? Who was Jonah Freeman to give a pardon to the years of war, the years of greed, the years of suffering and ignorance?

Jonah reached out and placed his hand on the glass in front of him, and for just a brief moment, he forgave everyone. He forgave because it was the only way that he knew to live with himself, the only way he could live with the fact that he was his father’s son but could not be what his father was.

It was the idea of letting go and being himself, the idea of swimming upstream no matter the current, even if it meant being washed away and forgotten. He had never been to a river before, never seen the ocean or even a stream, but they spoke to him endlessly. The idea of the power of something as simple as water was overwhelming to him. In a universe that was dictated by mass and light, with the energy of the stars fueling the very light of existence, something as simple and pure as water was the vital element in the concept of life. Just as easily as water could give and sustain life, it could wipe it out as well, making it a thoughtful -- yet vengeful -- god.

If there was one thing that Jonah could witness before he died, he would want it to be a natural water formation, so he could touch it, feel it and experience it. There was no God, Jonah had decided a long time ago, but if he could reach out and touch an ocean, he could touch the face of God and maybe understand better why anything even is.

Maybe all hope was not lost, he thought to himself. Maybe on this new planet, there were mighty oceans, the kind that could give and take life with the coming and going of tides. Doctor Cox had assured him that their new home would have just this kind of water, and it would have tides that he couldn't even imagine. The planet had two moons in orbit around it, with the moons being the gravitational forces that made tides come and go.

That was enough to keep him going, enough to keep him from his wits' end and collapsing into a heap. He knew he needed to sleep. He knew that he was tired and that his feelings were directly correlated to his exhaustion, but moments of clarity like this were so rare and so beautiful that he didn’t want to let go. Letting go of that moment meant returning to reality; it meant waking up in a cold, empty room, knowing that anyone who had ever loved him had abandoned him or died. It meant reporting for duty, to a duty he felt had no connection to in the truest sense of the word, just like it meant his slumber being interrupted by an alarm searing through his subconscious and disturbing him on a base level.



He left the shutter open like he was apt to do. A part of him didn’t mind the idea of a meteoroid colliding with the window and space swallowing him up whole. Not because he wanted his life to end but simply because the idea of becoming more than just the sum of his being and rejoining nature after a lifetime aboard an artificial shooting star felt like the only fitting way for a life such as his own to conclude. Jonah sighed to himself as he glanced over at the time, noticing that it was late, and at that point, he was probably only going to get about three hours of sleep.



002. Search and Seizure

Captain O’Neil


The room was dark with just a few lights on a console pulsating and cutting through the darkness while Captain Peter O’Neil sat in his chair, staring blankly at the cold, steel wall, deep in thought. His days as captain had weighed heavily upon him, especially the past few months while they inched closer and closer to the planet that they called Omega. This day was a day just like any other, with an endless stream of status reports from around the ship, including the usual problems that stemmed from flying a giant ship the size of a city full of people.

There were disputes and unrest among the people, incidents that his private honor guard could ignore for the most part and leave to the civilian police force to handle, but his own forces kept an eye on every situation to ensure that nothing got too out of control. They couldn't lose control, not this late into the journey, not when they were so close to their destination. What was frightening to Captain O’Neil was the increasing reports of violence among the lower decks while they grew closer, as if the idea of their journey finally ending was driving some people mad.

It made sense to him in an odd way because life aboard the Omega Destiny was the only life that they had known at that point. Only a select few older passengers had been on Earth for any real period of time before the journey began; the rest were born and raised on the ship, in space, and had never set foot on solid land before. It was his job to be strong and talk about what could happen when they hit land, but he knew what might await them. He found himself trying to push the innate fears out of his mind to keep himself focused.

“Captain.” The door whizzed open, and light flooded in, causing him to squint for a split second before turning toward the door and recognizing his first officer.

“Yes, Officer Dumas?” The captain was staring down his first officer, Jack Dumas. Dumas was just a few years older than him, but at this point, the captain looked at least ten years older than him. Command has that effect on men, he figured. Dumas was lean, average in just about every way compared to the shorter, more stout captain. “What is it?”

“Well, we’ve found another one, sir,” he said, tensing up. He held up his holoscanner and tapped it a few times, forcing a projection of a small device into the room.

“Another one?” he aid, shaking his head. This was the fourth one in as many days. The closer that they got to Omega, the more headaches he had to deal with. It probably wouldn’t be long before they started discovering full satellites in plain view of all of the decks. That was why they refused to share any of the long-range images until they were certain, one way or another, of what they were dealing with on this new planet.

“Yes, sir,” he said, placing the scanner down on the table and activating the room’s lights. The lights felt blinding to the Captain, but he just grunted in protest.

“Well,” the captain grunted again. “What’s this one?”

“Some sort of energy converter.” Dumas pulled up a report and quickly scanned through it before laughing and looking over at the captain. “So we think, at least.”

“You think?” The captain rubbed his temples and sighed. “What do you mean, ‘We think’? This is the fourth piece of debris we’ve found in the past few days, and we don’t know what this one is either?”

“Captain.” Dumas's smile washed away. “This is beyond our means right now.” He flicked his finger, spinning around the projection of the device, the image hanging in the air like a specter.

“I understand that,” he said, sitting back down in the chair and gazing up at the projection. “What are we getting ourselves into, Jack?” the captain asked candidly, breaking the formal tone. “I don’t like this one bit.”

“None of us do, Captain,” Dumas nodded, frowning. “It is getting more and more difficult for us to hide what is going on now, too.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, raising his eyebrow. “This isn’t public, is it?”

“Well...”

“Is it?” His voice raised up as the feeling of desperation rumbled inside of him. “Because that is the last thing that I need right now, Jack.”

“It isn’t exactly public, no,” he said, breaking eye contact and stiffening up his posture.

“What does ‘not exactly’ mean?” The captain pushed himself up to his feet, walking up close to Dumas, who was still not making eye contact. Dumas seemed to shrink next to the captain, even if he was taller.

“A few of the deckhands discovered this one.” Dumas gulped hard, still doing his best to avoid eye contact. “They were apparently not briefed in protocol and delivered it to some physicist.”

“Are you kidding me?” The captain swallowed, shaking his head and feeling a knot grow in his stomach. “Who did they deliver it to?”

“Dr. Julian Cox, I believe.”

“I know that name.” He stopped, taking a deep breath and scanning his memory for the face. “He does work for us, doesn’t he? The guy whose kid offed himself?”

“Yes, sir,” Dumas nodded, turning and making eye contact with the captain. “Our forces have confiscated it from him without incident.”

“Our forces? By our forces, you mean government, military forces?”

“Yes, sir.” Dumas flicked at the device again, trying not to seem intimidated, but the captain could smell it on him. A part of that made him laugh in some primitive way -- he still instilled this level of fear in someone whom he considered a friend -- but he dared not laugh aloud, understanding the gravity of the situation.

“So you sent the military to scoop up a device from one of the brightest minds aboard this ship.” He rubbed the stubble on his chin, reminding himself that he hadn’t shaved in four days now. “As opposed to sending civilian police, which would raise less suspicion?”

“We thought that...”

“You didn’t think,” he barked, correcting him. “You think that someone like Cox isn’t going to catch onto something being wrong with this? Christ.” He pounded his fist gently against the console in front of him, looking over the array of controls and monitors, shaking his head. “We’re so close. We can’t let something like this blow everything wide open. It isn’t time yet, Jack. It just isn’t time.”

“I’m sorry, Captain,” he said, exasperated. “I just thought that it was paramount to get it into our custody.”

“It’s fine,” he said as he walked over to the sink by the corner of his office. He pulled out a bag of tea and a mug, placed the bag into the mug and held it under the sink. Warm water immediately spouted from the faucet. He had packed these bags himself with his own tea leaves, but that was hardly on his mind at that moment.

“We need a detail on him, to monitor his communications and his comings and goings.” He picked up the mug and took a slow sip, feeling the warmth of the mug on his palm. “I don’t know if he’ll tell anyone, but if he does, I want to know.”

“I’ve already put a few men on him, sir.” Dumas looked back at the captain with his mug in hand.

“Good,” he nodded. It was just a few weeks away until Omega was in view. If everything were to simply fall apart at the last minute like that, he’d be a disgrace to the lineage of the ship and those who came before him. It was times like this when he wondered how his life could have been if his role as captain was voted down by the Ministry. They always had the right to turn down a candidate for a high-ranking role, but he filled the suit better than any of the rest would have. If they had vetoed him, he’d be ignorant to the truth of the mission, sure, but gleefully ignorant. He would have been the first O'Neil to fail to become the captain of the Omega Destiny. Maybe then he would have actually had a happy marriage and would currently be getting some healthy sleep at night.

The captain sighed again before taking another slow sip. The taste was faint; he hadn't let it steep. He contemplated making another cup the right way, but instead, he just kept taking slow sips until it had steeped a bit more. He slumped over in front of his monitors of the activity on the bridge. These were his people. They were just a fraction of whom he was responsible for, but they were the ones whom he interacted with on a daily basis.

The Ministers that he had to meet with were a nuisance to him more than anything. He wasn’t bred to be a politician as much as he was brought up to be a military leader, if not just a leader in general. That was what they needed, though: a leader. A leader was needed especially for the final captain of the ship for the Omega Mission.

“Sir.” Dumas’s voice broke the silence.

“Oh.” The captain turned to see Dumas still in the room. He was lost in thought for a moment again, only this time he was caught red-handed. He cleared his throat and chuckled. “I guess I forgot that you were still here, Jack. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said. He saluted before walking through the door, which zipped shut behind him.

The rigidity of military life had worn extremely thin on him. He had turned 52 that year and had been a soldier as soon as he had been able to grip a rifle. His father had been Captain before him, and he knew that he had no real choice in the matter, so he embraced it = he embodied it. Pete was the perfect officer with a flawless record. When it came time to name a new captain, it was all but a forgone conclusion that he was to be selected.

His wife, Jeanette, had been so proud that her husband, her officer, was going to be the most powerful man aboard the entire ship. It was a bit more of a somber appointment for him, though, knowing that he was replacing his father, who was 64 at the time when he took his place.

His father had been dead for over 15 years by this point, which saddened him. He answered to the Ministry, but the hard decisions all rested upon his shoulders. If you were to look at an organizational chart, it would be a pyramid with him at the very top of it. He was accountable to them but very rarely did he even bother running much by them anymore; he simply acted. If something upset them, he was more than happy to listen to their complaints, but at this point, no one dared to question him.

He walked to the comm panel and held his finger above the switch, pausing for a brief second to consider the situation. He had heard the name Dr. Julian Cox before, and chances were that he’d met him before, if not dozens of times. But at that moment, he couldn’t match a face to the name.

O’Neil let out a loud sigh and massaged his temples before holding down the switch on the comm panel.

“Yes, sir?” A voice boomed from the panel.

“Is Dr. Brandis still out there?” he asked, staring off toward the window in the room that was overlooking the vastness of space.

“Yes, sir,” the voice confirmed. “She is speaking with Officer Dumas at the moment.”

“Let her know that I need to speak with her.” He let go of the switch and allowed it to turn off without waiting for an answer. He sighed to himself before walking to the dark, far corner of the room. The door slid open before him, revealing the neat rows of plants and soil. He walked into the narrow room and over to the rustic-looking cabinet, pulling down a pair of worn gloves and a small set of shears.

He grunted as he kneeled down, feeling the soreness in his left knee. The gloves slipped right on. The sheers felt natural in his hands as he began meticulously clipping at stray branches on a bonsai tree. He inspected the tree’s branches one by one, taking in every angle before making the cuts that filled the room with subtle clicks. It wasn’t long before there was a pile of tiny branches sitting next to him. The whirring of the door behind him almost did not register with him.

“I always find this amusing.” Dr. Brandis’s voice came softly from behind him, jesting. “The most powerful man aboard this ship, down on his hands and knees, treating plants with such tender care.”

“That is why no one else sees me doing it.” He shook his head, finally turning around to look at the slender, middle-aged Dr. Susan Brandis standing before him, her black hair coming down just above her shoulders, gracefully framing her face.

“Yet here I am,” she said.

“Yet here we are,” he corrected her.

“So we are, Peter,” she laughed, turning to look out of the window with her hands on her hips.

“Sue, I need some advice,” he said, pulling himself up off of his knees with a groan. The gloves came off one by one with a few quick tugs before they were tossed onto a shelf. He brushed off the dirt from his pants and tucked the shears into one of the gloves.

“Shame,” she said, still staring out the window. “I thought this was going to be a social visit, Peter.”

“I’m not against it being both.” He turned back to the cabinet and pulled out a small steel watering can, placing it into the sink while turning the knob and letting the water rush out.

“You and this whole illusion of the twentieth century, Peter, I swear.”

“What?” he asked, looking at her before turning back to the sink, shutting the water off and removing the watering can. O’Neil turned toward the plants and gently tipped the watering can, allowing just a small trickle of water to start shooting out. “You mean this?”

“Everything on this ship is automated, Peter,” she said, pointing at the watering can. “You are the captain -- you could easily have a sprinkler system installed in there at least.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “It is important for me to do this myself, to remain connected with what I’m doing. It settles me down. Plus, when we find ourselves a new home, humanity is going to need someone to grow something.”

“You and I both know that it won’t be you being humanity’s farmer.” She let out a sigh, her voice softening. “Peter, what is bothering you? You garden when something is bothering you.”

“I garden all the time,” he corrected her.

“I assume that something is always bothering you then.”

“You aren’t wrong,” he said, monitoring how much water each plant was getting, making sure not to over-water or under-water each one.

“So what is it this time?” she finally asked.

“Dr. Julian Cox,” he stated matter-of-factly, looking up at her and raising an eyebrow. “Do you know him?”

“Julian? Yes, of course I know Julian. Why?”

“Is he trustworthy? Good at his job? What do you know about him?”

“Julian is probably the smartest man aboard this whole ship,” she said, her voice taking on a cautious tone. “Absolutely brilliant man. He is without peer, I’d say. Brilliant physicist and quite a handle on a few other fields as well. He serves as one of our top advisers.”

“If he’s so brilliant, Sue, why doesn’t he have your job?

“I said he was brilliant,” she said, shaking her head. “I didn’t say that he was without flaw. He was considered a bit unstable after he lost his son a few years ago. That’s why you don’t hear much about him. Anyway, you know how things work on this ship: Everything that we are doing is for the greater good, and he serves the greater good in his current role.”

“I often wonder about that greater good.” He could feel his mind wandering off as he leaned back against the counter with the watering can still in his hand. “I never saw myself doing what I’m doing now, following in my father’s footsteps and inheriting this position, but here I am. You know what I wanted to be?” He pointed the can at her, and she shook her head. “Botanist,” he laughed, motioning toward the plants. “I wanted to work with plants. Isn’t that ridiculous?”

“Seeing as though you are always in this room with your plants, I wouldn’t say that it's surprising,” she said, surveying the plants in the room.

“But a botanist, not the captain? Captain, the most powerful role aboard this ship, never mind the captain who would be the one to set foot onto Omega’s surface. Every boy aboard this ship grew up wanting to be that man, to be what I am right now, but all I wanted to do was play with my plants. My father hated them -- one time, he flooded all of my plants to teach me a lesson for disobeying him. You know what’s funny?” He looked over at her, her arms crossed. “I don’t even remember why. I just remember him doing that and how much it hurt me.”

“I’m sure that he had his reasons,” she added coyly.

“Oh, I’m sure that he did, Sue,” he said. “I was a handful when I was younger. I thought that I knew it all, just like we all did, I guess. But he knew that I was destined for greatness and pushed, so here I am, and here we are. I’m not so sure that it is a bad thing, but sometimes I do wonder --”

“So,” she interrupted, clearing her throat. “Professor Cox?”

“Oh, right.” He cleared his head, trying to remain focused. It was always difficult for him not to drift off in conversation when he was around Sue. “Dr. Julian Cox has been made privy to some information that is well above his clearance level, and I’m wondering how much of a problem he will be for us in the future.”

“Oh,” she said, nodding gravely. “What kind of information, if I might ask?”

“A piece of ancient tech that we found floating around us.”

“Another?” Her face lost its color. “Why wasn’t I informed of this?”

“Calm down, Sue.” He approached her, placing his hand on her shoulder. “It is being inspected right now, and we’ll need you to take a look at it as soon as you can, but --”

“Professor Cox, right?”

“Yeah, Professor Cox.” He gripped her shoulder as he walked by her. “I've got to know if he’ll be a threat to us, or if he’ll keep his mouth shut. I have to know how we deal with this moving forward.”

“Professor Cox is a bit of a loner,” she said, nodding. “I think if we went to him and asked for his discretion, it would be a big mistake, as would taking any form of action against him -- he is a rather public figure, and his absence would be noted. He teaches class at the university, after all. If we just leave him alone, the chances are that he’ll keep quiet about it, but I do recommend monitoring him.”

“Already done,” he said, walking over to the window and resting his hand against the steel frame. “I just wanted to know if the team should move in or just continue monitoring him.”

“That does sound like a wise move,” she said as she nodded in agreement, her arms still crossed. “He is a very bright man, as I said. I’m not sure that we’ve ever seen his back against the wall like this before. I don’t think that he is capable of doing any sort of harm, but then again, I’m really not sure that --”

“Jeanette is cheating on me,” he finally let out, still staring out the window, a silence falling between the both of them to match the tension. He looked down at his feet and dragged the toe of his boot across the ground before gently kicking the wall.

“I...” She swallowed hard, straightening out her stance as if her back was a board. “Sir, I’m sorry...”

“No, I am.” His cheeks turned red, and he turned away, bashful. “I shouldn’t have brought it up, Sue. I just haven’t had anyone to talk to about it is all.”

“How about your wife?” she asked, walking over to a chair by the console, still facing him before sinking into it. “Come here,” she tapped her fingers onto the seat cushion of the chair next to her as the captain sighed, knowing that he shouldn’t have said anything.

“All right,” he said, finding a seat next to her and letting himself sink into the chair. His eyes wandered to her before he composed himself, straightening out his uniform to appear more like the captain leading humanity to their new home than a lovelorn puppy. Their relationship was always one that he felt could enter dangerous territory, with a magnetism between them. What could it possibly hurt now? His relationship with his wife was never anything but set dressing, anyway.

“How did you find out about this?” She placed her hands on his knees and looked into his eyes with concern.

“Well,” he began. The feeling of her hands on his knees sent a shiver down his spine. He quickly looked down at his hands to break the eye contact. He could feel his heart racing in his chest.

“I, uh,” he laughed, shaking his head before looking back up to see her eyes and the look of concern still on her face. She was too good for this ship, he thought to himself, smiling. “I do have my own private security force, you know. I had them tail her after she had been going out a lot and being secretive.”

“I’m so sorry, Peter. That's awful.” She reached out and grabbed a hold of his hand. He protested for a brief second before allowing her to grip onto him. “Do you know who it is?”

“No,” he said, looking away. “I’m not sure if I really want to find out at this point, or if I just want to let the whole thing go.”

“Aren’t you at least curious?”

“Of course I am.” He pulled his hand free from hers and sprung out of the chair, pacing back and forth with his hands over his face. “I’m just not sure what I’d do if I found out who it was.”

“So,” she began as she floated out of her chair, coming up behind him and sliding her arms underneath his and embracing him tightly from behind. She rested her head on his shoulder. “What are you going to do?”

“To be honest...” he trailed off. The feel of her warm embrace began to cause him to melt, to forget the pressure of being the captain and about his wife, but he shook himself out of it, reminding himself who he was. He pulled away from her, her hands still clutching at him until he gently pulled them off of his midsection and turned to her with a warm smile. “I haven’t really figured that out yet. A part of me wants to throw her out of an airlock to send a message, but most of this ship already see me as a tyrant, while the rest are waiting for me to fuck up bad enough for them to stage a coup and take my spot.”

He walked over to the garden again, leaning against the steel border of the door frame to gaze out over the small room of plants and lamps. He took a deep breath. That garden was the only place where he could be himself -- his one mirage in the middle of an arid, stark desert. Aware of Sue’s gaze upon him, he immediately regretted letting her in like that, showing her his weaknesses. Even if Jeanette was cheating on him, he still had a wife, and he was held to a higher standard than the rest of the ship. Even if his marriage was a sham and his wife was fucking someone else, it was his job to be stoic in the face of adversity; it was his job to ensure that no one found out about her indiscretions.

“Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I was born into any other position, Sue.” He could feel her eyes on him, and he could feel her pity. It made him feel like a child again, like those times when his mother would scold him for playing with children from the B-deck. His mother felt the longing inside of him, pitied what he was born to be, but knew that she had to be tough with him. She wanted him to be happy, but she knew what was in store for him.

“Peter...” She approached him only for him to raise his hand up, stopping her cold in her tracks.

“Look, Sue.” He let out a deep breath, feeling the tears welling up in his eyes. His vision was blurring, forcing him to look away from his old friend. “I need to do some work, all right? Let yourself out, please.”

“Okay,” she said, holding herself back from reaching out to him. She turned and strode toward the door, only for her to hear him from behind her.

“And Sue,” he called, still not turning around. “Thank you.”









003. The Unlikely Cosmonaut

Jonah


The alarm in the morning came on like a vengeful mistress, piercing through Jonah’s subconscious and forcing him to stir. He rolled over and reached for his holoscanner, grabbing it by the edge, resting it on his chest and sliding his finger across the projection to snooze the alarm. It would be another long day, another day that he regretted his decision to stay up later than he had planned, but that happened so often that Jonah had begun to question if at a certain point it wasn’t intentional.

He strained to open his eyes to look at his holoscanner and saw a few messages from his girlfriend, Kara. Jonah had promised to spend the night in her quarters, like he usually did, but instead his head was swimming that night, and he knew that it would just cause another argument. As much as he loved her, he never loved the arguments or how she made him feel when he wasn’t paying close enough attention to her needs. It might’ve been a mistake to not tell her, though, he considered in retrospect.

“Where are you?” the first message read.

“Are you not coming then?” was the second one.

“Fine, don’t bother. The door is locked now, and I’m going to bed,” the last one read. He heard her voice in his head while he read them, imagining it being angry but still sweet-sounding, with that hint of sadness behind it. Even when she was happy, there was that hint of sadness and uncertainty in her voice. Her green eyes felt as cold as the vastness of space sometimes, making him question his own intentions and if what she felt for him was really love, like the love that he understood, or if it was just another way for her to hide from her problems.

“Sorry,” he typed back. “Fell asleep, had a long day. See you tonight?” He tilted the projection toward his face, the light illuminating his bunk, and stared at it for a while before hitting send. Someday his excuses would wear out. That would be the day where this whole charade ceased to be. The thought made him sigh.

Their relationship got so heavy so fast, and he still wasn’t quite sure why it did. Kara’s family had money -- that much had always been clear about her -- but she liked to make her own way without her father’s money and influence. She enlisted on her own, claiming it would give her more insight into what life on the ship really was like, as well as citing the opportunities for officers in different fields. It was true: Advancing in the military did have its own perks. The branch that Jonah was in oversaw the media on the fleet. It was called the Communications Ministry, but the reality was, it was closer to propaganda control. Kara was a journalist by trade, and it did feel like a natural fit for her, but it was rough at first.

There were different decks to the ship, and they reflected the unintentional caste system that had arisen aboard the ship over the span of the epic flight to a new world. She was from the elusive A-Deck, where the wealthy ruled over the rest of the ship. Her father was the Minister of Finance aboard the ship, the man who was ultimately in charge of how currency was regulated and ensured that the commerce system aboard the ship was handled in a professional manner. This put Kara and her family among the very elite, and her decision to work and live on the B-Deck proved to be one of rebellion. Her choice struck everyone as a temporary one, just to help find herself before she went home to the A-Deck and her family.

Jonah continued to get ready in silence, feeling guilty now for not responding to her sooner, knowing the argument they were about to have and how much he was not looking forward to it. Since they worked together, it meant that he was going to have to deal with her not speaking to him all day, which would make life uncomfortable not only for him but for everyone else around them. That was always a part of it, and it was always very obvious to everyone around them, too. Kara felt like their relationship was taboo and had to be kept a secret. Maybe she liked it better that way, but it always made Jonah feel uncomfortable, like she was ashamed to be with him and didn’t want to actually commit to him.

Upon walking through the glass doors to the office, listening to the whirr and clank while they shut behind him, he saw the usual bustling office: his coworkers sitting in their ergonomic chairs, their holoscanners displaying a deluge of streaming data, and the general sound of confusion in the air. Jonah sighed, knowing that it was going to yet again be one of those days that he regretted waking up in his own skin.

He had thought that the uniformity of a military position would mean less of the usual job-related stressors, but if anything, they were amplified a few times over. It didn’t help that a part of him took pride in what he did and how a switch flipped inside of him whenever he walked into that office. He could feel the change wash over him when he strode past the first few desks, knowing that people were watching him, waiting to see what he did. He simply kept a smirk on his face and slid into his desk, clicking his personal holoscanner into a stand before powering on his work holoscanner next to it.

“I’m not talking to you,” he heard. Kara looked over at him while she walked by, making sure not to make eye contact with him, even speaking quietly so that no one else would hear. He glanced up to watch her striding toward her desk, his eyes quickly fixed on how her dress hung around her hips and legs, everything accentuated by the heels that she wore. That was one thing that they did have in their relationship: He always found himself physically attracted to her, and she seemed to be attracted to the commanding personality that Jonah displayed at work on a daily basis. Everything else felt like he was wearing two left shoes.



“So Jonah,” a voice came from behind his shoulder while he continued to watch Kara on the way to her desk. Alexander came into his view, rapping his knuckles on the edge of his desk and leaning over onto his hands. “Jonah -- hey,” he said, finally getting Jonah’s attention.

“Oh, hey, Alexander.” Jonah leaned back in his chair, giving his undivided attention to him, trying to pretend like he was simply engrossed in work before.

“I have a special project that we need you on. It should be right up your alley as I know you care about all of that science stuff.” He laughed awkwardly and moved his hands around as if he were holding a plasma lamp where the “lightning” is attracted to your fingertips. “So there is this story from the Secretary of Security’s Office, something that has been pretty hush-hush, and they are trying to get ahead of it before more details leak out.”

“Oh?” Jonah’s ears perked up, and he leaned forward in his chair, genuinely curious as to what this assignment could be. Alexander was right, sadly, and that partially made Jonah feel like his boss knew him better than Jonah would like to admit.

“Ah-ha,” Alexander said, pointing at Jonah and chuckling. “I knew this would be right up your alley, Jonah. It’s apparently about a cluster of space junk that we passed by the other day, bringing some of it on board. You know how chatter works. There has been some people from the deck crew who scooped it up whom they think have been talking about it -- and of course, they're spreading stories about alien technology, doomsday devices and all of that.”

“Aliens?” Jonah furrowed his brow and laughed. “Seriously? I mean...”

“Yeah, I know,” Alexander said, coming around into Jonah’s desk area and pointing at his work holoscanner. “Pull up the message that I just sent to you a few minutes ago.”

Jonah turned back to his screen, being careful to spin slowly while Alexander’s right hand was on the back of his chair. He flicked at the projection with his fingers a few time, pulling up his new messages and scrolling through until he found one from Alexander. He pulled it open. His heart began to race a bit when he saw a photograph of the device that was in Professor Cox’s workshop the other day, the one that they were inspecting on his holoscanner and discussing. He did his best to stifle the look of familiarity and coughed while reading the message, which was forwarded from a high-level government messenger (none of the transmissions ever came from the actual person, always the messenger) and saw that they had it all wrong. Completely wrong.

“Looks kind of weird, doesn’t it?” Alexander nodded while he spoke. “Turns out it was just a part that fell off of one of the probes that we had sent out years before. Looks like it was designed by what was known as the 'Russian government' -- whatever that is -- and they did things a bit different than they did when the Ministry started.”

“So you are telling me this is pre-Ministry tech?” Jonah looked back at Alexander, trying to stifle his disbelief. There was no way that technology was older than this vessel, which was state of the art when it was launched, and all things considered, was still better than anything that human hands had ever built.

“Yeah,” he said. “I mean just read the rest of the message. It says it all right there. From the factory it was developed in to the man who designed it and the probe it was installed on. So,” he said as he stepped back a bit and tapped the back of Jonah’s chair with his fist. “You’ve got this, right?”

“Oh absolutely,” Jonah replied as he turned to him, nodding. “Yeah, this is a cool assignment. I appreciate you bringing it to me. When is it due out?”

“ASAP,” he spelled out letter-by-letter to try to instill a sense of urgency into Jonah, which would have made more sense if he wasn’t pulling his nice-guy routine that he did whenever he wanted Jonah to work harder.

“Got it,” Jonah said, gripping onto the armrests of his chair and feeling his palms sweating. “You want to proof it before it goes out?”

“Yeah, I gotta,” he said, pointing at the screen. “Needs a level-four clearance, and none of the supervisors have that, only I do, so I’ll be waiting. Just give me a call and zip it over when it’s ready.”

“Great, I’m on it,” Jonah turned back to his screen. “Oh, and Alexander, thanks man -- I appreciate you looking out.”

“Hey.” He pointed at Jonah again. “Anytime.”

Jonah could feel his skin crawl. Alexander’s eyes finally slid off of him as he sauntered back through the office, individually greeting everyone in the room before wandering over to the next set of desks and chatting with the supervisor in the corner. Undoubtedly he was telling her to keep an eye on Jonah. He never did anything without a good level of mistrust, and he very much believed in micromanagement, which drove Jonah nuts. Nothing was ever as anyone said it would be here -- instead it was all smoke and mirrors, and the message he was staring at was proof enough of that.

Jonah had done enough research on Earth's history and knew about the Russians well enough to know that their space program was integrated into NASA after years of working together and pooling their resources together in the pre-Ministry years. The agreement between NASA and the Russian space program pre-dated the Ministry by at least fifty years, and all of their missions were reclassified to NASA when that partnership happened. There were no secrets, and this most definitely did not look Russian at all. The man credited for the design, Piotr Samedov, had of course been dead for years, a quick search string told him. While he was involved in aeronautics, his work with the Russian space program didn’t jump out to him at all. He didn’t doubt that he worked with them, but not like this. He was not as brilliant as that device.

Professor Cox had to see this, Jonah convinced himself, knowing just how tight the restrictions were on information passed onto his department and how closely their communications and data transmission was monitored. Jonah knew the systems well enough to be able to work his way around most of them, but it usually involved forcing an error to be sent through the system to get a few seconds off of the record so that he could decrypt it, then re-encrypt it and send it through a private channel to his personal device. He had done this dozens of times before to get music onto his work holoscanner to help him through the workday, although it was prohibited to physically move anything onto a government-owned device. Everyone assumed that Jonah had simply found a government-approved way to listen as he worked (because that would be something that he’d do) and left him alone about it.

This, on the other hand, was highly classified information, and he knew that it would be considered treason to leak out an official government communication to the public. Luckily enough, there was some room to move because Professor Cox was technically a contractor with the government and operated in a strange gray area when it came to what he really did. Jonah sighed and quickly began tapping away, sending the signals while he decrypted, re-encrypted and bumped the data over to his personal holoscanner, storing it in one of his private folders, then putting on the show, knowing that they’d be watching him, and a glitch in his system would be suspicious.

“Oh c’mon, now?” Jonah shouted out, slamming his fist down on the desk.

“Uh Jonah,” Andrea, the blonde, sickeningly slim supervisor in the corner called over to him. “Is everything all right over there?”

“Yeah, just this fucking thing.” He let out a loud sigh, shaking his head. “Always when I need it to not act up.”

“Do we need Bryan to come in and look at it?” She strode over to his desk, leaning over the edge and resting her hand under her hair, on her neck. “I mean, if it’s acting up...”

“Nah, it’ll be fine,” he sighed again, all a part of the show. “It just always does this when I’m trying to rush something out.”

“Yeah, you need to focus, buddy,” she said and she ran her fingers through her hair, tucking the loose strands behind her ears. “This is an important job here; you can’t fuck this one up. All right?”

“Yep,” he said, forcing a fake smile. He made note of her tone, the implications that he had a proclivity for messing up shooting right through his veins. The smile quickly dissipated. “I got it.”

She rolled her eyes and stomped off. Jonah rolled his own eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. The day that Alexander decided to pair Jonah up with Andrea might have been the worst decision his boss had made, another in a long line of disasters since Jonah lost his father. In no world, not even the new one that they were heading to, could Jonah and Andrea see eye to eye, and everyone but Alexander seemed to realize that. Jonah shook her off as he continued crafting the piece of spin presented to him.

It was hard to choke it down, but this was his job and what he did on a daily basis. In his mind, he knew that there was no way that Piotr Samedov was the man behind the mysterious device that they found. This was just damage control and a way to get this topic out in the open and quickly dismiss it. That way, the ship could move on to discussing other hot topics from around the decks, including who some of the vid stars in the A-Deck were sleeping with currently, or what their next project would be. Jonah barely watched any series on his holoscanner. It always disgusted him when people fetishized how the wealthy and powerful lived. For him, it was the knowledge that he’d never be a part of that elite.

Sometimes it was the bitterness that kept him going, and it was difficult for him to embrace that something so negative could be a driving force in his life.

In just a few more strokes, it was done -- his latest masterpiece of propaganda, handcrafted to misinform the public and obfuscate the truth. That was his life, he sighed to himself as he clicked “send” before pulling up his contact list, scrolling to Alexander’s name and tapping on it. Within seconds, a new image popped up of Alexander sitting at his desk. He looked into the projection and smiled, giving a thumbs up.

“Great work, Jonah,” he said. “I’m just going to read over it a bit and will push the button, get this bad boy out there. Great work,” he nodded again while Jonah clicked off of the screen and ended the call. He slunk back into his chair and sighed to himself. It was all a part of his life, and he needed to accept it, but there was still more to go. He knew that when he got off, he could go run through this with Professor Cox and try to get to the bottom of the mystery at least. All Jonah had to do was get through the rest of the day. He quickly shot off a message to Professor Cox that simply read, “I have something you gotta see. I’ll be by after work. --J.”


* * *


The day had dragged on and was only half over before Jonah found himself with his holoscanner striding toward the observation room on the B-Deck that he always went to for his lunch break. Things were too bustling on the B-Deck for anyone to care about taking the time to look out the window and appreciate everything that they were doing.

The B-Deck was characterized in the same way that the 20th century’s upper-middle class would be: always working, always striving for more, yet they had more than they knew. History showed how that turned out for them, with the gap between them and the wealthy widening until it became out of control, the “middle class” no longer being in the middle but simply on the higher end of poverty. His reading had taught him that it was one of the causes for the Great Revolution, which was long and grueling, and ultimately lead to the formation of the Ministry when there was no end in sight for the revolution and the planet began to reach critical mass on supplies.

Quickly, in a panic, people were willing to toss aside their liberties and their freedom just for a hope of surviving. Jonah found it ironic that the caste system aboard the Omega Destiny would so closely resemble one of humanity’s last great failures, which had led them to this mission in what many considered a vain hope to continue the bloodline. But he knew this was human nature.

The more he read and the more he learned, the more depressed he found himself when he analyzed how society was evolving on the Omega. It was a microcosm (on a much smaller scale but developing much quicker), taking only three generations to reach the place that it took humanity thousands of years of society to reach. All in all, the Omega was just like a snow globe: artificial and manufactured in every way to pretend like it was anything but a hunk of metal in space.

The observation room was empty as always, with the exception of Dr. Julian Cox. He was sitting on a bench, wearing a gray t-shirt with a short-sleeved white button-up on top of it, characteristically unbuttoned, with his feet pressed up against the glass, and his eyes fixed on the stars. Jonah breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing the professor sitting there, hands in his pockets, oblivious to everything.

“You’re here.” Jonah smiled, the door whooshing shut behind him. He pressed the “privacy mode” button on the controls to lock the door behind him.

“I am,” he said. “Locked door, huh?” He laughed to himself. “What exactly was that message about earlier? I’ve been spinning in my chair all day, wondering to myself what young Jonah Freeman had discovered that would require my attention, especially at such a mind-numbing job like the one he holds.”

“Well, look...”

“Hold on.” Professor Cox wagged his finger in the air, shaking his head. “So I say to myself, 'I know where young Mister Freeman is, what he encounters.' And I say, ‘Julian, you should check the wire for news.’ Well, that is exactly what I did, and what do I find?” he asked, smacking his lips. He jumped up to his feet, buried his hands into his pockets and paced back and forth, slightly slumped over. “I find a new story on the wire, telling us all about the marvelous device -- the very device that was in my possession just yesterday -- that we found in space, and providing us with quite a fascinating piece of historical fiction to explain it.”

“Yeah,” Jonah said, sitting down on the bench facing the window as Professor Cox paced in front of him. “That was me.”

“Of course it was you!” he said, putting his hands on Jonah’s shoulder and gently shaking him. “Who else could it have been, young Jonah? I can tell your writing from the first sentence, even if it is utter garbage -- no offense.” He turned to Jonah and smiled. “I mean the topic, not the writer -- and it was utter garbage. Yes, I knew it was you.”

“Thanks,” Jonah said. He gulped and pulled out a bottle of water from his pack. He placed it down on the bench and then reached for his holoscanner and put it on his lap. “But you know that isn’t what I wanted you to see, right?”

“Oh?” He crooked his head and pursed his lips. “Really? You mean there's more? Because that was quite an intricate tale, as there was no way that Professor Samedov was working on technology like this. I mean, there is no way.”

“I know,” Jonah said as he peeled the lid off of his water and took a big gulp before replacing the lid and placing it down. He swiped his fingers over his holoscanner a few more times before holding it out toward the professor. “Look.”

“What? Oh.” He turned back to Jonah and tilted the projection toward him before straddling the bench and burying his face into it. “Oh,” he mumbled, scrolling back up and then down quickly through the story before pausing. “What? No, this isn’t right,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “This is just...”

“What?” Jonah turned to him.

“This is all wrong, Jonah,” he said, shaking his head but not moving his eyes away from the screen.

“I know it is,” Jonah said. “Tell me something that I don’t know.”

“They are rewriting history, Jonah.” He dropped the holoscanner onto the bench and sighed, pulling his glasses down and rubbing his eyes. “Anyone who analyzes this knows that this is well beyond any sort of human technology that we’ve ever seen. It was years advanced -- years. This... this is bad.”

“What's so bad about it?” Jonah asked. “I mean, we send out how many stories a day on the wire that are just plain and simple propaganda? How is this any different? I don’t get it.”

“If this were nothing, if this were really, truly just something from a Russian space probe and they wanted to keep it classified, as they would,” he said as he placed his glasses back on and let out an exasperated tsk. “Why the public spin? There are many things that they keep classified, and since when do they feel the need to explain anything like this to the public? This isn’t like them, Jonah. This isn’t like them at all.

“This device that they found,” he began, staring off into space and nodding absently. “They are afraid of it; they are very, very afraid of it and what it means. They know that they can’t ignore it, and they want to put it into all of our faces, explain it away and make it fade from memory. They don’t want a news report about this coming out in a few months. They don’t want public inquiries into this. They want this buried.”

“So what is it then?” Jonah could feel his pulse quickening and the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. “What is out there?”

“I don’t know,” Professor Cox replied. “I don’t know, and for the first time in my life, I think I truly understand what fear is, Jonah. This is what fear is: the unknown. I don’t know. I just don’t know. Science can’t explain this.”

Professor Cox stood up, straightened himself up and walked over to the panel on the door, releasing the lock. The door whirred open, and he began walking out before he stopped cold. “Jonah, please, come by my lab as soon as you can, all right? I need your help.”

“Yeah.” Jonah swallowed hard. “I’ll be there, Professor Cox. Don’t worry.”

There was a pit in his stomach as the door whizzed shut behind the professor. Not only did Jonah have to make it through the rest of the day distracted, but it felt like dark clouds had rolled in and that a storm was brewing -- one that no one aboard could be prepared for.




* * *




“So,” Jonah began, clearing his throat and doing his best to break the silence as Professor Cox slumped over at his desk, just staring at the projection in front of him with a model of the object spinning around. He had been like this since Jonah arrived, not uttering a word or even acknowledging Jonah’s presence. “What do we do?”

“What?” Professor Cox jumped a bit before slowly turning to Jonah. “Oh, hi, Jonah,” he said. “I, uh, what did you ask?”

“What do we do?” Jonah asked again, almost questioning his own question.

“Well,” he said as he slowly spun his chair around to face Jonah. “That's just it.” He threw his hands up before they landed on his lap with a slap. “I’m not sure that I know what to do. I’ve done as much analysis as I can on the scan that we took of the device, but I’m just a physicist --”

“And I’m just a bad journalist. So what?” Jonah interrupted. “You know people, I know some people, we can try to figure this thing out, I think.”

“Oh,” Professor Cox said as he let out a loud laugh. “Oh, I know people, all right. This is classified, classified well beyond my level, and I’m not sure that I can even get near it or get any information about it. Those deck hands, they took it to me to figure out what it was, but it never should have come to me. It never should have been in my possession -- and I think that they know it.” He gulped hard. “I didn’t think it would go this far. I’m afraid of what might happen to me. I’ve never seen or read of anything like this happening on this ship before, and I’m afraid of what they’ll do to keep this quiet.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Jonah protested as he ran his hand over his chin. “You are Professor Julian Cox, the premier physicist aboard the Omega Destiny, also known as the last hope for humanity. They need you more than you need them at this point, and they know that. They won’t touch you, Professor Cox.”

“You don’t know that!” he shouted angrily, pulling his glasses off and tossing them onto the counter next to him. It was more animated than Jonah had ever seen the professor before. “You don’t know that,” he repeated. “Who is essential aboard this flight, really? That technology, Jonah, it was light years ahead of anything we have. I can’t make heads or tails of it, and I’m afraid that there could be more. As we move toward this new planet, what if we find more and more of this? What if we find a complete probe? Or worse yet, what if we find a ship -- a manned ship? Or whatever else. I don’t know.”

“C’mon.” Jonah said, picking up the professor’s glasses and handing them back to him. “You are beyond this -- you don’t believe in fucking aliens! We can figure this out, we can figure this out...”

“How? If we encounter more, don’t you think it’ll just be covered up just like this one was?” He snatched his glasses out of Jonah’s hands and clumsily pulled them back onto his face with one hand. “We’ll never find out about it. This was an anomaly! How do we know that this hasn’t happened before?! This is absurd. We are in the dark here and --”

“Wait, what did you just say?” Jonah felt the light bulb switch on in his head.

“This is an anomaly, Jonah,” he repeated as he turned around in his chair, only to have Jonah put his hands on his shoulders and stop him mid-spin.

“No, not that. After that.”

“That this has probably happened before?”

“Yes!” He could feel a surge of excitement swell within him. “What if this has happened before? What if we’ve found more objects like this, and there has been some sort of, you know, spin?”

“Sure, that could have happened,” he said. “It could have happened, but what are the odds of them having to do a panic move like this? What are the odds that someone leaked something like this out, and they had to spin a ridiculous story like this?”

“It’s worth looking into, isn’t it?” Jonah said. “I mean, do we have any other leads at all right now?”

“No,” the professor agreed. Jonah watched the light returning to his eyes. “Well, you might be onto something. I can run a few searches from the wire over the span of -- what, the past seventy-nine years? Has it really been that long?”

“Yeah,” Jonah said. “Not that I’ve been alive for even half of that.”

“Neither have I,” Professor Cox smiled at him. “And I’m a lot older than you. This might take a while,” he said as he rubbed his chin. “But this is worth a shot. Plus, you have access to more historical data because of your job. If I find anything, I can relay it to you, and you can search through the archives, right?”

“I can do that,” Jonah agreed as he began to feel the gears grinding inside of his head. “My overachieving ways might actually pay off for once, as my clearance is one of the highest of any non-com employee there. But...” Jonah paused, his mind racing through jumbled thoughts. “What am I looking for?”

“Cover-ups,” Professor Cox answered, raising his eyebrows. “Cover-ups that smell and taste like this one. Ones that don’t make any sense. Use your best judgment, Jonah -- I believe in you. I’m doing to do research from here in the lab, but I need you to be looking out as well, and I need you to perform reverse lookups of anything I find. Remember, your division existed before this mission, so there should be records dating back... well, dating back rather far.”

“There are,” Jonah said, looking off at the distance. “We should have access to everything we need.”

“Good.” The professor blinked, staring off at the window, his eyes blinking rapidly, which was surely a nervous twitch. “Good.”


* * *


Sleep would not find him on that night easily, just like the previous night. Kara had broke her silence with Jonah after a day of the cold shoulder, and the ensuing argument was exhausting for him. No part of Jonah could focus on his girlfriend’s problems, which at the time seemed so trivial, distant and trite. Her A-Deck sensibilities and mannerisms had always been somewhat endearing to Jonah, but when real problems like the device presented themselves, her daddy issues and her addiction to stimulants seemed less and less like they were a part of Jonah’s world.

“I don’t understand,” she said. She looked up at him from the couch, her bare feet resting on the corner of the cold metal table in the center of the room. Her room, unlike most Jonah had seen, was comfortable by the standards of the quarters in the B-Deck: She had two bedrooms, both fully furnished, and enough decor to make you forget you were in the B-Deck. It was what she brought with her from the A-Deck, like it was her idea of slumming it. “Sometimes you make no sense to me.”

“There’s just...” Jonah began. He hung his head low and shook it, grasping for the right words. “We’ve been over this before, and I don’t know how many more times I can explain myself,” he sighed.

This argument always seemed to happen. Jonah was damaged in many ways, but a part of him just wanted to find a place to rest his head and feel comfortable. Nothing was ever easy for him, and when he finally felt comfortable enough to open up and express it, the words seemed to lose their weight, and his comfort level was reduced considerably.

“You know that I can’t just stay here,” she said as she broke open a pill on the table, crushing it up with the butt end of her ceramic pipe before carefully collecting the dust into neat piles. She hovered over one and inhaled quickly, her finger over her other nostril. Kara kicked back into the chair and quivered for a few seconds before wiping her nose. “This place is killing me; it is sucking the life out of me.”

“No,” Jonah replied as he hung his head, refusing to look up at her and refusing to give credence to her self-destructive behavior. “This place isn’t killing you, Kara.” He looked up at her and motioned with his head toward the table. “You are killing yourself, and no matter how hard I try, I can't make you help yourself.”

“I’m not who you want me to be,” she pouted, turning a bit red. “Well, I didn’t think I was getting involved with... with...” She paused and looked back at Jonah before throwing her hands up. “This depressed, self-doubting person who's going nowhere. You are going nowhere.”

“What?” Jonah could feel his blood begin to boil as he watched her looking like a complete mess on her couch. “How can you even --”

“Because you are going nowhere!” She fell back onto the couch and put both of her feet back up on the table, arms crossed. “That job is a one-way trip to nowhere for both of us, and it’s not my fault that I want to get away from it and you don’t.”

“You just want to go back to the A-Deck and have your father get you a job,” he snapped back. “How is that any better? Daddy has to take care of all of your problems for you, but he’s never known what to do about your substance abuse problems, does he?”

“This has nothing to do with him!” she shouted as tears welled up in her eyes. “This is about you, Jonah. I thought I was getting involved with that confident guy that I met last year, the one who walked around like he was better than it all, like he was going somewhere. I looked up to you.”

“Well, that was your first problem.” He let out a sigh, trying to control his breathing and stay calm. “That person died a long time ago, Kara. I can’t be him anymore; I can’t be who you want me to be. I’m just me now.”

“I don’t even know what that means.” She stared up at him with glassy eyes. “This job is just killing me.”

“For how much longer?” Jonah exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “You think that I’m happy with it? I’m not, but how long until we reach this new planet? How long until we reach Omega? Something like a matter of months, Kara. Months, and then we can start our lives together on a new place. Start over, just you and me. I don’t understand why you want to throw all of this away now when we’ve come so far. We can be whatever we want together.”

“I’m just not sure that I can wait that long.” She pulled herself up and plodded across the cold metal floor into the kitchen and poured some water.

“But we’re so close.” Jonah felt as if he was pleading with her, and he was not sure how it got to that point. Kara had a way of making him feel like that, of turning the tables on him. It always seemed like she knew just how to pull the rug out from under him and scare him. “Don’t leave me now.”

“Fine,” she said, walking toward the bedroom. “I’m going to bed now.” She ran her fingers over the control panel on the wall. The shutters on the window slowly extended down, and the room grew darker and darker until the only light was the lamp next to the bed, which Kara promptly flipped off.



004. Control

Captain O’Neil


“Report,” the captain said as he strode onto the deck of the ship like he had every other morning since he took command at age 37. His uniform was immaculate as always, with the captain’s pin that adorned his lapel glinting from the lights blinking around the ship’s command center.

“On course, and on time, sir,” a stout man named Peterson barked out, his eyes fixed on his board as he monitored the ship’s status and position.

“Commander Dumas,” the captain called out, staring out of the forward window with his hands behind his back, clenched together tightly. They turned a dull shade of white as the blood flow was cut off.

“Yes, Captain,” Dumas replied as he approached the captain with his holoscanner in hand. He stood stiffly before him and raised his right hand up to his forehead to salute him. Ceremony was important on the deck for the officers; the captain had always made this clear.

“Have we gotten the situation under control yet, commander?” He let his right arm fall to his side as the knuckles on his left hand dug into the small of his back. It helped remind him to keep his posture rigid, something that his wife had pounded into his head for years; she didn’t want her captain to be seen as anything other than a commanding figure. He laughed to himself. She had gone to all of that trouble only to betray him.

“Yes, sir,” Dumas said, looking down at his scanner. “There has been a story released through the news as per protocol, and most of the inquiries seemed to have stopped or at least turned their attention to the story that we released.”

