Byzantium – Imperial HQ
Fleet Admiral Howard Quincy Butner’s office
“This development is a threat to the very fabric of our society,” the High Counselor said gravely.
“Yes, three hundred years of stability are at risk of being blown away in the storm,” the Pontiff agreed.
“Well Gentlemen, I know this criminal activity is disturbing, but I don’t know if it is that serious,” Admiral Butner remarked skeptically.
“Criminal activity?” the Templar leader replied in evident confusion. “What are you talking about Admiral?”
“Aren’t you here in reference to the drugs and euthanasia scandal on Sparta?”
“Oh that,” the High Counselor replied dismissively. “No, we assume you will deal with that. It is a simple criminal issue.”
“Oh, I see it’s the aliens…”
“Aliens? Aliens?” the Patriarch exclaimed. “What are you talking about, Admiral?”
Admiral Butner stared at the two men as if he didn’t recognize them for a moment. Then he shook his head as if to clear cobwebs.
“Perhaps you gentlemen need to tell me what you think this meeting is about…”
“It’s that damned captain of yours, Admiral. If he publishes his grandfather’s research the entire structure will collapse,” the high counselor replied earnestly. When the admiral’s expression indicated that he still didn’t get it, the knight continued waving his hands animatedly. “The antimatter formula, man; doesn’t the council tell you anything?”
When it became apparent the admiral was still clueless, the patriarch spoke up in a calm voice as if he were conducting a Sunday school class.
“It’s Captain Sinclair, Admiral. He is back on Sparta digging into things that need to be left alone. We have had an agreement with his family for three generations. He is a bull in a china shop and needs to be corralled.”
Both men looked at the admiral in amazement when it became apparent he was still in the dark. They looked at each other and the Templar exclaimed in disgust.
“That damned council; they have never brought the Navy on board. What a bunch of doddering old fools!”
“Perhaps the board…”
“No! If the board knew they certainly would have brought their fleet admiral up to speed. This is just unacceptable!”
“Gentlemen please!” the admiral exclaimed. “I am still here in the room.”
The two robed gentlemen regarded each other for a long moment in silence, then the patriarch murmured, “I don’t know, the council should…”
“No damn it, the Navy has to be on board!” the high counselor interrupted him as if coming to a difficult decision. “They have to deal with it, no one else can!” With this, he turned to the admiral.
“Captain Sinclair’s grandfather developed a method of creating and controlling anti-matter on a commercial level. The ruling council and the six families have been quashing this information for three generations.”
“Why would they…?” the admiral started skeptically but the supreme knight cut him off.
“Look, Admiral, you have to understand. Human beings had just become too productive. With the technology the human race developed to bridge space and populate the stars, came the ability to produce material goods at a prodigious rate. Robotic manufacturing coupled with artificial intelligence threatened to make productive human activity superfluous and unnecessary. Something had to be done.”
“I still don’t see…”
“Human beings need to be productive, they need to work and feel they are accomplishing something with their lives. Earth had become a powder keg. There was a population of billions, but a few hundred thousand workers could produce enough food and material goods to support the entire population. What do you do with all of those superfluous people? How is the distribution of the products made by the tiny minority determined? Who gets what? There were no easy answers.”
“We were not taught…”
“Six families came to control most of the wealth of the entire earth. When it became possible to bridge the gap between the stars, this oligarchy picked up and left to start a new life and a new system. What they designed and put in place is the Empire we live in today. It is carefully controlled and runs on a knife edge of viability. Innovation is discouraged because change is an anathema. The slightest deviation from the planned economy could bring the entire structure down.”
“But anti-matter is the Holy Grail…”
“No Admiral, anti-matter is a bomb that blows everything up. The fusion powered economy we have still requires raw materials to build everything needed to maintain our lifestyles. Ores have to be mined, food has to be grown. This provides employment for millions of our citizens. Practical commercial exploitation of anti-matter technology changes all of that.”
“I don’t see…”
“Once we control matter at the quantum level, everything can be made from the simplest elements. One can imagine an orbiting robotic factory that pumps hydrogen in one in end and fully equipped starships come out the other.”
“Hmmm, I see.”
“No I doubt you do,” the patriarch murmured. “This is too much to be absorbed in a couple of minutes. The council, in its desire to keep the Navy pure and untouched, has left your organization terribly naive.”
Both robed gentlemen stood as if ready to go. The chief counselor had one parting statement.
“The Order will provide you with investigators to delve into the drugs and euthanasia issue. It must be stopped as well, but Admiral; the anti-matter process must not see the light of day. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Honor, I get it.”