“Good,” he said, staring out the window again and noting that it always felt like the ship was standing still, with the stars in the same place, even though they were moving almost at the speed of light. “How about Professor Cox?”

“Nothing to report, sir.” He scrolled through his scanner before looking back up at the captain.

“Nothing? Not a single new detail about him at all?” He said, shaking his head. Every little detail aboard this ship was logged, and this was the best that they could come up with? He walked back to his chair in the center of the deck and sat back. “We know nothing about him or whom he associates with? No one else visited his quarters after he found this device?”

“Well,” Dumas began before clearing his throat anxiously. “Um, there was one person -- a Jonah Freeman, sir.”

“Okay.” The captain nodded, pulling his personal scanner up from the compartment on the side of his chair and resting it on his lap. “Who is Jonah Freeman? Another physicist?”

“No, sir,” he said as he shook his head. “He appears to just be a personal acquaintance. We did not look too far into him as he seems to be of little consequence.”

The captain let out a deep breath and pulled up his manifest records database on his scanner. He typed in the name “Jonah Freeman” to pull up his profile. “In situations like this, commander, everyone is of consequence. We cannot risk anything disturbing the peace aboard this ship. We’ve come too far, and we're too close for that.”

“Agreed, sir,” Dumas said as he looked away with a pained expression on his face. “We’ll look into him.”

“I can look into him myself, commander.” He motioned toward the holoscanner on his lap and shook his head disapprovingly. “It looks like Jonah Freeman is a real go-getter. He's the son of a janitor who moved up the ranks in the civilian military to the point where he was able to get himself a position in the Ministry of Communications. He’s even been promoted a few times from there, it looks like. Interesting.” He scrolled down to the personal information, and a name stuck out to him. “Very interesting.”

“What, sir?”

He cleared his throat and picked himself up out of his chair. “It says here that Mr. Freeman spends a lot of time with Jim Levine’s daughter.”

“The Minister of Finance?” he asked, a puzzled look on his face.

“The one and only,” the captain said, eyes fixed on the profile. O’Neil had met little Kara when she was younger, and there was a chance that he had seen her lately as well, but it was hard for him to keep up with all of the Ministers and their families. Some, like Levine, tended to fall between the cracks. The financial ecosystem aboard the ship was ornamental at best as there was no need for an economy on there; it just helped to remind everyone of what they left behind and what they would establish again when they got to Omega.

“Is this a bad thing?”

“No,” he said, absentmindedly shaking his head with his thumb pressed to his bottom lip. “Just means that this kid might be worth keeping an eye on is all. The Ministry of Communications is a powerful branch of this ship, commander, and it appears that Mr. Freeman is quite the rising star there.”

“Understood, sir,” Dumas confirmed, still looking uncomfortable.

“Actually, Dumas,” he added as he tossed his scanner onto his chair before turning back to the window. “Who has the byline from the Ministry of Communications on the story about the device from this morning?”

“I’m not sure,” he replied as he frantically tapped away at his scanner, shaking his head. “I’d have to discuss this with someone at the Ministry of Communications as they don’t release that information to the public -- it just comes from the Ministry.”

“Find out for me. I want to know if Mr. Freeman’s name is attached to this in any way, even if he was just in the room where it was discussed.”


* * *


The captain leaned back in his chair in his office, taking a deep breath as he stared at the screen above him. There was a photograph of Jonah Freeman on the left and information about him filling up the right side of the screen. He was still young, he thought to himself, and that kid had done more for himself than most aboard the ship could ever imagine. All it took was a little fortitude and effort, and he had pulled himself out from the mire that was the mechanisms of the ship, even if only a little bit.

Everything in the ship's protocols told the captain to immediately take Freeman into custody and grill him on what he knew, but he couldn’t muster up enough energy to make it happen. Something about this kid felt off to him, but he couldn’t quite place it. There was too much going on right now for the captain to think straight; they were too close to Omega, and he could almost taste the air now. The deeper into the system that they got, the more that they were able to pick up about the solar system and the surrounding planets.

The system reminded many of the people aboard of their own, right down to the size of the star and its projected age. It felt eerie, almost like they were propelling themselves deeper into a mirror-image projection of the life that they left behind all of those years before. The pressure of being the captain who was going to break ground on the new planet was too much for him to handle sometimes, and at that moment, he just wanted to rest. It was all so overwhelming.

Jeanette had thrown a real wrench into everything with her inability to hold their marriage together just a few weeks longer until they touched down. He had approached her that morning to ask her why she had gotten in so late the night before, and it sparked a huge argument. She had said that she didn’t owe him any sort of explanation. She had noticed his men following her the night before, even though he had told them to keep their distance.

The words never came out of her mouth, but maybe it was for the best. There was too much going on with the landing preparations and the drills to worry about one woman and her unhappiness within her marriage, even if it was his own wife. He had wondered before where their marriage had went wrong, but he quickly stopped that line of thought. There was just too much stacked against them with his job and what it took out of him.

“Captain,” he heard. The door whizzed open, breaking him out of his trance, and he watched Commander Dumas enter the room.

“Yes, Dumas,” he greeted him as he smiled at his commander, feeling pangs of regret from the public shaming earlier on. “What do you have for me?”

“It’s about that Jonah Freeman.” The door shut behind him, the metal-on-metal clanking noise filling up the empty space of the room and reverberating off of the walls.

“What about him?”

“Sir,” he said, swallowing hard and nodding. “The Ministry of Communications’ records indicate that Jonah Freeman was involved with the story that we released this morning about the device. Not only was he involved, but he was the one who wrote the story. Apparently he is held in high regard by those in power over there and is relied upon for more sensitive situations like this.”

“So he was with Professor Cox after he had possession of the device,” the captain said as he clasped his hands together in front of his face. “Then he was tapped by the Ministry to put out a news piece about it.”

“Sir, if I might add,” Dumas began. He glanced down at the captain who was staring up at the screen before him. Jonah Freeman’s information was laid out in front of them. “I think that we should act immediately and treat him as a person of interest.”

“What do you mean, commander?” He pulled himself up to his feet and took a deep breath. Taking the boy in would only spook him, and if he was as vital to the Ministry of Communications as they claimed, he’d be missed. It would send the wrong message. “Take someone who is moderately visible from a public job and question him about something that he might actually know nothing about? This could just be a coincidence. Worst case scenario is that he and the doctor have discussed this object and are curious about it, but has the doctor reached out to anyone else about this?”

“No, sir,” he confirmed, still a bit shaky from earlier. “We’ve been monitoring his communications, and Professor Cox has had very few outside communications at all. Most of them are work-related, with a few to Mr. Freeman. If they do know anything, they aren’t telling anyone. And there isn't any information coming in to them. Even if that may be the case, sir, I cannot recommend that we let them continue...”

“That’s enough, Commander Dumas,” the captain interrupted as he adjusted his glasses. He pulled them off of his face and rubbed his temples with his free hand. “Just keep a close watch on both of them, and keep me abreast of anything new with either one, understood?”

“Understood, sir,” he said. “Although I must urge you as your trusted adviser that we do more than this. We are so close to Omega, and anything that could --”

“I understand the gravity of our situation, Jack,” he interrupted, placing his glasses back onto his face.

“I never understood why you didn’t just get the laser treatment to fix your vision, Pete,” the commander commented, trying to change the subject. “It's painless, and in a matter of minutes, you wouldn’t need to worry about those anymore.”

“I guess in a way, it keeps me grounded,” he said, thinking about how many times his wife had had that same conversation with him. He always felt that it gave him a more authoritative look, but Jeanette claimed that it made him look out of touch.

“You are a very stubborn man sometimes, you know that, sir?”

“Jeanette lets me know that on a daily basis, Jack. Trust me on that.”

“Oh, speaking of Jeanette,” the commander said as he pulled out his scanner and tapped it a few times. “Did you want the detail to keep following her? They are still under orders to monitor her and report directly to me, but it does seem like a bit of a waste of resources with this Professor Cox and Jonah Freeman running around.”

“They haven’t broken any laws yet,” he replied. He walked over to the counter, picking up a glass and pouring himself some water before staring down into the glass. The water rippled gently as the glass moved. “I’ve always been fascinated by water, Jack,” he said as he squinted and held the glass up to the light. “What I’m looking forward to most is getting to see a real body of water out there -- that and the vegetation on there. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to have my own garden out in the open air, not in this stuffy ship.”

“I’m not sure that I’ll ever understand your fascination with dirt and leaves,” he said as he walked to the back of the captain’s office and looked into the garden area tucked away in the back. “You do pride yourself on this garden, though, don’t you?”

“Sometimes it's all that I have,” he took a sip of the water and gulped it down hard, walking over to gaze out over his small garden with the commander. “It is the only thing that can keep me sane out here.”

“What about Jeanette?”

“If she was keeping me sane, I’m not sure that I’d have a detail trailing her, would I?”

“No,” he admitted. “I wasn’t going to ask, but I feel like the door is wide open for it now, sir. Why exactly do you have a detail following her around?”

“She’s cheating on me.” The words came easier to him at that point, seeing as though there were no more questions in his mind about it. He knew what she has been doing, and even if he didn't know who it was that she has been spending her time with, he understood the situation.

“Oh my god,” Dumas gasped. “I don’t even know what to say. I guess the detail on her makes more sense now. Who is it with?”

“Haven’t figured that much out yet.” He took a swig from the glass, emptying it before he walked back over to the counter and set it down. He eyeballed the bottle of whiskey on the counter, which was giving off an amber glow and calling to him. He reached out for it, only to realize how early in the morning it was and stopped himself. “That’s why the detail is still on her.”

“What are you going to do about this?”

“There really isn’t much that I can do right now, is there?” He snatched up the glass and placed it under the faucet again, filling it with more water. “Our journey is quickly coming to an end, and there's a lot more to worry about than my personal life right now.”

“Bullshit,” Dumas blurted out. “Sir, permission to speak freely.”

“I feel as though I have no choice in this matter, so go ahead.” He knew that Dumas would simply speak his mind at this point anyway, especially after the browbeating earlier in front of the crew.

“It’s bullshit,” Dumas said as he motioned with his hands toward the Captain. “Your personal life should matter even more now that we are just weeks away from reaching Omega. We’re going to settle on there. We’re going to make a living on that planet, and your life falls apart just weeks before we are to land -- and you're just going to let it? You can’t survive out there with just your garden, sir.”

“It didn’t just start to fall apart, Jack,” he sighed. He leaned back against the counter and stared deeply into the glass of water, the ripples distorting the deep blue carpet on the floor. The water felt like an abyss at that moment.

“It’s been heading this way for a very long time and just happened to really start to show signs of decay as we got into this system. There is a lot more to worry about right now than how I’m going to spend my retirement once we reach the planet.”

“Retirement?” The word seemed to take Dumas off guard. “You?”

“I’m a captain, Jack. I’m the captain of this ship and in charge of the military as well as the well-being of every civilian aboard this ship. When we reach Omega, we won’t have much need for the captain of a great starship anymore. The journey will be over as will the need for me.”

“Like you just said, you are in charge of more than just the ship. 'Captain' is just the title that you’ve been given, but you are the leader of everyone here -- on or off of this ship. Things will fall apart without you.”

“Maybe they're supposed to fall apart,” he said. “Maybe it would be better for everyone to find their own way when we get there. They could, I don’t know, have elections and figure things out for themselves. There is no need for a tyrant like me anymore.”

“You aren’t a tyrant, sir,” he scoffed, stumbling over his words.

“If you travel down to the C-Deck, that isn’t what you’ll hear,” the captain said as he raised an eyebrow and stared down at the glass again.

“That is the C-Deck, though, sir.” he said. “Their opinion doesn’t matter.”

“Maybe that is a part of the problem: We don’t give them enough credit or say in this matter.”

“We all know that democracy never worked back on Earth, sir. Why would we allow for that or something similar to return?”

“Commander, I’m not sure that I care what our society turns into anymore. I have a job to do, and I’m going to do it. I’m going to deliver this ship and its inhabitants to a new planet.”

“Yeah, well.” Dumas waved his hand at the captain. “What if it happens? What if they want you for another mission?”

“Another mission?” he scoffed, swirling the ice in his glass. “I’m not sure if I believe that old tale of the Earth Ministry working on faster-than-light anti-matter drives and them appearing in the sky alongside of us to help colonize the planet, Jack. That was always science fiction, never anything more than that. Otherwise, why would they have sent us on this mission if they believed that they could get here in a fraction of the time?”

“This was a highly publicized mission! The planet was in great turmoil at the time, and something had to be done. They couldn’t back out of the great mission that could save humanity, even if it was going to take eighty years. I have to believe that they wouldn’t just give up hope into finding more efficient methods of travel.”

“We’ve all seen the briefings, Jack.” He took another sip before he glanced over at his first officer. “That we have our arrival date, and that they promise to arrive around the same time with their new warp drives, but we haven’t had as much as a single communication yet, and we are just a few weeks away from landing. If they have the capability to move multiple times beyond the speed of light -- something that modern physics has yet to be able to crack -- wouldn’t they have the ability to contact us by now?”

“We’ve been following their orders, though, sir.” He was starting to doubt it himself; the captain could tell. “We’ve sent the encoded transmissions daily to the agreed frequencies day in and day out, waiting for their reply.”

“You know,” the captain chuckled to himself. “A part of me really does wish that they’ll show up, just all materialize out there and relieve me of my command, let me go on my way.”

“They’d be losing out on a great leader,” he said.

“Then all of this will be their responsibility, not mine.” He pressed his tongue to his bottom lip.

“I’m sorry that Jeanette is doing this to you, sir.” The captain could tell that Dumas carefully chose his words. “But I do not feel like you should throw your career and all of your great accomplishments away or look down upon what you’ve done just because she has strayed. Your job puts you under a lot of pressure -- we all know that -- but if she chose this, then it's on her, not you.”

“You are really pushing this,” he said. “You sure that it isn’t you she's cheating with, Jack?”

“Me?” His face turned red, and he stumbled over his words again. “No, never, sir... I’d never do that to you! Pete, goddamn it. You're my friend. I --”

“Oh, calm down, Jack.” He picked himself up and patted his friend on the back. “I’m just joking with you. I trust you. I know that you wouldn’t do that. Plus, you know that I’d just throw you out of the airlock and make an example of you.”


005. The Martian Monolith

Jonah Freeman


Even though they were going to the same place, it felt like Jonah and Kara were moving in different directions. This was true both in terms of their physical destinations and mentally, considering that they were both going to work at the same time and working just a few desks away from one other, but their ways to get there were very different.

Jonah had stopped by his quarters before going to work in the morning to change and just to remind himself of what he had in front of him, the gravity of the situation. He had done his best this particular morning to shake off the argument with Kara the night before. The truth was, his work with Professor Cox was what he felt was really important, not feeling sorry for himself or trying to keep Kara from killing herself or leaving him.

“You weren’t in your quarters last night,” read a message at his terminal when Jonah finally settled down at his desk. It was from Professor Cox and lacked the pleasantries that his messages usually had, the usual charm. “I’ve discovered something huge, I think. I think that this is it, Jonah -- oh Jonah, this has to be it. Bring me everything that you can find on the Mars Monolith. -- DC.”

The Mars Monolith? Jonah typed it into a search box and started running a query as he leaned back in his chair and surveyed the office. It was slow that morning, and everyone seemed focused on Andrea and Alexander's very loud bitch session in the corner about one of their assignments from the last week. This was exactly the kind of atmosphere that afforded Jonah the kind of space he needed to do his own research, especially on a slow news day.

There was not a ton of pick-up for the Russian cosmonaut story, which meant that it had done its job. It had knocked the wind out of the sails of most of the conspiracy theories and rumors that were swirling around. Of course, some of the fringe groups from the lower decks were still talking about it, but they tended to cling to things like this. Jonah always got the impression that the lower decks were where a lot of the troublemakers ended up through a string of coincidences.

When presented with an anomaly, most scientists treat it as such; many become obsessed with it and even deify it in a way. Yet all of the information that came up about the Mars Monolith was very to the point.

The Mars Monolith was originally spotted by a 2005 probe called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or the MRO. It was a strange rectangular object jutting out from the rather barren Martian landscape. After a few years, its was quickly written off as simply a fallen stone from a nearby rock formation that broke off in a near-perfect shape and did not seem to be surrounded by any other debris. It was exactly the kind of object that would drive a scientist stuck on Earth with just photographs from a probe mad. The fact that it was so easily written off seemed to fit the bill. Jonah stared entranced at the photograph of the rock jutting out from the ground.

There were definitely similarities between this and their mystery object. Both things were scientific curiosities that demanded further investigation, and the publicly released stories about them tended to come across as flat and dismissive. To the untrained eye, there was nothing wrong. But in all truth, there was a lot wrong with both stories.

His search of the wire came up with no news stories. He had to broaden his search and send it all the way back in an attempt to scoop up something about the Mars Monolith. Still nothing, just a few of the wire-released stories from around the same period. This meant that he had to broaden his search again to Mars discoveries and news in general.

They had all of their government communications documented, and Jonah knew without a doubt that something like this would have come down through this department. Mars discoveries from the ten years following 2005 meant a lot more stories to filter through. And they were all from different sources, including NASA and different government agencies, but there were only two through the Ministry. These were exactly what Jonah was looking for.

He quickly downloaded both of them to his holoscanner and looked around his desk. He was trying to be as inconspicuous as he could, which was always a bit of a challenge, due to the open layout of the office and how everyone drifted around. The content on one’s screen was never sacred. It always seemed a bit confusing to him that they dealt with such sensitive content all of the time, but everyone treated it like they were working somewhere that was relaxed. Jonah sunk back into his chair and opened up the first story, his eyes quickly scanning it in near disbelief.

The first communication was what he had expected: concise, to the point and quickly writing off the item as simply a rock that happened to stand out. Jonah imagined that back then, during a time of such open communication, events like the Mars Monolith had to be frustrating for agencies like his own, which liked to keep everything under strict lock and key. The second communication was a lot more interesting because the story had apparently not stuck as well as they would have liked. People were openly questioning the object found on Mars and writing off the official communications for the rubbish that they were. It made Jonah laugh under his breath, and he shook his head.

We cannot overstate this: This story must be kept under control without much attention being paid to it. There are multiple protocols in place in case of events like this, which must be followed to ensure the optimal outcome. No more attention must be brought to this story in an official capacity; instead the protocols for third-party organizations to issue news regarding the anomaly should be followed to help control the story.

The language felt forced, like it was trying to remain official, calm and assertive, but it was beginning to fall apart. The implications of that message meant that any number of the stories released around that time period about the Monolith could be “official” and simply appear to be from sources that were not the government. Clearly, if the rock was the nothing that they claimed it was, they wouldn’t need to be that concerned.

There was no way that Jonah would be able to determine which stories were which, so he quickly pulled as many as he could from after that date and downloaded them to his holoscanner. He looked through the list and sighed. He would have to get this information to Professor Cox as soon as possible.

“Hi Jonah.” A voice snapped him away from his screen. He looked up to see Jillian, a usually quiet girl who always dressed very conservatively and somehow found a way to rub him the wrong way. “So we're all pitching in to get a cake for Andrea’s birthday next week,” she said quietly, almost whispering.

“Okay.” Jonah furrowed his brow, looking up at her and trying to mask his frustration with being bothered, especially over something so trivial. After a few seconds of silence, Jonah sighed, “So?”

“So we were wondering if you wanted to --”

“Yeah, fine,” he snapped, realizing that he was probably coming across as more than a little rude. “How much?”

“So we were thinking about maybe five each and...” She trailed off, not making eye contact with him. He knew that she was friendly with Andrea and that Andrea thought less and less of him with each passing day, so he could only imagine what Jillian thought of him. Not that it mattered much. It was a strange feeling knowing that there were some people who thought that he was a monster, a commoner who weaseled his way into their neat and tidy world and didn’t belong there.

“Five, great.” He shifted in his chair, reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of credits, sifting through them until he found a five note. He yanked it free and held it out to her. “Here.”

“Well,” she said. Jonah was unable to hold back his contempt and let out an audible sigh. He immediately regretted it, hearing her voice quiver a bit. “We were going to wait until next week to collect.”

“Could you just take it now?” He held the note in the air. How hard was it for them to steal money from him? “You know that I’ll forget by then.”

“Okay,” she said as she sheepishly pulled it out of his hand and started to walk away before holding it up and smiling, finally making eye contact with him. “Thanks.”

“Yup,” he said, forcing a smile. “Happy to help.”

His eyes remained on her while she walked away. If anyone was watching him now, they’d see the look of disgust on his face, and for that, he felt guilty. She wasn’t a bad person, just misguided, he thought.

A part of him was genuinely bothered by people who refused to actually get to know him and just judged him from the opinions of others, but he knew that he wasn’t always the easiest person to deal with, as that exchange showed him. He didn’t mean to be rude to her; she just interrupted him at the wrong time.

“What did you have to talk about with her?” The sound of Kara’s voice came over his shoulder, with the sound of disgust evident on the “her.”

“She wanted money,” Jonah answered as he turned his chair around to face her. “Andrea’s birthday cake or whatever,” he explained, trying to keep his voice soft.

“Oh.” She looked down. “Well, no one has said anything to me yet.”

“Yeah, well.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s next week, I think. So I’m sure you're due for a visit soon.”

“Oh,” she said. She started to walk off, and Jonah could feel himself panic a bit; he always felt uneasy when their conversations were left like that.

“Kara, wait,” he said, forcing her to stop and turn around.

“What?” she whispered. “I can’t spend too much time here or people will find out.”

“Right, but...” There were too many secrets swimming around in his head at that moment for him to find value in the whole “secret” of their relationship, not like it had ever made sense to him in the first place. “Can I come by tonight?”

“Fine.” She turned and walked away, leaving Jonah feeling like less than dirt. “Fine” was somehow worse than her “oh.”




* * *




“I feel like I’ve lost my way,” Jonah could hear himself saying, once again inside of Professor Cox’s lab, sitting in a stool with a short back, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

“What?” Professor Cox glanced over at him from across the room, peeling his eyes away from the screens in front of him and letting his glasses slip down his nose before he pulled his finger up to push them back up his nose. “This was precisely what we were looking for.”

“No, I know,” Jonah said. He stared off at the wall. It was always difficult talking about personal relationships with Professor Cox, a guy who had a life and lost it all before burying himself in his work without showing much emotion. “I don’t mean with that. I mean just in life, in general.”

“I don’t understand,” the professor said as he turned to face him, slapping his hands down onto his knees and leaning forward. “Is it that girl again? What’s her name? Lara?”

“Kara,” Jonah corrected him half-heartedly. “But close enough. I mean, I guess. I think that I’m supposed to go over there tonight, but she didn’t seem that excited, things with her have just been...”

“Tough? Jonah, look.” The professor looked up toward the ceiling and paused, swallowing hard before nodding and looking back at Jonah. “I’m not good with this stuff, with-- ”

He paused and threw his hands up. “With love and all of that. I mean, look at me. You want to know what I’m good at? This,” he said, motioning toward the computers and the equipment. “I’m good with science, with evidence and theories, not with people. If it wasn’t for you, well, I am not sure whom I’d have conversations with or whom I’d share ideas with.”

“That doesn’t exactly make my problems easier, Doc.” He appreciated the effort, but the talk was just as awkward as he imagined it would be.

The professor leaned forward again, craning his neck toward Jonah. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do or oversimplify your problems, but we are hurtling through space in a giant metal tube that is moving just shy of the speed of light, and that isn’t the problem.

“No, the problem is that we are moving at nearly the speed of light toward a planet that we are nowhere near as educated on as we pretend to be, and I feel like there is a lot that we do not know. We know that there is a lot that we do not know. And that... that thing that we found in space. We both know that it was not of Russian design.

“There is something wrong here, and this discovery of the Martian Monolith is proof that this isn’t the first time. Have you seen the photos?”

“Photos?” Jonah looked at the professor, puzzled. “What photos?”

“Oh, Jonah, come here.” He turned back to the screen and slid his fingers quickly back and forth before pulling up a photograph and zooming in on an object. He showed the screen to Jonah, who was now standing over his shoulder. “Look.”

Jonah looked down at the screen, and his jaw dropped open in disbelief. The other photos that he had seen of the object looked exactly like the rest of the Martian surface: a light brown hue like any other rock on the planet. This was different. This was shiny and black, much like the object that they had found floating in space. The edges were so perfect -- there was just no way that this was native to that planet. If anything, it looks like it was placed there, like it was intentional.

“I don’t believe it,” he muttered under his breath. “Why...”

“Why does it look so different from the photographs that we’ve seen? Good question,” he said as he pulled up a few of the official photos and pointed at them. “Look, there, see? Brown, just like everything else, blending in. This was doctored, Jonah. This photo has been altered.”

“How did you get one that wasn’t?”

“Access to certain satellite photograph databases from that period, trying to find photographs of it. There were a good number of them, all of them doctored, until I came across this one. This one appears to be the real thing.”

“How do you know that?” Jonah asked, shaking his head and crossing his arms. “How do you know that this one isn’t the doctored one and that the rest are real?”

“The Russians,” the professor stated matter-of-factly.

“Not the Russians again.” Jonah felt a headache approaching. He staggered over to the counter and leaned up against it. “We’ve already proven that Russians had nothing to do with what we found.”

“I agree.”

“Then...”

“Then this photograph was from a Russian satellite, one that was never cleared to be photographing Mars during a NASA mission.”

“What?”

“It was in no records anywhere, but in my research, I found that there was an off-chance that it would have been in that general vicinity, so I thought it was worth a shot...”

“You are fucking brilliant,” Jonah exclaimed, patting Professor Cox on the shoulder and shaking him gently. “So this photograph never existed in an official capacity, so there was no way that they would have doctored it.”

“Precisely,” he said, his eyes fixed on the screen. “So what did you find?”

“A lot,” Jonah answered. He picked up his holoscanner from the table behind him and quickly highlighted the files that he had acquired and dragged them over to Professor Cox’s. “This is all that I found,” he said, speaking over the projection while he kept his gaze fixed on it.

“I’m not sure how to organize this,” Professor Cox said, looking at Jonah and then back to the screen. “I only see two official communications here. One of them more interesting than the other, but still...”

“No, see,” Jonah said as he pointed to his screen. “Read the second one carefully, and you’ll see why I included all of those other articles. I think that some -- if not all of these -- are from the Ministry to help cover this up. Well, this was pre-Ministry, obviously, but they had their own version back then. ”

“Oh,” the professor said as he nodded, a smile quickly appearing on his face. “Oh. Oh!” He burst out laughing, turning his chair to face Jonah. He placed his arms on his shoulders and clenched them tightly. “Amazing work.”

“Thanks,” Jonah said, a bit embarrassed and overwhelmed by the kind words from the professor. “I, uh, I’m not done sorting through them because there are so many, but I’m sure that there is something of value in there.”

“No,” the professor said, hanging his head and shaking it back and forth. “I fear that there isn’t anything of worth in here -- of course, I mean, outside of their existence. The content is negligible at best. What we care about is that they went through a lot of trouble to ensure that this story was squashed. It is exactly what happened here, with us.

“Sadly we aren’t going to get any new information through these communications,” he said. He spun around in his chair one full turn, almost like a child who couldn’t contain himself. “You see what we’ve discovered, don’t you?”

“Proof?”

“Proof!” He jumped out of his chair, massaging his chin with his thumb and his forefinger as he paced back and forth. “This is truly astonishing, but at the same time...”

“At the same time, what?” Jonah could feel a knot in his stomach growing, almost not wanting to know what the professor meant by his pause.

“Well,” the professor began before he slumped back into his chair, and it slightly adjusted for his weight. “It is quite frightful, to be honest. Not only are we in a metal tube hurtling toward the unknown, but the unknown has a path of debris leading up to it that is being covered up -- not just now, but throughout our history as space-faring beings. There is something very wrong here.”

“How long until we reach the planet?” Jonah asked, his mind now racing at the possibilities.

“About three weeks, I think,” he answered as he turned back to his screen and pulled up a calendar. He nodded at the countdown. “Three short weeks.”

“What are the chances that we are heading into something dangerous, Doc?”

“With this latest evidence?”

He paused, shaking his head. Professor Cox pulled the glasses off of his face and rubbed his eyes with his free hand before placing them back on. “I’d have to run calculations to be exact, but I think that the likelihood is, well, incredibly likely.”

“So,” Jonah said. “What do we do now?” he asked, almost wondering aloud and not expecting an answer from the professor.

“Try to find a way to figure out exactly what the Ministry knows about all of this, and what they are doing with that part we found,” the professor said quietly, almost to himself.

“That’s easier said than done; we don’t have any leads,” Jonah said.

“Well, not exactly,” Professor Cox corrected him, sounding apprehensive.

“Oh?”

“I came across a name in some of my research, and he’s aboard this ship.” Professor Cox pulled up a file of an older man on his screen. The man looked haggard but inviting. He had a bushy white mustache and was balding.

“Communications Minister McMahon?” Jonah read the name aloud, questioning it. “I’ve never heard of him.”

“He was before your time, obviously.” The professor bit his bottom lip. “But he was dismissed from his position almost thirty years ago now, without there being any real notes as to why. From what I’ve been able to glean, he’s still receiving a Ministry pension.”

“Okay, that's kind of weird, isn’t it?”

“It is, and it isn’t,” he said. “Retired Ministers get pensions, sure, but ones that were dismissed? No. We haven’t been able to find much other than the Mars Monolith, though. Maybe they’ve just been covering it up. I don’t know. I just thought that this guy might know something.”

“So what do we do, just have a meeting with him?” Jonah asked.

“Well,” Professor Cox said as he turned to Jonah. “How do you feel about playing spy and going on your own?”

“I’m not sure that I like where this is going, if I’m entirely honest.”

“Jonah, I don’t know if you know this.” The professor was speaking quietly. “But I’ve noticed guards around me, and I believe that they are monitoring me. I know how to cover my tracks in here,” he said as he motioned toward the holoscanner. “But I can’t do it outside of that. You need to do this.”

“What if they're monitoring me?” he asked, starting to feel like the air was growing heavy.

“Why would they? You're a good kid, you keep your nose to the ground, and you do your job.”

“But I’m associated with you!”

“Have you noticed if you’ve been followed at all? Anyone strange around?”

“Not any more than normal, no.”

“Then you have to do this; you have to be our spy.”

“Okay,” he said, not feeling sure of the decision but feeling the weight of the assignment on his shoulders. “I’ll do it.”




* * *


Jonah’s mind was swimming after he left the professor’s lab, and he knew that his night wouldn’t get any more comfortable after he headed for Kara’s quarters.

It had always struck him as odd that the ship was moving at such a breakneck pace, but that inside of the ship, it never felt like they were moving at all. Even looking out of the observation decks, everything seemed to be standing still, not moving near the speed of light. Yet at that very moment when he found himself walking through the main hall of the B-Deck toward the entrance to the C-Deck, he felt like all of the gravity of the universe was pulling on him and the ship was indeed moving at the speed of light.

It was a sensation that he had never experienced before, and he began to wonder if he was possibly losing his mind. He had spent his whole life aboard the ship and never had he once felt like this, yet all of a sudden there he was, unable to even walk without feeling like he was going to fall over. His heart began to race faster and faster, and his hand jutted out to the wall to help brace him and keep him on his feet.

The door of C-Deck was twenty feet away, but it felt like it was miles away. He slowly inched his way there, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, as a feeling of dread overcame him. He felt like everything was coming to a chaotic conclusion and that he had lost control.

There were eyes on him as he clawed his way to the door, passersby all in a hurry to get where they were going who were too busy to stop but not too busy to shoot him queer looks. He not only felt his heart racing (like the ship was caving in on him, and all of a sudden, he was not on stable ground), but he felt like he was reduced to space dust by the looks that he was getting.

Jonah finally made a split-second decision and slumped over against the wall, lowering his head into his hands and doing his best to catch his breath. All of a sudden, the weight and the gravity of a world that he had never known had all came crashing down upon his shoulders. He took slow, deliberate breaths as his hands tugged at his hair, pulling it all the way back and out of his eyes.

The cold metal of the deck was staring up at him. He noted that his shoes were looking ragged, and these became the sole focus for him. Why had he let them get this bad? Sure, he had a certain affinity for them, but there was no way that he could keep wearing them for much longer; at this point, they weren’t even that comfortable anymore. The ball of his foot was where he tended to land -- he could tell by the pattern on the soles of his shoes where the rubber had all but worn away. One side even had a tiny slit in it, like the beginnings of a hole that would soon render them completely worthless. Everything in their contained culture was disposable, recycled and never used to its full intent or truly appreciated. Everything was fleeting and only used until someone deemed it unworthy to be worn on a certain deck anymore.

One thing was for certain: These shoes belonged on C-Deck, whatever that meant. Whenever he’d stop to think about what he was wearing while on the B-Deck to visit Professor Cox, he’d all of a sudden feel like everyone was looking at him with controlled disgust over his appearance. Maybe they were thinking about how he was polluting their beloved B-Deck. A part of him wondered what was frowned upon from the B-Deck on the A-Deck. What was simply too “low class” for the aristocrats of the Omega?

Finally, in the hall that he had relegated himself to at the entrance to the C-Deck, Jonah found himself laughing at the sheer absurdity of the whole thing. He knew that no one cared about his shoes.

Jonah loved those shoes and found comfort in them, even if they were worse for the wear and could be replaced. Why replace them unless he found himself uncomfortable and needed something new? It was all so ridiculous and stuffy when there was no real reason it had to be that way. They were living, like Professor Cox had said, in a giant tube moving at nearly the speed of light and were heading into the unknown. Was there really a need for the rigid uniformity that existed aboard the ship? Jonah was never one for the philosophy that the further away from civilization one is, the more that societal norms have to be upheld, as if these norms held an important, stronger and more symbolic value.

Jonah also had a plan (in his mind, at least) that when they finally reached the planet, he would go off on his own whenever he could in order to find himself a life far away from this rigid uniformity. All of that seemed like a pipe dream right now. He found himself huddled in a corner of the ship with knowledge that there were some potentially dark secrets being withheld from everyone and that most of the things that Jonah thought that he knew were just an elaborate lie -- right down to his relationship with Kara.

A part of him had always suppressed what he knew was true of the relationship: She was rebelling, and at some point, she would find herself back home under the welcoming umbrella of her father yet again. But for now, Jonah was the average C-Deck bad boy that rubbed her father the wrong way, and their relationship felt like Kara's way of proving her independence.

In a way, Jonah the person did not matter to her as much as Jonah the concept or the symbol. He could be a life-size cutout with a purported bad-boy attitude in any way, shape or form that she found fit to fuel her rebellion. Jonah was the rebellion. And as they got to know each other on a level much deeper than the surface, she found that this rebellion had its own thoughts, hopes and dreams that they did not align with her vision.

They had talked about running away together when they arrived planetside.

“I just can’t think that far ahead,” she had said at the time, looking flustered by his adoration of her and desire to make a life with her.

“I’m ready to start my real life now, to finally do what I want to do,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she said in between tokes of her pipe, her eyes staring across the room at him cold and emotionless, finding their way through the haze. “I just haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”

He laughed to himself, thinking about how a conversation with her just a few weeks later turned to her wanting to join some of her friends on an expedition. They had planned to make a documentary of the new world on the Ministry’s coin. This meant living with a certain troupe from the C-Deck, ones that fit into her mold a lot more comfortably -- and Jonah knew it, but he still held on.

“I want this to last,” he had said as he lay next to her in bed. “I’m not ready for this to just end when we get there. Are you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just know that I don’t want to be stuck here like this.”

He never bothered to ask her exactly what “this” was, but he knew that she was beginning to find a way out for herself. This rebellion was going to be short-lived, and sooner or later, this would be apparent. Her mother had warmed up to the idea of Jonah more and more, although she hadn’t met him. Even when Kara described him as being difficult, it came across as childish, and her mother told her that Jonah was good for her. If anything, that was the beginning of the end of their relationship.

“When I look ahead,” Jonah explained, rolling over to face her as she stared off at the ceiling. “I can see myself with you in five years. That's what I want, Kara.”

“I’m just not sure that I can think that far ahead, and I know you don’t want to join the troupe, so...”

“So this relationship has an expiration date,” Jonah stated bluntly, rolling over onto his other side and looking away from her.

“No, well.” She reached her hand up and rested it on his shoulder. “I just...”

“I get it, all right?” Jonah found himself sitting up, putting one foot at a time onto the floor before reaching over for his clothes and pulling them on. “We both knew that I was more committed all along. I’m going home.”

She hadn’t stopped him, and since then, the topic only came up when one of them let their guard down enough to bring up the elephant in the room. Jonah knew that they were diverging. He wasn’t sure how to bring them back together or if there was any way to really do that. He had always told himself that all rises must converge, but out in space, the concept of rising had little value. What is up and down when gravity only exists in the peripherals, in solar systems and on planets?

Maybe that was why he was where he was now; everything all of a sudden had an expiration date. When they arrived planetside, his relationship would no longer exist. The one person that he had chose to let inside was planning on moving on, and they both knew it. On top of that, there might not be anything friendly to greet them on that planet, or they might not even reach it. Who knew what those discoveries really meant? A part of Jonah just found himself standing at the edge of the unknown once again after being there so many times before and promising himself that he’d never be there again.

Slowly he picked himself up, feeling his body straightening out like an arrow, his arms outstretched. He could still feel the shake running through his body, but he confidently strode through the door to the C-Deck and found himself once again walking to his own quarters, understanding that there was nothing left for him in Kara’s quarters and that he and Kara might be over.

Not that it mattered.



006. Transmission

Captain O’Neil


“You’re late.” Jeanette’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard that he heard as the door whirred shut behind him.

“I know,” he said, not making eye contact with his wife. “It’s not easy being responsible for the future of the human race, after all.”

“I’m sure the weight of the world is just crushing you,” she sneered as she leaned back in her chair. She took a sip of her wine and let it sit in her mouth for a brief moment before swallowing it.

“Something like that.”

“I was thinking...”

“I just got home, Jeanette,” he said, taking a deep breath as he slumped over into a chair, massaging his temples with his thumbs. “Unless you were thinking about some way to make my life easier, I’m not sure that I need to hear it right now.”

“You never listen to me,” she growled. “You tell me that you want this marriage to work, but Peter, you give me nothing to work with. You give me nothing!”

“You don’t exactly give me a lot to work with, either.”

“I can’t talk to you anymore!” She planted her feet into the carpet, gulping down the rest of the wine and striding toward the bottle on the counter across the room.

“We both know that you’ve barely tried.”

“That’s better than you’ve done.”

O’Neil took a deep breath and sank further into the chair. She didn’t know yet. She thought that it was all still a big secret, that she could somehow keep a secret from him on his own ship. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t sure who it was with yet -- that was just a formality, a small detail in the deception. There was a sense of curiosity as to who it could have been, but there was so much going on at that moment with the ship and the mission that one woman’s indiscretions seemed like a minor issue, even if it was major for him.

He just needed someone to talk to, someone to make life a bit easier to understand. Being responsible for everyone aboard the ship had always weighed heavily upon his shoulders, but right then, it just all felt like too much for him. O’Neil picked himself up and headed back toward the door. It slid open for him as Jeanette looked on.

“Just like that, you're walking out on this conversation?”

“What conversation?”

Some nights, it felt like he had spent more time in his garden than in his quarters -- some of the largest aboard the entire ship. It was a small room off of his office, but that small room was more “Peter O’Neil” than any other room aboard the entire ship, and only a select few knew of its existence.

He turned the knob on the sink, cutting off the water that began to overflow out of the watering can that he was filling. Water splashed out of the opening and streamed down the side of the can. He lifted it out of the sink and walked over to the plants carefully, doing his best not to spill a drop. He slowly poured equal amounts of water onto each plant, each set of tiny streams arcing out and spilling into the soil with care.

Omega was growing with each passing day. It was a sphere outside of the window that began as a dot and was becoming clearer and clearer as they approached. It was just two weeks away at that -- two weeks until they finally touched down on the planet’s surface and fulfilled their duties. The idea of a crew with updated jump engines meeting them after they arrived made O’Neil laugh to himself. There had been no incoming communications for the entirety of his life now, with no signs of that ever changing.

He wiped his hands with a towel before sitting down in his office chair and tossing the towel against the wall with a sigh. There was no saving his marriage at that point. He understood that now. Jeanette wasn’t about to admit what she’d done anytime soon -- and even if she were to admit it, there was no way that he could forgive her. She knew what their relationship was going to be like, and she chose him anyway. Love was always supposed to be enough to get them through everything, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough love to make it last.

“Computer,” he called out into the darkness, turning to look out of his observation window. “Call Dr. Susan Brandis.” It made a confirmation beep before a few brief moments of silence.

“Pete.” Her voice came through, confused. “What’s wrong? It’s late.”

“I know,” he said as he intertwined his fingers and nodded. “I’m just looking at Omega and realizing how close we are right now.”

“I’m looking at it right now as well, but that doesn’t seem like a reason to disturb me this late.”

“No, I guess not,” he said, unsure of why he was reaching out to her. He knew why, but the reasons still felt flimsy to him. “I guess I just wanted to hear your voice, as odd as that sounds.”

“Ah, so you're in your garden.”

“How’d you know?” he said.

“It’s late, Pete. It’s late, and you are pondering. Where else would you be?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He laughed at how predictable he was to her, smiling from ear to ear. “It’s just nice to know that someone understands my moods better than I do.”

“So what's really on your mind then?”

“I really don’t know.” He felt naked and had to force himself to be honest. “I’m contemplating my life after the mission.”

“While it would be interesting to see Peter O’Neil thinking about something other than the mission, somehow I’m doubtful that's what's happening right now.”

“I’m not sure that I care anymore,” he admitted. When he heard the words out loud for the first time, his thoughts became tangible. “There is so much that I’m supposed to do and say -- but right now, I just want to disappear into my garden and retire.”

“But you won’t, will you?”

“No,” he said as he let out a loud sigh and shook his head. “I suppose that I won’t give up anytime soon, as much as I’d love to.”

“The people need a leader, even at the cost of that leader’s soul.”

“Soul,” he repeated. He sat forward in the chair, shaking his head again. “That isn’t a word that I’d use out here, not considering this mission and what we’ve seen on it -- nothing. There is nothing out here, just us and the stars.”


* * *


The Ministry meeting table was a relic of the past, a reminder of where they all came from and where they were heading. There was a wooden top with cold steel legs to support it, surrounded by each Minister from their different branches. These meetings tended to last for hours on end, featured petty squabbling and usually resulted in nothing of note being accomplished, if there was even anything to accomplish.

With two weeks until the ship reached Omega, there were endless amounts of logistics that needed to be worked out to ensure that everything would go smoothly. Most of the Ministry were under the impression that Omega was a fresh, untouched planet that they would settle on, divide up and begin immediately harvesting and shaping for their own purposes, with only O’Neil and his closest advisers knowing that there might be more to the story.

“Do we have an idea of what the surface looks like?” The Minister of Agriculture balled his fist up on the table as his other hand twirled his oversized mustache between his fingers.

“We have preliminary scans, yes,” O’Neil nodded, intentionally staring down at his holoscanner. “As we draw closer, we are getting better and better images.”

“I’ve seen those, and they aren’t good enough. We're going to need detailed scans of where the soil will be most fertile for us to immediately begin our grow operations on the planet.”

“We have enough food aboard the ship to last a while, don’t we, Minister Soren?”

“Well, yes, but...”

He paused, cleared his throat and shook his head. “Unless we begin our operations on the surface immediately, we might encounter some shortages and...”

“Have you taken into account that there will probably be food sources on the planet, Minister Soren?”

“Yes, yes, of course we have! We’ll need to analyze it, run tests and find out if it will provide the proper nutrition that we're all used to aboard this ship. We’ve been integrating more and more agricultural foods into the diets of everyone aboard, less synthetics, but I’m afraid that the C- and D-Decks are still on a mostly synthetic diet.”

“I’m sure that it will be fine, Minister, but we’ll – ”

“Excuse me, Captain, but the military is anxiously awaiting our orders,” the Minister of Defense interrupted. He sat across the table from O’Neil and was overweight and bald, with puffy red cheeks and a bulbous nose. He looked almost like a cartoon character, a five-star clown. “We continue to drill and work on strategy, but if our purpose on the surface is going to be law enforcement and assistance, I’m not sure that --”

“Continue the preparations as planned, Minister Dickers. We're still not certain of the conditions on the surface yet and might need the full force of the military out there.”

“But,” he began as he shook his head and threw his hands up in exasperation. “We’ve been preparing for years now, with no end in sight. We aren’t afraid of wildlife and will be prepared to handle any possible animals that we encounter out there. We should begin focusing on other things.”

“You’ll continue to focus on defensive tactics as well as offensive strategies for the time being, Minister. Is that understood?” He looked up at Minister Dickers, glaring at him from across the table, and repeated, “Is that understood?”

“I just don’t understand --”

“I am giving you an order.”

“I understand. I just thought that --”

“Captain,” Commander Dumas said as he rushed into the room. “Excuse the interruption, sir, but you are needed on the bridge immediately.”

“Can it wait?”

“No, sir.” He shook his head. His face was sullen, and the color was gone from his face. “It cannot wait even another minute.”

“Gentlemen, ladies,” O'Neil said as he picked himself up. He grabbed his holoscanner and strode toward the door. “This better be good, Jack. You know how much they hate it when I don’t listen to them.”

“We’ve intercepted a signal, sir.”

“A signal?” He stopped, examining the face of his first officer only to note that his color was still reminiscent of unbaked clay, his expression like that of a lost child. “What kind of signal?”

“I can’t explain it.”

“Report,” he said. He walked onto the bridge, which was abuzz, fluid in motion while an officer ran from one station to another, comparing notes and running scans. Never in his lifetime has that bridge ever been like it was at that moment. It had always been protocol, according to plan, standard even. That day was different. He slid into his chair, clicking his holoscanner into place. “Is someone going to explain to me what the hell is going on here?”

“Sir,” his Communications Officer Hideo called out. Hideo rotated in his chair. The usually careful young man looking flustered and out of breath. Hideo shot an uneasy glance at Dumas, which O’Neil chose to ignore. Hideo and Dumas had been involved in a relationship for years, without it interfering in either of their duties, out of fear of repercussions. “Five minutes ago, we received a signal. It just came out of nowhere and -- well, we're analyzing it now. It appears to be numeric pulses, but we are still analyzing the pattern.”

“What is the point of origin?”

“It’s from Omega, sir. At least, that is what we have found so far.”

“From Omega.” He took a labored breath and pulled up the readings on his scanner. “What is this pattern, exactly?”

“Numbers, sir. I’m sending them to your scanner now. We believe that it might be coordinates of some sort...”

“No,” he said, staring down at the numbers. No coordinates would look like that. “Zero, one, one, two, three, five, eight,” he said and then paused. “This is the Fibonacci Sequence.”

“That’s what Richardson said, sir, but we still need to analyze it. Even if it is that, how would that sequence be so far out here as a communication?”

“We are running an analysis on all of the probes that we’ve sent out towards Omega, Captain,” Dumas said. “Nothing so far.”

“Keep running it, but --” He paused briefly. “I don’t think that this is ours, Commander.”

“Are you implying...”

“That we’ve made first contact?” O’Neil stood up, adjusting the collar on his shirt. “Yes, I am.”

“Do we reply?”

“Officer Takagi,” he called to Hideo. His soft Asian features looked like they might crack under the pressure.

“Yes, sir?”

“What is the last number in the sequence that they're transmitting?”

“Thirty-four, sir.”

“Open our communications channel and send back a series of pulses of our own.”

“What exactly do we send?”

“The number fifty-five, then stop. Do it after their current sequence, and repeat that until we get a reply.”

“A reply, sir?”

“Yes, you heard me. Now do it.”


“Do you really think that we’ll get a reply, Pete?” Dumas sat back in a chair across from O’Neil’s desk, sipping on a glass of water.

“Anything is possible, Jack,” O’Neil said. He leaned back in his chair, looking out the window at the slowly growing orb that was Omega.

“We are two weeks out now, and we knew that something like this could happen, but it's only a handful of us who know. When do we let everyone else in on it?”

“We hold off for as long as we can. That's what we do.”

“But word of this transmission will spread. If someone puts two and two together with that converter that we found, we could have some serious questions on our hands. Do you really think that the Ministry will be happy to know how much information has been withheld from them?”

“No. They are already getting suspicious -- Dickers in particular. And I can’t just come out and tell him that we have to prepare for the possibility of hostilities on the surface without causing alarm.”

“What do you think it means, the numbers?”

“I’m not really sure, to be honest.”

“Golden Ratio, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “The spiral, whatever you want to call it. It’s mathematical, part of the foundation of our own math and science.”

“So what do you think that this means? It can’t be from a probe, can it?”

“It could be from a probe, just not one of ours. This could just be confirming all of those theories that we’ve had about this planet, Jack. All of them.”

“That we're returning home?” He gulped hard, placing the glass down on the desk.

“This could be it. We could be heading to humanity’s true birthplace.” He paused, his mind running through all of the possible outcomes before he remembered the object -- the converter. “Speaking of that object, anything on Professor Cox or that Freeman kid?”

“No, sir,” his first officer said, still looking distracted. “We’ve been monitoring both of them closely, and all we’ve been able to tell is that Freeman is in a relationship with Kara Levine.”

“That sounds a lot like the last report, honestly.”

“Well, we only suspected at that point, but we’ve been able to confirm that the two of them are indeed involved. The perceived threat...”

“From being close to Levine? There is no threat, Jack. Levine is as out of the loop as one can be. We’ve had no financial crises aboard this ship in its history, and his job is ornamental at best. Even if Freeman were to get information out of one of them, it would be worthless. Jim Levine is no threat to anyone aboard this ship.”













007. Ease of Use

Jonah Freeman




The next few days dragged like none other. Kara was upset with Jonah for blowing her off without warning yet again. When he explained to her that he was having panic attacks again, her response was curt, if not rude.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” she said. “You have me now.”

Those were the words she had spoken months earlier when he told her about his panic attacks. It was hard to make someone who had never experienced anxiety like that understand what it felt like to see the world caving in around you. It felt like you’d always read a heart attack felt like, just without the left arm numbing and the vomiting. Well, maybe vomiting, but Jonah had yet to go down that road and hoped that he never would.

Kara projected an image of herself that was superior to those around her, maybe from what she was born into or the fact that she has always overachieved in everything that she did. It was her way of making up for her feeling of inadequacies, Jonah figured. He really wasn’t that familiar with feeling like that; he had come from humble beginnings and spent his whole life fighting to be something more -- and inevitably failing.

There were times when Jonah had no choice but to blame everything and everyone else for his shortcomings: the Ministry, society, the ship, the mission, his parents or even Kara for making him feel this way.

He had been through enough counseling as a child to be able to predict what someone would tell him about himself: He had “mommy issues” and was unable to have a healthy relationship because of that. His mother had made him feel like dirt, so he always sought out relationships where he was made to feel like dirt -- not because he wanted to, but because that was all that he knew and was subconsciously comfortable with. Jonah was comfortable being insignificant, being abused and not living up to his potential because of how other people had treated him.

Deep down inside, he knew that staying with Kara was unhealthy, but he felt that burning in his stomach for her still. Life without her made him feel as anxious as the idea of her being upset with him. He was trapped, in more ways than one. He laughed at the irony of being trapped inside of a relationship while he felt trapped in every part of his life, from his job to his social caste to living on a ship hurtling through space on the brink of the speed of light.

Every part of his search for answers was a dead end in every facet of his life right then. He had been calling into work “sick,” and he knew that his department would be upset with him. Every time he spoke with the supervisor on duty in the morning -- ironically, he was Andrea’s husband -- he felt like his eyes were looking right through him and knew that he was full of shit.

Jonah had heard that Kara was still going through the motions at work, and in a way, it was upsetting that him being in a bad place didn’t seem to phase her. And as much as she said she was there for him, it was in her hollow words only.

His other search was trying to find a clue, any clue, as to what was going on with the part that they had found. A part of him felt downright insane over the obsession with it, like he had fallen in with twenty-first-century conspiracy theorists who wove intricate tales of the Illuminati, government alien conspiracies and everything else in between.

The truth was, though, that he felt like he and Professor Cox were on to something; he could feel it inside of his gut. He found himself walking through the gardens of the B-Deck on his way to a former Minister of Communications’ quarters feeling pangs of doubt, wondering if all of those people who were written off as “nutty conspiracy theorists” felt as steadfast in their beliefs as he did at that moment. This former Minister of Communications was dismissed with very little fanfare or logic; he was just ousted from his post one day after he had been doing some digging. His dismissal could be the lead that Jonah had been looking for or a giant waste of time.

He sighed and continued walking forward, doing his best not to look like the lowly C-Decker that he was. Jonah fumbled around in his pocket for his official badge from work, attaching it to his shirt like it would make for a more believable story for him being up there. There were so many branches of the Earth Ministry that it was never clear which one did what and who worked behind a desk and who worked in the field.

He happened upon the door, noting the two small garden patches lining either side of his door and how markedly different it looked from anything on the C-Deck. Sometimes he needed to remind himself of how wide of a gap there was between the B- and C-Decks.

The B-Deck’s decorations and garden appearance in the residential area was proof enough of the gap between the decks. It almost felt like you were back on Earth, even with the ceiling of the Deck being two layers. The first layer was made of glass, and the top was a realistic simulation of Earth’s sky, which changed in accordance with the time of day. It was midday, and the simulated sun was high in the fake sky. The light was warming him up, but somehow Jonah knew that it was not how the real sun had felt on someone's skin back home. By “home,” he meant Earth, the planet that he has never set foot on and never would.

Jonah took a deep breath and pushed the call button to the right of the door, straightening out his badge so that it was facing out and running his fingers through his hair, not that it would help tame his thick mane.

“Yes?” The screen flickered on above the button. He could see an old man with white wisps of hair on either side of his head and a bulbous nose with a pair of glasses resting on them, looking mildly irritated.

“Hi,” Jonah said. “Mr. McMahon?”

“That's me,” the old man said, his voice sounding irritated and apprehensive. “Who is it?”

“My name is Jonah Freeman, Mr. McMahon,” he said as he tugged at his badge and aimed it at the screen. “And I work for...”

“I know who you are,” he sighed. The old man moved toward the screen so that only the top of his head was visible. The light above the door turned green, and the door swished open. “Come in,” he croaked out.

Jonah did his best to compose himself and looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to him before walking through the door.

He found himself in an entryway, decorated as if it were a home in New England in the twentieth century; it was painted an off-white color, with hardwood floors and a nicely polished wooden table adorned with a potted plant and framed photographs. The home was a stark contrast to his quarters, which were metallic and cold, the opposite of comfortable or inviting.

“Are you going to come in, or are you going to keep gawking at my stuff?” The old man said, shuffling from a doorway off to the left of the hallway while wearing a pair of gray slippers, brown trousers and a green sweater.

“Oh, I apologize,” Jonah said. “Just haven’t seen hardwood floors in person before.”

“A marvel, aren’t they?” he said, his voice still sounding irritated. He walked back into the room that he had come out of and slumped over into his chair again. Jonah followed him into the room to see a room decorated in much the same way. He eyeballed a couch across from Mr. McMahon’s chair and motioned toward it.

“Can I have a seat?”

“What do I care?” The old man laughed. “You are going to do what you want, aren’t you? I don’t have any control over it.”

“Thanks,” he replied, even though he felt less than welcome. There was a large holoscanner projection against the wall with one of the 24-hour news stations on. The volume was up rather high, and Jonah found himself raising his voice to try to beat out the television.

“Mr. McMahon,” he started.

“What?” the old man shouted. “I can’t hear you -- speak up.”

“Mr. McMahon,” he said again, only to find himself drowned out again. Jonah hopped up to his feet, walked over to the projection and tapped the bottom right corner to mute it, which caused the old man to let out an agitated sigh.

“Well, I guess that might help,” he said as he nodded. He picked up a box from the table next to his chair and set it down on his lap. He popped the lid open and pulled out a cigar with one hand; with his other hand, he pulled out a metallic cigar cutter and clipped the end of it. He placed the cutter back into the box, pulled out a lighter and slapped the lid shut. He ceremoniously placed the cigar into his mouth and flicked the lighter on, circling it around the end of the cigar. The glowing red embers lit up his withered face. He held the smoke in for a moment before letting it out in a circle, holding the cigar in his left hand and staring at it. “So?”

“Oh, right,” Jonah said nervously. “So I’m here because of...”

“Oh, cut to the point already.” The old man coughed and wheezed before putting the cigar back into his mouth and going through the ritual of lighting it again. “We both know why you're here, Mr. Freeman.”

“We do?” Jonah furrowed his brow and bit the side of his cheek. “Mr. McMahon, I’m really not even sure why I’m here, to be honest. I’m just following a hunch.”

“A hunch about some object in space, I presume.” He laughed again, coughing through the smoke, which was starting to billow toward Jonah and make his eyes water a bit.

“Well, sir,” he said as he fanned some of the smoke away with his hand. “I’m not sure that I know much about any objects in space, honestly, but...”

“Cut the shit, kid,” he said. His cigar was still dangling from between his lips. He pulled it out of his mouth and pointed it at Jonah. “We both know that I resigned from my post well over forty years ago, and that it was bullshit -- hell, you were still a lusty thought in your pop’s trousers at that point, and you can smell the bullshit.”

“Yes,” Jonah said, acknowledging that the reason he had come to see Dustin McMahon was because of his unceremonious dismissal from his post and how the official explanation was health issues. It stood to reason that if those health concerns were serious, he wouldn’t be sitting there in front of Jonah, smoking a cigar and looking fine (if not a bit old). “Mr. McMahon, I...”

“Dusty,” he snorted, taking another puff from the cigar before taking it out, closing his eyes and exhaling. “Call me Dusty.”

“Okay,” Jonah said, his eyes watering from the smoke. “Dusty, I -- well, I researched odd departures from the Ministry, and your name was the one that really stood out to me. It wasn’t like their usual stuff; there wasn’t a long list of your achievements or accolades or what your future most likely held. Instead, it was brief and only discussed some unnamed health problems -- and excuse me if I’m out of line, but I don’t see much being wrong with you, sir.”

He wheezed, “In fact, I’m one of the few alive on this floating deathtrap that has been on Earth. Granted, I was still a toddler when my parents signed us up for this death sentence, but boy, I was there -- and I remember some of it. I’m still going to be around for a while longer, too,” he laughed. “I’ll be one of the only humans to live on two different planets -- well, at least ones outside of our solar system. I’m not really sure that I count that bullshit they did on Mars as living on another planet, do you? Men living in goddamned bubbles.”

“Oh, I agree,” Jonah said, a hint of excitement in his voice. “I mean, we all know that the Mars mission was to terraform the planet, but I’m not sure what you could expect on a planet like that whose atmosphere had been gone for... sorry.” He laughed as he stopped himself. “I get kind of carried away about this stuff.”

“No, no,” the old man said, his tone finally starting to become a bit more inviting. “I like hearing a young person taking an active interest in history. Of course, some of the Martian history is a bit puzzling, though, isn’t it?”

“Well, if you mean...”

“You know what I mean, kid.” He hacked away again, chuckling through the smoke. “I still have my connections within the Ministry, believe it or not, and that goddamned thing they found reminded me of something I had heard about a long time ago. Stop being coy here.”

“Sorry, I just -- ” He paused and frowned. Trying to keep himself out of trouble was more difficult than he thought it would be. “I’ve been doing my best to not be detected through all of this and...”

“Oh,” the old man cried as he burst out laughing. “Excuse me,” he held his hand up, still laughing. “I’m just -- what did you think would happen, digging around in that shit, kid? I’m an old exiled Minister, and I still knew the right things to look for and who was looking them up. How do you think I knew who you were, because of the shit writing you do? C’mon, kid. You should know better. Did you think I kept up on employees there after I’ve been long gone?”

Jonah’s face turned red, and he began to feel the room getting warm. “Fuck,” he let out. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“I’d say so.” The old man shook his head and stared down at his cigar. “I’m not saying that anyone is on to you other than me, but I’d be more careful if I were you. Luckily enough for you, you're small time; they aren’t worried about you... yet. You and that Professor Cox could find yourselves in a heap of trouble if you aren’t more careful.”

“How did you know about...” Jonah didn’t bother to finish his sentence, realizing that maybe they weren’t as under the radar as he had thought. He was easy enough to figure out, and this old man knew about as much as he could.

“Please,” he said. He swallowed hard, feeling not only defeated but on the defensive. “Keep this between us.”

“I’m not telling anyone anything, kid,” he grumbled. “I’m old, I’m over this shit, and I’m probably more scared of what the hell we’ll find when we touch down than anyone else is. You want to know what that thing they found is, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Jonah wasn’t sure how much further this should go, but it looked like there was no turning back.

“See this?” He held his cigar up in front of Jonah's face. Jonah nodded. “This isn’t real, just like everything else aboard this goddamned ship. We had a supply of the real thing at one point in time, and I had my first one at age 22 -- not much younger than you, I presume.

“Anyway, I had one after I got my first big promotion. My boss was a connoisseur of sorts, of all things that were from Earth. It tasted like what I assumed gold would taste like if it were edible. I was hooked. I had to have more, and more of all things that reminded me of Earth.

“Look around,” he said as he motioned with his hands around the room. “This whole house is just a sad reminder of my childhood house, Mr. Freeman. I was meticulous in recreating it, even having that simulated daylight outside of these windows.

“This that I’m smoking now -- it was grown in one of the gardens aboard the ship. The last real cigar had been smoked years ago or is locked away somewhere in the A-Deck along with some vintage wines, the last true luxuries from Earth.

“It isn’t as good, but every time I smoke one of these, I am reminded of all that we left behind and what none of us will ever be able to experience. I think about that, and I think about what faces us in the coming weeks, and I’m about ready to find a working gun and blowing my goddamned brains out, kid.”

“What?” Jonah could feel the pit in his stomach growing and the walls starting to cave in ever so slightly. “What do you mean? What do you know?”

“It’s what I’ve known for years and why I lost that damned job but still ended up living as comfortably as I am now. I’m actually surprised that I wasn’t shot out of an airlock at some point,” he laughed. “But then again, I was high profile enough that people at the time would notice if I was missing and start asking questions. They knew that I knew, though, and all of this was for my silence, kid.”

“Silence on what?” Jonah asked, half of him not wanting to hear the answer.

“The Exodus,” McMahon replied. The old man took a larger hit off of his cigar and held it in for longer, coughing before he exhaled and shook his head. “The Exodus.”

“The Exodus?” Jonah could feel his mind racing, trying to think back to what it could mean historically. “Egypt?”

“No,” he said, leaning in close. “The Exodus, kid. We're going home.”

“Home?” The word almost came out in slow motion, and Jonah was unable to process the thought. “We left our home. Do you mean that we plan on making this new planet humanity’s new home?”

“No.” He shook his head, leaning back in the chair and laughing. “Kid, we are going home. We are going back to the planet where we at least think that we came from. No one is really sure, but we did learn about a possible Exodus from another planet long ago. All of this tech that we found wasn’t from us, and we sure as hell haven’t ever encountered any other lifeforms. That points to humanity, kid.”

“Are you saying that Earth isn’t where humanity began?”

“It might be,” he said, shrugging. “It might not be. All I know is we have enough evidence throughout history that tells us that humanity as we know it probably came from this goddamned planet that we are speeding toward. And kid, I’m not sure that they’ll welcome us with open arms.”

“So that thing we found.” Jonah had to talk slowly so that he didn't trip over his words; he had to remember to take deep breaths. “You're telling me that it was a part of some sort of ship?”'

“Yeah,” the old man replied as he smirked through the smoke in the room. His face took on a demonic form for a brief second. “It ain’t the first one, either, but it’s the first one that we’ve found in a while. It’s some sort of heat sink or something. I don’t know much about engineering, but it’s from a ship. We think that it’s from the ship that led humans to Earth in the first place.”

“Who is ‘we'?”

“Well, me, for one,” he said as he held one finger up. “But kid, the point of this mission ain’t what it seems. You seem like a smart kid; I thought you woulda figured that out by now.”

“Then what is it?”

“Curiosity, I guess.” He took another big puff and exhaled slowly. “You know, what usually kills the cat?”

“That can’t be the only reason that we’d send hundreds of thousands of humanity’s best and brightest on a mission like this, can it?”

“Look, kid.” He shook his head slowly and leaned in very close to him again. “The main point of the mission, that remains true. We fucked Earth up beyond belief. As much as I yearn for it and want to bask in the warmth of the real sun and smoke Cuban-grown cigars, that just isn’t a reality anymore back there. This was our only choice; this is all that we’ve got left. You just said that our Martian experiment was a giant fucking failure, and that was it for our solar system. We’ve been looking for a way out for as long as we’ve been stargazing, kid.

“Maybe, just maybe,” the old man started before pausing to catch his breath. “Maybe we’ve known all along – subconsciously, I mean -- that we came from somewhere else, and we're just trying to figure out a way to get back home. Romantic-like, isn’t it?”

Jonah was trying to slog his way to a conclusion. “I guess, but why did we come to Earth in the first place? What if it was the same reason that we left Earth? What if we were escaping something horrible, like another race invading the planet or... Christ, I don’t know. The science doesn’t add up, either.”

“Kid, kid,” he chuckled. “Your own professor there can tell you more about the probability of aliens or whatever else, but I’m pretty sure if there were aliens strong enough to come after us on this planet, they’d be hot on our tails and would’ve finished the job on Earth, don’t you agree?”

“Yeah,” Jonah said, not entirely convinced, his brain racing a mile a minute trying to come up with answers. “What else do you know?”

“Kid,” he said as he shrugged and laughed. “I don’t know. All I know is my poking around into this shit years ago was enough to get me effectively exiled into my own little wonderland here. What I can tell you is that something ain’t right, and as we get closer, I can feel it. I can feel that something is going to be very wrong. You ever wonder why we train so many kids how to fight, or why we have goddamned handheld nukes?”

“I guess...”

“Oh, you guess.” He gave a wry smile, now sitting on the very edge of his chair and poking his cigar right near Jonah's face. “Let me tell you, if they were expecting to find rolling fucking hills and prancing fields of deer, they wouldn’t be training you kids to be trained fucking killers. It ain’t just for keeping the peace on the ship, I’ll tell you that much.”

“They expect force?” Jonah could feel his heart beginning to race again. “There's no way that we can handle an entire planet’s force with just the few of us trained aboard this ship. It’d be a...”

“Massacre?” the old man supplied, leaning back in the chair and shaking his head. “Well, that's what the handheld nukes are, I assume, but what do I know? I’m an old man who has been written off as crazy for the better part of my years.”

“So who does know what is going on?”

“Oh, the captain does, I’m sure.” He gazed off toward the window and the synthetic sky being projected. “Probably his closest advisers, that's about it, but I do wonder.”

Jonah pulled himself up to his feet. “I gotta tell Professor Cox this.”

“Do you?” The old man crooked his head and looked up at Jonah through a cloud of smoke. “I’d be careful if I were you, Jonah. Look at what I know and where I am. You know what I know now, and while I may be an old man with nothing to lose, you're still young. And Professor Cox is well-known; his career could disappear into a puff of smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were men following you, especially after visiting an old nut-job like myself.”

“I’m not sure there's any room to worry about my career right now,” Jonah said as he picked himself up and headed toward the door. “Wait, you really think that they'll be tailing me?”

“Oh, I’m just an old kook,” McMahon said as he threw his hands up. “Don’t pay me much mind -- or maybe do? I guess you’ll be off now, huh?”

“I gotta be,” he said. He looked back at the old man, imagining himself at that age and what it would feel like to be as isolated as he was. Jonah’s head was swimming. He felt numb to his surroundings but understood that it was time to leave, time to get some air. “I really appreciate you telling me all of this, Dusty.”

“Well, I figured that you’d come knocking eventually,” he said. “Just be careful in the future. If I knew what you were doing, well, any of them could know. I don’t think that you want that, do you?”

“No,” Jonah said, eyeballing the door and wondering if this old man could be trusted. “You won’t tell anyone, right?”

“Kid,” the old man said as he chortled to himself. “No one believes a damned thing I say, no matter what.”

The first thing on Jonah’s mind after the door slid shut behind him was contacting Professor Cox. He fumbled around with his holoscanner as he squinted at the false sun above, holding his hand above the holoscanner to block out the glare. The idea of replicating the sun for purely aesthetic purposes and not modifying it to be more efficient struck him as odd. As he waited for Professor Cox to answer, he decided that it was odd but also inherently human in a way.

His eyes scanned around the hall, searching for someone following him, but he wasn’t even sure what to look for. Would they be military, civilian or hidden? He sighed.

“Jonah,” the professor answered, his face appearing in the bottom left corner of the projection, looking disheveled.

“Professor Cox,” Jonah replied as he looked around him, now trying to be more aware of who was around or paying attention to him. It felt like all eyes were on him, so he quickened his pace as he headed toward the walkway for C-Deck. “I, uh,” he began before trailing off. He looked around again.

“Is everything all right, Jonah?” The Professor scratched at his brow, displacing his glasses ever so slightly before readjusting them. “You seem... off.”

“I’m fine,” Jonah said. He did his best to calm himself. “I just need to stop by.” Jonah paused as he rounded a corner. He leaned against the wall and looked around to make sure that no one was listening in. “I’ve got some new information, Professor Cox. We're onto something, and it’s big.”




* * *




“Slow down,” the professor told Jonah. He was sitting on his stool. His feet were touching the ground since he was only half-sitting and half-leaning forward, staring down at his hands, which were resting on his knees. “I don’t think I understand.”

“I’m not sure that I do, either,” Jonah said. He leaned in close, looking around the room before turning back to the professor. “We're onto something. This is huge! Mankind is probably already on this planet, and they know -- they fucking know.”

“Slow down, Jonah.” The professor removed his glasses from his face, slapped them down on the metal table and rubbed his eyes, slowly bringing his hands down. His fingers dug into his skin, stretching it out. “Slow down. I’m not sure that the evidence we have about humanity’s origins backs this up at all.”

“I know, but...” Jonah trailed off as he felt his mind swimming. He paced around the small room. “The Monolith and the device we found -- you know that there are more, right?”

“Calm down.” The professor was doing his best, but Jonah could feel himself drifting into insanity. “Look, this is from one man, one lonely old man who got frozen out for this stuff...”

“So you think this isn’t true?” Jonah stopped and looks at the professor in disbelief. “You were on board with me before this; you know that there's something wrong!”

“I know, Jonah.” The professor placed his glasses back on and held his hand up, trying to calm Jonah down. “And I still do. I just... at this point, I think I’d rather it be aliens.”

“So you just don’t want to think about it then. Is that it?”

“No, Jonah,” the professor sighed. “If we are heading to our doom, why should we be tortured during the little time we have left? The implications of this are immense, Jonah. It would mean that humanity has at one point or another existed on two planets simultaneously. It would mean that humanity maybe didn’t begin on Earth; maybe it began on this new planet. I don’t know!”

He leaned back against the back of the stool and laughed out loud. “Jonah, this could be the discovery that changes everything.”

“Professor Cox, I just think that we have no choice anymore.” Jonah pointed at the professor’s screen, at a rotating rendering of the device that they discovered. “We know too much to turn back, Professor. Please.”

Jonah could sense himself beginning to plead with the professor. He did his best to catch himself, but he knew that it was probably too late to apply the brakes at this point.

“Jonah,” the professor said as he swallowed hard. He turned back around to glare at the render of the device. “A part of me feels like this can only end horribly. Where do we take this next? Who knows about this?”

“I don’t know,” he said, throwing his hands up and pacing back and forth in front of the desk. “From what he told me, it sounds like the Captain and his aides are probably the only ones. You still have some pull with them, don’t you?”

“I think that 'pull' is being a bit liberal, Jonah.”

Jonah knew the professor was trying to push him away from the topic.

Professor Cox continued, “They are aware of who I am, and we have met. I am the Chief Physicist aboard the ship, but I’m not sure that they’ll ever consort with me. I’m not A-Deck material.”

“Well, then we have nothing,” Jonah said as he slammed his fist down on the cold metal table, creating a thud. “We’ve got nothing.”

“Look,” the professor said. He held his hands out, trying to calm Jonah down. “Maybe we can figure out whom between us we could talk to. You have your boss, right?”

“My boss knows nothing,” Jonah said, sounding and feeling defeated already. “I’m shocked that he can get through every day without turning back into primordial ooze.”

“Okay, so not him,” the professor said. He sighed, and they both sat in silence for a few moments, racking their brains. Jonah had a distinct understanding then of just how his social standing was a detriment -- not that he hadn’t before, but right at that moment, it all felt so overwhelming. His breathing started to become labored, and the room felt stuffy and warm.

“I’ve got it!” The professor clapped his hands together, taking Jonah off guard.

“What?” Jonah looked over at him, his chest hurting and his head feeling like it weighed more than usual.

“Your girlfriend, Jonah!” He popped out of his seat and clamped his hands on Jonah’s shoulders, gently shaking him. “Your girlfriend... oh, Jonah, you don’t look so well. Here,” he said as he moved out of the way, guiding Jonah to his stool. Jonah just about fell onto the stool.

“What about Kara?” Jonah asked, trying to straighten himself out and weather the panic attack without freaking out too much.

“Her father, Jonah.” Professor Cox walked over to the sink in the corner and grabbed a glass off of the shelf. He held it up to the light and inspected it for a brief second to ensure that it was clean before he filled it up with water and placed it on the table next to Jonah. “Here, drink this.”

Jonah grabbed the glass and gulped it all down quickly, slamming the glass back down on the table and nodding.

The professor reminded him, “Jonah, he’s the Minister of Finance.”

“Oh, fuck.” It dawned on Jonah, and he could feel some of the life start to flow back into him; the ideas started to come on like a flood. “You're right. I didn’t even think about that.”

“We need a plan,” the professor said as he leaned in close toward Jonah. “We need a foolproof plan, Jonah.”

“I think I have one,” Jonah replied. He smiled, the color returning to his face.







008. Love and Politics

Captain O’Neil


“We intercepted a transmission today,” Captain O’Neil said as he leaned back in his chair, his uniform rubbing against the leather and making a muted squeak.

“A transmission?” Dr. Susan Brandis asked. She leaned against his command console, running her fingers through her hair.

“Indeed. A transmission.” He took a sip from his mug before resting it back in his lap. “Of unknown origins, out here deep in the Omega System, almost to our destination.”

“What do you think that means then? I mean, it’s not one of ours. We didn’t send any sort of probe out ahead of us, did we?”

“How could we? We're flying just under the speed of light; that's about as fast as we can go without rewriting the laws of physics or -- well, you’d know better than I would.”

She laughed, shaking her head as she sat down in front of his command console, looking up at the sea of projections, knobs and blinking lights like she was right at home. She reached over and grabbed her holoscanner, inputting a few commands and placing it in a jack on the command console. A holographic display came to life between them. She turned around to examine the data. “These numbers,” she said as she furrowed her brow.

“The Fibonacci Sequence,” he said as he glared down at his mug, swirling the tea around before lifting it up and taking another sip from it. “Or so I’m told.”

“Yes,” she confirmed, mouth agape. “It's exactly that, Pete. How far away is this transmission coming from? What's the origin?”

“We aren’t sure yet. We responded to it with the next few numbers in the sequence and are awaiting a reply.”

“A reply?” She let out a faint laugh. “Out here? I thought you just said that we didn’t have any probes out here that --”

“It’s not from one of our probes,” he interrupted. His words hung in the air for a brief moment as they both sat in silence, staring at the waveform hologram in between them.

“What?” Her voice slightly trembled.

“Sue,” he said, clearing his throat. “There are a lot of things about this mission that have been kept under the strictest of confidences over the past few generations.”

“I don’t...”

“Just listen -- although I know it might sound a bit far-fetched at first -- just stick with me here.”

“Okay.”

“So there is a chance -- and this communication just tends to confirm this -- that we are heading to a planet that contains intelligent life. In fact, there are theories that we might encounter humanity out here on Omega.”

“Impossible,” she said as she shook her head and blinked rapidly. “We’ve all heard those rumors; they’ve been around this ship and the mission from the very beginning. But you aren’t telling me that you believe this as well, are you?”

“There is a lot about this mission, Sue, that I’m not so sure about anymore.” He took a labored and careful sip from his mug before stopping and looking down at it. He pulled himself out of his chair, searching for the right words. “I’m going to make myself some more tea. Do you want some? It’s good, made from leaves in my garden.”

“What?” She looked up at him and shook her head quickly. “Tea? No. So wait, are you telling me that you actually believe this nonsense?”

“I’m not sure what to believe, really.” He picked himself up and walked over to the counter, making himself some tea.

He continued, “I have some documentation about the trip that's for myself and my advisers only, but I haven’t really given it much mind in years now. There was one curious part, though -- a talk of a rendezvous with a fleet from Earth.”

“A rendezvous?” She tried to hold back, but a laugh escaped her. “So now we are to believe that they sent an entire fleet out before us?”

“No,” he said. He shook his head, almost unable to believe it himself, and blew on his cup before taking a sheepish sip. “After.”

“We are the fastest ship that humanity has ever conceived, Pete. I’d know this. There is nothing -- just theories that we can travel faster than this. There is just no such thing as faster-than-light travel.”

“Apparently,” he replied. He took a bigger gulp of his tea, letting it slide down his throat before he continued. “They believe that by the time we finally reach Omega, they will not only have discovered faster-than-light travel but will send an entire fleet to meet up with us. I’m not sure about the specifics obviously, but do you think that it’s possible?”

“Everything that modern physics has told us has found it to be impossible, but maybe there's something that they weren’t telling us.”

“With this mission, I fear that there is a lot that they aren’t telling us.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

“Jeanette scares me,” he said. He shrugged his shoulders, staring out the window at the vastness of space. It still felt strange to be that open with someone about Jeanette. “Finally reaching Omega and completing my duty doesn’t scare me anymore. Whatever happens when we get there is out of my control, Sue. This is my only concern. I just have to get us there.”

“Are things that bad with Jeanette?”

“Well, she's cheating on me,” he joked, trying to keep the harsh topic as light as he could, knowing that he was failing. “I think I've told you that much before.”

“Yeah, you did,” she said. She walked up behind him and wrapped her arm around his waist. He jumped at first and resisted, but then he relaxed and let her reach her arm around him. It was something that he feared getting used to, but it made his heart jump, and he felt like a kid all over again. He wondered how she was feeling, what she felt toward him, or if it was just pity and how she acted around friends.

The stars in the distance felt like they were changing very slowly as they traveled, but it was just their position in the galaxy that was shifting. Peter tried to take comfort in her embrace. For years now, he had been yearning for it, but he could never allow himself to give in to it.

He let out a laugh at how foolish it all was, at the thought of what humanity was capable of and the implications of their mission. It seemed so silly to him just how far humanity had come, but how relationships were just as confusing and dysfunctional as ever.

“Did you ever find out whom she's cheating on you with?”

“No.” He was jolted out of his thoughts and pulled out of her embrace. “A part of me doesn’t want to know, if that makes any sense.”

“I’m not sure that I understand, no.”

“All of the power that I have,” he sighed. “Sometimes I forget what it’s like to be just like everyone else. This -- this is just that. She knows my position, she knows my power, yet she went and did it anyway. I think that she wanted me to figure it out, to find the guy and do something rash.”

“She doesn’t know you very well then, does she?”

“I’m the captain of this ship. Some say I'm one of most powerful men in human history.” He had never bought into it, but it was him living it, so it was hard to have much perspective. “But I’m not the man that my wife wants me to be, so she tries to make me into what she wants. I guess in a way it's poetic, right? I’m Captain Peter O’Neil, who will go down in the record books as the man who led the final leg of the Omega Mission to bring humanity to populate a new planet, but I can’t keep my own personal life in order.”

“The history books are fickle at best,” she said as she pulled him in closer before resting her head on his shoulder. “Nobody remembers Napoleon’s marital problems; they remember Napoleon.”

“Napoleon died in exile after being defeated in battle,” he stated dryly.

“Battle?” She tensed up and took a step back. “You're expecting a battle?”

“Like I said.” He turned and smiled at her as warmly as he could while knowing how unsure he was about the future himself. “We are going into the unknown here, but there are theories and official documents. They are serious about this -- in fact, that’s the reason for the rigidity of this whole thing,” he said as he motioned around the room. She understood his broader implications. “The sequence only seems like a confirmation to me.”

“Okay,” she said as she pulled back from him. She turn her back to him and looked at the projection of the sequence of numbers. “Back to that, yeah. This sequence. Was it possible that if -- and this is a huge if -- humanity was able to somehow travel faster than light, and there is a fleet waiting for us...”

She trailed off for a second, shaking her head. “That this message is from them somehow? Was there a sort of code or instructions for contact?”

“There was,” he said. He sunk into the chair in front of his wall of screens before pulling up a file. “There's a list of codes here that we’re set to exchange along with explicit instructions for how the contact will go.”

“Oh my god.” She stared at the files on the screen, mouth agape. “I don’t see anything about the sequence in here.”

“Right. There's nothing about the Fibonacci Sequence or the Golden Mean here. Nothing.”

“So this isn’t from us,” she stated. She held her breath for a few seconds before letting it all out. “Unless...”

“Unless?”

“Well, could there be some truth to that whole Russian satellite thing, you think?”

“Russian satellites?” he asked, shaking his head and turning the chair toward her. “We both know that we made that up. We’ve had a steady history of finding devices similar to this, you know.”

“Wait, we have?” Her eyes bugged out and she found herself feeling light-headed. She grasped for the chair next to her. “You mean this isn’t the first? I knew that we had some records of debris along the way, but I had always assumed it was from probes and just stuff that we had sent out before.”

“Some of it was,” he said, knowing that by choosing to disclose that information to her, she wouldn’t be able to turn back. “Some -- well, most of it -- wasn’t. In fact, most of it is so far advanced that it clearly didn’t come from us.”

“Peter,” she said as she looked back at him in disbelief. “I’m the Minister of Science. I’m in charge of this. Didn’t you ever think that it would be beneficial to tell me this?”

“The instructions were, and I quote, ‘Essential staff only, contain and suppress.’ This stuff was planned for. They knew that we’d find something along the way, but we’ve been urged to just lock it up in storage. Look.”

He turned and picked his holoscanner from the desk to pull up a file. He handed her the device.

She snatched it from his hand. She shook her head the entire time she was reading. “I don’t believe it. I mean...”

She looked up at him, seeming lost. “I don’t blame you for keeping this from me, but I would have liked to have known. I mean, this is just...”

“Unreal?”

“It’s something else, that’s for sure. I can only imagine how it’s been for you to keep these kinds of secrets.”

“Command has its perils,” he admitted. “In a way, I wonder if this is why everything else in my life has been so stilted -- because of the secrets that I live with on a daily basis.”

His voice wavered. “Sue, I have no clue what I’m leading these people into. It's possible that none of us will survive this; we might be heading into our doom.

“There’s a chance -- not a great one but still a very good one – that we'll have the same exact problems on this planet that we had on Earth. Think about that.”

He had been wondering why humanity would occupy two planets, fearing for the worst.

“Imagine that we travel all of this way, then we finally reach the planet, the planet that was believed to be our salvation this whole time, only to find that humanity was already there and already ruined the whole damned thing. Maybe we are supposed to die without a home, drifting through space. It’s some existential dilemma that we might deserve.

“Maybe we deserve to be homeless, to die out here.” He let the words hang in the air as she stared off at the projections.

She replied, “Maybe we do, but maybe we also deserve a second chance. This could be that, no matter what we find on Omega. They could just as easily be friendly.”

“We are floating alone in space, hurtling toward a planet that we know next to nothing about, and we are just mere days away from having a visual on the planet.” He stood up, turning toward the windows. “I sure hope that we’ll have some friends out here. I’m tired, Sue. I’m very tired and I just want to be able to retire knowing that I’ve done my duty. Then I can rest.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?” He found that it was easiest to ignore his own problems, instead focusing on everyone else.

“When do you get what you want?”

He searched for the words, taking a long, hard look out the window before replying. “Hopefully we get to figure that out soon.”

“We?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, damn.” His face began to turn red. “You know what I mean -- humanity. Us. I just hope to hell that Jeanette has nothing to do with that future. I want my exile to be a pleasant one.”

“I understand,” she stated, neither of them really sure what they believed.

He turned to her. “Do you ever have the sneaking suspicion that we're doing it all wrong, Sue?” He was trying to keep his expression from becoming grim but found it trying.

“How so?”

“Just --” He paused and motioned around the room. “The way that we run things. Our whole system. Why am I in charge? What did I ever do to deserve this?”

“Those are just doubts, Peter.”

“Maybe,” he said as he scratched behind his ear out of habit. “We just have a chance to start over is all. If we really do meet up with a fleet from back home, there is no chance of that at all.”

“I think that for now, we need to take things one step at a time.”

“I guess you're right.”











009. The Spy Who Loved Me

Jonah Freeman


The idea had come to Jonah as a stroke of brilliance, but the more he thought about executing it, the more nervous he got. It was going to take not showing his hand too early, and it was going to mean that he would have to be on his best behavior with Kara until everything could be worked out.

It also meant that he had to betray Kara’s trust, which was the last thought that came to his mind while formulating his plot.

For the past few days, Jonah had been splitting his time between work and Kara, but doing so in a manner where he seemed like he could care less about the time that he spent with Kara. It tore him up to see how well she responded to his neglect of her after he spent so many months trying to be genuinely good to her and show her how much he cared about her.

All of that was fading for him. As much as Jonah knew that being around her was toxic for him at that point in his life, he knew that he needed her for just a little while longer. A remote part of him still had hoped that it would all work out. He used to need her because he was afraid of being alone, but his motivations had changed, and while still based upon fear, it was now the fear of what they were hurtling toward. It was now about the greater good, not just him dying alone. He still loved her, and he was disgusted at himself for that and for his weakness toward her.

“What are we doing tonight?” Kara sank down into the couch with her pipe in her hand, lighter in the other, looking up at Jonah with her big green eyes through her bangs.

“I don’t know,” he said. He leaned against the wall and stared out the window at the blackness of space. It always struck him as odd that it looked like nothing was moving, even though he knew where they were headed and how fast they were getting there. He wished he could get out in front of the ship and stop it, but he knew that was impossible.

“Well, Jana and Paulie wanted to go to the Rusty Spoon for a few drinks.” She paused, the pipe hovering near her mouth. She held back for a few moments to finish her thought. “But I know you probably don’t want to...”

“Yeah, sure,” Jonah said, doing his best not to roll his eyes.

“What?” She looked up at him, taken aback. “I thought you hated Jana and Paulie?”

“Eh.” He said, walking around the square table and sitting down on the couch next to her before kicking his boots up onto the table and leaning back. “Whatever, you know?”


* * *


That night when they got back to Kara’s quarters, Jonah knew that it was time to put his plan into motion. He had done his best throughout the night to not roll his eyes and to stay social, even if it went against the very fiber of his being. He felt a knot in his stomach, unsure if he should even move forward. He was trying to consider the implications. He circled back to her friends. They were younger, he kept telling himself. They were rich, and they simply did not know any better. Kara had been pushing for him to get to know them better for months and Jonah had always resisted. Now it all felt justified to him.

They lay in bed with the shutters across the room open. Jonah propped himself up on the pillows and watched the vastness of space with one arm around Kara.

“What are you thinking?” she asked after a long silence.

“Nothing,” Jonah said, not looking over at her but feeling her hand trace along the edge of his chest. “Just admiring the view is all.”

“Oh,” she said.

“I guess thinking about this weekend.” Jonah bit his bottom lip and shrugged. “Holiday and all.”

“Oh, Ministry Day,” she said as he gave him a slight squeeze. “I know that must be tough with your dad gone and all, and I know you don’t have much family.”

“I’m used to it.” He had to admit that she was right, but he remained stoic, doing his best not to show any emotion. There were doubts inside of him. He knew that she cared; she was just confused. It felt wrong to move forward, but he gulped and closed his eyes. “I assume you’ll be going to visit your family, huh?”

“Yeah.” She paused, then looked up at him before sheepishly looking away. “My mom always cooks too much, so if you don’t think that it's too lame...”

“Oh, c’mon,” Jonah said. “You know holidays aren’t my thing.”

“Jonah,” she said as she propped herself up on her elbow and looked up at him. “It really isn’t a big deal. I think it would be a good idea for you to come and eat with us. My mom asks about you all the time.”

“All right,” he said, letting out a forced sigh. It was working, and it felt like his life just got a whole lot more difficult. “I guess I can make an appearance.”

She was trying, he thought, although it made him feel like a terrible human being. He wasn’t trying anymore, and Kara was just a tool in his eyes, but their relationship was easily manipulated, which only made things feel worse.

Even if his plan was working perfectly, a part of him felt like it shouldn’t be working, like it should be more of a struggle. Their relationship had been complicated for a while, but Jonah had always felt that it was real. On this day, it felt like it was becoming different, like one in a story that he’d read about, not one that he was living.

Jonah rolled over so that he was facing away from her and dug his arm beneath his pillow to support his head. He closed his eyes, hoping that he’d just effortlessly drift off into sleep. He was doing his best to justify his actions, to remind himself that Kara’s family was an important cog in their broken system, that they were suppressing the truth. That truth had to get out somehow, and Jonah knew that he had the means to make that happen, even if it meant destroying everything that he had left.

Jonah wanted to close his eyes and everything to be all right, but he was genuinely scared -- scared for himself, scared for Kara and scared for everyone aboard the ship.

Everything felt justified when he viewed it in that light, at least.


* * *


“Oh, you must be this Jonah whom we hear all about,” Kara’s mother said. She stood in the doorway to their quarters while Jonah fidgeted in place, finding himself uncomfortable and feeling out of place in the A-Block. She held her arms out to embrace him, and Kara motioned for him to move in off of the causeway.

“Hello, Mrs. Levine,” he said as he smiled at her. He moved in and hugged her back before she gave him a quick peck on the cheek. He had seen photographs of her before, but seeing her in person definitely felt a bit unreal. She looked quite a bit different from Kara, but he always thought that she took after her father more than her mother. She did have her mother’s eyes, though. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“Oh, it is nice to meet this young man whom my Kara talks about all the time,” she said as she grabbed Kara and pulled her in close. Kara clearly looked embarrassed.

“Mom,” she grunted under her breath. “Cut it out.”

“You must be Jonah,” a voice boomed from the other side of the ornate room. Jonah turned around to see a tall, slender man with salt and pepper hair and a neatly trimmed mustache walk up to him with his hand extended. Jonah quickly took his hand and felt a tight grip before doing his best to return the squeeze.

“Yes, Mr. Minister, sir.” Jonah met his gaze and gave him a nod before they broke the grip.

“Oh bullshit,” he said as he slapped Jonah on the back, causing him to jump a bit. “Call me Jim. None of this formality shit, all right?”

“Yes, sir -- err,” Jonah said, correcting himself. He was giving the old-buddy approach, which made it difficult for him to not roll his eyes. “Jim.”

“There you go,” he chuckled, leading Jonah through the entryway into the main quarters. Jonah was doing his best to not let his jaw drop at how beautiful it was. “Welcome to our home, Jonah.”

“No, thank you for having me.” He did his best to remain respectful and tried to hide how awestruck he was. This was a home -- more of a home than he had ever seen in person in his whole life. If old Dusty was just imitating what he had seen in photographs, this was a perfect emulation of what it would be like to live on Earth before it all went to hell.

“I’d offer you a drink, but I’m three years sober now,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“Hey man, that’s all right.” Jonah looked around, trying to take in as much as he could of the home. “That’s great, though.”

“Thanks. I mean, I have some Scotch from Earth, some real vintage stuff.” He sighed a forlorn sigh. “But I can’t have any. I guess you could, though.”

“Oh, no,” he politely declined. “I couldn’t.”

“So Jonah.” Kara’s mother surprised him from behind, putting her hands on his shoulders. “You ready for supper? Come to the table. There's just so much that we don’t know about you. Our daughter,” she began before clearing her throat and looking back at Kara, who was rolling her eyes again. “Well, she hasn’t told us everything about you yet. This one, she thinks that she's all grown-up and doesn’t have family anymore.”

Jonah felt like he was in the belly of the beast, the machine that he had always cursed and damned his whole life. Their home was what he had always imagined having a family would be like, and he hated Kara for taking it for granted the way she did. They were a family, even with their dysfunctions, and they had more money and power than they knew what to do with.

All throughout dinner, Jonah had to keep convincing himself that these people were, in a way, the enemy. At least Jim was.

Jim. The thought of calling one of the Ministers by his first name -- never mind just calling him Jim – made him laugh out loud while Kara’s mom was telling a rather embarrassing story about Kara. But looking around and experiencing it all firsthand made him feel uneasy. These weren’t bad people; they were just different.

After the meal was over, Jonah said his polite thank-yous and excused himself to the bathroom after asking where it was. He had to stop his eyes from lighting up when Kara’s mother explained that it was down the hall on the left, the second door. The first door was Jim’s study, she explained. That was the room that he was looking for, where he expected to find Jim’s holoscreen and the information that he had came here for. He knew this because Professor Cox was friends with the maintenance crew, and they were able to obtain a schematic for their quarters. He made off down the hall and fumbled around with the crysdrive in his pocket, understanding that if they caught him in the act, there will be no easy way to excuse it.

Jonah checked behind him to make sure that they were all still in the dining room. When the coast was clear, he slipped into the study, quickly moving over to the desk, tapping away at the console and pulling up the holoscreen. He removed the crysdrive from his pocket and quickly plugged it into the port on the left side before pulling up the onscreen keyboard and typing in the command to copy the entire drive onto his crysdrive. He didn’t have time to discern what was valuable and what wasn’t.

His heart was almost beating out of his chest, and it felt like an out-of-body experience. There was no way that he, Jonah Freeman, could be inside of the Minister of Finance’s office, stealing Ministry information. If he were caught, this was treason, if not high treason, and then the chances of Jonah ever seeing that new world would be slim to none. His actions of late were not like him, he repeated to himself in his head as he kept one eye on the door.

“Hey, Jonah!” Jim’s voice boomed from down the hall, and Jonah could feel his heart drop. He scrambled to look down at the holoscreen to see that the transfer was nowhere near complete, but he knew he had to be out of there.

“Jonah!” Jim called again.

Jonah quickly scrambled to the door, peering around both corners to make sure the coast was clear as he reached around the corner and slipped the bathroom door open. He looked around again before he slipped into the room and quietly closed the door behind him.

He slumped over against the door, trying to catch his breath and knowing that if Jim walked into his office and saw the crysdrive, it was all over. He quickly scrambled to his feet and pulled the door open, exiting the room and nearly running into Jim.

“Oh, hey there, Jim,” Jonah said as he laughed and straightened himself out.

“Jonah, my boy.” He put his arm around Jonah’s back and started leading him down the hall. “Come outside and have a smoke with me, why don’t you? You know Maryl won’t let me smoke inside of the house.”

“Always the way, isn’t it?” Jonah did his best to sound like nothing was wrong, but he could feel his voice shaking a bit and wondered if Jim could tell.

“See, you're with my daughter.” The Minister laughed. He opened up the glass door to the terrace overlooking the immaculately groomed lawn that was their yard. “So you understand what I’m dealing with, don’t you?”

“You don’t even know the half of it, Jim.”

“Ha!” Jim gave a hearty laugh, slapping Jonah on the back again before he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He slapped the pack against his hand a few times and then pulled one out, slipping it into his lips before holding the pack out in front of Jonah.

“No, thanks.” Jonah said, waving his hand.

Jim nodded, stuffing it back into his pocket before pulling a lighter out of his other pocket, flicking it open and on. He held it in front of the cigarette until it caught, then flicked it back shut and into his pocket.

“Suit yourself.” He spoke through the side of his mouth. “I know how women can drive you insane.”

“She really is impossible sometimes.” Jonah leaned against the iron railing, shaking his head. “I mean that with all due respect, Jim. It’s tough, you know?” He was doing his best to keep his cool, but his head kept turning back toward the door and the office.

“Oh, trust me, I know.” He pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and flicked some ash onto the lawn. He held the cigarette down in front of him as he leaned against the railing. “People assume that I didn’t have to work for what I have, but this didn’t come from me slacking off,” he said as he motioned at their surroundings.

“Do I wish that it had all come easier to me? Of course. But these kids. I appreciate that Kara tries to make her own way, but sometimes I wonder if she’s doing it just to spite me for not being there as much as I should have been. But how else was I going to keep my family where we were?”

“Yeah, I’ve gotten that impression from her as well.” Jonah started to feel pangs of regret. He was finding Jim to be quite personable, but he held steadfast to the belief that what he was doing was for the greater good.

“See, you're an apt guy, a smart guy. I can appreciate that. You know how I know that?” he asked through the haze of smoke between them. “You know how I know?”

“No. How?”

“Because you knew who I was.” He turned toward Jonah, leaning only one elbow against the railing. “You knew how rich I was, how powerful I was, and you didn’t try to use her, to get money or power from her. You care about her for who she is.”

“I do care greatly about her, sir.” Jonah swallowed hard, knowing that at that very moment, he was stealing all of this man’s secrets and that he was indeed using this man’s daughter to get to him. The thing was, he wasn’t lying, either.

“I can tell.” Jim reached up and stroked his mustache before taking another drag of the cigarette and flicking it off of the porch. “How do you feel about this whole troupe thing on Omega?”

“Oh god.” Jonah laughed, letting his guard down for a second. “I’m not a fan of it, sir.”

“See, I knew you were a bright guy,” he said, pointing at Jonah. “I think that it's bullshit. We don’t know shit about this planet yet, and we won’t have everything set up planetside for actual cities and making it habitable for what, something like two years? Yet she wants to be down there for every step of the way? Bullshit.”

“I know. It's so ridiculous.”

“Well, Jonah,” he said as he turned back to face his sprawling yard again. “I want you to do me a favor: When you kids get down there, look out for her.”

“Oh.” Jonah coughed, unsure of how to break things to him. “Well...”

“Well what?”

“I’m not going,” he said, making a mock-surprised face at Kara’s father.

“No shit?” He let out a sigh. “Well, you know, Jonah, I’d feel a whole lot more comfortable if you would go with her and look out for her. You care about her; you’d look out for her. It’s not like you can try to talk her out of it...”

“God, no. I’ve tried so many times.”

“See, I know my daughter,” he said as he hung his head down, shaking it. “She is a stubborn girl after my own heart, got a bit too much of her old man in her. I’d appreciate it, though, if you were to go down planetside with her, Jonah.”

“I can’t make any promises right now, Jim.” Jonah knew that it was pointless, but the troupe was truly the last thing on his mind. “But I’ll try.”

“Well, that's all that I can ask for.” He patted Jonah on the back before motioning toward the house. “C’mon, let’s get back in there to them, all right?”

“Sure,” Jonah agreed as he followed him back into the house, closing the door behind him. “Oh, hey, Jim,” he said when Jim was down the hall a bit. “I’m just gonna hit the head again, all right?”

“You feeling all right?”

“Yeah, just drank a bit too much iced tea is all.” He forced a nervous laugh while eyeballing the office.

“All right. I’ll brave them alone for now,” he said. “But don’t leave me alone in there for too long, all right?”