“Thank you for your time Admiral, we must be on our way.” With this, the high counselor started to rise, but the Pontiff raised his left hand, signaling he had a further point he wanted to address.
“This may not be the proper forum, Your Honor, but since I so seldom have the opportunity to talk to you directly, could you spare me a further moment?”
“Certainly Father, what is on your mind,” the Chief Knight settled back into his chair.
“Your ‘tight money’ policy…” The pontiff started, but the Templar leader cut him off, rising immediately to his feet.
“You are correct, Father, this is not the correct forum for that discussion. We are aware that the growth of some industries has been inhibited for lack of capital, but the stability of the currency is our prime concern and responsibility. For three hundred years we have kept inflation to less than a quarter of a percent per annum. Our policy on that will not change.”
The pontiff nodded his acceptance of the Templar’s explanation and rose to leave as well. With no further ceremony both esteemed gentlemen turned and exited the fleet admiral’s office, leaving the stunned and suddenly wiser chief executive officer of the Navy with an entirely new problem.
The admiral had stood when the two other men had risen to leave. He continued to stand there looking at the door where they had exited for a long moment as if undecided what to do next. Finally, he sub-vocalized to his communicator.
“I need to see my chief of staff immediately.”
He walked back around his desk and collapsed into the chair behind it. He sat staring into space until Admiral Benson came through the door.
“Greg, I need to get Captain Walter Sinclair in this office and in front of my desk. I don’t care where he is or what he is doing. I need him in here, yesterday if possible!”
“Aye Sir,” the two-star replied and spun on his heel to obey. He was back ten minutes later.
“Admiral, Captain Sinclair departed Sparta two days ago in command of HMS Hadrian. No one knows where he went or what his mission was. He has disappeared from the cosmos.”
“Great! Just great!” Admiral Butner mumbled to himself. “What else can go wrong today?” He caught himself thinking and immediately castigated himself for the thought. It wasn’t a good thing to go looking for trouble. Enough of it seemed to find its way to his desk as it was.
Bridge of Isla Marin
“Walter, I’m speechless. I couldn’t even imagine a ship like this.” the commodore told me. “I had no idea the Navy…”
“The Navy had nothing to do with it. This is my ship. It is my own personal property.”
“You actually own this vessel?!! How is that even possible?”
“It’s my inheritance passed down from my great-grandfather.”
“That explains precisely nothing. It would take the entire wealth of a whole planet for ten years to build something like this, and even then…” We had just come onto the bridge from a short tour of Isla Marin. The size of the vessel was still difficult for the commodore to get his head around. It had a hangar bay that housed two transport ships each as large as a corvette. It wasn’t just massive; it was mind-boggling immense, like a small moon.
“How many crew members does it take to man this monstrosity?”
“Just me, I’m the only human on board. The entire rest of the crew is android.”
“Hmm, I see,” the commodore mumbled. We were standing in front of the elevator looking across the bridge whose stations were manned by six Anastazi droids. The mechanical beings ignored us as if we weren’t really present.
“Let’s go into the conference room, Commodore. I want to see the after-action report of the battle,” I suggested to my commanding officer.
We walked across the bridge up to a carved wooden door that slid open revealing a medium sized conference room. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeated the space. The lady who was setting a carafe and cups on the table was one of the most beautiful the commodore had ever seen. He gasped for air when he came to the table and discovered he had stopped breathing when he saw her.
“Commodore, this is Lyna. She is my assistant. Lyna, Commodore Carlisle.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Commodore, Walter has spoken highly of you.”
“I think you are the most beautiful…” Nathan blurted out, then blushed and stammered. “I’m sorry; did I say that out loud?”
“Don’t worry, Commodore. Lyna has that effect on most men she meets,” I told him with a chuckle. “If you will place your omni on the table the ship’s AI will download the report.”
Nathan stepped to the table to comply with my wishes and helped himself to one of the cups of coffee. Lyna stepped out of the room. The commodore looked at the door where she had disappeared over the top of his cup.
“I think this is the best coffee, I ever…” he started but then seemed to have another thought mid-sentence. “Say, are you and Lyna…?” He stopped dead as if struggling to find a word.
“Intimate?” I suggested.
“Yes, are you two intimate?”
“No Sir, Lyna is an android.”
“Well, I’ll be damned… Is she…?”
“Fully functional I am told, but have no firsthand knowledge.”
“Hmmm, that would be weird…” he murmured but gave no other clue to what was actually on his mind. I thought I had a pretty good idea.