“Oh, I won’t.” Jonah smiled and pushed himself into the bathroom where he quickly ran the sink and splashed cold water on his face.

He had done a lot of difficult things in his life, but he had never had to deal with something like this. A part of him wanted to just stay in that bathroom, to just curl up in a ball and become insignificant, but they were expecting him, and the device in the next room was enough to have him thrown out of an airlock.

Jonah pulled himself up and put his hand on the knob, knowing that as soon as he left the bathroom, he had to make a beeline for the next room, pull out the crysdrive and make it out of the room undetected. It was going to be a hard pill to swallow, but he knew that he needed to do it.

In a burst of courage, he twisted the knob and quietly pulled the door open, looking around the corner to ensure that the coast was clear. Jonah snuck out of the bathroom and peered into the office. Finding it empty, he felt a slight sense of relief but knew that he wasn’t done yet.

He slipped through the door and headed for the console. After looking down at the holoscreen to see that the transfer was complete, he snapped the crysdrive out, pocketing it before pressing a few buttons on the console to turn the screen off. Then he found himself practically sprinting for the door.

He was home free, he thought to himself as he rounded the corner, only to find himself face to face with Jim. Everything started spinning, and the only thought racing through his head was that he was caught, and that he’d spend the rest of his short life in immeasurable pain and misery.

“Uh, Jim,” Jonah said. “I was...”

“You were in my office, Jonah.” Jim frowned, looking into the office and then back at Jonah. “I...”

“Sir,” Jonah began. He found himself shaking his head and sweating. “I apologize.”

Jonah’s mind began to race, knowing that there was no reason for him to be in that room, that he had been to the bathroom twice now, and that the first time he could have written it off like a mistake, but that second time? No.

“I don’t understand. I mean...”

“It was the books,” Jonah said, catching his breath. “I was walking by and saw some of the books on the shelves, and I just had to take a peek.”

“Ah,” Jim said, seemingly satisfied with that answer. “A book man?”

“Oh yeah.” Jonah decided to cling to the story, unsure if he’d buy it but knowing that it was his only chance. Jim was giving him a strange look, and Jonah felt his fist clench, knowing that he might need to overpower him and make a break for it if he wanted to get out of that situation as a free man. “I’ve always been fascinated with them, sir.”

“Well then.” Jim cleared his throat and walked past Jonah into the office. “Come and see these then. These are my prized possessions.” He motioned for Jonah to come over, and Jonah could feel a wave of relief wash over him.

There were still doubts swarming his mind as Kara’s father proudly showed off some of his antique books from Earth, detailing each one, when it was printed, how much it cost him and how much it was worth. After twenty minutes or so, Jonah knew that he was in the clear, that the book story had worked. But he also knew how incredibly lucky he was to have come up with that because he was dangerously close to being exposed.

He still found his breathing to be labored until they were out the door that night, with Kara saying goodbye to her parents and them thanking Jonah for coming out. Jonah returned the goodwill, and Jim gave him a knowing nod of approval as they walked arm in arm back to the C-Deck.

Jonah felt happy to be alive as well as irritated that he couldn’t shake her off. He had a drive full of information and wanted nothing more than to quickly dive into it.

“They really liked you,” she said. She looked up at him as they walked into her quarters. “I’m shocked -- they usually hate my boyfriends.”

“Yeah, they seemed to like me,” he replied as he scratched the back of his head and eyeballed the door.

“So,” she said. “Should I get into something more comfortable?”

“Uh,” he said, letting out a cough that wouldn’t have fooled anyone. “You know, I haven’t been feeling all that great, Kara. I think I’m gonna go back to my quarters and just pass out, all right?”

“Oh,” she muttered, visibly crestfallen. “Okay.”

“I had a great night, though.” He leaned in and planted a kiss on her, running his fingers through her hair and smiling as he backed out of the door. “Goodnight,” he said as the door slid shut, and he found himself sprinting to Professor Cox’s.


* * *


“Are you aware of what time it is? On Ministry Day?” Professor Cox was in his robe, standing in the doorway and rubbing his eyes.

“I know, but...”

“Just come in already,” he said as he let out a loud yawn. “Something has you worked up.”

“This.” Jonah slammed the crysdrive down on the table with a proud smile on his face, the light reflecting off of the crystal.

“Yes,” Professor Cox said, adjusting his glasses. “That is indeed a crysdrive, very impressive. This is why you woke me up?”

“No,” Jonah said impatiently, picking it up and holding it in front of Professor Cox’s face. “It's what's on it that I want you to see.”

“What could you possibly have on there that couldn’t wait, Jonah?”

“I just got back from Kara’s parents' house,” he said.

“Oh.” Professor Cox nodded absently before catching himself and slowly looking up at Jonah, his eyes lighting up. “Oh!”

“Yeah,” Jonah said proudly. “His whole holoscreen is downloaded onto here. This little crysdrive contains Ministry secrets; it has the answers that we're looking for!”

“Well,” the professor said as he started waving his hands. “It might, Jonah. It might. Let’s not get our hopes up yet.”

“C’mon, Doc! I risked my life for this!”

“I know, and it was a job well done! But you need to understand.” He picked up the crysdrive and began inspecting it. “This is treason, Jonah. No, this is high treason! We could be tossed out of the airlock for this, so we need to tread lightly.”

“I know, Doc.” Jonah understood what he had done. “Trust me -- I almost had a heart attack getting this damned thing.”

“Well,” he said, sitting down at his desk, spinning in the chair and slipping the crysdrive into the side of one of his older holoscanners. “Let’s see what’s on this.”

“Why are you using that old one, doc?”

“It's off of the network,” he explained as he pulled up an old, dusty keyboard and began slamming away. “There is no way that I’m going to look at this on the network. There has to be some unique identifiers in the official documents on there, and this thing will never go on the network again.”

“Oh, right,” Jonah agreed as he licked his lips anxiously. “That makes perfect sense. C’mon, though, Doc. I gotta know what's on this.”

“Ha!” The professor burst out laughing. “You’ll need to be patient, Jonah. This is thousands and thousands of files that we have to analyze; this is going to take a while.”

“Oh, right,” Jonah muttered, finally starting to calm down. He hadn’t thought of the sheer amount of data they’d have to go through to find anything of value. “I forgot about that.”

“Yeah,” the professor said as he searched through folders. “I mean, most of this stuff is just personal garbage. I mean, look.” He popped open a folder and opened up a photo. It was one of Kara's family in their immaculate backyard. “This is less-than-damning information about a government cover-up, Jonah.”

“Right.” He knew that it wouldn’t all be damning, but he could hardly wait to find the juicy stuff, if there was any. It was nagging him in the back of his mind that Jim seemed like a genuine guy to him, but he had to remind himself that Jim was the enemy. “I know, I know. There's going to be a lot of stuff like that on there.”

Jonah walked across the room to make a pot of coffee as the professor continued his quest to sift through all of the information.

The minutes melted into hours, and the hours begin flying by as the morning rapidly approached. Both were tired and had been taking turns manning the computer, each sifting through information, files and mostly garbage. He was the Minister of Finance, after all, so most of the information was simply about the ship’s financial situation, not about the truth of their mission.

They were both growing tired tired when Jonah finally uncovered something that he thought seemed moderately useful: the time and dates of their Ministry meetings. Apparently they were held every Wednesday in the Ministry Hall, and Jonah imagined that there was nothing off-limits in those meetings. The professor was quick to point out that their government was bloated and surely not everyone could be trusted with such information.

“Well, fuck this, then,” Jonah said as he slammed his fist against the wall. “This guy is just as boring as we thought he was. This is all utterly worthless, and I risked my ass for nothing!”

“Calm down, Jonah,” Professor Cox said, trying to soothe him. “We haven’t gone through everything yet. You never know what we might uncover, Jonah.”

“All right, well, it’s my turn again, I guess,” Jonah muttered under his breath as he shuffled to the keyboard and let out a loud yawn. “You haven’t found anything of note at all, have you?”

“Nothing of note, really,” Professor Cox said as he adjusted his glasses. “I did find this video of the Minister of Finance and the missus in bed together.” He laughed, and Jonah quickly came up behind him and leaned in to watch the video.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jonah stared at the screen in disbelief. “That’s not his wife, man.”

“Oh?” Professor Cox shook his head. “Well, that is a shame, I guess.”

“Jim seemed like such a nice guy, considering his position and all, too.” Jonah laughed out loud, his eyes fixed on the video. “Yeah, that definitely isn’t Kara’s mom, that's for sure. I mean --”

“Oh!” the professor suddenly shouted, sending Jonah jumping back. “Jonah!”

“What?” Jonah moved in again. “Warn me next time.”

“I know this woman!” He pointed his finger at the screen, pausing it when the woman in the video was on her hands and knees, her back arched and her head thrown back. “I know her, Jonah.”

“So?” Jonah found the connection to be pointless, especially considering how strange Professor Cox was around other people. “So you know the woman the Minister of Finance is fucking. Big deal.”

“Jonah.” He paused, turning back to the screen and zooming in, enhancing the image and putting it in the center of the screen. “Look again,” he said, clearly holding something back. “Look closely.”

“Is that...” Jonah trailed off as he looked down at the screen, blinking rapidly to make sure that he was seeing what he thought that he was seeing. “Is that...”

“Captain O’Neil’s wife, yes.” The professor leaned back in his chair, resting his elbow on his stomach and placing his hand on his chin. “Jeanette. We went to school together.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“What?” The professor shrugged. “I had a good education, Jonah. You know that.”

“No!” Jonah pointed at the screen. “This is it, Doc! This is how I can get what I want out of the Minister.”

“Oh Jonah,” he said as he slowly turned to face Jonah, only for Jonah to greet him with a grin. “You don’t mean to do what I think you mean to do, do you?”

“Blackmail him?” Jonah nodded. “Precisely what I have in mind.”

“You’ll show your hand, Jonah,” the professor said. He was shaking his head, springing from his seat, pacing back and forth with his fingers scratching his chin. “You’ll be admitting that you committed high treason, Jonah. High treason, an airlockable offense!”

“Imagine what Captain O’Neil would say to seeing one of his Ministers in bed with his wife, Doc,” Jonah said. “Old Jim here would be thrown out of the airlock along with her for this.”

“Sure,” he said as he stared back at Jonah apprehensively. “Along with the both of us.”







010. The Sequence

Captain O’Neil


Ministry meetings were always difficult for Peter. They were frustrating, fickle and usually ended with the major decisions being made by him alone after everyone else grew tired of the bickering. Omega grew closer, and the situation was getting more and more tense for those in command. Most of the Ministry members had little to no clue of the complexities of the situation and were instead squabbling with each other, wrapped up in the logistics of populating their new playground.

This meant planning survey teams, finding the best way to distribute the population and setting into motion plans for temporary structures and then a great city for everyone to live in. Sections of the ship were designed to detach from the main ship body and be piloted into a resting point on land, but the only catch was that they couldn't possibly be moved when planted on land or shot back into space. When they hit land, they were there for good.

“I think that the quickest and safest way is to wait on the ship until we're certain,” Minister Kieran Tate of the B-Block snarled. “We’ve all been cooped up here our whole lives, but rushing into things isn’t going to help anything.”

“You expect these people to be calm when there is a planet -- our new home -- outside of their windows?” Minister Charles Ford of the C-Block said. “We’ve been here long enough, this whole mission was a risk, and the whole point was to populate a new world.”

“You are willing to risk the entire mission!” Tate slammed his fist onto the table, turning away in disgust. “Typical C-Block,” he said, turning back toward the table. “Fine. Send your people then. We’ll need menial labor.”

“Menial labor?” Ford began to boil, outrage swelling inside of him. “Your cavalier attitude toward my Block is as disgusting as ever, Minister Tate. The Omega Destiny does not function without the C-Block, plain and simple. We are all going to have to work together if we are to survive.”

“Oh, bullshit,” Tate laughed, trying his best to cover his face. “The A-Block isn’t going to be crushing stone in quarries, nor will anyone from B-Block unless they volunteer for such...”

“Gentlemen.” O’Neil’s voice cut through like a precision knife, forcing both men back into their seats. “I understand the desire to go either way -- to rush onto the planet or to wait and monitor things. The reality here is that we are going to send down a portion of the population -- those with the right skills -- to begin populating the planet. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation and undoubtedly there will be many who want to immediately relocate to the planet’s surface.”

He cleared his throat, taking a sip from his mug. His words hung in the air as the Ministers fidgeted, awaiting his response. “But unless they’ve been prepped for life on the surface, it will not happen. We’ve been following the plan, correct?”

Both men nodded.

“Then the first population team will go in -- as planned -- and begin their work on the planet. As soon as there is a stable settlement, we’ll begin the trips to the surface for those who are curious, while still integrating the second population team. Remember,” he said as he took another deliberate sip from his tea. “There are ten population teams, with us estimating it will take well over a year before we’ll be 80% relocated. The plan dictates that the process will take up to two years before everything is settled.”

“I understand the plan.” Tate was losing his temper again. “But wouldn’t it make more sense to wait a year and monitor the conditions of the planet before we just go in? We don’t know what kind of conditions we’ll face down there and...”

The door to the chamber slid open. Officer Dumas stood at the doorway, saluting before slipping in and whispering into the ear of Captain O’Neil. O’Neil nodded, dismissing Dumas who quickly strode out of the room, turning to salute before the doors whizzed shut. A few glances were exchanged between Ministers.

“Gentlemen.” O’Neil picked himself up out of his chair, adjusting his shirt and picking up his mug. “I have pressing business to attend to right now. I apologize for having to cut this meeting short, but if you have further issues to discuss, just submit an official request, and we’ll meet privately to discuss matters. Thank you.”

The twelve men at the table stood up and saluted as the captain walked through the doors.


* * *


“Report,” O’Neil said. He did his best to hide how uneasy the news was making him feel, carefully watching the rest of the bridge, the look of horror and panic amidst the crew.

“Sir.” Communications Officer Hideo turned to O’Neil, gulping hard. “We’ve received another transmission.”

“So I’ve been told,” he stated calmly, standing over the officer’s console and looking at his screen. “What is it?”

“Well, sir,” he began. He gulped, turning back to his screen. “Remember the last time we received a signal?”

“The Fibonacci numbers, right?”

“Right,” he said. He took a deep breath. The captain seemed to be growing impatient with all of the tension in the room. “We had originally received the following sequence: 0, 0, 1, 2 and 3. Those are the first five numbers in the sequence.”

“Okay,” he stated, feeling uneasy at the officer’s hesitation. “I understand that much, just like I understand that we sent back the next few numbers.”

“Yeah,” the officer said. He looked genuinely horrified. “We sent back, along the same frequency, the next few numbers: 5, 8, 13, 21 and 34. The transmission that we just got back, well...”

“Officer,” O’Neil sighed. “Just tell me. I’m growing impatient.” O’Neil could sense the officer’s nerves and the rest of the bridge’s, but someone had to be in command on that bridge, which was of course him.

“Yes sir. It was the next five numbers. 55, 89, 144, 233 and 377.”

“These numbers,” he said as he stared at the screen, trying to collect his thoughts. “Could they possibly mean something else?”

“No, sir.” Hideo looked back up at O’Neil, pale as a ghost. “This is clearly the Fibonacci Sequence.”

“It does seem to be far from random, doesn’t it?” O’Neil knew that Hideo was a careful man; he knew this because of Hideo’s relationship with Dumas, which they kept very quiet for official reasons.

“Sir, this is very clearly a response to our reply. We’ve made first contact.”

The words had cut through all of the usual chatter. The normally busy and loud bridge had altogether fallen silent, awaiting the response from Captain O’Neil. They had been briefed on first-contact protocols, but all science had pointed to them not finding any sort of intelligent life beyond humanity within traveling distance.

There were very few things that the message could mean other than the fact that they were heading to Omega and that the rumors were true: Humanity was going to be staring at a reflection of itself through a strange mirror. The thought sent a chill down his spine. They had been preparing for the worst, but what could be worse than heading somewhere that was not only the unknown but an unknown that included distant relatives?

O’Neil looked around the room, his head still swimming. He noticed that the room was waiting for his next move. “Dumas,” he called out. “Go and find Dr. Brandis. Both of you meet me in my office.”

“Yes, sir,” Dumas said as he saluted.

“The rest of you.” O’Neil looked around, clearing his throat only to find it bone dry. “Until we know what this means, we continue moving forward. We are heading to Omega on schedule, and no rogue transmission is going to stop that. The planet will be visible within three days and only growing larger with each minute. That planet is a symbol of hope; it is why we are all here. Do not forget that. Now, back to work.”

The door to his office shut behind him, and he took a deep breath, letting the news sink in for himself. His job was to give a rousing speech at a moment like that, to project authority and confidence even when his own head was spinning. Right then, it felt like the ship was spinning out of control and that his worst fears were coming to fruition.

There was all of this documentation about the “possibilities” on Omega, but none of his predecessors had ever believed that any of it could possibly be true, nor did he.

Now it was a reality. And it was his responsibility.

He almost didn’t notice the door whirr open behind him. Then he heard Dumas clear his throat. “Sir, I brought Dr. Brandis although --”

“Oh, great.” He turned around, composing himself and making brief eye contact with Sue before quickly turning to Dumas. “I appreciate you two coming here like this.”

“Sir,” Dumas began, looking at Dr. Brandis, then to O’Neil. “If I can speak freely here, I believe that meeting with the Defense Minister would be wise at this --”

“I will, I will.” He tried to placate his first officer before heading toward the sink. “Tea, either of you?”

“Sir -- no offense, Dr. Brandis,” Dumas said as he turned to her. “But in light of the recent discovery, I believe that we should be --”

“You are both here because you two are the ones whom I trust the most,” O'Neil said as he grabbed a mug and began the meticulous task of filtering his tea. “There are 504,234 people aboard this ship right now, and you two are the ones whom I can trust. You’ve both been briefed by me.”

He glanced up at Dumas, who was standing rigidly next to Sue. “You both knew that there was documentation about the possibility of there being human life on Omega. I believe that we have enough evidence right now, from the debris we’ve discovered along the journey to this signal now, to confirm that there is intelligent life on Omega.”

“The numbers could be occurring naturally, though,” Dumas mused half-heartedly.

“It was five numbers; we sent five back,” Dr. Brandis responded. “Then we got five back. The chances of that seem very slim.”

“So we are not only approaching the unknown then,” Dumas said, shaking his head in disbelief. “But we are entering the unknown, which has just become that much more dangerous.”

“This whole trip was dangerous from the start,” O’Neil quickly asserted. “What if we arrive on this planet, and it’s overridden by giant monsters that make Earth’s dinosaurs look like pups? We still know nothing about the vegetation, the animal life, the toxicity. This trip was based upon conjecture, theory, best guesses. We were sent out here with failure as a probability, one of many such ships --”

“Wait, what?” Sue looked up at him confused. “There were other ships like this?”

Dumas nodded silently, arms crossed, before turning to her. “Four others, to be precise. Sent to other possible habitable worlds. Omega was the best hope of the five, also the closest, but there were others. Ours was the public relations flight -- ‘Earth’s Last Hope,’ they called it. Silently the four other ships were launched toward their destinations. They were smaller in scope as well, maybe a capacity of 100,000, while we can handle over 500,000.”

“Correct,” O’Neil said as he cradled his steaming cup of tea in his hands. “They were also equipped for possible terraforming, even if it was just on smaller moons. The Omega Project was about survival of the human race, predicting that Earth would no longer be sustainable for long.”

“I’m not sure how sending humanity off into different corners of the galaxy keeps humanity alive,” she said. “I mean, I get the concept of probability, and chances are at least one of the ships would have a surviving population, maybe even flourish one day, but I guess I just never thought about this mission failing. Did I imagine hardships? Of course. But not complete failure.”

“We need a plan, Peter,” Dumas said, dropping formality. “We are going to need to be ready for anything. That whole civilian military that we’ve been cultivating? I think that we are going to need it.”

“No.” O’Neil was swimming in this thoughts. “I’m not going to mobilize anything just yet. Whatever, whoever we find on that planet, we come in peacefully. This whole mission wouldn’t have been necessary if it wasn’t for humanity’s brutality, our own cruelty. If these really are human beings, if these really are our relatives in some way, why should we look to come in and destroy or subjugate them?

“Anyone alive on this planet is going to be a tremendous asset for us.” O'Neil took a long sip from his tea, letting it sink in before he continued. “This is their home, and we are technically going to be imposing upon them. If for some reason, some from this planet did travel to Earth, much like we are coming from Earth to here, we are going to need to be understanding.”

“It’s a noble idea,” Dumas said. He pursed his lips, pausing before choosing his words carefully. “But Peter, you’ve always been an idealist. This ship might be a ship of moderate ideals, but this world will be different. We might need to take action.”

“I will not authorize anything until it is absolutely necessary, Jack.” He walked over to Dumas, placing his hand on the back of his neck and forcing eye contact. “I appreciate your diligence, your candor, as always, but trust me on this. Humanity was led here by mistakes, mistakes that couldn’t be fixed. We ran away from our problems, and we might have a chance here. This might be a chance for us to start over.”

Dumas shook his head, laughing quietly. “I never know where this optimism comes from, Peter, but I always appreciate it.”


* * *


“I never thought that a sequence of numbers would be able to change my perception of reality like this,” O’Neil said. He chuckled, arms folded behind his back as he walked down through the business district in the B-Block with Dr. Brandis at his side.

“Numbers will always be more important than any of us give them credit for,” she agreed.

“From time to time, I like to just wander through the Blocks.” He stopped in front of a display of screens playing news and discussing the best viewing areas to see Omega. “Seems like those viewing ports are finally going to be of use, huh?” he asked absently.

“I guess,” she said. “Never saw much use in them myself. Space is space. The occasional floating rock formation might pass by, but it’s usually just the blackness of space.”

“We have no reason to appreciate space,” he said as he continued to stare at the screen, not really paying attention to it but just staring. “But imagine the first generation who was aboard this ship. Space flight wasn’t uncommon, but it was brief or reserved for those of privilege. Many initially aboard the flight would flood the observation lounges at all hours of the day and night, just gazing off into the blackness, the vastness of space. It didn’t matter what they were or weren’t seeing.”

“It’s just hard to appreciate something when it is always there,” she said. She diverted her eyes away from O’Neil's after his eyes caught hers, feeling a slight bit of excitement rise and fall inside of her. “I guess.”

“Maybe our children,” he said. He paused, clearing his throat. “Our generation’s children, I mean. Maybe they’ll marvel at space all over again after we live out the rest of our lives on this new planet. It might just be a big, never-ending cycle. Hell, maybe this journey we are making is a part of that cycle. Maybe humanity makes a blind pilgrimage between our two worlds every few generations, and we are all just a part of this never-ending cycle.”

She looked lost, which was something that he never thought he’d say about Sue. “The more you tell me, the more I’m prone to believing that.”

They continued walking through the main promenade in silence, both of their minds swimming in possibilities, processing the facts and taking in the sights.

Captain O’Neil was a symbol for these people -- either a symbol of hope or a symbol of oppression. Here in the B-Block, he was a symbol of hope, while the deeper one ventured into the ship, the more resentment boiled under the surface.

O’Neil had enjoyed his walks through the promenade, but his security advisers always ended up in a panic over them, pleading for him to schedule them, to warn them ahead of time so that they could secure the area and keep a watch on him. Outside of his garden, those walks were the closest that he ever got to feeling alive, to feeling normal.

It was a risk going on one with Sue, he thought to himself. Not only because she might be put in danger by being with him, but because Jeanette had always been jealous of Dr. Brandis. She sensed the tension between the two and even felt jealous over their friendship. Maybe if he had been more sensitive about the situation, Jeanette wouldn’t be cheating on him, he mused to himself while shaking his head. Regardless of what he may or may not have felt for Sue, he had always promised to remain faithful to Jeanette and to remain faithful in his duty.

Maybe when they arrived at Omega, things would be different. That had been the refrain that had been cycling through his mind for the past few months at that point. Maybe Jeanette would turn a corner, maybe their relationship would sort itself out, and Sue would stop being such a distraction. Then again, he could just as easily see things with Jeanette ending and him getting to live a quiet life alone with his garden.

There were a lot of maybes, perhaps too many maybes for his liking. He quickly realized that he had reached a point where there was instability everywhere he turned. He had always known that the final approach to Omega would be nerve-racking, but he never thought that it would be like it was at that moment.

“Sometimes,” Sue began, breaking the silence. “Sometimes I just want to know what’s going through the mind of the stoic Captain Peter O’Neil. Other times,” she said as she looked up at him with a look of admiration. “I’m just one of these people looking for guidance.”

He laughed, which helped to clear his mind and remind him to breath. “Oh Sue,” he said. “I needed that.”

“I’m not kidding around!” She looked at him, laughing like no one was watching him.

“Sue, you are probably the strongest person that I’ve ever known. You don’t need me for anything. I’m the one who needs you to lighten up this mood and help pull me from this black hole.”

They both paused as they heard the sound of O’Neil’s holoscanner coming from his back pocket. He pulled it out and flicked the button, letting the projected screen zip out from the device.

An image of Dumas popped into view. “Sir,” Dumas said stiffly. It was clear that he wasn’t not alone. “We have an emergency and need you here at the bridge immediately.”

“Again?” he said, running through nightmare scenarios in his mind about what could possibly be wrong after the day they were having. “What could it possibly be now? Did we receive another transmission?”

“Not quite,” Dumas said uncertainly. “We just need you to come here immediately, sir.”

“All right,” he replied. He tightened his grip on the holoscanner, the screen rescinding back into nothingness, curious as to what else could go wrong that day.


* * *


“What else could have possibly gone wrong in the past forty minutes, Dumas?” O’Neil muttered as the door slid open, ignoring procedure.

“Sir,” Dumas said, swallowing hard. “I’m not quite sure how to present this. He just... materialized inside of your office. We have no records of anyone coming or --”

“He?”

“Yes, sir.” Dumas was flustered, meaning that this was serious. “The codes check out.”

“The codes?”

“Yes, sir.” He presented his holoscanner to O’Neil. The image of a man was on it. He was in his early fifties and slender, with a thin mustache on his upper lip and cold gray eyes. “Admiral Navarro, sir.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I, sir.” Dumas was usually able to keep himself together, but none of it made any sense. “But he’s inside of your office right now. Like I said, the codes...”

“I’ll see about this,” O’Neil said. He waved his hand dismissively at Dumas before striding toward his office. The door whizzed open to reveal a slender man sitting in O’Neil’s chair.

“Ah, Captain O’Neil, I presume?” He stood, his hand outstretched.

“Yes.” The captain looked down, inspecting the man’s hand but not taking it. “How did you get aboard this ship, never mind into my office?”

“Oh, Captain O’Neil, I do apologize.” The man's accent was thick, elegant. High born, unlike anyone else aboard the ship. “This is a bit of an intrusion, I must admit, but I was made aware of a rogue signal that escaped from the surface and was intercepted by your ship and -- well, I had to spoil the surprise.”

“Surprise?”

“Oh, I do apologize again, but I feel as if I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself here. I’m Admiral William Navarro of the Fourth Fleet. I believe in your dossiers there should be a mention of the Fourth Fleet.”

“Yes, but...” O'Neil could feel his head starting to spin. “It’s been 82 years since we left Earth, with no contact past the Europa Station. It’s impossible.”

“Correction,” Navarro replied as he smiled through his thin lips. “It was impossible, but you have to give them credit, I suppose. They did have a contingency in place for technological advances such as the HyperMass Drive.”

“HyperMass Drive?”

“Once again, I’m ahead of myself.” Navarro turned toward the window. “There is much to discuss. We had planned a formal greeting, but when we learned of the signal, I decided to have a meeting with the ship’s captain directly to -- well, lessen the surprise. I understand that it might be a bit shocking for your ship to come into view of Omega only to see the Fourth Fleet exchanging fire with what’s left of the rebels.”

“Rebels?”

“Things have moved swiftly, haven’t they?”

O’Neil sunk into his chair, staring at Admiral Navarro standing regally and looking out the window. He wondered just what was awaiting them at Omega.





011. The Perfect Hand

Jonah Freeman


“Jonah, come in.” The Minister of Finance directed Jonah in through the large wooden doors to his office from the waiting room. He was wearing a black suit with the Ministry band on his right arm and a few commendations on his lapel.

“Thanks, Jim.” Jonah smiled and nodded as he followed him into the room, and Jim closed the door behind them.

“Take a seat, Jonah,” he said as he directed Jonah to a chair in front of the desk. Jonah sunk into the leather chair, which was far more comfortable than it had appeared.

“So,” he began as he moved around his desk and sat down in his own high-backed chair and inched forward toward his desk. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, Jim.” Jonah looked at him and knew that there was no turning back. “Since we seemed to have a good understanding the other night in regards to your daughter --”

“Jonah,” he interrupted, putting his hand out and bowing his head slightly. “If you are here to ask for my daughter’s hand, you didn’t have to go through this trouble because I --”

“No, sir,” Jonah said, shifting in his chair and waving his hands quickly in front of him. “Nothing like that.”

“Oh,” Jim said, pursing his lips and nodding his head as his eyes scanned the room. “So what is so important that you had to see me today then?”

“Well, Jim, I need a bit of a favor,” he said slowly, not making eye contact. “You see, I’m working on a bit of a project myself here, and I’d like your help with it.”

“I’m listening. Go ahead,” he said as he motioned for Jonah to continue.

“Great. Well, sir,” he said as he looked up at him, knowing that he could still turn back. The wheels were in motion, but was the cost worth it? “Jim. I’d like access to a few of the other Ministers.”

“Oh, well, that should be no problem,” he said.

“As well as the captain.”

“Now that,” Jim began as he pushed his chair back. He picked himself up, straightened out his jacket and fastened the front button before striding over to the pitcher of water on the table next to his desk. “That might be a problem,” he said, pointing the pitcher at Jonah before pouring himself a glass of water.

“Why is that, Jim?”

“Because he is the fucking captain, Jonah,” he said, letting out a nervous laugh and taking a big gulp of water before resting the glass back on the table. “He’s the captain, in charge of not only the ship but the Ministry aboard the ship and the mission in general. No one just gets to see the captain, no matter the project that they are working on. Especially with how close we are now. There’s just no way.”

“That is disappointing, to say the least.” Jonah knew it couldn’t be that easy, but a part of him had hoped that it would be. He could feel his palms sweating. That was plan A, and it was crashing and burning right before his eyes.

“I can do a lot, Jonah,” he said as he sat back down behind his desk and shook his head. “But I’m sorry to tell you that I can’t do that for you.”

“You can’t or won’t?” Jonah asked, feeling his heart rate begin to speed up.

“I don’t -- are you accusing me of something, Jonah?” His voice began to rise, and his face was turning a hue of red.

“No, Jim.” He needed to remain calm; he couldn’t get too upset or let Jim get too upset just yet. “I just...”

“That is 'sir,'” he corrected him.

“Sir,” Jonah said, understanding that he had hit a tender spot with him. Thankfully, Jim and Kara were a lot alike, so he had predicted which buttons to push. “Although I do wonder.”

“What do you wonder?” the Minister asked, sounding irritated, with his finger hovering around the button to call his secretary and (Jonah assumed) dismiss him. The knot inside of Jonah’s stomach grew to the point where he felt that he would become physically ill and vomit all over the table and carpet.

“I wonder if your wife knows.” The words seemed to almost flow out of Jonah’s mouth, and the look of anger on the Minister’s face quickly changed into a look of shock, his face growing pallid.

Jonah’s whole body quivered, knowing that he had just fired his heavy artillery. There was no going back from there.

“Excuse me?” Jim said after a long, awkward pause.

“Does your wife know, sir?” Jonah asked, doing his best to compose himself, sitting up straight in the comfortable leather chair with his hands resting on either side.

“Does my wife know what?” he sneered at Jonah, the anger coming back into his tone. “Does she know what?”

“You know what I’m talking about, sir,” Jonah said. “Or should I say Jim?”

“I don’t know what you are implying or who told you,” he growled, speaking through his teeth.

“Oh, no one told me.” Jonah's smile broadened as he reached into his pocket and produced a small crysdrive, leaning forward and placing it squarely on the desk.

“What is this?” The Minister stared down at the drive, afraid to reach out for it.

“Go on. Check and see what's on it, Jim.” Jonah motioned for him to pick it up. “Everything will make a lot more sense once you do, I think.”

“If this is some kind of trick,” he said as he gritted his teeth, snatching it up and plugging it into his holoscanner in one fluid motion before he fumbled around to open up the drive.

Jonah’s heart was racing as he leaned back in the chair, folding his hands in front of his face just like he’d seen villains in films do because he felt like one of them right now, unveiling his master plan.

The Minister’s face turned pale when he loaded up the video and the sound of the captain’s wife screaming and moaning filled up the office. He quickly scrambled to mute it, his face turning red as Jonah just started laughing to himself, watching one of the most powerful men aboard the ship scrambling like that.

For as long as he had understood the distribution of power, it had been a fantasy of his to do something like that, and there he was. Even if he didn’t uncover the secret of their journey and was forced out of an airlock to an untimely end, he had accomplished more than he ever imagined that he would.

“So what are you going to do with this?” The Minister leaned back, his chair creaking as he tried to compose himself. “Show my daughter? Show my wife? You think that this is your key to whatever it is you want? What is it that you want, Jonah? Money? Power?”

“I think you underestimate me, Jim,” Jonah replied. He pointed at the holoscanner again. “I believe that I’ve seen that woman somewhere else before, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it, can you?”

“I --”

“Oh, c’mon, Jim, think,” he said as he smiled and feigned ignorance. “It’s a face that we all see all over the place, isn’t it? During official broadcasts especially --”

“What is it that you want?” Jim shouted, slamming his palms down on the desk, taking the crysdrive out from his holoscanner, clutching it in his hand and waving it at Jonah. “How did you get this?”

“I have my ways, Jim,” Jonah said. “Your security isn’t as tight as you’d imagine.”

“Oh, you little snake,” he snarled. If he had been a dragon, steam would be coming out from his nostrils. He would be breathing fire for sure. “You weren’t admiring my books -- this is high treason, you know! I could have you thrown out of the fucking airlock for this!”

“You’d be right there with me, Jim. Maybe even Mrs. O’Neil would be there to hold your hand as the captain flipped the switch and watched us floating out in space. We’d freeze to death first, I gather, and then the pressure would be too much for our bodies if we didn’t freeze. I don’t know about you, Jim.” He shrugged and shook his head. “But I’m not sure that is in the cards for us, huh?”

Jim collapsed back into his chair, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “Just tell me what you want. What can I do? I didn’t want it to get this out of control. My family, Jonah. I don’t want to hurt them.”

“I want information,” he stated slowly and clearly. “If you can’t give me what I need, then you’ll get the information for me from someone else and relay it back to me, Jim.”

“Fine,” he said, almost desperate. “Just what is it that you want?”

“I want to know about where we are going, Jim.” Jonah looked him dead in the eyes. “None of this bullshit.”

“That’s it?” He laughed, shaking his head. “You used me -- you used my daughter -- and for that? I thought you were better than the rest, Jonah.” He laughed harder now. “But you’re just another kid who thinks that he’s more important than he really is. You are just a clueless boy playing a man’s game.”

“Your daughter is a bitch, Jim.” Jonah felt a pang of regret immediately. “You’ve raised a bitch, Jim, and I’m sorry that I ever fell for her. In fact, she reminds me a lot of you, but that isn’t why I’m here. Where are we going?”

“You fucking idiot.” Jim continued laughing, wiping the tears away. “We're going to New Earth; we're going to Omega.”

“Damn it,” Jonah said as he sprung out of the chair, slamming his fist down onto the desk before he turned his back to the desk and felt his shoulders tense. “I knew you wouldn’t know a goddamned thing about this.”

“About what? You're just some conspiracy nut like the rest. You don’t even know what you want or what you're risking your life for! It's for nothing!”

“You're the idiot, Jim.” He was fighting back tears of his own as he turned back to face the Minister. “We're heading to our doom, Jim. We're going home.”

“Home?” He shrugged and laughed again. “Home? What? Earth? C’mon, kid. We left Earth. We're heading to Omega. We all know that.”

“No,” he said as he shook his head. “We aren’t, Jim. We are going to one of the homes that humanity had forged beyond Earth. Of course they wouldn’t tell you a damned thing about this; you aren’t even essential.”

“You are absolutely insane,” the Minister said. He was turning a deeper shade of red, laughing harder and harder now as he tried to catch his breath. “You break into my files, you uncover this, you have the balls to bring this to me and to blackmail me, and then you tell me some story? You are insane!”

“So be it.” Jonah swallowed hard and sat back down in the chair, shaking his head. He paused for a second before leaning in and pointing at the screen. “You know that no one else can see this and that you have some work to do for me. Right, Jim?”

“You're insane,” the Minister muttered to himself as he nodded.

“We’ve established that.” Jonah could feel some of the tension finally easing inside of him as he watched the Minister slump back down into his chair, defeated.

“Okay,” he said in disbelief. “You're insane.”

“What's the easiest way to get me a meeting with the captain?”

“You're going to have to give me time, damn it!” His face turned red again. “I can’t just call him up and tell him that I need to see him. It doesn’t work that way. You wouldn’t know -- you don’t understand how this whole thing works. This isn’t just some game that we all play. It is politics!”

“Politics?” Jonah shook his head, picking himself up from his chair. “I don’t remember ever voting for you or anyone else. I don’t remember being given a choice.”

“I need time,” Jim restated, trying to keep his cool.

“You have until a week from today,” Jonah told him as he walked toward the door, feeling himself trembling but doing his best to not show it. “Or the whole ship will see that tape.” He paused, looking back before nodding and slowly adding, “Sir.”




* * *




The universe greeted him coolly when he locked the door behind him after entering his quarters. Jonah fell to his knees, doing his best to catch his breath and steady his breathing. The whole ship was spinning around him, and he was acutely aware of the ship’s movements all at once. One look out the window, and there was no way to tell if anything was really moving or even what motion meant anymore.

He quickly tore his shirt off, tossing it into the corner of the room before slinking over to the chair overlooking the window and slumping over into it.

His eyes focused on the vast view in front of him. For that second, the whirring of the mechanical world that he was a part of stopped, and he could feel his emotions start to bubble up.

“I never wanted to be a hero,” he heard himself speak out loud, tears starting to stream down his cheeks. Jonah was aware that no one could hear him, but he was speaking for everyone and no one, but especially for himself. “I didn’t want this. I just want everything to go back to normal.”

Jonah reached up and wiped at his eyes before he heard the sound of his holoscanner behind him. He did his best to compose himself and spun the chair around, picking the device up off of his bed before sinking back into the chair with the scanner in his lap. There were a few messages, some from Professor Cox and then one from Kara, which simply stated, “Where were you today?”

He let loose a loud sigh while he quickly scribbled out a response to Kara, explaining that something had come up and took him all day, that he was exhausted and just needed to rest.

His response to Professor Cox was a bit different. It was only mid-afternoon, and he knew that he owed it to the professor to explain how the meeting had gone.

Jonah tossed the scanner back onto his bed before leaning over, picking up his shirt and sniffing it. After deeming it acceptable and sliding it back on, he pulled himself to his feet, grabbed his scanner and unlocked his door.


“Did it go all right?” the professor asked nervously as soon as the door slid open. Jonah didn’t even have a second to brace himself before he nodded solemnly.

“It went fine,” he replied. He pulled up a stool and smacked his scanner down onto the table, spinning to face the professor. “Really, it did,” he said as he nodded at him, seeing how the professor was still uneasy.

“Jonah, we need better than fine.” He raised his voice before catching himself. The professor looked around, paranoid, and lowered his voice. “This is high treason. We need this to be flawless.”

“Trust me. I played the perfect hand; there's just no way that this doesn’t work out,” he assured Professor Cox, even though he himself was doubting the plan at this point.

“So you presented him with the evidence, I assume,” he said as he motioned toward Jonah’s scanner. “I don’t think that he’d just arrange a meeting with the captain, right?”

“Well, he claims that he can’t, actually.” Jonah swallowed hard when he heard the alert go off on his scanner. He quickly tapped it a few times to silence it.

“He can’t, or he won’t?” The professor pulled himself up to his feet, rubbing his fingers through his beard as he paced around the room. “It is vital -- can’t or won’t?”

“He claimed that he couldn’t,” Jonah said, nodding. “I gave him a week, though, played hardball. I know that he’ll be able to do something to make this happen.”

“Yes, well,” the professor sighed. “You don’t know what a man like him will do with his back against the wall, Jonah!” he cautioned, looking over at the desk as Jonah’s scanner went off again. “Can you please either answer that or turn it off? This is stressful enough, Jonah, without your girlfriend interrupting us like this all of the time.”

“I know, I know,” Jonah admitted as he picked it up, silencing it again before slapping it back down. “I don’t know what she wants. She never bugs me like this. I’m sorry. Look, this will be fine, okay?” Just as he stated it, his scanner went off again, and he cursed under his breath.

“Just answer the damned thing and see what she wants,” the professor instructed as he motioned toward it.

“Fine,” Jonah sighed. He picked it up and answered the call. “Kara?” Her image appeared on the screen with tears streaming down her cheeks, her mascara forming dark streaks down the side of her face, and her bangs doing their best to hide her eyes. The professor sighed and turned around, doing his best to immerse himself in his own scanner.

“Jonah, where have you been?” she asked, choking back tears. “I’ve been trying to reach you for a while now.”

He couldn’t help but feel concerned for her. Then suddenly a realization washed over him: What if her father had spoken to her and told her about their meeting? He quickly cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, Kara. I was taking a nap, and I’m at Professor Cox’s now. Why? What’s wrong?”

“Jonah, I...” She paused, trying to fight back the tears.

“Jonah!” Professor Cox shouted, trying to keep his voice low, turning to him with his face as pale as ever. “Jonah...”

“I’m talking to Kara, c’mon,” Jonah snapped before turning back to her. “Kara, what’s wrong? I don’t have time for your games right now.”

She choked back the tears long enough to murmur a few words. “This isn’t a game, Jonah! This is serious!”

“Oh,” he said, afraid of what she’d say.

“Jonah, it’s my father,” she finally let out.

Jonah quickly lost his color and began to feel nauseous. She knew, he told himself. She knew everything, and soon the police would be onto him.

“He’s...” Kara began before pausing again. “They found him in his office, and he's... he’s dead!”

Jonah blinked a few times before his eyes opened wide. He looked back at Professor Cox, who had a report up on his screen and was looking back at Jonah with a similar expression on his face.

The world was starting to spin for Jonah. He had finally completely lost control. A man was dead due to his meddling and digging.

“Oh my god,” Jonah finally squeaked out. “I’m sorry, Kara,” he said, swallowing hard. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Just...” She paused, wiping away the tears. “I need you.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be there.”

Her image washed away, taking with it some of the color in the room. It was dead silent, just Jonah holding onto his holoscanner. Professor Cox sat in his chair with a blank expression on his face, the two of them not making eye contact. The silence was deafening between the two men; the only sounds were the slight whirr from a few of the machines and the air coming through the vents.

“He’s dead.” Professor Cox’s unsteady voice cut through the silence.

“I know.”

“No, you don’t.” The professor’s voice was gnarled and vicious. “This is what you do, Jonah. This is always what you do.”

“What do you mean?” Jonah looked up at his mentor, feeling the walls caving in around them.

“This is what you always do!” He slammed his fist down onto the desk and bit his bottom lip. “Always, Jonah. Always. You are fucking brilliant -- you know that, right?” He looked into Jonah’s eyes and growled. “Of course you do. That's the problem. You don’t take anyone else into account. You don’t listen!”

“I’m sorry.”

“You're only sorry when things go wrong! That is when you stop to think and when you start to consider that other people exist and know things that you might not! Jonah, I never expected you to take it this far. What did you do?”

The accusation cut deeper still -- the idea that Professor Cox thought that Jonah could have ever expected things to go so wrong.

“I didn’t do this.” Jonah panicked as he tried to find the right words. “I didn’t mean for this --”

“Because you didn’t think! Yes, Jonah, the world is holding you back, things come easy to you, but you never want to ask questions. You always want to figure everything out on your own, to be independent and not ask for any help or advice. This is what happens, this,” he said as he pointed at the screen, the file photo of Kara’s father. “A man, regardless of how wrong he was or whatever he did, a man is dead, and you brought me into this!”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen -- you have to believe me!”

“I know,” the professor said. He didn't make eye contact and instead stared straight forward at the screen. “I know that you didn’t. In a way, it is my fault. I knew what you were capable of; I knew how you’d react to this and that you’d want to do this all on your own. I should have stopped you or devised a more thorough plan.”

“Nobody knew it would end like this.” Jonah stared at the only man who had been there for him over the last few years, the only family that he knew anymore. “I’m sorry.”

“I know, Jonah. I know.”









012. The Fourth Fleet

Captain O’Neil


“Today at approximately 15:00 hours, history was made.” O’Neil stood at the official podium, the same podium that he had been addressing the ship from for the tenure of his entire career. Something about this time felt a lot more formal and almost final. “Today the Starship Omega made its first contact with another vessel since it originally left the moon's orbit over 82 years ago.

“I was contacted by Admiral William Navarro of the Fourth Fleet. That Fourth Fleet being from Earth,” he added as he took a sip from a glass of water and then stowed it back under the podium.

“No, the Fourth Fleet is not some long-lost fleet from history, but instead, the Fourth Fleet is a sign from back home that our mission is not forgotten. Technology has improved since our grandparents departed Earth 82 years ago, so much so that the invention of something called a HyperMass Drive has cut down the amount of time that it takes humanity to traverse the stars.

“Their journey here was a staggering 10 weeks compared to our 82 years, showing that human ingenuity will always win out. Over the coming days, the planet’s surface will become visible, and we invite everyone to spend some time in the observation rooms located throughout the ship. We’ll also be rendezvousing with the Fourth Fleet as we approach the planet.

“Now,” he said, smiling. “This is all a lot to take in, and I know that the main question is still, when will you get to set foot on your new home? The answer to that is soon. The Fourth Fleet is currently running safety scans on the surface and doing their best to locate zones that will be the best place for us to begin our settlement on our new home. These are exciting times for all of us. I hope to see you all on the surface shortly.”

It felt candy-coated, he thought to himself. Large, important facts were omitted, but those were all the direct orders of Admiral Navarro, who was his superior. At this point, Captain O’Neil understood that he had done his duty, but that his power would quickly diminish under the watchful eye of Admiral Navarro. It would especially come to an end when the Starship Omega was out of action, and everyone was planetside.

There had been so much happening that day that it was difficult to let it really soak in. Some branch of humanity not only lived on Omega but was putting up a resistance against the forces of the Fourth Fleet. The Fourth Fleet existed, just like the fancy new HyperMass Drives that cut their journey to Omega by 81 years and two months. Plus there was this technology that allowed for Admiral Navarro to be “beamed” to somewhere else, somewhere across space.

The broadcast had ended, and press was barred from the event, so the briefing room felt eerily quiet and almost surreal. Most of his announcements and broadcasts to the entire ship were large events. Usually press and troublemakers were everywhere with endless barrages of bizarre questions. This had been an emergency broadcast, and everything was under the firm control of Admiral Navarro.

“Sir,” Dumas said as he approached him, looking as worn down as O’Neil felt.

“It’s been a long day, Dumas,” he said, patting his friend on the shoulder. “Go get some rest. I’m sure tomorrow will bring more surprises. Maybe they can make food materialize out of thin air next.”

“Sir,” Dumas said before he paused with a pained expression on his face. “It’s Jim Levine, sir.”

“Jim Levine, the Minister of Finance Jim Levine? What about him?”

“Self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, just found about an hour ago in his office,” he said gravely.

“What?” O’Neil turned pale. “Goddamn it. We're days away from this all being over, and this fool has to kill himself?”

“We also have someone in custody,” he continued.

“Custody for a suicide?” O’Neil scoffed, shaking his head.

“Well, sir, the man whom we have in custody had visited the Minister right before his death. In fact, he was the last person to see the Minister alive at all. We simply felt that we couldn’t be too careful in a scenario like this, with one of the Ministers dead.”

“We’ll have to keep this quiet for now,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “How many know?”

“It’s all over the ship, sir. Everyone knows.”

“Damn it,” he said. “We’ll release an official statement first thing tomorrow morning about this, but until then, try to keep everything else quiet.”

“Okay.” Dumas stood silent for a moment, mustering up the confidence to bring it up. “Sir, there is one other thing.”

“Fuck, what? Is there a bomb on the ship set to detonate? This day can’t get any worse.”

“No, sir, actually, this is rather sensitive information...”

“The whole thing is sensitive! A Minister is dead!” he shouted, turning red.

“It’s about Jeanette,” Dumas blurted out.

“Oh Christ, is she okay?”

“She is. We have a detail on her right now, sir.”

“Then what is it?”

“Well, she, uh...” Dumas rubbed the back of his neck and shook his head, unable to make eye contact. “When we searched the man in custody, we found a crysdrive on him that contained some sensitive data.”

“Are you claiming that he had some sort of data on my wife as well as data on the Minister?”

“Yes, precisely,” Dumas said, nodding and still unable to make eye contact.

“What was it then?”

“Well, sir, there is evidence -- rather graphic evidence -- that Jim Levine and Jeanette were...”

“Oh, fuck.” He could feel his head spinning. It was Jim all along. How had he not seen it before? “It was Jim. Have you secured this data?”

“Yes, of course.”

“No one else has seen it?”

“No, sir,” he said. “As per protocol in such a case, I inspected it myself. No one else has seen it. Although it did look he intended to go public about this, like he was blackmailing Levine.”

“Blackmail,” he said as he scratched his chin.

“He’s asked to speak to you.”

“After the day I’ve had? I don’t think so.”

“Well,” Dumas stuttered. “He claims that he’s already set in motion alternate channels to distribute the video. Multiple independent channels – and only he can call it off.”

“Sounds like some sort of terrorist threat,” he muttered. “Damn it. This is treason. Just throw him out of the airlock.”

“I don’t believe that’s wise, sir. He worked for the Ministry of Communications, which means that he’s well-connected.”

“Ministry of Communications? Didn’t we have some issue with some kid from there just a few weeks ago?”

“Jonah Freeman, sir,” he said. “That’s who we have in custody right now.”

“Well, goddamn,” he laughed, unable to believe the circumstances. “I’ll go meet with this Jonah Freeman then. One thing: Does the admiral know?”

“Not yet.”

“Keep it that way.”

“Yes, sir.” Dumas saluted him, and O'Neil stormed out of the room and headed for the detention block. Finally he’d get to meet this Jonah Freeman, the kid whose name seemed to keep coming up. It was as if their destinies were intertwined somehow.


* * *


The brig was a cold place, deep inside of the heart of the Ministry Square. There was not a bit of light that could find its way into the brig, and the location had been kept a secret from anyone not assigned to brig duty or O’Neil’s trusted few. There had been rumors about the brig for as long as the ship had been operational. It was a place that was feared, reviled and the topic of many longstanding myths.

In reality, it was a safe place, O’Neil thought to himself as he walked past the guards, letting the door close behind him. Dumas had given the kid his own cell, a solitary place closed off via an energy field. There was a bed, a latrine and a sink, with a haggard-looking twenty-something sitting on the bed, calmly taking in the surroundings. He was taller than O’Neil. His hair was messy, and he hadn’t shaved in a few days. O’Neil had seen photographs of him, but in person, he looked like he had escaped from their psych ward.

“You must be Jonah Freeman,” he said as he pulled a chair behind him, sliding it in front of the force field keeping Jonah locked in and sitting down facing him. “I’d offer to shake your hand, but son, under these circumstances, that would be a bit difficult.”

“Why am I here?” Jonah asked, his voice cracking at first but then finding his confidence. “I didn’t kill him.”

“No.” O’Neil smiled warmly, nodding. “He took care of that on his own, I suppose. Honestly, I didn’t know Jim all that well -- his role on the ship was far from vital -- but the Ministry always felt that a Minister of Finance was an important role for humanity’s future.”

“Typical,” Jonah said, staring down at his shoes and not making eye contact.

“Of what?” he inquired.

“This whole bullshit system,” he said.

O’Neil could see that he was upset and possibly scared. Freeman was on the defensive and probably felt like he had nothing else to lose. He was another angry kid who felt like their ship was unfair to him, and O'Neil didn’t blame him one bit.

Jonah continued, “It's the only way to keep things the way they are, to keep us cleaning floors while the rest of you decide every bit of our lives.”

O’Neil let out a laugh, shaking his head.

“What’s so funny?”

“I don’t disagree with you, that’s what’s so funny. Although if I remember correctly,” he said as he looked up at the lights, reaching back into his memory. “You started off as a caretaker, but through service, you were able to work your way into the Ministry of Communications, where you met Jim’s daughter, of course.”

“I guess I did.” Jonah laughed to himself, shaking his head. “I didn’t know that I was that important.”

“I won’t say that this is the first time that your name has crossed my holoscanner, no. In fact, you and Professor Cox were a topic of discussion for a while. You’ve done a lot for being a janitor’s son.”

“Yet,” Jonah began as he motioned with his hands around the cell, feeling a sense of anger surge through him. “This is where I am, even though you admit I didn’t kill anyone.”

“Jim’s death is unfortunate,” O’Neil said. He was amused to see the boy squirm, but he understood the gravity of the situation. O’Neil knew that he had to play it cool, but after the day he had had, he felt his defenses being lowered by the minute. “Although that’s not the reason that you are here. The contents of this crysdrive, though,” he said as he waved the drive in front of his face. “Now that’s another story.”

“Look,” Jonah began. He hung his head, looking away. “I’m sorry. I know that she’s your wife and all, but it was the only way...”

“The only way to what? Undermine my authority?” The playful tone quickly left O’Neil's voice. “We are days from Omega-zero day, from history, and you want to undermine the Ministry. You want to undermine me.

“I know where we're going,” Jonah said. “This whole facade -- you think that we wouldn’t find out? You're leading us all into danger! The people deserve to know!”

“Deserve to know what?” He raised his voice, darting to his feet and standing close to the field, staring down at the seated Freeman. “Information that we all believed to be bullshit, petty superstition from our ancestors?

“You are angry! You are hungry! I understand that. You don’t trust us; you don’t trust me. If you believed this, why take a video of my wife fucking a Minister public and not take your truth?” he asked, emphasizing the word truth and letting it hang between them. “Make that public, not my marital problems.”

“Be labeled a heretic or a traitor? No one would listen to me. I’d just be silenced like the rest.”

“Being guilty of treason does make you a traitor.”

“A traitor to the Ministry, not to my people, not to humanity!”

“So,” O'Neil said as he slapped the sides of his face and paced back and forth to collect his thoughts. He had to admire the kid; he had a fire within him. “We don’t have humanity’s best interest in mind then?”

“I’m not sure what the purpose of this mission is. I’m not sure that it has a purpose at all. Imperialism? Humanity needing another planet to claim and ruin?”

“Well,” he said as he sat back down. “Tell me then: What was it that you were trying to get from Levine?”

“I believe that I just got what I wanted, although I didn’t imagine it this way.”

“Oh? Now I’m curious.”

“Access to you.”

“Now I’m even more curious.” He had to admit that he was intrigued. “Here I am, so I guess things did work out.”

“In a way,” Jonah said. “I didn’t plan on sitting in a jail cell in the brig to have our first meeting, but I guess that's how life works out for us C-Deckers sometimes.”

“Well, Mr. Freeman. You’ve defied the odds a few times in your life, and it looks like you’ve done it yet again. You’ve got me -- I’m here. If I answer your questions, will you call off your dogs?” He waved the crysdrive in front of his face. “I heard you had a backup plan to release this to the ship.”

“I know people,” he said. “Not people of great power, but people who help those in power, and they all have sealed copies of that video,” he said as he pointed to the crysdrive in O’Neil’s hand. “In three hours, they'll simulcast it everywhere on the ship unless I tell them to stop.”

“Thus destroying my image to an already on-edge population and effectively ending a career that I had already considered coming to a close.”

“This isn’t about you,” he said. “This was my last-ditch effort to get an audience. These people deserve better -- they deserve the truth. Your career isn’t my concern.”

“Collateral damage,” O’Neil said as he nodded gravely.

“I guess.” Jonah folded his hands in his lap and looked up at the captain. “You said you were done anyway. Why? We aren’t even at Omega yet.”

“I guess you’ve been in here, haven’t heard about the Fourth Fleet...”

“Fourth Fleet?” Jonah asked, puzzled.

“Admiral Navarro of the Fourth Fleet made contact today. Apparently we’ve created something called the HyperMass Drive that can travel far beyond speeds that we could have ever imagined.

“This mission is now in his hands, and I’m but a captain who will soon not have a ship to command. I don’t see there being a lot of room in the Fourth Fleet for another captain, either. They want me for a ceremonial role, a public one, as a symbol of hope. Are you hopeful in my presence?” he asked sarcastically.

“A fleet, as in warships?”

“Correct.”

“So that means that they did encounter life on Omega?”

“I’m not sure that the fleet was brought here under that pretense or not, but I do know that they have made contact.”

“I knew it!” Jonah hopped to his feet, slamming his fist into his palm. “I knew my hunch was right!”

“Hunch?”

“This is home!” Jonah looked down at the captain, unable to contain his excitement. “This is where humanity came from, Captain O'Neil.”

“I didn’t say that it was humans whom we made contact with.” He bit his bottom lip. “How did you know that?”

“Just research, theorizing.” He started to pace around himself, trying to contain his excitement. “The device that Professor Cox and I found, the similar devices that we found on the moon, on Mars, the gaps in humanity’s history that didn’t seem to line up...”

“I’m not sure about all of that,” O'Neil said as he opened his eyes wide for a brief moment at the stream of thoughts coming from the younger man. “I do know that the Fourth Fleet is currently engaged in hostilities with the forces planetside and that --”

“So our cycle continues. The violence continues. It was never about finding a new home, about saving the race. It was just about power, again. You watch -- this will be the end for us.”

There was an awkward silence while O’Neil played with the crysdrive, moving it in between his fingers and not making eye contact with the young prisoner. Jonah slumped over onto the bed, cradling his head in his hands and letting out what can only be classified as a deep existential sigh. O’Neil didn’t feel much different at that moment, either.

“Everyone aboard this ship deserves peace,” O’Neil declared, breaking the silence. “Regardless of whatever caste or bum role they were assigned. I never thought that I’d have any real power when we finally get there, but I always had this foolish notion that I could push things in the right direction, even a little bit. I know that you think that I’m some sort of monster, some sort of symbol for all that is wrong with humanity.

“But I’ve never had real power. My power is this ship, this crew. The Ministry relies on me from time to time, but as soon as we hit that surface, the plan was always to establish new Ministry roles and power, for the continuation of our system that we had back on Earth and what we have out here. I know that all of human history led us to this system, but I’ve kind of always held out hope for something different.”

He paused, asking himself why he was spilling his guts out to some kid in a cell. “I’m not really clear why I’m telling you all of this, honestly. It’s just been a long day for both of us, I’m assuming. We probably have more in common than you’d think.”

“What’s that? The whole rat-trapped-in-a-cage thing?”

“This whole blackmail thing,” he said as he waved the crysdrive in front of him again. “Was that about you searching for the truth?”

“Yeah,” he said as he hung his head. “It was my only play.”

“Oh, Jonah.” He saw that Freeman was looking for answers, that it wasn’t about harm or disruption. “You probably didn’t think too hard about this one, did you? Our own Don Quixote right aboard the Starship Omega. Our own noble fool.”

“Not many windmills aboard the ship, sadly.”

“Oh, you’ve found your share of yours, and I’ve got mine.” He dropped the crysdrive on the floor. “I’m going to level with you here -- not for myself and not for Jeanette, definitely not for Levine’s family, either.

“I’m leveling with you, one noble fool to another, to call it off. My value aboard this ship, my value to humanity right now, is like we’ve been talking about -- as a symbol. If Captain Peter O’Neil can’t keep his own personal life in order, how could he be the man who led us to our destiny, to Omega? Do you see what I’m getting at here?”

“I do,” Jonah said. “Although I’m not entirely sure how it’s my problem. This is all just a house of cards, and someone has to tear it down. The whole thing has to be destroyed, the image has to be shattered, for everyone to wake up. These people are conditioned.

“Do you really think that they could live in a world with true freedom? These people aren’t ready for freedom, but they deserve to be set on the path to understanding it, to take it for themselves. The truth can set them free, I truly believe that.”

“Like I said, the noble fool.”

“Maybe someday, maybe years from now, maybe hundreds of years from now, but that’s a distant dream. Like you said, these people need a leader.”

“Being a leader isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be,” he said as he tongued at his cheek. “Who could lead these people? Would you do it?”

“What?” Jonah said. He was reeling, clearly taken aback by O’Neil’s question. “Me? Why?”

“Oh, just seems like we were heading in that direction. Like I said before, you’ve got a fire inside of you, kid. You’ve got balls. You care about these people, and I’m not sure that you have all your ducks in a row here, but you and I just want the same thing.

“Hell,” he said. “You are probably more fit for this role than I am.”

“I was born to be a caretaker,” Jonah answered as he rolled his eyes.

“And I was born to be a captain. I was born to marry that woman,” he said as he waved at the crysdrive on the ground. “As you’ve seen, our relationship is merely ceremonial and has been for a while. I should thank you, though. I knew that she was cheating but never quite knew who it was. Maybe I was trying to avoid finding the actual answer -- I don’t know -- but there it was.”

“So you already knew. I don’t get it. Go out there and denounce her. You're Captain O’Neil. She doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, Jonah,” he tsked. “You haven’t had to learn patience yet. Do you really think that I wanted to be Captain Peter O’Neil? Do you really think that I wanted to be pushed into a marriage arrangement that befitted someone of my role? The daughter of a Minister? None of this,” he started as he motioned toward his uniform. “This isn’t me, but it’s the man I play on your holoscanners and in your imaginations. You're unhappy with your lot in life? Well, take a place in line, kid.”

“Oh, please,” Jonah said. “Like you would have been anything else if given a choice.”

“A botanist,” he stated, staring down at his hands in his lap. “I would have been a botanist.”

“A botanist? Like, a guy who plays with plants?”

“That,” he answered, still unsure of why he was spilling out this much to him. “That is my passion. I spend hours each day locked inside of my office. They all think that it’s some secret business, some future planning that I’m doing, but I have my garden in a room off of the office. It was used by the previous captains -- my father and grandfather -- as an official strategy room. I saw it as a better fit for some lamps and planters because, let’s be honest here, there were other rooms I could use for official meetings.

“I make my own tea, grow the plants, pick the leaves, the whole thing. Even have a few coffee plants and make my own coffee, although I’m more of a tea man myself. That’s how I plan to spend my retirement as well, finding a nice plot of land and growing my own food, keeping to myself. I can make an arrangement with Jeanette when we get down there, maybe just see her for official functions. My bet is she’ll be happy that I didn’t toss her out of the airlock.

“So no,” he continued. “You aren’t the only one who was dealt a bad hand. Hell, even if you picked poorly, you picked who you got to be with.”

They both laughed. “Yeah, I sure did make a mess of things with that one. I never meant to hurt her, though. She’s young and selfish, but she’s not a bad person.”

He paused, and O’Neil kept his gaze fixed on him. “So,” Jonah said, swallowing hard. “What’s gonna happen to me?”

“Oh, the usual methods would require a tribunal or an executive decision. It was definitely treason, though, enough to make a sound argument for getting the airlock treatment.”

Jonah sighed. “I thought so.”

“Doesn’t mean that’s what I’m going to do, though.” He picked himself up, straightening out his uniform. “This uniform still means something for now. And you -- well, you're still a bit of clay that has yet to harden. Humanity needs more noble fools chasing windmills.”

Jonah smiled, sighing in relief.

“But...”

“No, no,” Jonah said as he began to panic.

O'Neil leaned down to pick up the crysdrive. “I’m not sure that any of this reflects too well on either of us, but my time in command is running short. Anything official that I can push for will take days to process, and by then... well.” He paused as he pocketed the drive. “Everything will need to go through Navarro. Hell, right now, we're in the process of preparing to hand over all operations to him and the Fourth Fleet.

“But,” he said before pausing again and pulling Jonah’s holoscanner from his pocket. “I’ve heard they speak somewhat of a modified Nordic language on the planet, the language of Odin and Thor and whatever else. Our holoscanners should be able to translate them -- and us to them -- quite well. The Fourth Fleet has been working on this for a while now, although it’s not perfect.” O’Neil flicked a switch, and the field to Jonah’s cell dissipated.

“I don’t understand,” Jonah said as he stared up at him.

“I’m tossing you out of the fucking airlock, kid,” he replied as he flashed the crysdrive in front of him. “For treason.”

Jonah looked up at the captain, the color escaping from his face. He was clearly locked up with fear.


* * *


“O’Neil,” Admiral Navarro said. He was there, inside of his office, standing at the doorway to his garden. “Nice little garden that you have here. Can’t say that it’s within regulations for a briefing room, but I understand that things get a bit more... relaxed out here and so far away from home. Once we are able to take care of the Omegans, you’ll have plenty of time to grow whatever you like down there, I’m sure.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he replied. “A retirement of nothing but living off of the land is what has kept me going for all these years.”

“Well,” he began as he kept his stern tone. “Everyone has their dreams, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So I saw this briefing about Minister Levine,” Navarro said as he motioned toward the captain’s console screen. “Heard something about blackmail against him and heard you have the culprit in custody.”

“Yes.” He nodded, keeping his composure. “We did.”

“'Did'? Past tense?”

“Executive decision, sir,” he replied as he pulled up Jonah Freeman’s file, an overlay reading “deceased” appeared over his photo.

“He was guilty of treason, blackmailing a member of the Ministry to the extent that Levine saw no other way out than to end his life. It’s during these final days that our values are most important. When we make our official announcement tomorrow, we can announce that justice was served.”

“A bit draconic,” Navarro said. “But it seems fair. What, exactly, was he being blackmailed over, might I ask? I’m sure it will appear in an official report, but I’d like to hear about it before I read it, so I can prepare myself and whatnot.”

“Well, Jim had a bit of a drinking problem,” O'Neil said as he made eye contact with the admiral. “He was also cheating on his wife, and Freeman had some video of him and the woman. He was threatening to make it public and broadcast it over the whole station.”

“‘May all your disgraces be private,’” Navarro muttered under his breath. “Terrible business, no place in our new world, for sure. I thought that Freeman was romantically involved with Levine’s daughter?”

“He was, sir. It seems like he may have held some sort of family vendetta against the Levines, and it was all just a ploy to get to him.”

“A shame, really,” he mused. “Truly a dreadful affair on all parts. Your handling shows that you are a man of action, though, Captain. Would you reconsider your retirement, or at least place it on hold for a while? We’ll need men like you when we build our new world down on Omega.”

“Not sure what a captain’s value is without a ship, sir.”

“Titles are merely ornamental, Captain. I’m sure that you understand that. Regardless, we could easily have a ship commissioned for you and sent from Earth in just a matter of weeks.”

“Admiral, I’m here to serve the Ministry,” he said. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and knowing that peace would never come easily for him. Not then, not ever. “If my continued service is needed during this transition, I’m more than happy to offer it.”

“That’s what I thought,” Navarro said as he smiled and clicked his heels together.





013. Rebellion

Ingen the Krigan Warrior


Tyr slammed the steel door open, a flood of light pouring in. He was standing like a Norse god in the doorway of the underground bunker. Bloodstains lined his armor, and his giant pulseaxe -- an ax that doubled as an energy rifle -- rested on his shoulder. The artfully bearded blade had blood caked onto it.

“Today, my brothers, was far from easy, but we beat those dogs back into their starships,” he cried out to the room full of men. Some were no older than boys but had become men the day that the starships appeared in the sky.

“Aye, Tyr,” a burly man with a blonde beard and a long war braid called out. A scar lined the side of his face, almost obscuring his missing left eye. “But how much longer do we keep beating them back before they stop waging war upon us like men and start raining down fire upon us yet again?

“It is time that we fire upon them. We sit here, fighting a ground war against these men who have no honor. We shoot them out of the sky, and it all goes away!” A few of the warriors, a mix of boys, men and war-scarred women, rallied to his side, cheering for the call to action.

“My brothers and sisters,” Tyr began as he rested his knee on a bench, his pulseaxe balancing on top of it. “It might seem like the easiest solution -- even I have questioned why we haven’t used our reserves just yet -- but this planet has seen enough horrors. It has been over a thousand cycles, and yet Andlios hasn’t recovered. Think of the lands that can still bear no crops. Think of those who venture out only to return ill from the wastelands. That is, and always will be, Øystein, our very last resort.”

“We are prisoners on our own home,” Øystein said as he spat on the ground. “As fucked up as this planet is, Andlios is our home, and these spawns of the Banished return to claim it for their own now!”

Tyr pulled a rag out from his jacket, spat on the blade of his pulseaxe and began rubbing at the blood. The pulseaxe was the weapon that Andliosians had been using for decades. It was a longer rifle that instantly fired a beam of focused energy at the target, with the trigger mechanism housed inside of an ax blade. To some, it may have seemed cumbersome, but watching a Andliosian fire off at an enemy and seamlessly turn around to bash a nearby foe with the ax was a thing of beauty.

Tyr said, “Be that as it may, Ingen has already told us that they did not know where they were going. The Banished were so heavily shamed that they purged their own history. There were no records of their exile, just hearsay. Ingen also has doubts about them being the Banished.”

“So? They still attack us and try to steal our home!”

“Øystein, my friend,” Tyr said as he let out a tired sigh and turned to his old friend. “We both know that if we shoot those ships out of the sky, they’ll just send more. They’ve already sent more since they arrived two cycles ago. Ingen believes that there is another way. We have to trust him.”

“Ingen is a fool,” Øystein snarled. “Just another descendent of the Banished who was sent away by his own people!”

“So he is. But you cannot deny the help that he has already provided for us! Without him, without his knowledge of the Banished, we would have fallen prey to them long ago. We’d be slaves on our home world and finally paying the price of our ancestors scorching Andlios and exiling the Banished!”

“So you wish for what? Peace and understanding?”

“If possible, yes!” he shouted over the growing murmurs from the crowd of warriors. “Our ancestors sent them away in shame after they themselves shamed Andlios!”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it!” Øystein said.

“Then explain the wastelands!”

Øystein fell silent, turned his back away from Tyr and slammed his pulseaxe to the ground. “So we are paying the price then? It was more than the bombs, Tyr. It was the atrocities. It was what they did to themselves.”

“Everyone has borne this burden, from those who made the decision to us who now have to deal with the consequences. Our fathers and grandfathers dealt with the famine, the fallout, the horrors! We can right these wrongs now because if not now, then when?”

“I still don’t trust Ingen!”

“Then you are a fool, Øystein,” Tyr said. “Ingen came to us, humbled, broken, looking only to help in exchange for his life. It is not anyone’s fault but your own that you challenged him whilst drunk and he bested you in combat.”

“That didn’t count!” He turned back to face Tyr, pointing his finger in his face, and a few chuckles arose from the crowd. “That boy didn’t adhere to our rules of unarmed combat!”

“Why should he have? He knew nothing of our ways, only brief glimpses of what survived of our culture on Earth from the Banished. You saw an easy target, and he wasn’t that easy. Accept it -- it was almost a full cycle ago now. You are still the leader of the most feared warband on Andlios. Don’t make a fool of yourself any further now! The topic is no longer under discussion.”

“Bah,” Øystein said as he leaned down and snatched up his pulseaxe. He stomped out from the room with four of the men quick on his heels as Tyr shook his head and pulled off his boots.

“Alva,” he called to his daughter. She was almost 12 cycles now and strong, but she still reminded him of her deceased mother. She wanted nothing else than to be a warrior, but Tyr had always wanted something more for her.

“Yes, father,” she answered as she strode into the room, her hair pulled back into a war braid of her own. She was tall and skinny but still rugged enough. Most mistook her for a boy a few years older than she was, and she very rarely corrected them. The crowd was dispersing, leaving them alone in the room.

“Go and fetch Ingen, won’t you? We have much to discuss after today’s battle. Tell him I met Captain Slattery and introduced him to my pulseaxe personally.” His broad smile lit up the room, and Alva returned it before nodding.

“Right away.”


* * *


“I’d bring you Slattery’s head, but I figured my word is good enough, Ingen,” Tyr said, his voice booming in the dark room, which was illuminated by only a few screens. “Your plan worked perfectly. What did you call it again?”

“A pincer,” Ingen replied. He looked away from the screens, turning the chair around to see the haggard-looking Tyr. “I mean, I can’t believe that you guys had fought for so long without knowing about the pincer.”

“Our people are proud, Ingen,” he said. He leaned over, glancing at the screens. “Our battles were almost always head-on, two sides clashing like the great tides. The best and the strongest side always won.”

“What about the smartest?” Ingen placed the holoscanner that O’Neil had handed to him before helping him escape the Omega on the table behind him. Then he turned back to Tyr.

“War is no place for brilliance, I fear.” The proud warrior had always resisted Ingen’s ways, but he was happy to benefit from them. “Slattery was a smart man, was he not? Yet my ax found his neck just like the rest.”

“Then how do you explain the battles that you’ve been winning against the Ministry, even though you’ve been outgunned since the start?”

“Your brilliance is without question,” he said as he smacked Ingen across the back, which sent Ingen reeling. “I fear that we’d be in the ground if it wasn’t for you, although not everyone feels that way.”

“You mean Øystein.”

“I mean Øystein,” he said. “But a bruised ego is better than him losing another eye. Even he admits that your help has done much for us.”

“I’m just not sure how much longer we can hold out. It takes anywhere from 10 to 15 weeks for them to send new cruisers out here.” He paused, his part of the 82-year voyage still fresh in his mind. His entire life was aboard the Starship Omega, but for what? Earth can get another fleet out here in just three months.

“Are you sure that there is nothing else on Andlios that we can use for defenses? I saw some of your tech on the journey here, and I know what this civilization is capable of, Tyr.”

“Capable of destruction, Ingen. You’ve seen what’s left -- that is our legacy. That is what man has done to Andlios.”

“I know,” he said. “But what weapons did this?”

“Atomics.”

“Well, sure, that’s what I figured, but don’t you have any more?” He threw his hands up in frustration. “I know that there is advanced technology on this world, Tyr. I’ve seen some of it! Yet we are living in caves and using axes to crush skulls. I don’t get it.”

“Ingen, you might be knowledgeable of your home’s history, but in terms of ours, you are still naive. The War of the Atomics decimated us, decimated Andlios. We survived, and the Cymages and Helgeans survived as well but exist in smaller numbers now. They've all been disarmed. Well, except for the Cymages but --”

“Why aren’t they fighting with us?” he asked, flicking off his holoscanner and rubbing his tired eyes. “They are of Andlios as well. Why aren’t they fighting?”

“They lost the will to fight a long time ago. They welcomed these outsiders with open arms, Ingen. It is only us.”

“Okay, good,” he said. “So back to my point: How did it get to be this way? I know the War of Atomics, but clearly one side won, which was you, the Krigans. Do you have more weapons?”

“Atomics are forbidden, Ingen,” he replied. He shook his head, sat down, pulled out a rag and began slowly wiping the length of the blade of his pulseaxe. “They have shown us horrors.”

“So you choose honor instead? Look, Tyr, I’m not sure what to tell you here, but without force, we aren’t going to be able to hold out much longer. We don’t even need to use them -- you just gotta tell me if you actually have any of these weapons left.”

“Ingen,” Tyr began. He cleared his throat, looking up from his pulseaxe. “In the two cycles that you’ve been with us, you’ve helped us. Your knowledge -- your wisdom -- has helped us to not only survive but to retake what is ours and what was taken from us!”

“I know, I know,” he said as he yawned and rubbed his eyes again. “Taking out Slattery sent a message to them, but man, I don’t know.”

He shrugged. “Now they are just going to be pissed off! They are going to send worse! Things aren’t going to get any better, Tyr. History tells us that this will just escalate until they can’t hold back anymore. They’ll send in their worst, and they’ll destroy us with a sweep of an arm. All of this has just been them playing, them justifying the use of excessive force. They can turn to everyone and say, ‘Look, we tried, but they didn’t listen.’ We’re fucked.”

Tyr let out a mighty laugh, slapping Ingen across the back with a heavy palm. “You still make me laugh, Ingen. It’s been a full cycle since you last spoke like this. That’s when I know that things are going to get interesting indeed!”

“Tyr,” Ingen began as he stared off into the distance. “How far is the nearest Ministry, err, Banished settlement?”

“There’s an encampment forty klicks northeast, away from the wastelands. Do you plan on hitting it? Ingen, we are an honorable people. Our scouts have told us that it is just civilians, minimal military.”

“No, I don’t plan on attacking,” he said as he stretched out his arms and let out a yawn. “I’ve been away from my people for too long. I’m not sure what’s going on with them, and I only have a few people on board that I’ve spoken to a few times, but those links have all gone dead. They are jamming communications from the ground to the fleet; there’s nothing that I can do. We can’t be in the dark down here. I can’t let you guys go out into battles if we don’t know what to expect anymore.”

“So you are going to march right into a Banished camp as a proud Krigan warrior and...”

“Not exactly, no.” He couldn’t help but chuckle at how straightforward the Krigans' thought process was. “Like you said earlier, only the Krigans have opposed the Banished. I’ll pose as a Helgean monk, and they won’t even think to stop me.”

“Then what? You tell them that you are of them, that you were lost, then you abandon us while we are here without hope? Ingen, we’ve treated you as a Krigan, you are a brother...”

“No, Tyr,” he said as he faced the proud Krigan warrior, making eye contact. “I’m going to scout, going to try to send a few communications back up and see what I can find out before I return. This is the only way. I’m afraid of what is coming after today. This rebellion could be squashed easily.”

He picked himself up, his holoscanner in hand. “I can’t see any other way. I’ll leave in the morning. I can’t go back anyway, Tyr. They think that I’m dead. If they found out that I’m alive, they’d kill me on sight.”


* * *


It was a cold morning, but Andliosian mornings always felt like that -- biting cold. There were, of course, seasons on Andlios, but those seasons were (Ingen assumed) very mild compared to Earth's seasons. At least that's what he had read about Earth, that is.

He pulled open his Helgean robe to place his holoscanner in the pocket of the robe and conceal a single-handed pulseaxe on his belt beneath the robe.

He had only been on Andlios for what was two Earth years, but he knew better than to face the Andliosian wastelands without some form of protection. The camp wasn’t far away, which was both comforting and troubling at the same time. That meant that it would only take him a full day to reach the camp, barring any sort of inclement weather, but it also meant that his band of Krigans were that much closer to being attacked at any given time.

The Earthers weren’t afraid anymore, especially when it came to placing a civilian settlement that close to what was known as Krigan territory. The small expanse of wastelands that lay in between the Krigan base and Earther settlement was probably the only thing that was stopping them from expanding out further. There had always been plans to terraform the planet if they found the planet that they had called Omega (which Ingen now knew as Andlios) hospitable.

Reports from beyond the lines confirmed that they had indeed begun small terraforming experiments on parts of the wastelands, to varying degrees of success. He knew full well that they had the ability to terraform the entire planet if they wished, but that they’d need to pull everyone from the planet to do so and that Andlios wouldn’t be habitable for at least another cycle. Not fully, at least.

Ingen looked out over the expanse of the wastelands in front of him, back to the door when he heard a clattering of footsteps behind him. He turned to see Alva, pulseaxe in one hand and a Helgean robe hanging over the forearm of her other. Ingen laughed at the sight, shaking his head as the girl approached with a stern expression on her face.

“Alva.” Ingen knew that he wouldn’t be able to talk her out of coming, but he had to try. “Does Tyr know that you are here?”

“Yes,” she said. “I told him that I’m coming with you, no matter what.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” he said as he looked over the girl, dressed in her Krigan warrior gear, most of it ill-fitting. “Why?”

“I’ve yet to see battle,” Alva said. She hefted the pulseaxe into the sling over her shoulder before wrapping the robe around her shoulders. “I haven’t even seen these Banished yet. Father thinks that this won’t be dangerous and that you’ll look after me, but honestly, you don’t know these wastelands like I do.”

“So basically, your father thinks that I’m a fool who will be lost without --”

“Her father thinks that it will be beneficial for both of you.” Tyr’s voice boomed from behind them as the Krigan emerged from the cave door.

“Tyr,” Ingen said as he looked up to see the giant of a man looking over both of them. “I didn’t know you were there.”

“Yes, my friend,” he said as he gave him a pat on the back. Ingen almost stumbled forward at the force of the blow. He would never get used to that, he feared. “Alva knows these wastelands better than any man. I’d never allow you to face this alone, Ingen. Sending a Krigan warrior with our full beards might arouse suspicion, but Alva here, they won’t suspect her.”

“I know my back-story well enough for this,” he sighed. “But what about Alva?”

“You’ll think of something.” Tyr looked off toward the rising sun. “It may still be cold now, but it’ll be hotter the longer you wait.”

“Okay, okay, we are going already.” Ingen couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the girl’s affections for him. He had never known what it felt like to be in a family, but he imagined this being close to it. “C’mon, Alva. Get that thing cinched up, and let’s go.”

The girl tied up her robe and pulled the cowl over her head. They both nodded to Tyr and headed off toward the encampment. Ingen was about to ask Alva if she had taken any anti-rads before leaving, but he decided to keep quiet, remembering that Alva was his guide for the brief journey and would never be so short-sighted to head into the wastelands like that without at least preparing for minor radiation situations.

They walked in silence for what felt like a long while, with the sun indeed starting to beat down heavily on them. If they weren’t wearing those damned wool robes, Ingen thought to himself, their walk would be a whole lot easier. Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be easy, he reminded himself. They were at war, and technically this was Ingen’s life in exile. It was penance for being born on the Omega Destiny and for the further violence that Earth brought to Andlios. He was trying, he sighed. He tried to make things better, but it all led to him walking through the Andlios wastelands with Alva by his side.

He could feel his legs already growing tired from wading through the debris of what must have been great buildings and monuments. He knew better than to ask a Krigan about what they were treading through because this was once important to them; this was once a bustling city that was reduced to just ashes and rubble.

Alva paused at the foot of a broken statue that had only the legs remaining on the base.

“Tired already?” Ingen quipped, only to see the expression on Alva’s face. The girl looked like she had just seen a ghost. She scurried behind the statue, pulling him along with her.

“Shh!” She peered around the corner of the statue before slumping back behind cover. “Two Banished coming this way, heavily armed, carrying rifles.”

“Fuck!” he swore under his breath. “They didn’t see you, did they?”

Alva shrugged. “I hope not. I’m not sure that we can avoid them, though. This is the only clear path through. Some of those ruins to the south might have a path through, but they cave in and things change. I’m not sure that we can go through there.”

“Would we be able to get there without them seeing us at least?”

“No,” the girl said, her eyes still fixed on the guards.

“Fuck,” he muttered again. His mind began to race, and he tried his best to remember his cover story. He was just a Helgean monk, he reminded himself. The girl was a Krigan orphan boy that he was teaching the way of the order. Yes, that would have to work.

He looked down at Alva. “Follow my lead. Don’t say anything or make any sudden movements. Just be cool, okay?”

“Be cool?” the girl questioned.

“Be calm, I guess.”

“Okay.”

He stood up, keeping his head down and hands clasped, before walking out from his cover toward the two armed guards. He noted their movements, the rifles and armor. They were most definitely Earth Ministry soldiers; by the looks of it, they were just foot soldiers sent out on a patrol. Alva fell in line behind him, walking right toward the two soldiers.

The soldiers noticed them now. Ingen made eye contact -- or what he considered eye contact, considering the black helmets that they were wearing with their faces obscured -- then slightly nodded in a way that he thought a Helgean monk would.

“You there,” a gruff voice said through the helmet, clearly being filtered. “Stop, the both of you, before we are forced to take you down.”

“Yes, yes,” Ingen said as he held both his palms out toward them. “As you can see, we're just two Helgean monks passing through.”

“Coming from Krigan territory,” he snarled. “I don’t like this.” One guard turned toward the other.

“Gentlemen,” Ingen began, addressing them both. “The Helgean have never been a threat to any man; we are but peaceful men of the lords. We are simply passing through, heading to an encampment that we heard of to rest for the evening.”

“Did you come from the Krigans?” he asked, adjusting his hand on his rifle, which was pointed squarely at Ingen’s chest.

“We passed through Krigan territory last night, yes,” he said softly. “I was but finalizing a few details for the orphan here, who has joined our order.” He motioned back toward Alva, who stood silent.

“So the boy is a Krigan, then?”

“Yes,” he replied and gave a slight nod. “But the boy has sworn the oath, you see -- he’s vowed to live a life of peace and spreading the word of the lords.”

“But he’s a Krigan,” the second guard chimed in. “I think that they are Krigan scouts. You heard they wiped out Slattery and his whole squad just yesterday.”

“That’s true,” the first guard squawked. “We’re gonna have to call this in.”

“Sirs,” Ingen said as he approached, his hands still in the air. “If you could avoid doing so, we’d much appreciate it. You see, we are just heading to the camp and will only be there for a night. I’m traveling back to the monastery with the boy, and they are expecting us in two days' time. Any sort of delay to our schedule could --”

“Stay where you are!” the guard ordered as he pushed Ingen with the rifle. Ingen noticed that the second guard turned away and pulled out his holoscanner. Then he heard the cry of Alva.

Alva darted from the other side of the statue, leaping toward the second guard with her pulseaxe over her head. Ingen noted just how terrifying she looked with that ax over her head. She buried the ax into the back of the guard’s neck, and the first guard turned toward the commotion.

Ingen quickly sprung into action. With one hand, he pulled his own pulseaxe from its hilt, driving down his elbow into the top of the rifle and forcing the guard to drop it. The guard stumbled, trying to reach for his sidearm only for Ingen’s blade to come out from under the robe in a flash, the sun glinting off of the steel blade before it grazed the side of the guard’s armor. He stumbled back, and Alva pulled her own ax blade from the neck of the fallen guard who remained unmoving.

The guard’s hand was on his pistol, but Ingen pulled back and with one mighty swing, the ax reached right below the guard’s chin, catching the weakest point of the armor.

A spray of blood came out from his neck as his body fell to the ground, the ax cutting clean through. Ingen fell back onto a pile of rubble from the inertia of the ax, quickly scrambling to his feet to see the guard’s body twitching, his head partially dislodged from his body. The ax was only a few hairs away from completely taking the head clean off; instead it hung there in a pool of blood.

“Alva,” Ingen shouted, feeling his heart racing.

“Yes, Ingen,” Alva replied. She was already cleaning off her blade.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. How about you?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” He took a deep breath and looked down at his bloody ax. “I don’t think that these two will be telling anyone that they saw us, but we need to get them off of this main street, just in case.”

Alva silently moved into action, dragging the bodies into piles of rubble and using their pulseaxes to move rubble to conceal them. Ingen kicked some dust and dirt over the pools of blood that had accumulated from the bodies, sighing to himself. This was supposed to be a simple point A to point B mission. No one was supposed to get hurt.

“We need to move quickly,” he told her as he stowed his pulseaxe and straightened out his robe. “Even if they didn’t get to communicate that they saw us, if they don’t report in, there will be others looking for them. Are you doing all right, Alva?”

The girl nodded again, a faraway look in her eyes. There wasn’t time to check on her further, but he knew that for both of them, it was the first blood that they had ever drawn. Ingen had once been responsible for a life lost before, but there was no physical blood on his hands. He had never slain with his own hands before. He moved forward, following behind Alva who remained quiet.

“Alva.”

“Yes, Ingen?”

“You did well back there.”

The girl simply nodded as they continued along the road. The ruins seemed to run for what felt like hours, but Ingen knew better. A part of him was curious as to how ruins like that were still standing if the great war was so long ago. The same for the radiation.

“Alva.”

“Yes?” She continued to tread forward gracefully while Ingen stumbled around the rubble.

“When did the Banished leave Andlios?”

“Around 3,000 cycles ago. Why?”

“Because -- wait, 3,000?” He paused, puzzled. “That doesn’t add up. Why is this city still like this? Why isn’t it decayed further?”

“This was Andlian. It fell about 100 cycles ago.”

“So wait, there was another war? More atomics?”

“Yes,” she said as she turned back to Ingen, frowning. “The atomics used were smaller, which is why these wastelands are not as expansive as the great wastelands, but 100 cycles ago was the last one.”

“Okay,” he replied. He was trying to cycle through to find what he was looking for in that information, but he was still confused. “But back to the Banished. They left 3,000 cycles ago?”

“Correct.”

“That means that they weren’t on Earth as long ago as we thought,” he realized and shook his head. “That means that humanity was already on Earth and here as well? I don’t get it.”

“We believe in cycles, Ingen,” Alva explained. “A natural back and forth, infinite. This is the aftermath of our last war with the Cymages. Come -- we are close to the fringes of the wastelands. We’ll be there soon.”

Ingen simply nodded, and they both continued traversing through the ruins, noting that the planet had began overtaking what was left of the city a while ago. The planet was reclaiming the land as its own again. There was even wildlife burrowed deep into it. This was like nothing that Ingen had ever imagined after a lifetime living inside of cold metal tubes hurtling through space.

After they cleared the city, they stumbled upon a few devices out on the horizon. Ingen immediately recognized them for terraformers. They burrowed into the ground, harvesting what resources that they could find and worked to quickly synthesize new life in the area. The Earthers were bringing a lot of terror to Andlios, but those would definitely be of benefit to the planet, although the cost seemed too high.

Ingen and Alva were speechless when they first got a glimpse of the settlement. The metal glistened in the distance, and Ingen immediately recognized parts of the Omega Destiny being utilized on the surface. They were using portions of the ship to build settlements, and it was nothing short of a marvel. Twisted steel and flashing lights in the middle of nothing. There were already great buildings standing erect, reaching out to the sky unlike anything he had ever seen before.

Alva stood, mouth agape for a moment. “I’ve always heard of great buildings,” she muttered. “But I’ve only known the ruins of the past and what is left of Krigar. Is this what your home is like, Ingen?”

“No.” He shook his head and pulled his hood down. “My home was a starship. If you mean Earth, I guess so, but I’ve only seen photos and videos at this point. Andlios is my home now,” he said with conviction.

“Good,” Alva said. She smiled and pull her hood over her head.

“Let’s hurry up and get to this monstrosity,” Ingen said as he smiled back at her, following suit and pulling his own hood down.

The heat from the lights and activity hit them as they got closer to the settlement. There were scattered guards throughout the area, but two Helgean monks approaching was nothing for them to fear -- in fact, it was commonplace. They passed by the guards silently. These guards were lacking the protective gear of those they had encountered in the wastelands; there was minimal exposure to radiation beyond the ruins. The faces were young and unscathed, and most looked scared.

Ingen felt pangs of guilt knowing that he should be one of them, a part of the force called to action to help make Andlios into Omega. The more he saw of their faces, the more he saw his own face in each of them and sighed. Policing a border like that was not the dream of those aboard Omega; it was not the promise. The promise was not war -- the promise was a new life, a life out in the open.

From the few communications that he had had in the two cycles since arrival, he had heard of “the sickness,” where crippling anxiety had taken hold of a good portion of the population. Living a life inside of confined quarters, stuffed inside of a ship, only to hit land and breathe the open air was simply too much for them. On the faces of the guards, there was a look of unease, either from fear of attack from the Krigans or general anxiety, he wasn’t sure.

This was clearly not what everyone expected of Omega. This was not the life that everyone expected to lead on their new home. Ingen could feel a deep sigh coming on, but he remained silent as they passed through the gates of the great settlement and onto the bustling street. There was a general feeling of chaos about, of disorder. Street vendors selling food, and haggard-looking men, women and children eying the food with lust in their eyes. Guards were standing every few feet, ready to defuse any situation.

The Earth military forces might have been powerful, but the people of the Omega Destiny who were all promised a new beginning were getting a rude awakening on Andlios. Ingen felt his heart break as they wandered the main street and headed toward a sign that said “Communications Array.” They could worry about finding a place to stay later or (if possible) head back to the Krigan caves.

Ingen already knew what Alva would say to that, knowing that it was dangerous to walk the wastelands alone at night. Both Ingen and Alva were, for better or worse, integral parts of the Krigan rebellion force. Tyr might have a difficult time admitting it, but Alva was what kept him going battle after battle. Tyr didn’t speak of Alva’s mother much, but it was very clear to everyone that the resistance existed with Tyr leading the charge, thanks to the strength that Alva granted him.

They entered the Communications Array, pushing past a few downtrodden people sitting around asking for money. They knew better than to bother Helgeans, with everyone quickly learning about Helgeans and their vow of poverty. Ingen slipped into a booth with a holoscanner uplink free and looked up at Alva who was standing guard.

“Just give me a few minutes, all right?”

“Okay, I’ll keep a look-out.”

“Thanks,” he said as he pulled out his holoscanner, fumbling with the controls. Before they left, he had modified his signal code, hoping that they had yet to change the range for these and that he’d be able to link up without alerting anyone. It was risky, though, but if things went wrong, he could always feign ignorance and claim that he acquired the holoscanner from a man who offered it to him in exchange for a meal.

Professor Cox remained a free man, albeit under tight scrutiny by the Earth forces. Admiral Navarro learned of Cox’s place in the conspiracy against the Ministry, which was what they had labeled the attempted blackmail against Levine and the Ministry as a whole. There was too little time to formally charge Professor Cox, and he had a good enough standing with the Ministry for them to let him remain free and unaffected. It only helped to bolster Cox’s conviction to hack through Ministry systems and relay intel down to Ingen on the surface.

Ingen plugged his holoscanner into the link, the tiny booth illuminating itself through the projection from the small machine. He entered the access code to link with Professor Cox and waited. The Omega Destiny was directly overhead, with their time aligning with this settlement for now, which meant that it was late afternoon aboard, and Professor Cox should be in his office.

An error code flashed on the screen. Ingen cursed under his breath before entering the code again. There was no way that Professor Cox had a new access code; he had always been so stuck in his ways. A blinking red error message appeared again. Ingen smashed his fist into the console, pulling the holoscanner from the link before flipping it over and blowing on it a few times.

“Damned thing,” he muttered.

“Ingen,” Alva called through the curtain.

“Just hold on,” he said under his breath. “I think it just had something obscuring the link.”

“Ingen.”

“I said hold on,” he blurted out, looking up to see two armed guards standing before them, guns pointed directly at them. “I guess not, though. Greetings, Earthers. We are but humble Helgean monks --”

“Using a stolen holoscanner access code to try to access a key figure on the Omega? Right.”

“You see, this is all just a misunderstanding. We are but humble servants of the Lords and --”

“Save it,” the guard interrupted. He pulled the holoscanner from Ingen’s hands before grabbing hold of his arm and yanking him out.

“Let’s get these two to the lockup,” the other guard said. He held Alva in his grasp.

They were quickly taken through the main street into one of the monstrosities of a metal building and brought into a back room with a lone metal bench against the wall and a flickering light overhead. Ingen immediately thought back to the holding cells on the Omega and sighed. His past would never let him go, he feared.

It had been two Earth years since Ingen had found himself inside of a Ministry prison cell, yet there he was again. Only this time, he had Alva with him. He knew that he was responsible for the girl’s safety, even if Alva would never admit to it. She was fiercely independent, which Ingen appreciated. In fact, that independence had rubbed off on him during the time that he had been on Andlios and undoubtedly helped him to grow.

Both sat in silence inside of the cell. Alva stared down at her robe, her lips moving, most likely reciting an ancient prayer to herself. Ingen had never delved too deeply into their belief system, considering he himself didn’t believe in much, but he let Alva have this time to herself.

Time dragged on for him, and his mind turned to what would happen if they took his DNA, if they realized who he really was. It would have ramifications for everyone whom he cared for aboard the Omega Destiny, and it could even possibly affect Captain O’Neil.

Ingen felt lower than dirt. He felt that he had come so far since he left, that he had become more patient and more careful, but he was wrong. Things were different, but not as different as he had wished or believed them to be. He was still Jonah Freeman, still making rash decisions that affected the people around him.

They sat for hours in the silence. He mulled over his past, the self-loathing growing by the minute. Then a sound came from the hallway. It was the groaning of the metal door, which was being opened slowly.

“Jonah Freeman,” a familiar voice said from the doorway. “I never thought that I’d see you again.”



014. The Tropes of War

Captain O’Neil


Captain O’Neil’s time was divided, to say the least. He shuffled through files while sitting in the chair in his office, knowing full well that Admiral Navarro was going to be upset with this latest loss on the surface.

Since arriving at Omega, the headaches had only been compounded. Navarro and the Fourth Fleet began hostilities before the Omega Destiny had even entered the planetary system. Now everyone aboard the ship was culpable for their actions and living in the nightmarish aftermath of them.

The latest report from the ground flashed across his screen. O’Neil pulled it up and let out an audible sigh. The Krigans had not only defeated Captain Slattery’s ground forces, but they had also killed Slattery. Slattery was Navarro’s right-hand man, the second-in-command of the Fourth Fleet. Slattery made a bold proclamation after his trusted adviser, Jensen, was slaughtered with his head placed on a pike by the entrance to city of Speera, which was their first real settlement on the planet that the locals had called Andlios, that they were now calling Omega.

Slattery’s assault had seemed like a bad idea; it was reactionary, based on his ego and getting revenge. The Krigans had the upper hand in the battle from the very beginning. The idea of laying siege to their network of underground tunnels with shock troops seemed like a bad idea to O’Neil, but Navarro had smiled a sly smile and shouted that there would be Krigan blood lining the walls of those caves before Slattery was through with them. They had thought that Slattery might even wipe them out, although no one really knew how many Krigans there were.

O’Neil simply nodded and thought to himself how foolish it seemed. There had been teams of shock troops sent into the compound before, and none of them had returned. No scans had been able to get a good handle on how vast the network of caves really was or how many could be housed there. But Slattery was ready to take on the world.

O'Neil thumbed forward a few pages in the report, skimming in disbelief.

The reports read like the Krigans were well aware not only of the attack but of the formations that they’d take, the tactics that they’d use and where to find Slattery himself in the foray. Slattery was targeted almost immediately: He took a pulseaxe shot to the neck, which dislodged his head from his body. It was poetic, in a way, because they removed the head of the attack, leaving everything in disarray. The reports detailed the Krigan leader’s power, unrelenting will and pride.

“So you’ve heard.” Navarro’s voice came from behind him, cold and distant.

“Yes, I’m reading right now, Admiral,” O’Neil replied as he shifted to stand up and salute him, only for Navarro to wave him down.

“Fuck formality,” Navarro snapped, pacing in front of O’Neil while gently gnawing on his thumbnail. “They killed James! They fucking killed Slattery! Fucking savages.”

“I know, sir.” O’Neil tried to stay formal, motioning back toward the screen. “The attack did seem to be ill-advised, though. A frontal assault on the Krigan stronghold without further intel --”

“Ill-advised! Bah,” he said. “Slattery is dead, and that's all that you can say?”

“No offense meant, sir,” he said before clearing his throat. “It’s just not the move that I would have made. They were expecting the assault.”

“Why didn’t you oppose it during the war council meeting then?”

“It wasn’t my place, sir, to question Captain Slattery when he had your full support.”