As we were chatting about Lyna, the outside wall had morphed into a three-dimensional display of surrounding space from a few hours prior. The report picked up where the fleet had dropped their graviton cloaking and started the engagement. It was a comprehensive report compiled from every surviving ship’s records as well as the willies. Neither man commented until it had run its course.
“Commodore your employing the willies was brilliant. They absorbed the majority of the enemy fleet’s fire. If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t think we would have arrived in time to have made any difference.”
“I wish I could take credit, but it was my COB’s idea.”
“I’m not surprised; the warrant officers love their willies.”
“I know, that is strange isn’t it,” the commodore agreed.
“I think it must have been a warrant that developed the AI’s initial code. He had a warped sense of humor,” I opined then went on. “You’re now historically relevant. Do you realize the significance of this after action report? It will be taught at the academy from now on. You might even get a statue and a building named after you at Annapolis.” Where the name of the institute originated was a fact which had been lost to history.
“No, I think you will be the…”
“You’re wrong. Any record of Isla Marin’s involvement must be pared from the report. Hadrian’s last minute entry into the fight can be included, but Isla Marin must not be mentioned.”
“Hmm,” the commodore muttered. “What was that weapon you used on the mothership?”
“It was a radiation pulsar,” I told him. “It’s like a neutron bomb. It cooked the occupants with gamma rays like they had spent an hour in a microwave oven.”
“Didn’t you send in a boarding party?”
“I did. I was curious about how the aliens kept the lenses open without our capacitance rings.”
“What did you discover?”
“I was surprised, to say the least. The aliens don’t use the lenses. They evidently never discovered them. They just use a generation ship and cross space in real time.”
“Wow! That puts them at a significant disadvantage.”
“Yes, it diminishes any threat they pose to the Empire at large. Any colonies they start will be standalone entities. They will be cut off from the system from which they originated by hundreds of years of real time.”
“Speaking of that,” Nathan remarked, evidently reminded of another question. “How did you get to us so quickly? We must have been separated by years of real time, but you showed up within days of our departure.”
“The technology Isla Marin uses to transition the lenses utilizes anti-matter levels of power and dives deeper into the lenses to the point where both space and time are penetrated. She comes through almost immediately after she enters the lens. There is no dilation factor. It’s the same effect you experienced jumping in the proximity to a blue hypergiant.”
“This is culture-changing technology! Can you imagine? The tour ships could start up again, the entire Empire would be accessible in the same day!” Nathan got more excited as the possibilities began to open in front of him.
“I’m sorry, Sir. It’s not going to happen.”
“What do you…?” Nathan asked with disappointment in his voice.
“I’m resigning my commission; I’m leaving and taking Isla Marin with me. Mankind will have to develop the technology on your own. Since you’re aware of its possibility, it won’t take you long, but you will have to do it.”
“Just like that, you’re resigning?”
“Look, Nathan,” I said using the familiar form of address. I had already left the Navy in my mind. “For twenty-five years as I served in the fleet I had this idea of my home on Sparta. It was a perfect world, beautiful and pristine. I’ve discovered the beauty covers an ugly evil reality and I’m done with it. I’m done with the Navy and I’m leaving…”
My little spiel was interrupted by the elevator door opening. Sophia walked onto the bridge. She was dressed in a Navy issue unisex jumpsuit and she had cut her hair to regulation length. She looked like a standard issue midshipman.
“I thought you said you were alone,” the commodore chided me.
“I said I was the only human crew. This is Sophia, she is a passenger. Sophia, this is my commanding officer, Commodore Nathan Carlisle.
“Good afternoon Sir, I’m honored to meet you,” Sophia replied earnestly, bowing with her hands fluttering at her sides as if she was unsure what to do with them.
“Nathan, I gave Sophia all of the entrance exams to the Academy. She passed them all. The Sinclairs are due a slot in the next class, I want you to take her with you and see that she gets a seat in that class.”
“How old are you, Sophia?”
“I’m seventeen, Sir.”
The commodore looked at her for a long moment, and then spoke as if he had made a decision.
“Walter, she is a bit young. How about this, I’ll take her with me, put her on my ship as a senior midshipman and work her into a class with others of her same age?”
“No Sir!” Sophia exclaimed. “I’m going with you! You told me you would take me with you!”
“I kept my promise; I took you out of the Sparta environment where you were stuck. I’m offering you a ticket to a new life. You cannot go where I am going.”
“No Sophia, it is settled. You’re going with the Commodore.” Seeing her dejection almost broke my heart, I had a long moment of struggle to yield and just let her tag along, but in the end, I knew this was best.
“Where are you going?” the commodore asked me.
“I’m off to see the wizard.”