“So we didn’t have enough intel. Maybe there was too much hubris and anger going into the fight.”

“I tend to agree with that, sir,” O’Neil replied. He stood up, straightening out his uniform. “We know that their cave systems reach out almost as far as Speera, but we have no real knowledge about what their movements could be and what they're planning, while it seems that they have intimate knowledge of our war machine.”

“Why is that?” he asked as he looked at O’Neil, although it felt like he was looking right through him. “Do they have a man on the inside?”

“Well,” O’Neil said. “It’s possible that someone from Speera was recruited and might be in contact with someone here aboard the Omega Destiny, but it’s hard to really keep track of everyone in the city thus far. It’s a mess down there in Speera, sir.”

“Ah, yes,” Navarro said. “That’s what I’m here to talk to you about, O’Neil. While we have no real doubts of your strategic knowledge, we feel that you might be better served among the people in Speera. We need an administrator there, and who better than the heroic Captain Peter O’Neil of the Starship Omega?”

“I thought that we were looking into appointing a Ministry official to Speera? To steer clear of having it under direct military control?” This was what he had been fearing all along. Not only that he didn’t want the post, but that the military’s power would continue to grow on Omega.

“That's still the plan -- don’t worry, O’Neil,” he said as he waved his hand in the air dismissively. “But for right now, Speera needs to be the staging ground for our assault on the Krigans, and it needs to be defended. Right now, there are defenses, but how easily could a Krigan just walk into the city?

“With you overseeing things, it will add both a sense of gravity and show how important Speera is to those living there. They know your...” He paused, shaking his head, before looking back at O’Neil and smiling. “Humanitarian stances, so they won’t think too poorly of this assignment.

“You see,” he began as he grabbed O’Neil by both shoulders, roughly massaging them and intensely staring into his eyes. “We need you, O’Neil. The people need you. You are much more than just a starship captain. You are Peter O’Neil -- you led them to Omega.”

“I guess so, sir,” he said, trying to obscure the disappointment in the tone of his voice. “If you believe that this is what’s best, I’ll gladly take the assignment.”

“I knew that you would,” he said as he wagged his finger at O’Neil, smiling. “We are going to need you to be tough but fair down there. Due to fears of some sort of mole, we are restricting communication channels from the planet to the fleet and vice versa. For now, only certified channels and those with access to public, monitored channels at the CommArrays will be able to get through. I’m sorry to throw you right into this, but it’s the right move for right now, and you are the right man for the job.”

“I understand, Admiral.”

“Good. I knew that you would.” He paused, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small metal disc. “Although we’ll need you to take one of these,” he added as he tossed it at O’Neil, who barely caught it.

“What is this?” He held it in his hand, staring down at it.

“It’s a Transporter Module, see?” He pointed to one on his jacket’s lapel. “We are going to need you for matters of the war as well as matters on the ground, so you having the ability to move back and forth quickly is an absolute necessity. We’ll make more of these available to your most trusted advisers as well, of course.”

“You know,” O’Neil laughed. “I’ve never been quite comfortable with the idea of having my particles broken down, rearranged, then beamed into place and re-assembled.”

“You get used to it.” Navarro’s response was rigid. “Well, I leave you to it. We expect you in Speera at 08:00 hours.” Then, in the blink of an eye, he dematerialized before the captain’s eyes and was gone.

O’Neil let out a loud sigh; it felt like the life was escaping through his mouth. He clasped his hand around the Transporter Module, feeling its cold metal against his palm. Retirement was always his endgame, but it looked like he would just have to keep waiting. He was no closer to being done than he was when they first encountered the Fourth Fleet.

As much as he didn’t want to do it, he knew that he could rely on Dumas to come with him to Speera. He had already been down to the surface multiple times, and there really wasn’t much left for them to do aboard the ship. Plus, if he looked on the bright side, he didn’t have to deal with Jeanette and their very messy, very private divorce that had eaten up much of his time of late.


* * *


Omega had its own distinct scent to it. It was almost like sulfur but not quite as strong. It hit O’Neil hard after he finished transporting to his new office in the Speera Tower. He considered that it might be from the transportation process, but he knew well enough that he just disliked the process of transporting like that.

The office was cold metal, much like most of the ship. Mostly likely because it was from the ship, he supposed, but in contrast, he could see a landscape outside of the window.

The planet had definitely seen its share of problems in the past few thousand years, and the wastelands to the west were indeed depressing to look at, but his window faced south, toward the mountains. He chuckled to himself. Finally getting a view of mountains, trees, streams and something tangible seemed odd to him after all of those years -- a lifetime -- aboard the Omega Destiny.

Omega, or Andlios as the locals called it, was a beautiful planet if you looked at the parts that remained relatively untouched. It was made up of two major continents and large oceans that covered most of the planet. The continent that they were located on was home to what was left of the Krigan Empire and the Helgeans. The Krigans kept mostly to the shores, with only Krigar, their capital, remaining inland. There were smaller populations spread throughout, but much of the continent was a mess from their wars.

The other continent was home to the mysterious Cydonians, which the locals had called Cymages. O’Neil himself had only seen a handful of Cydonians since they first made contact with Omega. They were a strange and secretive race, and it was clear that they were the more advanced people on the planet. They had made a pact with the Fourth Fleet to avoid hostilities and to remain out of each other’s business, but the prevailing thought was always that eventually the transplants from Earth would spread out into their territory, and there would have to be swift action against them.

The planet itself -- at least the parts that weren’t destroyed -- was breathtaking, filled with mountains, trees and large expanses of grasslands. What wildlife they saw was different than what Earth had, but not vastly different. The large predators had been wiped out thousands of years before, leaving mostly smaller animals and the ecosystems adjusting to this new way of life.

This assignment wouldn’t be easy, but it also gave him a chance to spend more time planetside, to get a taste for what life was like outside of the great hulking mass that was the Omega Destiny. Omega was to be their home, after all, so O’Neil might as well get better acquainted with how life on the planet worked.

He stepped out of his office, still trying to get over that strange tingling sensation that lingered after being transported through time and space, only to see a vid crew setting up equipment outside of his office, near the balcony that overlooked the common area of Speera.

“What is this?” he asked, fearing the answer.

“Sir,” one of them replied, nodding nervously. “We were told that, um, that you would be making a speech to everyone in Speera.”

“I wasn’t told about this,” O’Neil said as he shook his head.

“Well, um,” the man said as he looked around nervously. “We had orders from Admiral Navarro and --”

“Oh, leave the kid alone.” The voice of Dumas boomed from around the corner.

“Goddamn it, Dumas.” O’Neil laughed, happy to see his face. “You want to fill me in on what is going on here? I didn’t know that you were here already.”

“Yeah, bright and early,” he answered as he motioned toward the office. “Let’s talk. I’ve got your speech prepared for you.”

“Do you now?”

“Yeah, real official and patriotic,” he said, closing the door behind him after they had entered the room. “Just like the admiral expects.”

“What is going on out here, Jack?”

Dumas shook his head. “None of us are really sure, all right? This place is a mess, though, Peter. I mean a real bona fide mess. The people are unhappy; they are restless. I feel like we’ve been thrown into the fire here.”

“That’s what I feared.” O'Neil frowned, sitting on the chair behind his desk. “How long have you been down here? I only told you about this last night.”

“Well, Admiral Navarro came to me yesterday afternoon and --”

“The admiral went to you before he came to me?” he asked, raising his voice.

“Yeah, uh, look Pete,” he began. He shook his head, sitting on the edge of the chair across from O’Neil’s desk. “I didn’t know, all right? He came to me, saying that we were all going to be coming down here, and he wanted to make sure that everything was ready for you. I had a few people get this office set up the way that you like it. We’ve got your quarters all ready to go. I don’t know,” he shrugged. “An order is an order.”

“I guess it is,” O’Neil agreed, but he couldn’t help but feel uneasy. “What about Dr. Brandis?”

“She’s here somewhere. She’s been organizing expeditions over the past few months since it was deemed safe to do so. She was down here on the first shuttle down after it was approved months ago. I’ve tried to get into contact with her about helping out here, but she claimed that she was too busy to do so.”

“Oh,” he said, feeling a burning in his chest.” So did you transport?” He pointed at the Transporter Module on his lapel.

“No,” Dumas said. “I didn’t know that we even had access to that stuff; only the guys in upper command have them.”

“Well,” O’Neil said as he reached into his pocket and tossed a metal disc across the span of the desk. It slapped down and spun until it rested. “Now you do, so get used to it.”

“Man,” Dumas said as he inspected the disc. “The whole transporting thing really gives me the creeps.”

“You and me both,” he said. “But those are some of the, uh, perks, that we get now. If I have to wear one, so do you.”

“Great, so they want us to be readily available to beam back and forth?”

“Yeah.” O’Neil tapped his fingers on the desk impatiently. “Apparently so. I guess that we are important, Dumas,” he laughed.

“Well, things could be worse, right?”

“You tell me,” he replied as he motioned at the commander. “I’ve only been here for a few minutes now. Other than this ridiculous speech,” he said as he looked out toward the balcony, “What do you have to report?”

“Things have generally been pretty quiet around here,” he stated as he pulled out his holoscanner, flicking it on and thumbing through reports. “Two guards who were patrolling in the wastelands haven’t reported in since earlier today; we have arrested two Helgean monks who were using stolen encryption codes to contact the Omega Destiny; there have been a rash of rad poisoning from what we suspect was tainted meat --”

“Wait,” O’Neil interrupted, perking up. “Go back to the monk thing. Do we know who they were trying to contact?”

“Let me check.” He scrolled through his holoscanner before studying it intently. “It looks like they were trying to call a Professor Julian Cox. They are just Helgean monks, though. They probably bought the codes off of the black market. We’re just having them questioned right now.”

“Jack,” O’Neil said as he turned pale. “I want you to call off the questioning right now. Tell them to leave them alone for now. Do we have photos of them?”

“Uh, yes.” He projected them onto the wall for O’Neil to see. “This is them right here, one in his mid-twenties and the other maybe 17 or so?”

“Jesus Christ.” O’Neil turned pale at the sight of the older one. “Call off the interrogation right this moment!” he shouted. “I’m heading down there. Keep this quiet, okay?”

“Okay,” Dumas agreed as he looked on, confused. “But sir, what about your speech?”

“It can wait,” he said, storming out of the room before pausing. “Wait, where are they being held?”

“Here, hold on.” Dumas flicked his holoscanner off. “Let me take you there.”


* * *


O’Neil stood outside of the interrogation room, looking over the files. The face was not only familiar but burned into his brain. This was Jonah Freeman, the kid who knew everything, the kid whom he had sent away two years prior. Everyone aboard the Omega Destiny had written him off as dead after he was accused of the murder of Jim Levine. It was with good reason, too, because O’Neil was on record as tossing him out of an airlock. Of course, it was in a life capsule that was small enough to avoid detection, but no one else knew about it, and he had timed it to go along with a trash dump in the same section.

That decision had been haunting him for the past two years. Jonah Freeman was a kid after his own heart, only looking for the truth and worrying about what was best for everyone aboard. There was only one conversation between them, but it had stuck with him like an itch that he couldn’t scratch. In the past two years, things had gotten progressively worse; the fears that the two of them had shared were becoming a reality. There had been a few nights when O’Neil would find himself in bed, wondering whatever became of Jonah Freeman on the harsh planet they had been calling Omega.

A part of him couldn’t see Freeman as a Helgean monk. Yet there he sat on the other side of the wall, wearing a robe and giving answers like he was one -- a convert -- but it didn’t feel right. He looked through the arrest record, skimming it and feeling a knot in his stomach. This was going to be an interesting conversation, that much was certain. He knew that he had to get them out of there, far away from Speera, before any of Admiral Navarro’s men found out who he was, where he was from or how he was still alive.

“Jonah Freeman,” he greeted him as he walked into the room, closing the door behind him quickly. “I never thought that I’d see you again.”

“What?” Jonah quickly turned around, his face turning as white as a sheet. “Oh my god, sir!” He sprang to his feet.

“Sir?” O’Neil chuckled, pulling a seat toward the bench where both prisoners were sitting. “Formalities toward commanding officers can be dropped after death, at least from what I remember of code.”

“Yeah,” Freeman said. He laughed uneasily, sitting back down on the bench next to the boy, rubbing the back of his neck. “I guess so, right? So I’m still dead?”

“As far as anyone knows, yes.” O’Neil folded his arms and leaned back in the chair. “Tossed out an airlock for high treason and murder. I don’t think that anyone would expect to find you as a Helgean monk -- not even me!”

“Oh, right.” He looked down at his robe. “The robe, eh?”

“The story has everyone convinced,” he said. “But I’m not quite sure that I buy that the same Jonah Freeman who was so incensed over those issues aboard the Omega became a peaceful monk and watched this planet become host to a hostile takeover.”

“I think that you might be onto something --”

“Ingen!” Alva shouted. “No, do not tell this man anything! You’ll put us all in danger!”

“Alva,” Jonah said as he looked to the girl, tears streaming down her cheeks. “This man saved my life; he is the reason why I’m here with you. I trust him.”

“Ingen, eh?” O’Neil leaned over in the chair, resting his elbows on his knees. “Look, Alva,” he began. He paused at the name, assuming that it was a boy from the initial file, but it was clearly wrong. “I’m not sure why, but Ingen here is a guy whom I trust. We need more men of vision in this galaxy, less men like the ones that we came here with. Hell,” he said. “Probably less men like me. I’m still not sure how Jonah Freeman became Ingen the Helgean monk, though.”

“He’s not Helgean!” Alva snarled. “He’s a Krigan warrior, like my father and like me.”

“It’s okay, Alva.” Jonah grabbed her by the shoulders, turning her to face him. “He’ll protect us.” Jonah turned his eyes toward O’Neil, who was looking on patiently. “Like I said, I trust him.”

“She’s right, you know,” O’Neil commented as he looked at Jonah. “If I were in her situation, I’m not sure that I’d trust me, either. I’ve already written this off as a misunderstanding -- you two are free to go whenever -- but I want some answers from Ingen here first.”

“Okay,” Jonah agreed, swallowing hard. O’Neil made note of his body language. Jonah asked, “First of all, how did you...”

“Know it was you?” He laughed, crossing his legs and tugging on the cuff of his pants. “Well, when I saw whom you tried to contact on the Omega, it became pretty clear to me that either some Helgean monk was looking to pick Professor Cox’s mind on physics, or Jonah Freeman was alive and in custody and that I had to hustle down here to clean this mess up.”

“Ah, sorry about that. I didn’t think that they’d be able to trace it so quickly.”

“Well, look.” He let out a sigh, taking his glasses off of his face, breathing onto them, pulling a rag out of his pocket and cleaning them off methodically before placing them back on. “Slattery’s death raised some serious red flags with the fleet. It was like his every move was predicted and that they knew exactly when, from what direction and what kind of force to expect from the attack. I assume that you were feeding some information to the Krigans then?”

“I guess, in a way,” Jonah answered as he shifted uncomfortably. “I mean, the Krigans took me in, made me one of their own, took care of me. I’d see them go out, their trade routes plundered, innocent men coming back wounded or wheeled in dead on carts. These people did nothing to us! Nothing at all! They simply exist, they are here, they are an inconvenience.

“Is that a reason for genocide?” He was on his feet now, pacing between Alva and O’Neil. “They made their mistakes in the past. You look around, and you can tell. You can see it everywhere on this world, but that’s their issue -- not ours! We are the strangers in a strange land, even if we are somehow related from past travels.

“This is wrong, Captain -- you and I both know that. We both know that we could live peacefully on the planet if we wanted to.”

“I don’t disagree,” he said as he furrowed his brow and nodded in agreement. This was the kid he remembered, all right. “I’m not saying that anything you did is wrong, Jonah. In fact, I completely agree with you. I’m not comfortable with any of what is going on.”

“Then why be a part of it? Why be a part of the problem?”

“That’s a good question.” He paused, looking off into the distance. He had asked himself this question many times over the past few years and was never able to find an answer that he was satisfied with. “I think it’s because I can’t find a way out. I can’t just toss myself out of an airlock.”

“Okay,” Jonah conceded as he sat back down next to Alva. “That’s probably a good point. I can’t imagine how people would handle Captain Peter O’Neil disappearing like that. But you know, you could change things; people will listen to you.”

“I’m not sure that Peter O’Neil, revolutionary, is really something that the admiral or anyone on Earth would let happen at this point. I’d be made an example of. They’d tell everyone that I had lost my mind, a victim of exposure, unable to cope with living outside of the ship. You, of all people, should be aware of how serious they are about spin.”

“So -- what? You are just going to let me go, and this is all over? I clearly can’t communicate with anyone else on board the Omega Destiny. So now the Krigans have to roll over and accept the Earthers as their new overlords?”

“No!” Alva spat on the cell floor. “We refuse. We’ll die before that happens.”

“This passion doesn’t shock me; in fact, she embodies all that I’ve heard of the Krigans.”

“The Krigans are proud people,” Jonah confirmed. “They are also intelligent people and willing to fight for what they believe in. This one here is even more deadly than you could ever imagine.”

“Oh?” O’Neil raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Alva nodded, staring at the floor. “You can ask the two guards in the wastelands about how innocent I am.”

“Jesus Christ,” he muttered under his breath, looking at Jonah. “That was you two?”

“We had no choice.” Jonah hung his head. “We kept to our story, but they were going to call it in -- they were hassling us and going to blow the whole thing. There are lives on the line here, Captain. We did what we had to do. It surely wasn’t what we wanted to do, though.”

“I understand.” He could only imagine how it went down, but Freeman never seemed like much of a butcher before. There was a good chance that life on Omega had changed him.

“So what do you propose we do then, Captain?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted as he absently reached into his pockets. “I’ll find a way for you to safely go back, but I’ll have to put you up for the night until the heat dies down.”

“I’m not going back to the Krigans without an answer, without a way for us to protect ourselves. You may know me as Jonah, but I am Ingen now, and I swore to do everything in my power to protect them.”

“I understand,” O'Neil said. He nodded, deep in thought, as his fingers traced around the device in his pocket. He paused, pulling the Transporter Module out of his pocket and holding it in front of him. He was saving this for Sue, he told himself, but then again, things between them have been strained over the past two years. She didn’t want to go back to the ship anyway.

“Look,” he said after a protracted pause. “Communications from Omega to the Fleet --”

“Andlios,” Alva interrupted. “Omega is the Banished name.”

“Right, sorry,” he said as he cleared his throat. “Communications between Andlios and the Fleet are going to be heavily monitored. There is just no way that you’ll be able to speak with anyone on board but...”

“Fuck,” Jonah cursed, slamming his fist into the bench.

“But,” O’Neil continued, undaunted. “This right here is something that very few people have access to. Only those in command have one, so there really isn’t any sort of way to trace them that we know of -- and hell, if there was, they wouldn’t be doing it because of how exclusive and difficult to use they are.”

“Okay,” he said as he reached out, apprehensively taking it from O’Neil’s hand and holding it up to the light. “What is it then?”

“It’s a Transporter Module.”

“Which is?”

“Something out of science fiction really.” He forced an uneasy smile. “I’m not entirely comfortable with it myself, but it somehow breaks us down on a molecular level and transports our pieces to a set location before reassembling us without a trace of anything strange ever happening. Instant teleportation.”

The three sat in silence, Alva staring uneasily at the device in Jonah’s hand and Jonah looking on in disbelief. Humanity was capable of such beautiful, magnificent things, O’Neil thought while watching Jonah inspect it, only to turn its collective attention to the despicable.

“You’re kidding, right?” Jonah asked.

O'Neil shook his head.

“So how do I use this?”

“I’ll show you, but...” He paused, deep in thought. “You should save transporting between the ship and planet for when you absolutely need to, though. They can’t track what goes on here on the planet, but in the ships, it's a different story.”

“How am I to get information back and forth then?”

“Nobody said that my people and I can’t transport back and forth,” he stated, understanding the gravity of what he was promising.

“You’d do that?” Jonah craned his neck, looking uneasy.

“My people can report information to your people.” O'Neil realized that he was digging a deeper and deeper hole with each passing phrase, but he felt trapped in his role, powerless to do anything. At least these people were doing something. “So don’t use that just yet,” he said, pointing to the Transporter Module. “But I want you to have it, as a token of good faith.”



015. The Runner

Ingen the Krigan Warrior


Ingen stirred in his bed just hours after they had returned from Speera, his head swimming with possibilities. Things had not gone according to plan at all, but things may have gotten more interesting.

Could he really trust Captain O’Neil? He had spared his life once before and got both him and Alva out of that jam, but it felt strained for him to trust someone whom he had once wanted to publicly shame and humiliate like that.

In a way, he felt that he and Captain O’Neil were kindred spirits of a sort. There was no good reason for O’Neil to listen to him, to humor him, yet he had done it and made a promise to do it again in the future.

Ingen lay on his rough cot with the Transporter Module in his hands. He stared at it long and hard. It could be paired with a holoscanner and given coordinates to transport the owner to those exact coordinates.

This technology was fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He imagined strike teams coming in the night, invading the Krigan homeland, and it being over in a heartbeat. Ingen lived underground in a bunker with Tyr’s warband, but a majority of the Krigans were simple civilians, living in cities to the west, by the ocean and away from the wastelands. There were series of caverns used as bunkers surrounding the Krigan nation, but eventually he had to wonder if the Earth Ministry could just bypass them altogether using this transporter technology.

The thought was beyond horror -- it would be the end of Andlios if they could simply transport forces into the cities and towns. Ingen had yet to report these theories to Tyr and the warband just yet, out of fear of losing control. He knew these possibilities existed, but he had to be certain of it. Captain O’Neil had mentioned that this technology was still limited, that they were still unable to track it over long distances, nor could it be used if certain interference was present.

The Krigan bunkers, for example, were carved deep into the ground, buried beneath tons of rock. The comm stations in these bunkers were closer to the surface, where there were only about a meter or so of rock cover. Otherwise signals would not be able to get through, or if they could, they would be extremely weak and broken up. No one would be able to transport into these bunkers, which was a small comfort, but there were millions of Krigans on the surface who still weren’t safe.

Alva had volunteered to be the runner for communications between Captain O’Neil and Ingen. This meant that she’d traverse the wastelands in between Speera and the outpost to convey messages back and forth. Alva was aware of the dangers present, but she was able to navigate through the wastelands better than anyone else from the warband. When they reported back to Tyr in the evening, he had seemed hesitant about letting her do it, but Ingen was able to convince him of the importance of the mission.

Without that intel, the Krigans would be ambushed, and their supply lines would be pillaged and eventually cut off. Never mind attempting to do the same to the Earth Ministry forces, the Krigans would be firmly on the defensive, which would just be a precursor to the end of the line. Without a way to be offensive, the Krigans would simply wither and die, eventually having to surrender to the vastly superior Earth Ministry forces. He knew that, and Tyr understood the gravity of the situation. So he offered his only daughter to travel between the Earth Ministry city of Speera and their stronghold countless times for the betterment of everyone else.

The decision seemed asinine to Ingen. He knew how vital of a mission it was, but he also knew what Alva meant to Tyr. Alva was Tyr’s reason for living, even if he wouldn’t admit it. He looked at his daughter with tenderness, which was shocking from a man who was uniformly brutal and calculated. He always did his best to hide it, but to Ingen, it was very clear. It made his heart ache to see a father love his daughter like Tyr loved Alva, and it made him yearn to feel that kind of love again.

His mind raced back to Kara. A part of him wanted to pity her, but he realized that he deserved some of that pity as well. Ingen had sacrificed part of his humanity to achieve his goals, only for everything to go wrong. He didn’t think that Jim Levine was that bad of a guy or that he deserved to die, but he was literally the only foothold that Ingen had to uncovering the truth.

It was, of course, all in vain in the end, but they didn’t know that at the time. They didn’t know that the Fourth Fleet was awaiting their arrival, that war was waiting for them.

He regretted having to hurt Kara. Maybe in another life, things could have worked out between them, but instead, everything got so messy along the way. Ingen admitted to himself that he missed her, that he had even taken her for granted.

Ingen rolled over, turning off the overhead lamp and letting the darkness overcome him. Although he’d never admit it to any of the Krigans, he had missed being able to look out his window into the vastness of space over the past few cycles. A part of him yearned to once again be in his bunk, his quarters on board the Omega, staring off into the abyss and letting the darkness wash over him. This was as close as he could get now: sitting in the dark cave underground on Andlios. It was almost like he went from one cave to another in his life, which made him laugh.

Captain O’Neil had given them intel on an upcoming attack being planned by Admiral Navarro. It was smaller in scale, mostly to be used as a distraction. The attack would be three units in the cover of night two nights from then. They would try to infiltrate the stronghold in the dark while a full battalion would be moving in for Krigar, the capital city of the Krigan war tribe that their stronghold was protecting.

The wheels were put into motion as soon as Ingen and Alva had arrived back at the stronghold. Messages were sent to the surrounding warbands with examples of what their formations would usually look like. Ingen had argued that he should head into the city to help with the battle, but Tyr urged him to stay at the stronghold and to help them with their own issues. They would be sending many men out to defend the city, but only a select few were staying behind to defend the stronghold.

Ingen drifted off to sleep, his mind awash in possibilities, in the future, in what he’d need to do to make all of this right. There was so much work to do.


* * *


“Can we really trust this O’Neil?” Alva sat at the foot of Ingen’s bed, staring down at her hands. It was early, and Ingen was still groggy.

“What?”

“Can we trust him?” She turned to Ingen, who was rubbing his eyes and letting out a loud yawn. “He is of the Banished, Ingen. He’s from Earth.”

“So was I,” he said as he sat up and stretched his arms out. “I’m not that bad, am I?”

She shook her head. “But you are Krigan now. He is not.”

“Are you kidding? I was lucky that you were the one who found me that day when you did, Alva.” He stared off at the ceiling. He had shut out most of what had happened, but he remembered that the first face that he saw was Alva’s, soon followed by Øystein's, who was looking to take his head off and deliver it to Tyr. “You saved my life that day; you are the reason why I’m a Krigan at all.”

“You have a warrior spirit, Ingen. You belong with us.”

“Øystein didn’t think so,” he said. “Hell, I’m not sure if he believes that yet.”

“Øystein is a brute,” she stated flatly. “He does as my father says, and he follows tradition. You bested him in combat, Ingen.”

“Sure I did, but that hasn’t stopped him from grumbling about me, has it?”

“That’s just how Øystein is. You know that he’s like an uncle to me. He knows that you are important to the Krigans, to our warband, to my father and to me. That is enough for him, even if he complains about it.”

“I guess so,” he said.

“But I’m not sure about this O’Neil.”

“If you trust me, Alva, you can trust O’Neil. He saved my life, and he gave me another chance. Without him, I wouldn’t have been there for you to even save.”

“Saving your life is one thing, but turning on his own people?”

“I know that it seems far-fetched, Alva.” He threw the blanket back, putting his legs over the side of the bed and sitting next to Alva, both of them staring forward. “I used to hate O’Neil. He was a symbol of everything that I hated; he was in charge of the Omega Destiny, of the whole oppressive system. He represented everything that I was fighting against. Then I met him and realized that he had his own share of problems, that this system was just as oppressive to him as it was to me -- we were just in different positions.

“He wants change, Alva. He wants peace. You and I both know that we can’t win this war. This isn’t even a war at all. This is a slaughter, and we are barely holding on here. They want to wipe us out completely. He’s an ally to us right now, which is very important. You are going to be the one who is running back and forth between Speera and here, which means that you’ll be interacting with him and his people.”

“I guess.”

“No, I know that. Look, Alva,” he began as he turned to look at her. It was late, so her hair was down, and there wasn’t as much dirt caked onto her face as usual. She almost looked like a girl for once. “This is asking a lot of you already, but you are a good judge of character. I have my beliefs already, but your opinions are just as important as mine. You’ll take in as much as you can about them, then report back to me. If you for any reason don’t trust them, you have to let me know. As much as I’d like to believe in him, this could be a setup.”

“I can do that, Ingen,” she said.

“Thank you, Alva. I trust Captain O’Neil, but someone could be manipulating him. I was able to uncover that his wife was cheating on him, and I handed the evidence over to him, but if Captain Navarro found out? I’m not sure. He’s capable of many things, most of them horrible from what I’ve seen.”

“I still don’t understand why,” the girl said. “What have we done to them? Why do they need to hurt us like this?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, kid. If I had to make that guess, though, I’d say because we were in their way.”


* * *


“Tonight, my warband,” Tyr shouted from atop of a bench, arms outstretched, pulseaxe in hand. “We fend off the Banished while our brothers defend Krigar!”

“We’ll mow them down with our axes, spare none of them,” Øystein boasted, getting cheers from the warriors among them.

“Shouldn’t we be focused on defending Krigar, Tyr?” one of the men asked over the roars. “What is a stronghold if our great city falls?”

“My friend,” Tyr said as he hopped down from the bench and walked over to him. “Am I not Tyr, leader of all Krigans?”

“Yes,” he said. “You are, my lord.”

“Then why would I be here, with you, if this was not important?” He turned to face the band of warriors assembled in the hall. “You see, my friends, our strength in this war comes not from just our great cities and from direct battle. Our strength is more than that -- our strength is being able to not just win a battle but to fight another day! Krigar will hold out, but this stronghold is just as valuable as Krigar is for the Krigan people!”

“Then why so few of us?”

“I’m glad that you asked, Tralgar. You see, we’ve received intel that tonight, a mere three units of enemies will lay siege to our stronghold, believing that they have given up bad intel to us from the few guards that we captured a few nights ago. They told us of a great attack coming down upon our stronghold, that Navarro would look to route us out, to destroy us stronghold by stronghold before focusing on our great cities.”

“Then...”

“But they lied!” he snarled. “Ingen has new intel. They plan to invade Krigar, hoping that we’ll gather our forces here for a showdown.”

“Right,” Ingen asserted after waiting for the right time to speak. “We have it on good authority that this force will be minor; all that we have to do is hold them off for a few hours and make them think that we have gathered our forces here to brace for an attack.”

“How do you suppose we do that?” Øystein growled. “If Tyr is only keeping 20 of us, how do we not just run out and wipe them all out?”

“Good question,” he said, trying to be encouraging of Øystein and still fearing any little thing could set the brute off. “We are planning to have concentrations of our forces at the main choke points. We want them to see a horde of angry Krigans. Hell, we don’t even need to hold them off for hours -- we just need to show them that we have a huge force here and wait for them to send a signal. Then we can wipe them out.”

“This is the great Ingen’s plan?” Øystein mocked out loud. “For us to sit and take fire from the Banished as decoys?” He spat on the ground in a rage.

“Yeah, it is,” he replied. He stood toe to toe with Øystein, their chests touching. “Because this will lead their siege force into Krigar where our best men are waiting for them to wipe them out. This is how it is going to work. Ten men in front, five on each side. When I give the signal, the flanks dive in, and then you do whatever you want. That’s the plan.”

“Get out of my face,” Øystein said as he pushed Ingen, who stood his ground, catching himself.

“Do you have a problem with the plan, Øystein? If so, do you have one of your own?” Ingen asked sarcastically, refusing to back down.

“No.” Øystein looked over at Tyr. He sighed then turned back to face Ingen. “There is no problem, Ingen.”

“Good.” Ingen turned his back to the big man, feeling a huge rush of relief overcome him. All of the confidence in the world seemed to melt off of him when Øystein was in his face. He had to remain strong around him, though. Øystein was a valuable member of the warband and knew his place, even if he complained about it the whole way through. Gaining his respect meant gaining everyone’s respect.

“Øystein,” Tyr called out. “Take three of your best, and take first watch. They should be here anytime now. The rest of you, try to get some rest while we wait. Tonight we show them once again what Krigans are made of!”

A roar came from the men as Øystein and three others headed toward the front entrance. They were his lackeys -- they hung off of his every word -- but they were good warriors, and they were strong. Seeing the four of them saunter off made Ingen feel better about that night. These were the best Krigan warriors on Andlios whom he was down there with. Three units would be nothing for them. They would mow right through them when the time was right. He knew that.

“Ingen,” Tyr called as he walked over to him. “You stood up to Øystein. Well done. He simply needs to be reminded of his place now and then; he needs to be shown force.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” he replied as he nodded, his heart still racing. “Still a bit nerve-racking, though.”

“You’ll get used to it,” he replied as he smacked him across the back. “Are our scanners set up to detect when they send a signal?”

“Yeah.” He looked over at the equipment by the wall. “I’ve calibrated everything to coincide with their comm channels. We should not only be able to tell when they send the signal, but we should be able to decode it and hear exactly what they are saying.”

“Good! This is what we needed.” He grew quiet, staring down at the consoles. “Ingen, I do hope that Alva is all right out there.”

“I know. I’m worried about her, too,” he agreed, feeling uneasy about how they had sent her off into the wastelands earlier that day to rendezvous with Jack Dumas. “Not that we need to be worried about her but just -- I don’t know.”

“It needed to be done,” Tyr added. “We need the intel. Sending her before the battle was our only option. If we had to wait, who knows how long we would have had to wait? Who knows how many guards would be out patrolling the wastelands? No,” he nodded, almost like he was trying to convince himself that it was the right choice. “This had to happen.”

“I know, I know. I just wish that I could have gone with her.”

“She is going to have to do this on her own, Ingen. If this arrangement is to work, I'm going to need you by my side. Every Krigan needs to help their warband in times of war. Alva will grow to be a strong warrior, I’m sure of that, but for right now, this is how she’s valuable to us.”

“Yeah,” Ingen agreed as he swallowed hard, unable to shake the feeling. “You know, she’s like family to me now, Tyr. She’s like the little sister I never had.”

“Good! Because you are the older brother Alva never had, just like you are the son I never had.”

“Oh, bullshit,” Ingen said, shaking his head. “Stop with that.”

“No, it’s true. After Alva’s mother passed away, I was in a dark place, Ingen. I was the leader of the Krigans -- the most powerful man on the planet, in fact -- but I found no joy in any of it. I watched Alva grow, I watched her turn into a woman, but I also saw her mother in her. I found myself unable to face her, unable to be the father that I needed to be. Then you came along. She found you in that life pod, and she cared for you like one would for a pet... no offense.”

“None taken, I guess.”

“Good,” he said. “A sense of humor is important, Ingen. Your arrival, the way that Alva cared for you, it showed me what I needed to do, what I wasn’t doing. Not only am I a better father for it, but I'm also a better leader. I’m happy to have you as a member of this warband, Ingen, and I consider you to be a part of this family as well.”

“I’m honored, I really am.” Ingen let it sink in. For a man like Tyr to express himself like that took a lot. The Krigans, especially Tyr, wouldn’t just talk about their feelings like that. “Do you always get this mushy before a battle, you big goof?”

“See! Always with a sense of humor, I appreciate --”

“Tyr!” one of his warriors shouted.

“What is it, man?”

“Øystein is reporting troops approaching.”

“Good,” he declared as he hoisted his pulseaxe over his shoulder. “How many?”

“Three units, as we predicted.”

“Excellent.” He looked over at Ingen, who had moved into place at the console. “Ingen, you alert me as soon as they’ve made their transmission.”

“Got it. Good luck out there.”

“I’ve never needed luck, but be ready to pray for the souls of the men we are about the crush.”

“Remember, just make them think that there are a lot of us. That’s it.”

“Twenty Krigans should be able to wipe out six units without trouble, but only thirty of them?” Tyr said, gripping his pulseaxe tightly. “This will be practice for us.”

Ingen was left alone at the comm station, monitoring for a signal sent from the attack squad. In the distance, he could hear the sounds of Krigans shouting, of shots being fired, and wanted nothing more than to rush out and to take out a few of the Earth Ministry soldiers with them. But he knew that his role was vital to not only defending the stronghold but for holding Krigar.

He knew that there were security recording devices by the front entrance, but they weren’t on. He scrambled around before he pulled up the feed, seeing the Krigans hunkered down behind crates firing off shots, waiting for the signal to launch their all-out attack and wipe them out. There were ten on the front lines, in a tight formation to give the impression of there being more waiting in the wings. He knew that there were five on either flank in hiding, waiting for the signal to surround the Ministry forces and make them regret trying to push into the stronghold.

“Mission is go,” a voice cut through the static. “I repeat, mission is go. Good hunting. We will fall back and regroup. See you at the rendezvous point.”

That wasn’t a Krigan voice, that was for sure. “Tyr,” he shouted into the comm unit. “Tyr!”

“What, Ingen?”

“Wipe them the fuck out.”

“Copy.”

The Krigans in the front began firing rapidly. He knew that the flanks would be diving over onto the troops to take them by surprise. The ten behind the crates were jumping over them, and he searched for another feed to get a better angle. He skimmed through a few before he found a long shot of the Krigans surrounding the enemy. There were less and less shots being fired; instead the Krigans were hacking and slashing away with their axes.

The feed was black and white, so the blood was just flashes of gray that arose before the bodies dropped to the ground, but it was everywhere. He didn’t see a single Krigan downed or even hurt. He could feel the blood coursing through his veins. He felt a wave of pride wash over him as Tyr landed the last death blow with his ax on a downed opponent.

He heard footsteps from outside of the comm room and picked himself up from the chair, walking out to greet the warriors returning from the very, very brief battle. He couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear knowing that another plan had worked, that the Krigans would live to fight another day.

“Take Tralgar and Onjen to get stitched up. The rest of you get some rest,” Tyr shouted before seeing Ingen. “Yet another success, Ingen. Sooner or later, they might give up on us.”

“I’m not sure about that,” he said. “They’ll just send more troops.”

“Well, that is later; this is now. Now we see what is going on in Krigar.”

“I agree,” he said as he headed back into the comm room. “I haven’t gotten much yet, but I know that the attack is coming.”

“Your intel was spot on again, Ingen, as were your tactics. If that were me, I would have just rushed them all, and we would have had thousands of Krigans here, not twenty. Krigar would be in serious trouble.”

“Yeah, we are doing all that we can. Do you think that Krigar will be able to hold out?”

“I do,” he said. “Although I do wish that you and I were there with them. I don’t like this hiding in caves nonsense. I’m the ruler of the Krigan people, and I should be in Krigar, leading our men into the battle.”

“You and I both know that they would target you, Tyr. If they got to you, there would be chaos. This way, we stand a better chance, and the Krigans know that you are safe, that you are planning their defense. They just don’t know where you are.”

“The Banished will figure out where I am eventually, if they haven’t already.”

“They have no clue what Tyr, the Jarl of Krigar, looks like. They just know that it’s a blond guy with muscles and a pulseaxe. I’m pretty sure there are a few of those in Krigar to keep them busy. Plus, we made sure that no one knows where you are hiding,” he added, remembering how difficult it was to convince the proud Tyr to basically go into hiding. Ingen understood how important he was to the Krigans, though; he was a symbol of hope and needed to fight on and have his tales of conquest spread by rumor alone.

“I suppose you are right,” he agreed as he sauntered over to the bench that he was standing on before and sat down, letting out a sigh. “If only I could be in Krigar, fending off the hordes.”

“I’m getting a few reports here and there, Tyr. Nothing big yet, but they are reporting movement, early exchanges. The reports we had seem to be accurate about the size of their forces. Krigar will not fall tonight, Tyr.”

“Good.” Tyr pulled his boots off and massaged his left foot. “I’ll be able to sleep better knowing that, although I don’t think that I’ll get much sleep at all without knowing where Alva is.”

“Same here.” Ingen remembered back to how difficult it was to let her go for both men. They knew that she was capable, but it still felt wrong to make her a part of the war.

“So now what?” the Krigan leader asked.

“We wait.”



016. Politics

Captain O’Neil


Captain O’Neil stood looking out of the window in his office with Admiral Navarro’s voice barking from behind him. Navarro was sitting at O’Neil’s desk, which didn’t escape O’Neil as he took in the still unfamiliar sights of Omega. It signified where he was at in the power hierarchy and sent a strong, loud message.

He said, “We have increased our guard presence in the wastelands and are prepared to guard Speera during tonight’s raids.”

“Good,” Navarro said. O’Neil was distracted by how complicated things had gotten over the past few years and how it was only getting worse. The informant for the Krigans was no longer Professor Cox asking for favors from military personnel who owed him a few; it was now Captain Peter O’Neil. The thought made him sick to his stomach, but he knew that it was the right thing to do.

“Tonight, O’Neil,” Navarro sneered. “Tonight could be the night where we finally break their spirits!”

“Yes, sir,” O’Neil said in a monotone as he nodded again. He wasn't even trying to pretend that he supported the action against the Krigan capital.

“O’Neil,” Navarro sat as he stood up from O’Neil’s desk and strutted over to the window next to O’Neil. “I get the impression that you don’t agree with this action tonight.”

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Granted,” Navarro said.

“I understand that you are upset about Slattery, sir.” He swallowed hard, shaking his head. A part of him still believed that all of the bloodshed and trouble could be reversed, that there could be a peaceful solution. “But don’t you think that rushing in like this plays into their hands?”

“I understand your concerns, Captain,” he said. “But ye of little faith. We’ve fed them faulty intel with the few guards we planted in the wastelands. We surmised that the few guards we have been losing in the wastelands over the past few months coincided with the attacks that we lost. Most are not privy to much intel but just enough to be troublesome. They’ve gotten lucky, Captain,” he concluded as he clenched his gloved fist into a ball. “Tonight, we move in to crush them once and for all!”

“Then what?” O’Neil looked up at him, unsure of how Navarro would react.

Navarro burst out laughing, a rare display from a man of his stature. He slapped O’Neil hard on the back. “That’s rich, O’Neil! Then, then,” he repeated as he cleared his throat and straightened out his uniform. “Then Omega is ours! None of the rest of the civilizations have opposed us. None of them! It’s only the Krigans. And when their great city falls, then they fall. Then Omega is ours, and we can finally begin doing what we came here to do: Build ourselves a new home.”

“Understood,” O’Neil said. “Although I wonder about these Cydonians. They could pose a threat down the line, couldn’t they?”

“They won’t -- stop worrying. I’m off,” Navarro said as he turned away. “I have to rendezvous with the commanders. Hell, I might even take part in the siege tonight. Wouldn’t that be a rallying cry for the men?”

“Absolutely, sir,” O’Neil said. “You’d get to witness the victory firsthand.”

“I like that,” he declared as he pointed at O’Neil. “Okay, enough. I must be going.”

O’Neil held his hand up to his temple in a salute as Navarro faded from view. When he was gone, O’Neil took a deep breath and slumped over into his chair; it still warm from Navarro sitting in it. He stared out the window for what felt like a long time, wondering if that night would be the end of the whole thing, if he’d end up exposed, if it would all end in failure.

There was a good chance that the Krigans would all be wiped out in one fell swoop or demoralized that night, and then the rest hunted down as the full colonization commenced. It didn’t even matter if they found out that he was leaking information or not. What mattered was that O’Neil would have to live in this new world, supporting the perpetrators of the worst atrocity committed by humanity in at least two hundred years. His name would forever be linked with genocide, even if the winners were writing the history book and chalked it up as a grand victory.

The thought of that made him even more sick. He activated his console only to see a message from his ex-wife, Jeanette. He thought to himself that things could always be worse, that he could still be married to her. O’Neil shook his head and turned on the message, her face illuminating the screen.

“Peter, it has been weeks now, and you haven’t returned my messages. Look, I know that we weren’t supposed to date anyone publicly for a while, but with Michael, things are just...”

O’Neil flipped the screen off, shaking his head. She was going to do what she wanted, and there were more important things to be concerned about than public image.

His door slid open, and he turned to see Jack Dumas in the doorway. “Sir,” Dumas saluted him.

“Jack,” O’Neil said. “Today is a busy day. What’s going on?”

“You have a visitor, sir.”

“Oh?” He looked on, confused. There were no other scheduled appointments for the day, it being the strike day and all. “Who is it?”

“I know you told me to handle all of these matters...” He trailed off and tugged at his collar. “But sir, she insisted on speaking directly to you.”

“You don’t mean...”

Young Alva walked into the room, her Helgean cloak still over her head. O’Neil scowled. The girl and Dumas knew better than to report directly to his office. O’Neil had given them the information that they needed. They knew about the strike. What more could he possibly do? O’Neil stood up, straightened out his shirt and walked around the desk, offering his hand to her.

“Alva,” O’Neil greeted her as he waited for the girl to take his hand. Alva reached out and softly shook it before letting go. “What can I do for you?”

“They were worried that things would be more difficult after tonight and that I wouldn’t be able to get here in time to relay anything back to the stronghold.”

“Ah, yes,” he said. “I understand. Probably not a bad idea. If the attack squad fails in this attack, I’m not sure what will happen. What I am sure of is that Navarro will be overflowing with rage and looking for vengeance.”

“They won’t succeed,” Alva said as she shook her head, removing the cowl from her head and letting her hair spill out. “Ingen and Father will lead us to victory, just like they’ve been doing this entire time.”

“Your confidence in them is reassuring, that’s for sure.” O'Neil pointed at the seat in front of his desk. “Please, sit down. Do you need a drink or anything?”

“Thank you.” She smiled as she climbed into the oversized chair and sunk into it. “I don’t need anything.”

O’Neil looked to Dumas, who nodded and exited the room. “So do you know what their plan is for tonight?”

“Only a handful will be at the stronghold, the same with the other strongholds. Most of the Krigans will be in Krigar, waiting to counterattack.”

“Do you really think it will be enough?” he asked, legitimately concerned over how the siege would go. Jonah was an intelligent guy, but Navarro seemed dead set on that night being the end of the war between the Krigans and the Fourth Fleet. The Earth Ministry’s forces were far beyond anything on the planet, and it really did feel like a matter of time before it all just ended.

“Your people came over two cycles ago now,” she stated. “Two of your years, and we are still holding out and still doing damage to your people. One Krigan warrior is worth more than a whole unit of Banished.”

“From what I’ve seen,” he said. “That estimate doesn’t seem that far off. Look,” he began as he scratched the back of his neck. “I was just going to go eat dinner in my quarters, and it isn’t much, but you are welcome to join me if you want. I know that you came a long way and risked a lot to come out here.”

“I’d like that,” Alva said.

He led the Krigan into his quarters and prepared them both a dinner of venison and potatoes. They both ate in relative silence. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk to her -- there were still a lot of questions running through his mind about the Krigans, about life on Andlios, and how these strong people had somehow held off the Fourth Fleet for two years. But they were both preoccupied with the thought of the attack that night and the repercussions that it would have.

If the Krigans could truly hold the Fourth Fleet’s attack forces back and even drive them out of Krigar, there would be panic among the Fourth Fleet. While O’Neil wasn’t privy to all of the conversations, he had sat in on a few of the comms back to the Earth Ministry, and they were growing restless. Admiral Navarro was given full reign over the conquer and assimilation of Omega, and it had been a failure thus far. They weren’t happy with his lack of progress, and attacks like the one on Krigar were coming from a place of both desperation and bravado.

The Krigans were initially sloppy, proud and disorganized. From what O’Neil had read, they went through multiple changes in leadership, with the current Jarl of Krigar (Alva’s father, Tyr) currently in charge of the Krigan people. Things under him were not perfect, either, but there were a growing number of Krigan victories since Tyr took over, which meant, by proxy, that they were Jonah’s victories.

Since then, the Krigans had become more organized, more efficient. They were utilizing military tactics at will. Not modern tactics, either, seeing as though modern tactics were based upon fleet combat with very little hand-to-hand combat or platoons of troops. Instead these were tactics taken right from history. It appeared that Jonah Freeman had a good handle on his history and had done a great deal of research into military history. It also helped that the Krigans were brutal and strong fighters.

The Krigan tactics were scary, and O’Neil was happy that he didn’t have to meet them in the battlefield. He was especially happy that he wasn’t going to see what the Krigans were like when fighting in their home against invaders. He shuddered at the thought, looking at Alva, who had since moved to the couch and was sleeping.

O’Neil was deep into this now -- there was no turning back for him, and he knew that.

Alva was a believer. She believed with her entire heart and soul in her people, her father and Jonah. She was putting her life on the line just for the Krigan people to have a chance at living outside of the Earth Ministry’s rule -- and in a way, he was jealous. O’Neil didn’t have much to believe in anymore. It was all just dirty shades of gray. Maybe his cause was something to believe in?

He laughed and shook his head, grabbing his tea mug and looking out the window over Speera. He missed his garden, that one thing that had brought him peace when he was worried or dealing with a problem that he had no control over. That night was one of those nights where tending to the garden would have at least taken his mind off of everything. It bothered him to remember that Sue was out there, in the wilds of the planet, far away from the troubles that were plaguing Andlios.

Andlios. There was an interesting thought. The planet had always been Omega to him for his entire life. Omega was the planet that the Omega Destiny was headed to; it was salvation and a symbol of hope. Now they were on the planet, and all of that had disappeared. The locals had been calling the planet Andlios for just as long as humanity had known Earth as Earth, if not longer than that. Naming the planet Omega was the Earth Ministry’s way of implying ownership over it, of invalidating anyone else's claim to the planet.

O’Neil remembered reading about Christopher Columbus and the search for the “New World.” Columbus was looking for the East Indies when he ended up in America, and out of some sort of impulse, he decided to call the locals Indios -- or Indians -- because that was where he was supposed to be. His American history wasn’t as strong as it could be, but the whole Omega Mission was beginning to feel a lot like the horror stories of the past.

He grabbed his holoscanner off of the table and sat down on the couch next to Alva, who was curled up into a ball, her robe on the floor next to the couch. O’Neil picked up the robe and draped it over the girl. Alva was a strong girl, that much was certain. O’Neil had always wanted to have a daughter, but Jeanette always had one excuse or another about why they couldn’t have children. In a way, he was glad that he didn’t have one now; he couldn’t imagine bringing a young life into a world like Andlios.

This girl deserved better, though. He understood that. Alva was willing to die for her cause while she should have been enjoying what was left of her childhood. O’Neil sunk back into the couch before pulling up the historical entry on Christopher Columbus on his holoscanner. It seemed like a good way to pass the time while he waited to hear what happened during the siege on Krigar.


* * *


“Sir,” Dumas said as he stood in the doorway of O’Neil’s quarters only to find O’Neil sprawled out on the couch with the Krigan girl next to him. “Sir,” Dumas repeated loudly.

“What?” O’Neil could feel the cobwebs clearing out, the holoscanner falling off of his chest onto the floor. He realized that he had fallen asleep reading next to the girl. Alva was still there, curled up under the robe. “What is it, Jack?”

“I have a report on the battle.”

“What time is it?”

“06:00 hours, sir.” He still stood in the doorway at attention.

“Come in,” O’Neil said, motioning at Dumas. “So what’s going on?”

“The battle is over,” he told O'Neil as he stepped into the room, the door whirring shut behind him.

“My god.” The horror washed over his face, and he turned pale white. “Already? I thought the Krigans would be able to hold out longer than one night. My god.” He looked down at the girl, feeling the great shame of knowing what the Earth Ministry had done to the child’s people. “I can’t...”

“No, sir,” Dumas said before clearing his throat. “The Krigans won, sir. There were so many of them, so much more than they expected. The first force moved in unchallenged, only to be met by an ambush that completely wiped them out. The Fourth Fleet are reporting massive casualties.”

“What about Navarro?”

“He was wounded.” Dumas looked down at his own holoscanner. “He’s in stable condition, though. He’ll be fine. He just took a glancing blow with one of those axes to the arm.”

“Well, we can’t win them all, I suppose.” He took a deep breath.

“Wait.” Alva’s eyes sprung open. “What’s going on? What did I miss?”

“It’s over.” O’Neil rummaged through his cabinets, pulling out a canister of coffee. “Looks like your father’s guys won.”

“I knew they would,” Alva said, rubbing her eyes and smiling wide.

“You aren’t surprised at all?” Dumas looked down at her. “They sent a pretty large force out there.”

“One Krigan is worth one hundred Banished,” she reiterated.

“I guess I’m starting to see that as well,” Dumas said. “So sir, what do we do?”

“Are there any plans yet? Anything for young Alva here to report back to her people?” He looked down at Alva. “I don’t mind if you stay, don’t get me wrong, but I know that you were here for a purpose.”

“From what I understand, they are regrouping for right now and have only defensive measures in place. There are no plans for attacks for at least a standard week,” Dumas added.

“Ah, well,” O’Neil said as he looked down at Alva. “I think that everyone would be concerned about you if you were gone that long.”

“Probably.” Alva stretched out, fastening the robe around her neck. “I should be going then.”

“You don’t want breakfast?” O’Neil flipped on his coffee maker. “I can always make something real quick.”

“No,” Alva said, shaking her head. “I am capable of finding something on my own.”

“Never said that you weren’t,” he joked. “I just know it is a day-long journey back.” He paused. “Dumas, these transporters can take two people at a time, right?”

“I believe so,” he said. “You need to increase the buffer size and make sure that there is physical contact between the two, but it does work.”

“Then how about you stay, have something to eat with us, and Dumas will just transport you back there?”

“I don’t trust those things,” Alva said, pointing at the Transporter Module on Dumas’s shirt. “I would rather walk.”

“Okay, okay,” O’Neil said. “Just wanted to offer. Tell Jonah...”

“Ingen.”

“Ingen, right,” he corrected himself. “Tell Ingen that they have a week to regroup before there are plans for any sort of attack. If anything comes up in the interim, I’ll have Dumas here send one of his men like last time.”

“Good,” Alva said, pulling the hood over her head and stuffing her hair into it. “Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” O’Neil raised his empty mug at her before the girl walked out of the room, the door shutting behind her.

“Sure are a weird people,” Dumas commented as he furrowed his brow.

“Kind of endearing in a way.”

“I guess.”

“So Jack,” O'Neil began. The coffee streamed from the filter into the pot, and O’Neil kept a close eye on it. “What do you think this all means?”

“I think that we’ve grossly underestimated the locals, Pete. These people are not going to just give up. It’s going to take something huge to put them down and to have them stop fighting.”

“How much longer do you think they have before the Earth Ministry just wipes them out of existence?”

“And us -- conspirators -- with them? I don’t know. After this last defeat, I think that the next assault is going to be for real. That might be it, Pete.”

“I don’t disagree.” He sighed and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Want any?”

“No, I’ve been up for a while now, analyzing the reports. Did you know that we don’t even know what Tyr -- Alva’s father -- looks like? He was one of the main targets for last night, and the description that we have on him is just laughable: tall, muscular and bearded with red hair.”

“Might as well add ‘uses a pulseaxe’ to that list.”

“Seriously,” he agreed as he shook his head in disbelief. “How have they done such a good job of keeping that a secret? The Krigans have always been proud people, their leaders being front and center.”

“Well, they didn’t have a guy named Ingen pulling the strings behind the scenes, I’m guessing.”

“You really think that this is all Freeman’s doing?”

“All? No,” he said as he took a long sip, the coffee hot, but not hot enough to burn his mouth. “But I think that his common sense and understanding of history goes a long way with the willpower, strength and determination of the Krigans. They have been able to handle just about everything in their history with force and sheer will after their great war. The Fourth Fleet is just completely different from anything that they’ve faced before.

“Think about it.” He leaned against the counter, mug in hand. “After World War III, we changed how war worked. We weren’t taking it to the streets anymore, digging trenches and deploying ground troops. Everything was fleet battles, ship-to-ship kind of stuff. Sending in boarding parties and so on. The Earth Ministry isn’t prepared for this kind of fight, just like the Krigans aren’t prepared to meet the Fourth Fleet in ship-to-ship combat. Even so, the Fourth Fleet is more regimented and better equipped, and everyone is lifelong military.”

“Freeman was military as well.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Exactly. He’s also a smart kid. He's studied his history and his military tactics. He’s applying simple stuff from our history to today's conflict, and it’s working. Our forces are trained for ship boarding, tight-quarters combat. They fight shoulder to shoulder, and they aren’t really prepared for the wide open spaces. Sure, we’ve been training them a bit here and there, but it’s a matter of conditioning. He’s working with clay, ready to be molded, already used to fighting in open spaces. In a way, it’s brilliant.”

“It is,” Dumas conceded. “But all of those tactics are nothing against an air strike.”

“No, you are right.” He stopped dead in his place, turning slowly to Dumas. “You haven’t heard of them planning an air strike, have you?”

“It was being discussed, still early stages, I just didn’t want to upset the kid...”

“Goddamn it,” O’Neil said as he shuddered. “We can’t let them do that, Jack. We just can’t. Innocent lives are at stake.”

“They could just target military installations.”

“If I know that kid even a little bit, he has military mixed in with civilians already in fear of an air strike retaliation. The Fourth Fleet could wipe out most of the planet with the flick of a switch, but it’s a humanitarian issue. We haven’t seen that kind of widespread brutality since World War II.”

“This is the frontier, Pete. Anything goes.”

“I’m just afraid that we’re going to see our very humanity ‘go’ with something like that.”

“You don’t think that he’d do it, do you? I don’t know him like you do, but he doesn’t seem that bad.”

“He’s being pushed hard. Men are capable of truly horrible atrocities when they are pushed. The Earth Ministry back home isn’t happy with him. They expected things to be settled by now. My guess is that they are willing to overlook any sort of horrors that go on here as long as they get their way. This planet is one of the saviors for our race -- at least we think -- so this is vital stuff here.”

“How did we get to this point?” Dumas sunk into the couch.

“I get the impression that we’ve always been here; we just didn’t notice it until now.”

“Something about our mission felt noble for a time, though, didn’t it?”

O’Neil stared deeply into his coffee mug, the steam rising and disappearing into the air. “I’m beginning to think that it was just us, my friend. We were just cogs placed in the machine after the old ones wore out. The mission was always the same, with the same intent and driving forces behind it. We just couldn’t see it from our vantage point. Now we’re here, we’re getting a full view of the landscape, and it’s time for us to make our stand.”

“Are you saying that we should defect?”

“No,” he said. “Well, at least not publicly. We keep doing what we’ve been doing, but this is longer us working with the other side to come to a peaceful conclusion behind the Earth Ministry’s back. It’s just not gonna work, Jack.

“If humanity is going to exist, we need to find a way to do it right, or else what’s the point? What’s the point of having a new home planet for humanity if we had to wipe out whole societies to do so? These people are humans just like us. I’m not sure how or when there was a split, but there was one -- and right now, we are just doing what we’ve always done: wiping out our brothers and sisters over pride and lack of understanding.”

“Pete,” Jack said as he leaned forward, looking down at his hands in his lap. “We’ve been friends for our whole lives, and you know that I’m willing to follow you into hell and back. I’m with you on this, but we gotta play it smart. I like that kid as much as you do, but you let her stay in your quarters last night. I’ve done my best to staff this wing up with guys who are loyal to me, loyal to you, but I can’t control everything. You’ve gotta play it smart.”

“I know,” he said. “I just felt bad is all. I’m sick of all of this private, secretive stuff. My whole life has always been on display, Jack.”

“You think that I don’t know how that feels?” Jack stood up stiffly, turning to look at his old friend, doing his best to hide his disdain. “How long have I hid my relationship with Hideo? You think that it’s hard to deal with a cheating wife, an unrequited love and the pressures of being the man in charge? Imagine being his best friend and the guy who has to handle a lot of the public stuff he doesn’t want to handle and not being able to be public about a totally normal, healthy relationship. It’s worn on me as well, Pete.”

“Damn it, Jack.” O’Neil felt horrible. Sometimes he forgot how much Jack sacrificed for him and for the good of everyone else. “You’ve been a good friend -- don’t ever think that I take that lightly. I might not express my gratitude enough, but you know that I value you above all else.”

“I know that,” he said. “Don’t worry about that. I’m just... helping you with some context.”

“How is Hideo anyway? I haven’t seen him since we came down here planetside.”

“He’s fine, but we decided that he should stay behind. It didn’t make a lot of sense to bring a comm officer with us down here without raising a few eyebrows.”

“I understand.”

“So, please, just remember, I’m with you on this, but you gotta run this stuff by me so I can be better prepared in the future.”

“Can do.” O’Neil looked down at his holoscanner on the counter, then back at his friend. “Hey Jack.”

“Yeah?”

“How much do you know about Christopher Columbus?”

“Not much. Why?”



017. Exsanguination

Ingen the Krigan Warrior


Ingen sat in his bunk staring up at the ceiling, which was roughly carved out of rock. Two days had passed since the successful defense of Krigar, and there had been a lot of celebrating going around the stronghold. Tyr had been doing his best to remain excited, but there was a cloud hanging over him, wondering where Alva was. She had been sent out three days prior, right before the battle, in an attempt to relay information as quickly as possible back to the stronghold.

Alva knew how to take care of herself, but Tyr worrying had Ingen worrying as well. Ingen had explained to Tyr that Captain O’Neil was to be trusted and that he’d ensure the safety of Alva, but if anything were to happen to Alva, things could deteriorate in a flash.

There were a lot of things going on at that moment as well. The victory of the siege of Krigar was raising the confidence of the Krigans, with more and more asking what they could do to defend Andlios against the Banished.

Plus, they wanted to see Tyr. Tyr was a hero worthy of the astounding folklore surrounding him. There were tales being passed around about Tyr’s super-human strength and his trusted adviser, Ingen, who was known as the Man with No Face. There was a sense of unease about Ingen and a mystery shrouding any real information about him, but it was known that he challenged Øystein and defeated him in hand-to-hand combat, which helped to legitimize him as an indispensable part of Tyr’s warband.

Ingen knew what the right move was right now: Tyr had to make an appearance in Krigar to rally the Krigans behind the cause. Many had seen the war as unwinnable, but Tyr was a symbol to the people -- he was their hope. Ingen knew that keeping Tyr away from the Earth Ministry was smart, but he needed to build his legend with his people to rally them to keep fighting until he could figure out a way to stop the war once and for all. Tyr needed to grow beyond myth into legend.

Ingen picked himself up and headed toward the doorway, pulling back the leather flap that served as his door and walked out toward the main hall. Tyr was sitting at the head of the great table, lost in thought even though it was late at night. He had known Tyr for the entire time that he was on Andlios, and it was unlike Tyr to be brooding so publicly, which could only mean something bad.

“Can’t sleep, either?” He sat down in the chair next to Tyr’s.

“Ingen.” Tyr looked up at him, forcing a smile. “Just thinking.”

“About Alva?”

He let out a mighty laugh before slumping back into the chair. “Nothing gets by you, does it, Ingen?”

“I won’t say that I’m not thinking about the same thing,” he replied as he shook his head. “She knows those wastelands better than anyone, right?”

“Of course,” he said. “In fact, she’s even led me through them before.”

“So we know that she’s not lost, which is a good thing. Look, I know these guys. Plus I know that security was probably tightened up after he crushed their forces at Krigar. I bet they are just keeping her there until the coast is clear. Alva knows the wastelands, and O’Neil knows the Earth Ministry.”

“You trust this O’Neil, don’t you, Ingen?”

“Of course I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t have sent Alva to gather information from his people.”

“No,” he said. “That’s not what I mean. I mean that you really trust this man; you trust him as much as you trust me. I’ve seen how you are with the warband here.”

“That’s different, Tyr. I’m the outsider here. I have to be careful, and Øystein --”

“Øystein is a giant puppy!” He slammed his fist on the table. “You trust this man, which means that I trust him. If you believe that he’ll take care of my Alva, then I believe it, too.”

“Okay, good. Now, look -- I know we talked about this before, but I think that you need to go to Krigar.”

“I’m here because you believed it best, Ingen. You told me that I was to be an underground hero of sorts, that it was for the best to remain hidden. You know that I am only doing this because you felt so strongly.”

“I know, and I appreciate that. But now is the time to build up your legend, Tyr. Now is the time to show strength. Our people did the impossible the other night: They held off highly organized, heavily armed forces with pulseaxes and lightly armored vehicles. They did so by your command, with your name on the tips of their tongues.”

“Of course it was under your direction.”

“So what? Do you really think that the Krigans are going to rally behind someone from the Earth Ministry? One of the Banished? I’m lucky that Øystein doesn’t slit my throat while I sleep.”

“This is true,” he said. “You underestimate yourself, Ingen. You are more equipped for my job than you might know.”

“Be that as it may, this is about you, Tyr. The Krigans need you out there, and they need to see you strong and unafraid. They need you to explain that you’ve been fighting for them and that you need them to fight for you. They need to see you strong, in charge and impassioned.”

“That shouldn’t be difficult.”

“Good. So you’ll leave for Krigar in the morning. I’ve already made the arrangements. I’m just glad that I don’t have to have Øystein drag you there.”

“You mean you wouldn’t drag me yourself?”

“I’m not sure that there is any place in Krigar for me, Tyr. This is about you. I’m just the background guy.”

“Ingen.” Tyr placed his hand on his shoulder, shaking his head. “Outside of Alva, you are my only family. Stay in the shadows all that you want, but you belong there with me. You are coming with me.”

“What about Alva? Shouldn’t someone be here when she comes back?”

“The rest of the warband will be here, and she knows them well enough. If she has anything urgent to report, they can easily communicate it to us. You aren’t the only one who can work the comm array, Ingen.”

“I know, I know.”

“Good, so it’s settled. We leave tomorrow.”


* * *


The air was cold when Ingen stepped outside of the stronghold. He had only been to Krigar once before and only for a short time. The rest of his time on Andlios had been spent within the stronghold with the rest of the warband. His time in Krigar was limited, and he spent most of it indoors. It was right after he landed, when Alva found him in the wastelands. Out of fear of repercussion, Tyr refused to let Ingen out.

It was the place where Jonah was born again as Ingen, the Krigan warrior, a member of Tyr’s warband -- and later, a member of his family. For that, Krigar had sentimental value to Ingen, but he also saw very little of it. He was kept within the confines of the Palace for most of his stay. He was still shocked at how advanced their technology was but how the warriors kept their strongholds rather simple.

Krigar was, for all intents and purposes, technologically beyond what Ingen had known aboard the Omega. Everything was clean and sleek, and there were homages to the cultural history of the Krigans everywhere, but these were not primitive people by any stretch of the imagination.

Ingen’s life on Andlios was spent in a cave afterward. The stronghold felt very much like something from the age of the Vikings in ancient Earth history. There were gentle reminders of the technology that Andlios possessed, but the warband kept things simple within the stronghold.

Tyr never had an explanation for the simplicity and lack of modern amenities within the stronghold; he always explained that was just how it had to be. Ingen always assumed that it was some Krigan tradition that went unspoken, that warriors engaged in the art of war had to live like their ancestors did, but the topic was always quickly dropped in favor of discussing tactics or drinking. Not that he minded either of those.

They loaded into the ground vehicles quietly, with Tyr still looking uncomfortable leaving without Alva having returned yet. But Tyr was a man of honor and would always do what was best for his people. Øystein moved into the driver’s seat and switched the power on. The ground vehicle was more of an air vehicle that floated a few meters above the ground, but it wasn’t able to sustain actual flight for longer than a few minutes before it needed to be close to the ground again.

Tyr sat silently in the passenger seat while Ingen sat in the back, close to the window. Andlios was a strange planet, that much was for sure. The first few minutes, they moved through desolate wastelands where the ground was unable to sustain life. But before long, signs of life came back, as did signs of humanity. Homes -- small at first, then growing larger and more densely packed together -- were everywhere on the road to Krigar. The closer they got to Krigar, the more life there was and the more people there were.

If you had asked Ingen if there was a war going on or if the people of Andlios were living some sad existence, the simple answer from the outskirts of Krigar would be a simple no. The location of the strongholds were strategic in that they surrounded the area and were placed in such a fashion that for someone to directly invade the city, they’d need to go through the strongholds first.

Ingen had asked early on about just landing a ship directly into the city, which seemed like the logical thing to do, but Tyr explained that there were electromagnetic pulses sent up through certain frequencies around the city that would disable any ship that wasn’t broadcasting to counter-frequencies. The Earth Ministry’s Fourth Fleet had attempted direct assaults early on, only to lose control over their ships and find them rushing toward the surface, completely out of their control.

According to Tyr, that was how they got a lot of early intel, from capturing the troops on those ships. The ships were bombers, and the men aboard were just grunts, but it had helped them early on before Ingen arrived. Tyr was not in charge back then, but he did control his own warband, the same one that lived and fought alongside him in the stronghold, so he saw most of it from a distance. Now, though? This would be Tyr’s homecoming after a huge victory.

In a way, Ingen was nervous for him. Tyr was placed into power two years prior, only for Ingen to convince him that they must leave Krigar for a stronghold where he could do the most good. The people of Krigar knew Tyr, but there might be some harboring resentment toward him for doing things so differently, so against the Krigan way. These were desperate times, though, which meant that extreme measures had to be taken to ensure the survival of Andlios.

When they pulled up to the gates of Krigar, it was a seamless process: They kept moving at a steady pace, the gates opened just enough to allow them to enter, and they were driving through the great city of Krigar. It was even more amazing than he remembered it from the fragments of his memory. Living a life within a cave would make the outside world that much more magnificent, though, Ingen figured, especially after growing up in a floating cave of sorts. Skyscrapers reached out to the sky, and people walked the streets carrying on with their day-to-day lives. Cars whizzed by each other, and life carried on.

They reached a stopping point and saw a large crowd gathered in front of the Palace. Tyr groaned and Øystein grunted before there was a tap on the window. Øystein retracted the window only to see a guard in uniform saluting him.

“Øystein, sir!” The guard sounded nervous.

“What? We need to get the Jarl through.”

“I understand. You are cleared for flight into the Palace hangar.”

Øystein grunted and nodded before the window moved back into place. The car bucked and lifted off of the ground roughly. Øystein was clearly unhappy about seeing such a crowd. “I can’t protect you if there are crowds like this,” he grunted at Tyr.

“I understand,” Tyr said. “But this is what we need -- we need our people to work together. Just like we need support from the Helgeans and Cymages.”

“The Cymages!” Øystein blurted out, the car pitching sharply to the left toward the hangar. “We have no need for their kind.”

“We have need for all of Andlios to be united, Øystein,” Tyr said quietly. Ingen knew of the tales of the Cymages, of the great wars between the Cymages and Krigans and how the Krigans viewed the Cymages as dangerous. The Cymages were, like everyone else on Andlios, all linked back to the original three tribes. The folklore claimed that they all got along and worked together, but it was clear that things couldn’t have been that simple.

Eventually a splintering happened when their technology began to advance. The Helgeans became closed off, a nation of religious, peaceful people who rejected technology. The Krigans had no real problem with technological advancement, but the Cymages -- the Cydonians -- saw technology as a savior, as the alpha and omega. They began experimenting with implants, with trying to force evolution through technology.

The great wars of Andlios came from the differing opinions and the outrage at the Cydonians and their use of technology. Ingen had yet to see a single Cydonian in his entire time on Andlios. The Cydonians had lost the last great war, but that was a very long time ago. The stories tell that the Cydonians closed off their nation and haven’t allowed a single Helgean or Krigan entry, nor have the Cydonians ventured out beyond their borders. He knew that wasn’t true, though. He had heard about Cydonian nomads and wanderers from Tyr and Alva, but Ingen had yet to see one in person.

According to some of the intel that the Krigans had, the Cydonians did have working spacecrafts and were still actively pursuing space exploration, something that both the Helgeans and Krigans had given up on after the last great war. The Krigans believed that the Cydonians were looking to find another planet to inhabit, which did not bother the Krigans at all. But it was all still just hearsay and rumor.

Tyr wanting support from the Cydonians was new to Ingen, although it was something that he had brought up to Tyr over the years. It was always quickly shot down. Tyr never told him that he’d even considered the idea. Hearing him utter it aloud was a shock to Ingen, and it had driven Øystein to complete silence, which was always an ominous sign. The car came to a halt within the hangar. The doors opened, and Ingen got a view of the Palace.

He stepped out and noted that the air felt different, almost humid, compared to how dry it was by the stronghold and the wastelands. It was definitely a stark contrast from being inside of the cave. They were led into the Palace, which took Ingen’s breath away. He had been relegated to some of the back rooms when he was there, but walking through the main halls was amazing.

“Sir,” one of the guards said as he looked at Tyr. “There is a large congregation out there. They’ve been there all day; they are waiting for you.”

“Yeah,” Øystein snarled. “We had to get around them.”

“What should I do?” Tyr said. “They want to hear from me?”

“You should make a statement, Tyr.” Ingen looked up at him. They hadn’t prepared for this, but Tyr was a born leader, and he’d know what to say to his people.

“What do I tell them?”

“The truth,” Ingen said. “That we are facing dire circumstances, but that we’ve been winning in every exchange thus far, and we need their support.”

“Where?” Tyr looked at the guard, who nodded and led them up a set of stairs to a balcony overlooking the plaza below.

“Great,” Tyr grunted under his breath, looking out over the horde of Krigans. He took a deep breath and opened the door, walking out onto the balcony to meet the roar of the crowd. Tyr raised his hands high, his pulseaxe in his right hand.

“My people,” he roared. “Tonight I return to Krigar, not just as a Krigan, but as a proud Krigan warrior!”

The crowd ate it up. Ingen stood behind him, taken aback by the wave of energy from the crowd washing over him. It was hitting him like a freight train at full speed. The feeling was unlike anything he had ever felt before. There was an actual force behind the crowd -- an actual force that he could feel. It was exhilarating.

“We’ve all suffered since the return of the Banished,” Tyr continued as the crowd started to quiet down. They were listening and in awe of Tyr. “Their senseless violence against us, against Andlios, must not go unchecked. We are proud people, strong people, but we must stand together as one to face this menace. I’ve been there on the front lines this whole time. I’ve been fighting among my warband, fending back the Banished threat. Andlios will not fall!

“We will not surrender to them -- we will continue to fight!” He pumped his ax into the sky, and the crowd roared once again. He turned back to Ingen, who was still in shock, and motioned for him to move up beside him. Ingen shook his head, wanting to remain in the background.

The crowd began to quiet when Tyr spoke again. “We need your help, people of Krigar. We need to stand united. This right here is Ingen. He came to us from the Banished over two cycles ago. We knew not if we were to trust him or to kill him, but now I trust him beyond any other.

“You see, peace can be attained -- and not all of the Banished are evil! Ingen here,” he said as he motioned again for Ingen to step out. The crowd urged him to, which compelled him to step forward, still dumbfounded by the surge of power from the crowd.

“He has taught us a great deal of things about the Banished, about their Earth Ministry and our nemesis, Admiral Navarro and his Fourth Fleet. There are others like Ingen who simply wish for peace and are simply seeking a new home where they can start over, to co-exist with us.

“Andlios has a bloody history, one that we are reminded of on a daily basis. War is not new for us, but we must move forward, beyond our great wars of the past, and look to build a new future. We believe that not everyone wishes to follow Admiral Navarro, that not everyone wishes to see the end of Andliosian culture. We will continue to fight until the bitter end, my friends, no matter the outcome, because we are Krigans, and we are of Andlios!”

He pumped his pulseaxe into the air one last time, urging Ingen to do the same. They both stood, listening to the roar of the crowd that began chanting Tyr’s name. Tyr slapped Ingen on the back before turning to see a solemn look on Øystein’s face, urging them to get back in. Ingen moved back, tugging Tyr behind him while Øystein shook his head.

“I can’t protect you out there, Tyr,” he stated.

“Those are our people, Øystein. They need to see me unafraid,” he said. “Anyway, we should have guests waiting for us in the Great Hall. Are they here?” He turned to the guard, who looked on nervously.

“Yes, sir,” he swallowed hard. “But I’m not sure that --”

“That’ll be enough. Let's not keep them waiting.”

They walked beyond Tyr, who strode with confidence toward the doors to the Great Hall, which were at least six meters in height with intricate carvings depicting great Krigan warriors in battle. Ingen almost wanted to stare at them for a while before Tyr swung them open, only for Øystein to curse under his breath and draw his pulseaxe.

“No, wait!” Tyr shouted, hand outstretched. “Øystein, stand down.”

“It’s a fucking Cymage! Here, in the Great Hall!”

“I know.” Tyr placed his hand on Øystein’s pulseaxe, lowering it. “I invited him here. Øystein, you wait out here. Ingen, come in.”

“Okay,” Ingen gulped, feeling a knot in his stomach. He had heard tales of these Cydonians, but never seen one in person. This one stood next to a Helgean monk, wearing a similar robe, but also wearing some sort of mask over his face with a respirator. His hands were clasped over the front of his robe in gloves that appeared to have small nodes on them.

It was an odd scene if he had ever seen one before. Tyr strode across the room, offering his hand to both men. The Helgean took it first and shook his hand while placing his other hand over both and nodding. The Cydonian only nodded at him. Tyr withdrew his hand and nodded back.

“Gentlemen, please have a seat,” Tyr instructed as he motioned toward the Great Table. He took his own place at the front of the table while Ingen stood there, still dumbfounded at the sight of an actual Cydonian.

“I’ve never met a Cydonian before,” Ingen said from across the table. “But I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Ah, excuse him,” Tyr chuckled softly. “This is Ingen of my warband. He is my adviser, and I wish for him to be here.”

“So be it,” the Cydonian muttered, his voice processed through the mask and coming out mildly robotic. “I am Trallex of Cydonia. You understand that we have not had a meeting like this in well over one thousand cycles, do you not?”

“Yes, I do,” Tyr said. “Would either of you like a drink, perhaps?” Both men declined, only for Tyr to clear his throat and continue. “Well, I know that our nations have all had their histories together, but we face a threat to all of Andlios.”

“I fear that you are correct, Tyr,” the Helgean said, pulling his cowl down. “Oh, I do apologize. I am Dyvel of Helgea. I was also called here by Tyr, much to my surprise. I am the leader of the Helgean Order. We elect our leaders in twelve-cycle rotations, and I am serving on my third cycle at the moment. I do wonder what Helgea can do to assist the Krigans and Cydonians against the Banished.”

“I’m not sure what you can do, either,” Tyr said. “I just wanted to have all of us sit down, the three leaders of Andlios, and have a discussion. It has been many, many cycles since our people have done this, but Andlios faces a threat that endangers everyone on this planet equally. Our problems are in the past. We must look to the future if we want anyone to be around to remember our problems.”

“We are peaceful by nature,” Dyvel began, “but we have been troubled by some of the actions taken by the Banished. They’ve been pushing us back into our territory more and more every day, causing problems for those of the order who are on their pilgrimage and must pass through their new city, Speera.”

“So I’ve heard.” Tyr looked deep in thought. “How about the Cydonians?”

“We are currently monitoring the Earth Ministry forces on both land and in orbit,” his voice droned out from his mask. “We brokered a deal but have been waiting for them to break the treaty. Our technology is far beyond theirs, but we were not prepared for open conflict.”

“Nor were the Krigans,” Tyr said as he pounded his fist onto the table. “This is why we must work together! Even if we are just sharing intel, we need to work together for the good of Andlios.”

“I have connections,” Ingen muttered after waiting for Tyr to finish, “within the Earth Ministry. I’m not sure if you are aware, but I’m technically one of them. I arrived aboard the Omega over two cycles ago and --”

The sound of a mechanical clicking and a whirr came from the Cydonian. He bounded from his seat, and the chair fell back onto the marble floor with a thud as he stood poised, with his pistol pointed at Ingen. “Then why are you in this meeting?”

“Hold on!” Tyr shouted, slamming his pulseaxe onto the table. “He is with me! He has been more help than you could ever imagine. The Banished would control Andlios now if it weren’t for him, so stand down.”

“We’ve found the Earth Ministry to be untrustworthy, full of deception.” The mechanical voice wheezed, with his gun still pointed at Ingen, who was standing with his hands up. “You’ve been fooled and placed me at great risk.”

“You need to listen! He is --”

“I know that you don’t want to trust me,” Ingen interrupted. He looked at Tyr, motioning with his head for Tyr to stand down. “I wouldn’t want to trust myself after what my people have done, but I’ve been with the Krigans for two cycles now. I’ve lived within their stronghold alongside Tyr. I’ve fought with them, bled with them and risked my life for them. They are family to me now. You may have had some bad experiences with my people, and for that, I apologize. But they left me for dead, shot me out of an airlock! I owe everything to Tyr and his daughter -- if I ever betray them, my life is forfeit.”

“Very convincing,” the Cydonian said as he holstered his gun. His chair began floating in the air, righting itself and positioning itself underneath him before he sat back down. “For now.”

“Okay, good.” Tyr took a deep breath. He exchanged a look with Ingen, both feeling uncomfortable with the display from the Cymage, levitating a chair like that. They had always heard of the Cymages’ powers but had never seen them in action. It was horrifying and clearly just the tip of the iceberg. “Gentlemen, we need to be allies. There is nothing much else to say. Ingen and myself have been doing our best to come up with plans to thwart them, but eventually something will break. According to Ingen, there should be another fleet on the way from Earth, although we don’t know the timetable.”

“If I’m right,” Ingen began and took a deep breath. “I think that’ll be it -- this resistance will be over. We’re not sure exactly what they’ll be planning, but completely wiping everything out and starting over is an option.”

“How is that an option?” Dyvel looked puzzled. “Not only the moral implications, but how is it possible?”

“Have you seen those terraformers outside of Speera?”

“Yes, I have,” the Helgean said solemnly. “But surely something as small as that couldn’t...”

“The Omega Destiny was built to not only be a starship to carry 500,000 people. It was built to be a terraformer if need be. It would take a few years to complete, but the technology is there.”

“They wouldn’t!” Dyvel shouted, the first time either Tyr or Ingen had seen a Helgean that animated before.

“They would,” Trallex chirped. “In our dealings with them, we’ve found them to be quite capable of many terrible things.”

“My people are not bad people,” Ingen said. “But there is a tendency throughout our history to turn a blind eye to atrocities, to build a culture upon the ruins of others -- and then, when everyone is settled in, to look back and shake our heads and say, ‘Why did we do this?’”

“We aren’t sure that the terraformers would have the power to really wipe out everyone,” Tyr stated. “But we know that they are bringing more warships here, and these warships are very capable of doing to Andlios what we ourselves did to it many cycles ago during the great wars -- only they won’t leave anyone to remember it.”

“From what we understand,” Ingen said as he flicked through his holoscanner, “those aboard the Omega Destiny, the civilians, are aware that there is life on Andlios, but not how many live here. I cannot speak for the Helgeans or Cydonians, but our last rough count was around one billion Krigans.”

“Around half a billion Helgeans,” Dyvel said sheepishly.

“How about the Cydonians?” Ingen looked to Trallex, who sat staring forward, unmoving.

“Four hundred million,” he finally said, his voice sounding mildly defeated.

“So there are almost two billion people here.” Ingen scratched the back of his head. “If they only knew how many people were here, how many people were in danger, I’m not sure that they’d stand behind the Earth Ministry’s decisions.”

“Well, then we should make them aware.” Dyvel looked around the table. “Surely that is possible, right?”

“I’ll try to think of a way, but right now is --”

“Tyr!” Øystein burst into the room, throwing the heavy doors open with a boom.

“Øystein, my friend, can it wait?”

“No!” he shouted, his voice echoing throughout the great hall. His face was pale white, which made Tyr freeze in place.

“What is it? Tell me!” Tyr slowly stood up, approaching his old friend.

“Tyr, I...”

“What is it?”

“It’s Alva,” he muttered, tears welling up in his eyes. “They killed her.”

A dark silence fell over the room. Tyr fell to his knees before Ingen could run to him. He held the mighty warrior in his arms, hearing his muffled scream. Both the Helgean and the Cymage sat silently at the table while Øystein stood in the doorway. It was the first time that Ingen had ever seen the mighty Øystein completely helpless and lost.

“Do you have the body?” Trallex asked Øystein.

“What?” Tyr looked up at him.

“I asked, 'Do you have the body?'”

“Yes,” Øystein nodded, unable to make eye contact with Tyr. “They left her in front of the stronghold door while Tyr was making his speech.”

“How long has the girl been dead?” The Cydonian sounded annoyed.

“I don’t know.” Øystein looked around, confused. “A few hours, I guess.”

“Well then,” the Cymage said as he turned to Tyr. “Bring me the body. I cannot make any promises, but we might be able to save her.”

“Save her?” Ingen looked up at the Cymage. “What are you talking about? She’s dead.”

“So was I,” Trallex laughed, and it sounded like a muffled horror through the filter. “That was over one thousand cycles ago. I’m not saying that there is no cost -- there is always a cost -- but she could live again.”

“No,” Tyr shook his head. “I won’t have her turn into one of you.”

“Leave us for now.” Ingen looked to both men at the table. “Give Tyr time to grieve please. We’ll finish this conversation later.”




* * *


Ingen stood next to Tyr on the dock. Øystein stood behind both of them with his arms crossed. There was a huge mass of people all around the banks of the river. Most had never met Alva before, but the daughter of their Jarl was an important figure, and that day felt like a pivotal one in the war against the Banished. They were trying to take over Andlios, which was bad enough, but then they killed his daughter.

They found Alva’s body outside of the stronghold just as the sun was setting on the horizon. It was anything but a clean, quick death. She had been restrained; the marks on her wrists showed that. There were thin, blood-red lines where the restraints had cut into her while she struggled. They had brutally beaten her; there were multiple fractures across her skull, cracked ribs and mangled fingers.

Ingen knew how strong Alva was and that she wouldn’t have uttered a word to them, which just meant that the beating continued until she finally died. It was no way for her to go, especially with the burden that she was carrying for all of them. He couldn’t help but feel the sinking feeling inside of him that he should have been with her, that even if he trusted O’Neil, there were people that weren’t under his direct control. Someone could have seen him and Alva that day in Speera. Someone might have recognized her and her war braid.

It was the first time that Ingen had seen a true body of water for himself. Back on the Omega Destiny, it had been a goal of his to find a body of water and to just witness it, to take it all in. He had felt this great connection with the idea of a great body of water, but now that he found himself standing before one, it felt ominous under the circumstances.

The whole affair had soured many things for Ingen, he found. He had only known Alva for two cycles, but Alva felt like the little sister that he never had. She was also the reason that Tyr even gave Ingen a chance in the first place. If it wasn’t for Alva, Ingen would have been just another head that was cracked open by Tyr’s pulseaxe.

The Cydonian Trallex and the Helgean Dyvel stood on the dock beside them as well. It was not only a show of good faith, but it sent a loud and clear message to all who were watching that Andlios stood together. Helgean, Cydonian and Krigan. It didn’t matter because at the end of the day, there were monsters among them -- and for once, it wasn’t each other.

“I don’t trust ‘em,” Øystein muttered under his breath to Ingen.

“This is how it has to be,” Ingen whispered back, trying to remain inconspicuous.

“He’s lived one thousand cycles!” Øystein whispered, raising his voice slightly but catching himself. “That’s not natural.”

“Just let it go, Øystein.”

“Tyr was considering it, you know.”

“No, he wasn’t.” Ingen wanted to believe was he was saying, but he looked at the solemn Tyr, bow and arrow in hand while the canoe with the coffin on it was pushed out into the river. Tyr looked back at the Cydonian and gave a slight nod, only to turn back, place the tip of the arrow into the fire and wait until the arrow had caught fire.

“Goodbye, my daughter,” he said before setting the arrow loose. It traveled in an arc before sticking into the coffin, and the flames gently spread through the tinder and flowers. The crowd remained solemn as tears began to flow down Tyr’s cheeks.

The fire engulfed the coffin, and Ingen tugged on Tyr’s jerkin. Tyr turned to Ingen, eyes red, trying to fight back the tears. “You are all that I have left, Ingen.”

“I know,” he said.

“Send a message to O’Neil,” he said, wiping back the tears. “We meet tomorrow morning in Helgar, which should be neutral enough for him. We meet with the Helgeans, Cydonians and Krigans. We end this war now.”



018. The Summit

Captain O’Neil




Captain O’Neil sat staring out his window for a long time. He wasn’t sure when he had begun, nor was he aware of the time. He just stared.

Clouds had rolled in earlier in the day and hung ominously in the air, which only added to the dark mood that he found himself in. He remembered sending Alva back out into the wastelands, believing that she’d find her way back home again and believing that he’d see the girl again real soon.

He had only met Alva a handful of times, but her passion was infectious. That girl was something special. A paper note sat on his desk, unfolded but still creased and not laying flat. The news had hit him hard, and Dumas had been very careful in how he had delivered it, via a handwritten note from Jonah that made its way from Krigar to Speera via Helgean monks.

They were calling a summit in the nearest Helgean town, Helgar. What caught his attention was that not only was it in Helgean territory, which was neutral enough so that he could travel there undisturbed, but that there was a mention of Cydonians. The name was scribbled crudely but stood out among the others: Trallex. It was a name that they had heard muttered and whispered about since arriving at Andlios. He was a legend of sorts, rumored to be over one thousand years old.

He had become the leader of the Cydonians after the last Cydonian-Krigan war, making his way up from grunt and foot soldier to their military leader. There was still so little known about the Cydonians -- who the locals called Cymages, out of fear and hatred -- other than their proclivity for technology. The rumor was that the suits that they wore were not just armor or protection from the elements, but they had become a necessity. These suits were a part of their very survival now. They were more machine than man, it was rumored, which led to their longer lives.

Local lore labeled them as magicians of sorts, having the ability to conjure up energy pulses from their gloved hands or able to levitate both themselves and objects for small distances. No doubt it was all integrated technology, but it was still fascinating just the same. The Krigans absolutely hated the Cydonians after the last few wars, so much so that neither side had contacted each other, even after the arrival of the Omega Destiny and the Fourth Fleet.

The decision to let Jonah Freeman live felt trivial at the time; in fact, it felt like he was condemning the kid to death by sending him down on the planet unprepared. He was, after all, just a kid from the Omega Destiny who was looking for truth and doing it all in the wrong way. Sending him down to a hostile planet was surely a death sentence, but it was one that he didn’t have to feel too guilty about, because the kid was dead anyway. O’Neil’s decision left Jonah Freeman’s fate in his own hands, and now here they were, years later, with Jonah Freeman organizing all of the people of Andlios, which was unthinkable.

He chuckled to himself. Just maybe he was finding himself a believer in Jonah Freeman. Jonah Freeman was a fool, just like he was, but Jonah Freeman chased his windmills until the bitter end, while O’Neil just mulled over them and waited for life to happen to him.

This meeting was mandatory for him, he knew that much. That also meant having to face the man who had just lost his only daughter to a few over-eager troops from the Fourth Fleet who felt like “sending a message” to the Krigans, which meant letting the girl bleed out and leaving her in front of the Krigan stronghold, unaware of who she really was, just looking to cause pain.

The sun was setting, and the Omega Destiny was still visible in orbit, an eyesore on the horizon. The ship kept a rather low orbit, meaning that it was always overhead from Speera, with the admiral and members of the Ministry believing that it would help those who relocated to Speera to feel “closer to home.” Home was a concept that felt further and further away for O’Neil now, with Andlios still feeling alien. That feeling was only amplified by the sense of impending doom that hung in the air that morning.


* * *


The trip to Helgar was uneventful and only about an hour's ride from Speera. O’Neil had to leave Dumas behind at Speera, just in case anything arose. He was able to talk Dumas into letting him travel with just two guards, but both would have to be left with the vehicle, regardless of how much Dumas trusted them. The gravity of the meeting weighed heavily on O’Neil as he saw the town of Helgar spring to life. He had been there once before on a diplomatic tour, but this time, his concern was not for his life but for the future.

He informed the guards of their duty to wait by the car and found himself being ushered into what looked like a church by two robed men, with their heads shaved and sandals on their feet. Neither one uttered a word, in line with the Helgean way; only certain Helgean officials were allowed to communicate verbally. There were always problems in Speera of the locals growing impatient with a Helgean trading with them, but O’Neil secretly found humor in the situation.

The heavy doors closed behind him, and the morning light streamed through the stained glass windows in what was most definitely a church. There were pews lining both sides and an aisle leading up the middle.

O’Neil could feel the eyes on him when the doors shut, and he saw the group of men near the front of the church, in front of the altar, gathered around each other. He gave a slight nod as he approached, solemn and doing his best to not make eye contact with the man whom he assumed was Tyr.

It was easy enough to figure out which one was which. Tyr was the taller, muscular man with the long hair and beard; Dyvel was the Helgean with the cowl still hung over his head; Jonah, known as Ingen now, was Jonah; and the ominous, dark figure in the heavy gear was Trallex, the Cymage.

“Gentlemen,” he said quietly.

“No need to be quiet,” Tyr said, his voice booming throughout the church.

“Peter O’Neil,” Jonah said as he turned to him, motioning toward the burly Krigan. “This is Tyr, the Jarl of Krigar, leader of the Krigans. This is Dyvel, leader of the Helgean order.” He motioned toward the Helgean, then paused to look at the Cydonian. “And this is Trallex of the Cydonians.”

“I’ve heard a lot about all of you,” O’Neil said, clearing his throat.

“And we of you.” Dyvel smiled, lowering his cowl to reveal an older man with sunken eyes. “The Great Captain Peter O’Neil of the Omega Destiny.”

“Yes,” he said, turning to Tyr and offering his hand. “Sir,” he said as he gulped hard. “I only briefly knew Alva, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a more passionate young woman in all of my years. Her loss is not only yours or the Krigans’ or Andlios’s -- the loss is to all of humanity.”

“I appreciate the words.” A tear streamed down Tyr’s cheek. “Both she and Ingen have placed their trust in you.” Tyr reached out, taking O’Neil’s wrist firmly. It felt like a vice had locked onto him, but he did his best to return the grip. “Therefore, the Krigans and I trust in you as well.”

“I am honored,” he replied. He felt his arm throb under the grip before Tyr let go. O’Neil did his best to not grimace or grab his arm. “I’m surprised to see such a meeting happening like this, I must say.”

“Tyr has removed the restraints, Captain,” Ingen said, biting his bottom lip. “Last night, he told me of the stockpiles that the Krigan have. Then we learned of the stockpiles of the Cydonians -- and yes, even the Helgeans. Captain, we have enough firepower under our command with a unified Andlios to blow any threat out of the sky.”

“Or to blow the planet into extinction,” Dyvel added dryly.

“That too,” Ingen nodded, looking back at O’Neil. “I know that we spoke about the future and how we didn’t know what it held, but our time to act is now, Captain. We just need a plan; we just need to know what Navarro is planning.”

“That’s a tall order.” O’Neil let out a sigh before sitting back onto the bench behind him and staring down at his shoes. “They are gearing up for an attack, that much is for sure, but the impression that I’ve gotten is that they are reaching their limits. The Earth Ministry is displeased with how long it has taken and the losses that the Fourth Fleet have faced here are, frankly, embarrassing to them. He’s been running special drills with some of his shock troops, and by the looks of it, their focus is going to shift away from military targets and toward civilian ones. If that doesn’t work -- well, we’ve heard he’s growing more and more desperate.”

“So basically, we are looking at scorched Earth,” Ingen added.

“Yes.” O’Neil inhaled deeply. The church was eerily quiet.

“Scorched Earth?” Tyr turned to Ingen.

“Destroy everything, start over,” he replied, the room falling silent.

“Surely we can’t let this happen.” Dyvel broke the silence with a hushed tone. “Yes, we of the Helgean order are peaceful, but we cannot allow this to happen. But there must be a way to solve this peacefully. There must.”

“We can try.” Ingen stood next to Tyr, his hand on the giant’s back to help calm him down. “I have an idea, but it is going to take the cooperation of everyone in this room. It will take all of our people placing trust in us.”

“And what exactly is this idea?” The buzz came from Trallex, the first time that O’Neil heard the strange buzz of a Cydonian in person. It was horrifying and inhuman, yet oddly familiar.

“We have enough firepower to blow them out of the sky,” Ingen stated, letting the words hang in the air. “But those people up there aboard the Omega Destiny don’t want this. I’m not even sure that they are aware of it.”

O’Neil shook his head. “Most are unaware of how this conflict started and the tactics that have been used or they plan to use. They just know that they can’t come down here yet. They are restless. They were promised a new life on Andlios, and it has been difficult for them to not have any control over their lives.”

“It is us who have no control,” Tyr snarled.

“Tyr,” Ingen said, turning to him. “That’s the point. That is what we share with them: We lack control. The Earth Ministry and the Fourth Fleet have taken that control from all of our lives. We ask them to join us. Captain, do you think that the crew of the Omega Destiny would follow you, or are they loyal to Navarro at this point?”

“There are a few for sure.” He scratched his chin, combing through his mind for the members of the crew whom he regularly interacted with. “I’m not sure about the rest, but many have been restless. This would be considered treason.”

“What is treason anyway? Treason against the Earth Ministry? All of us here in this room have the power to make something new, to start over, to be peaceful.”

“You aren’t suggesting?” Dyvel turned to Ingen, eyes strained.

“Yes,” Ingen said. “I know of the history here, but the time has come to band together, for Andlios to stand as one. We can invite those from the Omega Destiny to join us.”

“That’s a bold move.” O’Neil said. “I’m sure we’d get some support, but the Fourth Fleet --”

“That’s what the atomics are for,” Tyr roared. “We threaten to blow them out of the sky.”

“So we threaten the Fourth Fleet with nuclear weapons then?” O’Neil felt uneasy. It was a plan, but not a great one.

“Sure,” Ingen agreed. “Force understands force.”

“There will be more coming, though, Jonah.” O’Neil felt frustrated, trapped in a no-win situation. He knew that they had to do something, but he could feel the tension in the room. They were motivated by fear and anger.

“This doesn’t sound particularly peaceful,” Dyvel interjected.

“We aren’t going to actually blow them out of the sky.” Ingen turned back to Tyr. “At least I don’t think so.”

“I’ve met with Admiral Navarro, and I do not know him to be a reasonable man, Ingen.” Dyvel was clearly having his own doubts.

Ingen started pacing, smashing his fist into his palm. “Then fuck, I don’t know. We make them understand! This is wrong. We appeal not just to the Fourth Fleet. We appeal to everyone. We show them the horrors, and we show them that we are serious. I don’t care if we have to threaten the Omega Destiny itself to make the point.”

“Threatening civilians?” O’Neil couldn’t believe it. Things had gone from bad to worse. “I don’t want any part of this. This is what we are fighting against.”

“No.” Ingen shook his head, turning back to O’Neil. “Threatening ourselves. Threatening hope. Threatening the future. This shows that we are serious; this shows that we are willing to die for peace -- that you and I, Captain, we are just like them, and that we have infected this world! We’ve ruined their lives, threatened their way of being. If we are the problem, then we need to say it. We need to be willing to say that our lives are forfeit to ensure that Andlios can continue on undisturbed.”

“So we’ll be on board then?” The plan began to clarify, if just a little bit.

“I don’t think that we’ll be able to access the comm bands from down here, so yes, we’ll have to be. That just makes it all the more clear that we are on their side. We are with them, and it’s okay to turn our backs on the Ministry. What has the Ministry done for us anyway? That’s why I need you, Captain. I need you to stand with me.”

“I understand.” He was still processing the idea. He had always been comfortable helping Jonah, but it had been behind the scenes. Now he’d need to take an on-camera roll, solidifying himself as an enemy of the Ministry. It was treason of the highest order, and it was the end of his career as he knew it, but it was the right decision.

“Will you stand with me?”

O’Neil looked around, noticing that everyone was hanging off every word that Jonah Freeman said, and he couldn’t help but smile. It was a fool’s errand, but he had passed up on so many others that this time, it just felt right. Jeanette would be fuming over the decision, which gave him a perverse pleasure in the idea. “I’ll do whatever I need to do to make this happen.”

He heard the words coming from his mouth but almost didn’t believe that it was happening. That time had finally come for him to stop thinking and to start doing. Captain Peter O’Neil would be remembered by history, that much was certain. Captain Peter O’Neil was the last captain of the great Starship Omega, which found its way to the world Andlios, where he led an insurrection against the Earth Ministry and probably got himself blown out of the sky. At least he fought for something he believed in, he assured himself. History would at least have to give him that.



019. The Best-Laid Plans

Ingen the Krigan Warrior


Ingen had tested the Transporter Module a few times before for short jumps, just transporting from one room to the next. Nothing substantial, but still just as scary. He stood there, wearing his old clothes from the Omega Destiny that he thought he’d never wear again. He was the living embodiment of Jonah Freeman, the man he had left behind. He knew that he had to fit in, had to blend into the population as best he could. He was a Krigan now, of Andlios. What did he even know about the Omega Destiny or Earthers anymore?

He had to do this, though. He knew that. He thought back to Alva, her lifeless body laying on the ground, riddled with deep cuts and bullet wounds. That was Navarro’s justice. That was Navarro’s view on how the new world should be run. Disgust was all that he could feel. Rage. This war had gone on long enough, and it had cost everyone too much. He remembered that feeling while aboard the Omega Destiny, growing up surrounded by a feeling of excitement, of wonder. Now it was just a bitter set of memories.

What would the new world be like? Would there be rivers and oceans? Would there be wildlife like he had heard about? What would he do once he got to Omega? Would he venture out on his own and report on the wild frontiers that stretched out as far as the eye could see? It was all so naive that he felt disgusted with himself. He had let them all pull the fleece over his eyes, living on promises and lies that were intertwined in the very existence of the Omega.

His quest for truth was what ultimately led to him being on Andlios with his back to the wall and everyone relying on him. He remembered back to the first discussion that he had with Captain O’Neil about the nature of humanity, about the nature of needing to be ruled, instructed, guided through life. That life was never for him, but he understood now that a strong voice in the crowd was what was needed. The Krigans needed it, the Omegans needed it, and humanity needed it to survive. It broke his heart. All that he wanted was freedom. He wanted to live free on Andlios, to live a peaceful existence.

This was the end of the road and he knew it. There was no coming back from the Omega. He would become a martyr for the cause, but it would lead to a free Andlios. Maybe not that day, but some day in the future, there would be freedom. He was sure of it although there were still those pangs inside of him, screaming that it was simply his naivete again. All of his plans had failed, but they had all led him to this moment, which helped to push him forward.

He clipped the Transporter Module onto his shirt and set the coordinates into his holoscanner. He'd had a few test runs in the open to ensure that he could triangulate exactly where he needed to go and make any adjustments for the margin of error. One little thing, and he’d end up in the vacuum of space -- or worse, in Navarro’s ship with nowhere else to go. One of O’Neil’s agents had given him the location of Professor Cox’s lab, but he could never be sure.

Ingen knew the plan, knew what he had to do. He also knew what had to be done if all else failed, and he knew that countless lives were going to be on his conscience, although that guilt would only last a fleeting moment before he himself ceased to exist along with the rest. If you had asked Jonah Freeman three years ago if he ever saw himself ready to launch a barrage of nuclear devices at the ship that had served as his home for years, he would have been horrified and in disbelief.

His pulseaxe was laid out carefully on his desk. He’d feel naked without it and knew the risk that came with him bringing it, but going into this mission without a single weapon could possibly mean massive failure. He sighed and clipped it onto his belt. He came to Andlios as a human being from the planet Earth. He came to Andlios a stranger, but he would return to the Omega Destiny as a proud Krigan warrior who was laying it all on the line to save the planet that he had grown to love and call home.

He sighed deeply before taking one last look at his quarters in the Krigan stronghold. This place was home to him now, and it was a stark contrast from the cold, sterile walls on board the Omega.

“Are you ready, Ingen?” Tyr’s strong voice boomed from behind him. Ingen turned to face his friend, nodding.

“As ready as I can be, I guess,” he replied as he fumbled with his holoscanner. “So you are sure that I have all of the launch codes for those atomics in here? If something goes wrong...”

“Yes, yes.” Tyr clasped his hand on Ingen’s shoulders, pulling him in close for a tight embrace. “You have everything that you need, Ingen. This... this is more difficult than I imagined.” His voice was breaking up a bit.

“Oh, Tyr,” Ingen joked, still in the giant’s embrace. “You aren’t going soft on me, are you?”

“Ingen,” he said as he pulled him back and looked intensely into his eyes. “I’ve lost my Alva. All that I have left is my warband, my pulseaxe and my Ingen. We have faith in you, Ingen -- I have faith in you,” he exclaimed, tears streaming down his cheek. “It is you, Ingen, who will lead us into a new age.”

“Oh, c’mon,” he said as he shook his head, looking away bashfully. “I don’t know about that.”

He shook his head violently. “No, I know this. I’m a warrior, I’ve done my warband proud, Ingen, but I cannot do what you can. I cannot lead the many tribes of Andlios peacefully. I can’t make that peace, no matter how hard that I try. You know that I have tried. It is you who has shown us the way; it is you who has shown me the way.”

Both men stood in silence for a moment. Ingen looked down, unable to make contact with the blubbering Tyr. This was the strongest man he had ever met, the man who had only shown emotion at the death of his daughter, and even that was in private, where no one could see. His emotional range was that of calm or rage, nothing else on spectrum. He knew just as well as Ingen what was on the line with this mission and what would happen if it failed.

“I know that you must wear their clothing, Ingen,” he said as he motioned toward him. “But I wanted you to have this.” Tyr reached over his shoulder, unslinging his long pulseaxe from it and holding it out in his hands for Ingen. “This pulseaxe is for he who leads the Krigans, and from this day forth, that is you, my friend.”

“No.” Ingen shook his head in disbelief. “No, Tyr, I can’t. That is your pulseaxe -- that is the pulseaxe. That is the symbol for power not only in this warband but for the Krigan people as a whole. I don’t deserve this.”

“The Krigans once believed that might was the only way to lead, that rushing the enemy was the only way to have an honorable victory. Many of us died over the years, many who didn’t have to die. You’ve shown us that, just like you’ve shown us that having a leader who leads is more important than just a leader who kills. Andlios needs you, Ingen.”

“I can’t...”

“You already have,” he replied as he pushed the pulseaxe into his hands. Ingen took it and stared down at it in awe.

“I don’t know what to say,” he muttered, feeling tears welling up in his own eyes and looking up to see Tyr’s bloodshot eyes. “I don’t...”

“You must go, Ingen,” he said. “I have the correct signal to watch the broadcast, right?”

“Yeah.” He wiped the tears from his cheek roughly before slinging the pulseaxe over his shoulder, unclipping his hand pulseaxe and placing it down on his desk again. “Everything is all set. I just gotta, you know, take care of everything.”

“Good then,” he said, his voice booming like thunder in the small room. “We will watch as you make us proud, Ingen. Go now.”

Ingen simply nodded, looking down at his holoscanner, fighting through the tears and emotions that were overwhelming him. Like he needed more pressure on this mission, he thought to himself. He punched in the coordinates before hanging back for a moment, his thumb over the send button. He touched it, then held his breath, before cocking his head back and taking his right hand and slapping the Transporter Module on his chest.

It was a strange, cold feeling that washed over him. He had experienced this a few times before, but this time felt final to him. He could feel a surge of energy rushing through his body and the image of the tearful Krigan leader and his rock-walled room fading from view. The next image that had materialized was familiar but horrifying. It was the office of Professor Cox aboard the Omega.

The walls were the same, made of metal and lined with printouts, theories, unfinished ideas and accolades. He took a big breath before falling to his knees, feeling his chest compressing and a mild panic attack rolling in like the clouds before a storm on Andlios. The room was spinning, but he knew that he was all right. He knew that he had made it aboard the ship without anything bad happening. He just had to remind himself what he was doing was right; what he was doing had to be done.

He hadn’t had a panic attack in what felt like forever now, at least since he woke up in the care of the Krigans. Maybe it was Andlios that calmed him down, he thought, trying to remind himself of what he was doing, of how the mission would benefit all of those that were on the planet, even those on the ship. This had to happen, he reminded himself, taking deep breaths. This would pass, he repeated in his head. This would pass.

“I don’t know who you are.” Professor Cox’s voice came from the doorway. “But I know that you don’t belong...wait, is that you Jonah?” His surprise concerned Jonah, knowing that O’Neil’s people were supposed to fill Cox in on the whole thing. “I knew that you were coming, but my god, I haven’t seen you in over two years! We’ve spoke a few times, but I didn’t know to believe it or not. I always thought someone was just setting me up and that you were really dead.”

“Nope,” he forced a smile, picking himself up. “Alive and well.”

“I’ll say.” The professor looked him up and down. “I don’t remember you ever in shape like this. Then again, I don’t remember you with a giant fucking ax slung over your back or that hair and beard.”

“Oh, this?” He felt the pulseaxe behind him, realizing it was still attached to him. “Yeah, long story.”

“I guess we’ll have to dispose with the pleasantries, huh?” the professor mused, almost like he was taking it all so lightly. He seem amused by the whole grandeur and gravity of being a part of history. “We have a world to save, right?”

“Something like that, yeah,” he said, trying to keep his breaths measured and not show that he was having a panic attack.

“Jonah,” Professor Cox said as he looked at Jonah while tapping away at his physical keyboard, yet another relic that Jonah had forgotten about. “Are you okay? You don’t look too hot.”

“I’m fine,” he said as he clutched at his chest. “Just not used to that whole transportation thing, I guess.”

“Tell me about it.” He shook his head, chuckling. “The technology that we’ve discovered back home in the last eighty-something years -- it’s incredible. It’s almost beyond belief, Jonah. I mean...”

“I’m sorry, old friend,” Jonah interrupted. “You’ll have to tell me about it later. How is that broadcast coming along?”

He let out a labored sigh, spinning in his chair to face him, his customary Hawaiian shirt getting snagged on the edge of the desk just like Jonah remembered. He smiled briefly.

“Yeah, yeah, some things never change, right? Anyway, I’m not going to be able to initiate the broadcast from here. The security protocols that they have in place after our -- err, you know -- they are really restrictive. They’ve got this place on lockdown. The only place that we’ll be able to initiate the feed from is...”

A long pause filled the room. Jonah was finally starting to feel a bit more normal, but he was still shaken. “Where? I mean, I’m here to do this, no matter what. I don’t care if I have to crawl into some duct somewhere to initiate this, Professor. This has to happen.”

“It’s not quite like that,” he replied as he shook his head. “You see, the only place aboard the ship that is able to transmit to all frequencies is...”

“What is it?” Professor Cox’s reluctance was beginning to worry him. He was always forthcoming, even when they found themselves in jams before. Hell, even when they were plotting against Levine, he wasn’t this hesitant.

“The bridge,” he finally let out, looking down at his shoes. “The bridge is the only place capable of sending a signal like that without being immediately interrupted.”

“Fuck.” Jonah paced, tugging at his beard. “The bridge? Is there any way that we can get there without being seen? I’m dead, remember? My face was broadcast throughout the entire ship, telling people that I was a traitor and that I was dead. People know what I look like.”

“They do.” The professor picked up an apple from his desk and wiped it on his shirt before taking a big bite. “But maybe they don’t, you know?” he said, mouth still full. “Jonah, it’s been over two years. I know that you’ve been through a lot down there, but we’ve been through our own shit as well up here. The Fourth Fleet’s takeover has led to some... we’ll just call them drastic rules being enforced.

“Everyone thought that we’d be living planetside by now,” he continued. “Not just a select few. No one suspected that some would be driven to madness by open air; no one knew that there would be a war, that everyone would be cooped up on this ship for years and years. Nobody knows when any of this will end. These people are tired, Jonah. You are ancient history to them. Never mind the fact that you have this big beard and that long braid now.”

Professor Cox took another bite from the apple. His words hung in the air for a moment while Jonah digested them. Jonah was still pacing before he stopped and looked at the professor on the chair. This felt like old times, and it was comforting and familiar. The ominous feeling of the Sword of Damocles dangling over his head faded, even if just for a second. Professor Cox eating an apple, getting his shirt snagged, Jonah pacing. This was a life that he once knew.

“Well, fuck,” Jonah said, feeling uneasy, but knowing that there was no other choice. “Let’s just fucking do this then. Is there any way that you can send a message to your contact that we’ll be coming? I don’t want to be stopped.”

“We should be okay. We just need to play it cool. I’ll find one of my guys when we get there. We’ll need to just -- I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Just do this.”


* * *


It felt alien yet familiar to see those halls again. Jonah felt overwhelmed to see the same Omega hallways that he had traversed for his entire life, but to see them in a new light. He had lived on Andlios for well over two cycles, and it was home now. This was a fragmented memory, a waking nightmare in a way.

Professor Cox wasn’t. No, he was a good friend, and it felt good to see him. He still knew him as Jonah, but Ingen barely remembered what it was like to be that guy who grew up on the Omega Destiny because he was Ingen now, a Krigan warrior.

They walked undisturbed through the halls. There was definitely less activity than he ever remembered. A part of him wondered if it was because of the few who went to live in Speera, but Speera was still small, leaving hundreds of thousands of lost souls aboard the Omega. If this didn’t work, if his plan somehow failed, all of these faces surrounding him right now would be no more.

He gulped hard while Professor Cox continued casually strolling in front of him, munching on his apple No one would think anything of it, outside of his Krigan pulseaxe strapped to his back. Hell, this wasn’t just any Krigan pulseaxe -- this was the Krigan pulseaxe worn by the leader of all Krigans. Jonah was a king of sorts, walking amongst mortals. He chuckled to himself, hoping that people would ignore it or write it off as some sort of memento from planetside.

They were in the A-Block, which meant that wealth and souvenirs from the planet weren’t unheard of, he figured. He bet that they got a kick out of them, referred to them as savages, uncivilized cretins who swung big axes and were mowed down by Earth forces. Jonah could feel his blood beginning to boil at the thought, but he tried to remind himself to remain calm, that they had to remain innocuous until they reached the bridge.

Walking through the posh A-Deck after living in a cave for so long was a culture shock for Ingen. He had lived simply the whole time, struggling to get by, while on the A-Deck, life simply went on like it did before. There were signs up celebrating the yearly Culture Festival that was a few weeks away, a gathering for the rich and famous aboard the Omega Destiny that Jonah had remembered writing a report about for his job in what felt like a lifetime ago.

These people may have turned their noses up at him in the past, but he was trying to save them now, to free them. These people had never cared about Jonah Freeman, but he wanted to give them a better life, to give them the same opportunities that everyone else had, even if it was going to cost him his own life. He let out a sigh and shook his head as they continued down the hall, which felt increasingly longer with each step. So much of what he had done before felt like it was about other people, but it was really about him. He doubted himself still because of those indiscretions, but he had to be sure of himself now more than ever.

“Jonah?” an uncertain voice called from behind them. Jonah cringed, pushing on Professor Cox’s back.

“Keep moving,” Cox whispered. Jonah nodded.

“Oh my god,” the voice screeched. He knew the voice, and he knew it well. It was Kara, but they had to keep moving. They couldn’t let this slow them down. “Jonah, what the fuck?”

“I, uh,” he coughed out, trying to hide his voice. “I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Oh fuck you,” she snarled. “You fucking piece of shit. I thought that you were dead, Jonah!”

Jonah turned to face her. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and her eyes were puffy. She stood there, wearing a pair of shorts and a tank top. “Didn’t I mean anything to you?”

“Jesus Christ,” he muttered.

“You have longer hair. You have that beard,” she cried in between sobs. “But I know your face, Jonah. I know you.”

“Kara...”

“Fucking hell, man,” Professor Cox blurted out. “We don’t have time for this!”

Jonah knew that Professor Cox was right, but he looked over at Kara, who was a sobbing mess, and his heart burned in his chest. It was guilt, for sure, but also longing. He had never meant to hurt her. In fact, she had hurt him so much, and things between them were so complicated that he had done his best to forget about her, to make her seem less than human. Yet he still felt for her, still loved her. He had done so much to try to forget about her, but he still thought about her, still felt guilty about what he had stolen from her. No matter how she had made him feel, he had no right to do what he did to her family.

“Go on ahead,” Jonah said as he turned to Professor Cox. “Get everything ready. I’ll be right there, I promise.”

“Do you know where to go from here?”

“Yeah.” He turned and looked at Kara. “I’ve been to the Ministry wing before -- only once, though.”

“Okay. The professor shook his head, taking another bite of his apple out of impulse. “Be fast, Jonah. This is bigger than you or me. It's bigger than her.”

“I know,” he said. “I know.”

“Jonah, I don’t understand,” she said as she looked up at him. Jonah quickly wrapped his arms around her. “I thought you were dead. What about all of the things that they said about you? About my father? Jonah, I --”

“Kara, look.” He grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her back so he could look into her eyes. “Look at me. Please.” She looked up at him, eyes red, glassy. “Kara, I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Jonah.” She broke out into a hysterical crying fit as Jonah stood in the middle of the giant hallway, holding her tight with her pulseaxe strapped to his back.

“Kara, I didn’t mean for anything to happen. I found out about the affair and, well, I...”

“I don’t understand.” Her hazel eyes looked right through him. “What affair?”

“You mean it didn’t get out? Jesus.” He let her go, putting his hand over his mouth and pacing back and forth. “What did they say, Kara?”

“They said,” she sniffled, “that you were trying to blackmail him for your own freedom. They said that you were going to hurt me and...”

“What?” he shouted, before looking around and trying to contain his anger. “What? Kara, I’d never hurt you. I’d never intentionally...”

He paused, thinking back to his plan, to him stealing the data from her father’s study. Maybe he had stopped thinking about her as a human being, as a person. Maybe he had simply seen her as a pawn for him to play with. “Oh, Kara,” he finally let out. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

“Jonah, where have you been? They said you were dead.”

“As far as anyone knows,” he said, “I’m dead. I’m dead to these people. My name is Ingen now. Kara, I had always felt that you were really shitty to me.”

She let out a loud sob.

“No, wait, please. Just listen. You hurt me a lot. I understand now. I understand that you weren’t ready for what we had. I’m sorry, Kara. I pushed you too hard. I was wrong, Kara. I hurt you -- I know that. I wasn’t perfect, either. I fucked up, Kara. I fucked up.”

“I never meant to do anything,” she sobbed. “I don’t under --”

“Please, listen. I don’t have much time. I did some things that weren’t great -- I can see that now. No one was ever supposed to get hurt, though, Kara. I was doing what was best for everyone, for everyone aboard this ship -- I thought -- I just got so caught up in it that I forgot about trying to be a decent person. Kara, I know that I fucked up, but you gotta believe that I didn’t...”

“No!” She tugged away from him. “What happened to my father, Jonah? Tell me!”

“Look, Kara.” He looked around, noting everyone’s eyes on them. “Please, calm down. If they find me...”

“If they find you, what?” she shouted. “Get your fucking hands off of me. Tell me what happened!”

“Ma’am,” a man said as he walked over toward them. “Are you okay? Is he hurting you?”

“I’m fine!” she shouted.

“Okay, okay,” he said, backing off.

“Kara, please,” Jonah said in a hushed tone. “I need you to understand, okay? I need you to understand that...”

“Sir,” a voice came from behind him.

“What?” Jonah turned around, only to find himself staring down two Ministry officers, guns pointed at him. “Oh, fuck.”

“Sir,” the officer said as he grit his teeth. “Put the weapon down and leave that girl alone.”

“Weapon?” He remembered the pulseaxe on his back. “It’s just ornamental, okay?”

“Put the weapon down and get on the ground,” he ordered.

“You don’t want to do this,” he muttered, his hands in the air. He slowly reached for the strap on his pulseaxe, unlatched it and took the hilt in his hand. “This is all just a misunderstanding. I’m just having a conversation with her.”

“Sir, I repeat, put the weapon down and get on the ground,” the first officer said as he jabbed his gun into his chest.

He sighed, shaking his head. “I told you not to do that.”

In one swift motion, Jonah brought the ax up in an arc, and the flash of the blade caught them off guard. The ax head moved up, a quick harbinger of death and destruction. The blade caught the first guard right under his right arm, slicing through flesh, bone and uniform cleanly. Blood splattered out from the wound, and the man cried out but it was too late; it had cleaved clean through him. His body hit the ground, and the giant, gaping wound was gushing blood before the second guard could react.

Jonah used the nozzle of the pulseaxe and smashed it against the officer's forehead, knocking him back. The officer dropped his gun, and it clanged against the cold metal floor. The officer recovered and tried to wrestle for his holoscanner to send an alert. Jonah acted quickly, kneeing him in the groin and sending him doubling over before lifting the pulseaxe high above his head. Kara screamed out for him to stop, but it was too late. The ax came crashing down, connecting with the back of the officer’s head and cutting cleanly through with a splat and a thud.

Jonah was breathing heavy, looking at the chaos surrounding him. “My god,” he muttered under his breath. “What have I done? Kara?” He turned to see her, covered in blood, scrambling on the floor for the gun. “Kara?”

“Jonah, get away from me!” she screamed, gun outstretched in her hands, pointed at him. “Get away from me, you monster!”

“No, Kara.” He shook his head, wiping blood off of his brow. “You have to understand, I just...”

“I said, get away!” In an instant, a shot rang out. He could feel the warm burning in the side of his stomach.

“You shot me?” he asked, more confused than anything. “You fucking shot me?” He felt his legs give out, and he fell to his knees, dropping his pulseaxe on the ground.

“Oh, god,” she cried out. “Oh, god.”

“Kara, wait.” He reached out toward her. “Kara.”

“Oh, god,” she repeated again.

“Kara,” he said as he reached out, fighting through the pain, swatting the gun out of her hand. She screamed and scrambled to her feet. He wanted to chase after her, but pangs of pain were rising and falling in his side. He also had a date with destiny, and he was late. He had to go. “I’m sorry, Kara. I’m so sorry.”



020. Omens and Portents

Captain O’Neil


Captain O’Neil paced in his quarters with his hands clasped behind his back. Today was a huge day, and he had no clue what to do with himself. “Act natural” was the only thing that he could think of, but knowing that everyone’s fate aboard the Omega rested in the hands of Jonah Freeman and himself was a bit daunting.

These kinds of pressures weren’t entirely new to him, that’s for sure, but today felt final. Things had spiraled out of control, far too out of control for his taste. Something had to be done and the only thing that Navarro and the Earth Ministry understood was force, compliance and regulations. If everything went according to plan, then Andlios would be freed of this tyranny, and everyone aboard the Omega would have the option of relocating permanently to the planet.

This was about many things, but it was mainly about the promise that O’Neil had made when he was sworn in as Captain of the Omega: to bring the people aboard the Omega to their new home, to settle the new world and bring hope to humanity. War and atrocities weren’t a part of this promise, nor was trying to wipe out this planet’s entire existence to suit their own needs. All of this had felt wrong from the second that Admiral Navarro had introduced himself.

O’Neil stared down at his holoscanner’s projected screen in front of him, pulling up a new message to Dr. Susan Brandis. He let out a sigh and stared at the screen for a while, wondering what he should do. What could he say? Things between the two of them had been strained for so long now, and he was never quite sure how it got to that point. Things got messy with Jeanette when he decided to finally divorce her, and somehow Sue got dragged into the whole thing.

It was all kept very private, due to Jeanette not wanting to lose her status, but Sue’s name had come up, and Jeanette wanted to blame it all on her. O’Neil had done everything in his power to make sure that it hadn’t impacted her, but somewhere along the way, Sue had decided to focus on her work, heading planetside and never turning back. He had always wanted a change, to pick whom he got to spend his life with, and there were those daydreams of settling down somewhere, growing his own garden and spending the rest of his days with Sue. They were just that, though: daydreams.

Maybe he hadn’t been considerate enough of her, of what she went through, and that she had waited her whole life to this chance to study a planet. No matter what, somewhere along the way, things got messy and O'Neil ended up alone, just him and his plants. He knew that his penance would be different than everyone else’s, but this day could be the day he had to pay that price for his opulence, just like the rest. And he was ready for it.

The feeling in his stomach was a combination of dread and excitement. Dumas and Hideo were helping him to organize the whole thing, helping him convey messages to Professor Cox and back. He kept Dumas and Hideo at the bridge, knowing to expect Jonah and Professor Cox soon, knowing that things could get ugly in a hurry. There were a few on the bridge whom O’Neil trusted with his life, and he had kept all of this a secret from them until earlier today.

He kept things brief, but he had explained the situation to those whom he trusted. Over the past few years, he had felt their uncertainty with particular orders, heard their grumbles and frustrations, and he was now giving them a chance to do something positive. They wanted things to be different. Today was their day to act, to keep everyone else in line, and let Jonah and Captain O’Neil do what they needed to do. There would be blood, he knew that, but hoped that the bridge crew would not be among those who tried to fight back against them.

“Sir,” Dumas called as he charged into the room. Professor Cox was not far behind him, with a concerned look on his face.

“What is it?” He looked up from his screen, at the blank message to Sue, and closed his holoscanner. “Wait, Professor Cox -- where’s Jonah?”

“I don’t know,” he said as he shook his head. “He was with me, then he ran into Levine’s daughter and told me to go on ahead, that he’d be right behind me.”

“Fuck.” O’Neil could feel the plan unraveling. “How long ago was that?”

“Five, maybe ten minutes, I think?”

“How far off?”

“Not far. A-Deck, no more than a few kilometers away, I think.”

“Jack.” He turned to Dumas, who was monitoring a few feeds. “Anything?”

“I really don’t know.” He shook his head. “I’ve been scanning for anything. There was report of a commotion in the A-Block, and guards were dispatched just moments ago, but --”

“Fuck!” O’Neil let out, jumping up from his chair. “That has to be him.”

“There are officers en route,” he added. “Not ours.”

“This is bad,” Professor Cox interjected. “I’m sorry. I tried. I really did.”

“I know you did.” O’Neil took a deep breath. “This is on Jonah now. He has to get here. We’ll give him another five minutes. If he doesn’t, then I’ll just have to go it alone.”

“I don’t have the launch codes,” Professor Cox added. “Only Jonah did. What will you do?”

“I guess that I’ll just have to lie. And hope that they listen and let this happen. We have to improvise and think on our feet. Dumas and Cox, you two head back out there. Let me know in five minutes if he hasn’t arrived, and we’ll start this show on our own.”

“Understood.” Dumas said, saluted and left the room.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Cox added. “I really tried to keep him on task, but she was there.”

“I understand.” He looked down at the holoscanner in his hand. “This was something that he felt that he needed to do, and I understood that.”

“I guess so,” he shrugged. “I’m not sure that I really get it, but he’s fucking this up.”

“He’ll be here,” O’Neil said. “I believe in him. I’m not sure why, but I do.”

A commotion came from the bridge, and Dumas started shouting for everyone to calm down. A few screams emerged, and O’Neil quickly pushed past Professor Cox into the bridge only to see a bloodied Jonah Freeman, with a blood-stained pulseaxe in hand, hunched over on the floor of the bridge. The blood pouring from him was a contrast to the bright whites and metal of the bridge, and no one knew quite what to do. A few of the younger crew were up, with their guns in hand and pointed at him.

“Stand down,” O’Neil shouted from the doorway. “Stand down everyone. Alpha team, we are on,” he said loud and clear. There was a look of confusion on a few of the faces on the bridge; others nodded to each other and took their places. “Mr. Freeman, I hope your little detour was worth it.”

“Love hurts,” he said. He looked up at Captain O’Neil and laughed, hand over his side. “Then again, so does anything worth doing, I guess. We gotta do this fast, Captain. I’m losing blood here, I think.”

“Everyone, listen up,” O’Neil shouted, facing the people on the bridge. “Some of you have already been filled in; some of you are with me on this. The rest of you -- well, I simply didn’t know you well enough to know if I could trust you. Don’t be hurt by it -- just understand that the fate of many lives and even humanity’s future rests upon these moments.

“Today we oppose the slaughter of those on Andlios. Today we stop this pointless bloodshed, and we share the planet. We end this nonsense. If you stand with us, you are free to stay. If not, then you are free to leave. It was an honor serving with you, and I do not blame you. You are simply following your orders. I salute you.”

There were hushed whispers throughout the crew. A few quickly moved toward the door while a few others stayed, scattered among those with their sidearms out, those that were already in on the plan. “Good,” he nodded. “Everyone who’s left, guard the exits, and don’t let anyone through. I don’t care about their ranks or their orders -- you do not let them through. Jonah.” He turned to Jonah. “What happened?”

“Two guards.” He grimaced in pain. “I’m sorry. I had to. They were going to shoot me.”

“Looks like they did shoot you.” He turned back to the bridge crew. “Stevens, is the feed up yet?”

“Coming up now,” the woman said, intently focused on a console in front of her. “We’ll be live across all channels on the forward bridge camera in ten seconds.”

“Okay, folks, showtime.” O’Neil clapped his hands, feeling the knots in his stomach multiply.

“In five, four, three, two,” she trailed off before pointing to Jonah, who stood as straight as he could, a bloody mess, the feed now live.

“Greetings,” he began as he winced in pain again, forcing a smile. “You may not know who I am, and you may not remember me, but I’m the man who was once known as Jonah Freeman. I came to Andlios aboard the Starship Omega two years ago now. I came here with the same hopes and dreams of everyone else on the Omega Destiny: to come to Andlios and to find a new home. I wanted to live a peaceful, free life. I endured life aboard the Omega in hopes of things getting better.

“Along the way, though, I realized that something was wrong. We were being lied to.” He took a deep breath, trying to hide the pain while tightly grasping the pulseaxe in his hand. “The planet that we were calling Omega was not uninhabited -- in fact, humanity lived on this planet. It’s still not clear where humanity began or who inhabited what first, but what was clear from a few findings on the journey was that someone would be waiting for us when we reached the planet.

“Myself and others had done some investigating and found out that there were some truths being kept from all of us. In an attempt to uncover those truths, there were certain incidents.” He cleared his throat. “One of which involved Vice Minister Jim Levine taking his own life. We had something on him, which I’m not going to discuss now, and just wanted answers. Instead of helping us find those answers, he took his own life.

“Very quickly, none of that mattered, though, because we were introduced to the Fourth Fleet, Admiral Navarro and the reality that Omega was not Omega, but Andlios with human life already there. The Fourth Fleet was engaged in hostilities against the natives on Andlios, and everyone who came here with hopes for a new life, for humanity to have another chance, was seeing it go up in flames. With the help of Captain Peter O’Neil, I was sent to Andlios and reported to be dead.

“During the past two years, I have lived among the people of Andlios. I have become one of them,” he stated as he held the pulseaxe up proudly. “I am Ingen of the Krigan war tribe, and this pulseaxe signifies that I not only speak for the Krigan, but that I am their chosen leader. I’m not coming to you today as a Krigan, though, just like I’m not coming to you as an Omegan or a former member of the Ministry Military. I’m coming to you as a human being.

“You’ve been lied to for too long. You’ve been forced into a life of war and uncertainty when you were promised hope.” He motioned behind him, and O’Neil moved beside him. “Captain Peter O’Neil stands with me today before all of you because we all should stand together. What right do we have to come to this planet, to conquer this planet, to make it ours at the cost of their way of life? Those on Andlios are open to a peaceful co-existence with everyone on board the Omega as well as everyone from the Fourth Fleet.

“Andlios is not a perfect planet, and we are not the perfect inhabitants, but we have an opportunity now to start over, to do things the way that we see fit. We are here to break free from the Earth Ministry and to exercise our sovereign rights to live as free people of Andlios. You are all welcome to join us on Andlios, to live in peace and harmony together as free people!”

“Hold it.” The voice of Admiral Navarro boomed from Captain O’Neil’s office. “Terminate this transmission at once, and drop your weapons.” He was surrounded by five elite guards, all armed with rifles, all pointed at O’Neil and Freeman. His right arm, which he was clearly favoring, was heavily bandaged.

“No.” Jonah shook his head. “We refuse to.”

“Well then,” he laughed, grimacing when he went to move his arm. “I guess we’ll just have to make an example of you for all to see.”

“You could,” Jonah said, pulling his holoscanner from his pocket and holding it up. “Which could mean that this whole thing was in vain when I trigger this explosion.”

“What explosion?” he asked mockingly. “Some sort of public suicide? Very touching, but I’m not sure it will have the intended effects, my dear boy.”

“Sir,” O’Neil said as he held his hand out toward Jonah. “There are approximately four thousand nuclear missiles being prepped right now, all ready to go, pointed up here at the Omega and the Fourth Fleet, each about 300 megatons of force...”

“O’Neil!” Navarro barked, eyes wide. “Stop this madness at once! This is beyond insubordination -- this is treason! I’ll have you airlocked for this, your bloated body paraded around for all to see!”

“There won’t be much left, I suppose.”

“You are a madman,” he snarled. “You think this little stunt will solve anything? We have another two full fleets headed from Earth right now. Go on -- kill us, kill every last one of us. It will fix nothing! There will be more forces here in a matter of weeks, and Omega will be ours to do with as we please.”

“So you’d be willing to sacrifice all of their lives along with your own in the name of imperialism?” Jonah said.

“Do you know how many are on Earth waiting for us to clear the way right now? You were the landing party! My god, the ego. Humanity is still at critical mass and has a need for more planets to live on. This isn’t the only world that we’ve found, not by far, but it is the one best-suited. You wouldn’t dare destroy all of these people. These people look at you like a god, not the broken-down old cuckold that you are, O’Neil. This is about our survival, you fools!”

“I love humanity,” O’Neil said. “But if this is how we choose to survive, then humanity has no future, sir.”

“This isn’t the future that any of us wanted,” Jonah agreed. “Although Admiral, I will commend you on one thing. You are right. Blowing up these ships and making these sacrifices won’t fix the wrongs, and it won’t get us what we want. I’ve redirected all four thousand missiles to self-destruct, to destroy Andlios.”

“Jonah, no!” O’Neil turned to him, a pale white washed over his face. “They’ve done nothing to us. They don’t deserve this.”

“You have to be willing to sacrifice for great change,” Jonah continued, ignoring O’Neil. He had truly gone mad, O’Neil deduced. “I speak for the Krigans. I speak for everyone on Andlios. And we’d rather die than give our land to you. We’d rather die than know that a people so unworthy would inhabit the land that we love so much. We’d rather no one else have it.”

“You are mad!” Navarro shouted. “Stark raving mad! Who would want to get into bed with you? You are a madman? Andlios is of strategic value to all of humanity, and to destroy Andlios is to destroy the hope of --”

“Then there is no hope for humanity!” Jonah shouted, holding out his hand with the holoscanner in it, his thumb over the button.

O’Neil looked on in horror. He knew that everything would be difficult, and he knew that Navarro would personally see to the disturbance, but he never thought that Jonah would pull a play like this. Their lives were no longer in danger; now the danger was losing the entire planet and everyone on it. His mind quickly raced to Sue, remembering that she was on an expedition into the eastern mountain ranges.

There was a certain sense of peace that came over him knowing that he’d die for his cause and that she’d live on. But now that the tables were turned, he felt his stomach churn. He knew it was the right play, that Jonah calling that audible was the only move that they had left that could help them win this confrontation. They had to be willing to sacrifice everything in order to secure their own peace or else it wasn’t worth winning.

“Admiral.” O’Neil broke the tense silence. “We are ready to make this sacrifice if we need to. We are here to say that we no longer want to be associated with you or the Earth Ministry anymore. Let us live in peace, or we choose to sacrifice all of our hopes and dreams to make our point.”

“This is bullshit,” Navarro exclaimed, turning to his guards. “Just fucking shoot them before they can do anything stupid.”

The guards paused, looking to each other, and then looking at Jonah and Captain O’Neil. Jonah was hunched over, blood staining his hands and clothing. O’Neil was in his uniform, with his hands clenched behind his back, standing tall. The guard on the left of Navarro threw his gun down, cursing and walked over behind Captain O’Neil and Jonah. A second followed.

“What are you doing?” Navarro raged, looking like a madman. “Kill them, kill them now!” The other three guards followed suit before the bridge crew threw their sidearms into the pile that was accumulating at Navarro’s feet. “This is a mutiny!” he screamed out, pointing with his right arm extended only to quickly pull it back in pain.

“Sir,” O’Neil said, shaking his head. “I disagree. This is not a mutiny; this is our resignation.”

Jonah raised the pulseaxe up and pointed it at Navarro. “This is the birth of the Andlios Republic. This is beyond your control. Now touch your Transporter Module, and get off of our ship, Admiral. Run back to Earth and tell them that Andlios is a free Republic, outside of the Earth Ministry’s control.” Jonah turned back toward the floating camera. “People of Andlios, People of the Omega Destiny, I give you two options right now: Come to the planet with us, build a new world where we can live free from this tyranny, free from the Ministry’s caste system.

“I promise you this: For as long as I’m alive, Captain O’Neil and myself will do everything in our power to ensure that everyone is treated fairly on Andlios,” he said as he clutched at his side. “If you do not wish to be a part of the Andlios Republic, you have three days to gather up your belongings and transport yourself to the Fourth Fleet, where they will return you to Earth.

“For the rest, we cannot promise you that life on Andlios will be easy. It will take work, and there will be struggles, but I promise you that it will be worth it. I have smelled the air, felt the breeze, seen mountains and sunsets. Earth is a rotting husk full of sick individuals,” he said as he pointed the pulseaxe at Navarro, who was standing there, gritting his teeth, unmoving. “Sick individuals who want to control you, to take advantage of you, to --”

“I’ve had it.” Navarro raised his sidearm, his hand shaking. He raised his left hand up to steady his ailing arm. “This is...”

“I could take your head right now,” Jonah laughed. “I could take it, display it on a pike on the planet, and there would be no tears shed for you. The blade of my pulseaxe is always hungry, Admiral, but today is not about you, and it’s not about me. It’s about these people. It’s about justice. I’ve already been shot once today,” he said as he moved his hand from his wound, blood seeping out of it. “What we’ve started lives on after I die, after Captain O’Neil dies. You can’t instill revolution in people -- to give them a taste -- and expect them to go back.

“Transport ships are already ferrying people down to the planet right now,” he coughed. “Krigans, Helgeans, Omegans, all helping each other for common goals, to make Andlios thrive once again. ”He moved closer to the admiral, gun still pointed at his chest. “Admiral, I need you to take these people back, the ones who don’t want to live this life. I need you to tell them back on Earth what you saw. If you won’t do it,” he began as he pushed the point of the ax up into Navarro’s chin. “I’m sure that someone else would be willing.”

They stood in silence for a long pause, with Navarro’s gun pointed at Jonah’s chest, and Jonah’s pulseaxe pushing into his jaw. The whole world was watching their every movement, their every twitch. O’Neil stood still, showing no emotion. He knew how important it would be for Jonah to look strong here. This wasn’t O’Neil’s play. He was helping and would continue to lend his support, but this was a young man’s new world, and they needed a strong leader, someone with unwavering passion and intensity.

Jonah Freeman was a flawed individual, he knew that. The image that stood before them all was a blood-soaked man with long, wild hair, a braided beard and an axe-rifle hybrid jammed into the jaw of one of the most powerful men in the Earth Ministry armada like he was just another guard to be pushed around. Professor Cox had done a lot to help shape Freeman, but he knew that for their new Republic to work, he’d need to lend a hand for the coming years or this situation was bound to turn dark very quickly.

They had to keep him aware, grounded, but to keep up this image as a larger-than-life crusader for the people. He let out a sigh before clearing his throat. “Admiral Navarro,” he said in a loud, clear voice. “I’m relieving you of command here.”

“Sir.” A younger woman who had been working on the bridge for the past three months looked up at Captain O’Neil. “Don’t you think that he deserves to die? All of the horrors, all of the butchering that went on down on the planet... someone has to be held responsible.”

He tried to suppress his anger at the question, knowing that it was a popular belief among many. He looked at Jonah, hoping that he wouldn’t act on impulse and take his head off while they were broadcasting this whole show to everyone in the system. He knew this video would get back to the Earth Ministry and knew what the beheading of an Earth Ministry admiral would mean. There would be no peace. O’Neil wanted to cry out for Jonah to stand down, but he knew that he couldn’t make him look weak in front of everyone like that.

“No.” Jonah shook his head, lowering the ax and letting the handle slide down his hand. He turned away from Navarro, with the gun still leveled at him, and looked at the woman. “There has been enough bloodshed already. If Navarro wants to kill me, then he can kill me. Andlios is still free, and Andlios is still ours, not theirs. He knows when he’s beaten. He knows that we are willing to destroy our whole world, to sacrifice our lives, to prevent them from getting what they want.”

An uncomfortable hush grew over the room. O’Neil let himself exhale. That was what he needed to do, he thought to himself, relaxing ever so slightly. There was a chance that this all could work out after all. Jonah Freeman was a madman, but he was their madman. He was a true believer. That was all that mattered.

Navarro lowered his gun, shook his head and groaned before he tapped something into his holoscanner. “This isn’t over,” he muttered before slapping the Transporter Module on his chest. His image decomposed before their eyes.

A cheer rang out throughout the bridge of the Omega. O’Neil held his hand out to Jonah, who nodded, clearly a bit embarrassed, before taking Captain O’Neil’s hand.

“What we accomplished today,” Jonah shouted over the crowd as O’Neil motioned with his hands for everyone to quiet down. “What we accomplished today was just a first step. I understand being excited with this victory because this is a victory, but the road ahead is not an easy one. I commend each and every one of you who chooses to walk this path with us. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He reached down and grabbed his side. “I think that I need to get stitched up or something.”

The room broke out into nervous laughter before the cheers started up. O’Neil motioned for Stevens to shut down the feed, and she nodded from the console. He watched while Jonah pumped his fist into the air, pulseaxe standing tall, a symbol of hope. He let a smile escape, but felt a cold chill down his spine. Today was a day that human history would remember. He just wondered if he would be remembered as good, evil or simply foolish.

“Well done, sir.” Dumas stood next to O’Neil, watching as Jonah exited the bridge with the enthusiastic crew trailing behind him. There was an eruption of applause when they walked out into the hallway, at which both Dumas and O’Neil smiled.

“You too, Jack,” he said as he patted his friend on the shoulder. “Now we gotta keep this whole thing together and hope that we didn’t back the wrong horse here.”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Never mind,” he said, shaking his head. “Just an old Earth saying. I do believe that we saw the birth of a new legend tonight, a new emperor.”

“Emperor, sir? I thought you said it would be a republic.”

“Do you see anyone winning an election over him?”

“I guess not, sir.”



Epilogue.

Katrijn Freeman


Katrijn sat in the great hall, its high ceilings decorated with gold and the walls lined with velor. She felt empty and sullen at the head of the long table. The finality of the day was one that she would never forget, but she knew that already. She had sat by her father’s bedside, watching him lay motionless. Katrijn had wept while her younger brother Cronus stood watching intently, unmoved as he watched his father’s dying breaths.

She couldn’t shake the image, the sight of Prime Minister O’Neil teary-eyed, leaving the room before her father had passed on. Tomorrow would be the announcement, and all of Andlios would mourn the passing of Emperor Jonah “Ingen” Freeman. The ceremony would take place the next day. It was a Krigan ceremony where the body was placed in a casket inside of a canoe, lined with flowers and ornaments and pushed into the River Freeman. Cronus would most likely set the boat ablaze since he was an expert marksman with a bow. Millions would watch, and millions would mourn.

Katrijn was only 17 cycles old, but having to live the rest of her life without her father felt like the worst punishment that could have been handed down to her. Her father was only 45, and everyone had been speaking in hushed tones about what put him into the coma. His doctors had been working around the clock to find answers. She heard the great door open behind her but couldn’t push herself to turn around.

There were footsteps before she heard the familiar voice of Prime Minister O’Neil. “I understand that today was tough for you, Katrijn.” The former starship captain placed a small device on the table in front of Katrijn, placing his hand on her shoulder affectionately. “We all loved your father, Katrijn, and he loved you very dearly. He left this message for you and told me to deliver it to you upon his passing.”

He sat down at a chair on the side of the table, letting out an exhausted sigh. “To be honest, I never thought I’d be the one handing this to you; I always thought it’d be whoever got this job after me, maybe Dumas or Tyr, I don’t know.”

“What is it?” she asked, hearing her voice echo throughout the great hall.

“Katrijn, this message is intended for you alone.” He went to get up, only to have Katrijn grab onto his hand.

“I don’t care.” She looked up at the Prime Minister. “Stay.”

“Okay,” he said, sitting back down.

“Thank you,” Katrijn nodded before pressing on the base of the device.

“DNA sample a match,” said a voice that came from the device before it flickered to life, a holographic image of her father appearing before her.

“Katrijn.” By the look of it, this video was recorded recently; her father was wearing the scar on his cheek that he received from the assassination attempt two cycles prior on one of his hunting expeditions off-world. “If you are watching this, then I am sadly no longer with you. I understand that today must be tough for you, but I need you to be strong, Katrijn. I need you to be the woman that I know that you are.

“As you are well aware, I’ve been the only Emperor of the Andlios Republic when it began in Andlios Cycle 15487. There were no elections, as I would have liked, and I immediately took power after we ejected the Fourth Fleet from Andlios space and back to Earth. Prime Minister O’Neil, Professor Cox and myself had come up with this plan, knowing full well that the chaos created by our ejection of the Fourth Fleet would lead to possible civil unrest and uncertainty. The people needed not only a home but a leader. Captain O’Neil, at the time, wanted nothing to do with this role, claiming that I was better-suited for it.

“So I took it.” He let out a sigh. “I never looked back, Katrijn, which to this day I regret. The people of Andlios have loved me from that moment on; they have never questioned me or wanted anything more. I did all that I could for them and was as fair as I could be, although at times I wonder if I was as fair as I could have been. Nevertheless, I ruled as emperor since the inception of the Andlios Republic and have never discussed a succession plan.

“I love both you and your brother, but I fear that Cronus is not fit to rule the Republic. I have sensed a darkness inside of him for years now, something that scares me. I’m sure that you’ve seen it as well. Cronus has always wanted power, and he’s always wanted to be Emperor. There are those who would be happy to see him rule over Andlios. Maybe he would be a good ruler -- I’m not sure -- but what is certain is that no one man should rule over other men.

“That might sound contradictory to you, especially considering my role and how I never relented it,” he smiled warmly, shaking his head. “I’d like to consider myself a benevolent ruler, although I am a bit biased. Many would see it that way as well. I believe that you would make for a good ruler as well, that you could possibly even do a better job than I did at it. The problem is that no matter what you or I would ever intend to do, there are those who would look to oppress people, to rule with an iron fist.

“The trip on the Omega was enough to enlighten me to these truths,” he said, nodding. “As I’m sure that Prime Minister O’Neil can attest to, the political system that was in place through the Earth Ministry was oppressive, only catering to those with wealth and power, and leaving everyone else in poverty and clawing for any scraps that they could attain. Prime Minister O’Neil was always a proponent for a democracy, a topic that we discussed many nights over the years.

“He’ll be happy to know that I agree with him. I’m sorry to do this to you, Katrijn, but I leave you as my successor. You will serve as Emperor of Andlios. All that I ask of you is that you make one decree, only one: to hold elections and to turn Andlios into a democracy. Maybe I’m a fool, but I believe in people; I believe that at their core they are good, and if left to their own devices, they will try to help each other.

“Do not let greed overcome our republic. Even if it doesn’t happen for a hundred or even a thousand years, corruption will come to Andlios, and I fear that if you don’t do this now, Andlios will eventually converge with the Earth Ministry, echoing the very thing that we fought to break free from. I can’t let that happen, Katrijn. You can’t let that happen. I believe in you, my daughter. I love you. Tell Prime Minister O’Neil the contents of this message -- if he isn’t sitting there with you already -- and he’ll help you with it all. Goodbye.”

The image of her father disappeared, leaving Katrijn in the empty hall with Prime Minister O’Neil sitting by her side. She stared off at the ceiling, focusing on the midday light streaming through the windows. It was all almost too much to process. O’Neil picked up the device and slid it into his jacket pocket, remaining silent as Katrijn processed it.

She looked up at the former starship captain with a grim look on her face and shook her head. “What if it’s too late?”


Copyright


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


TERMINUS CYCLE


All rights reserved.


Copyright © 2015 by Dave Walsh.

Cover illustration by Jennifer Blake

Edited by Elizabeth DeGregorio


This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.


First ebook edition: March, 2015.

Printed in the United States of America


First Edition: March, 2015


Find out more about the author and his upcoming books at http://www.dvewlsh.com or @dvewlsh.



Table of Contents

Cover

Dedication

001. Objects in Space - Jonah

002. Search and Seizure - Captain O’Neil

003. The Unlikely Cosmonaut - Jonah

004. Control - Captain O’Neil

005. The Martian Monolith - Jonah Freeman

006. Transmission - Captain O’Neil

007. Ease of Use - Jonah Freeman

008. Love and Politics - Captain O’Neil

009. The Spy Who Loved Me - Jonah Freeman

010. The Sequence - Captain O’Neil

011. The Perfect Hand - Jonah Freeman

012. The Fourth Fleet - Captain O’Neil

013. Rebellion - Ingen the Krigan Warrior

014. The Tropes of War - Captain O’Neil

015. The Runner - Ingen the Krigan Warrior

016. Politics - Captain O’Neil

017. Exsanguination - Ingen the Krigan Warrior

018. The Summit - Captain O’Neil

019. The Best-Laid Plans - Ingen the Krigan Warrior

020. Omens and Portents - Captain O’Neil

Epilogue. - Katrijn Freeman

Copyright

Table of Contents




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