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R. G. Currell

THE EBONY AND IVORY: First Mission,

A Novel

1998, Science Fiction Theater, R. G. Currell

IN THE OUTER RIM,

TERRAN SOLAR SYSTEM.

NEW CALENDER YEAR, November, 2187 A.A.

Rated "R": Language Alert.

Chapter Bookmarks

Prologue Chapter 6 Chapter 12 Chapter 18 Chapter 24 Chapter 30
Chapter 1 Chapter 7 Chapter 13 Chapter 19 Chapter 25 Chapter 31
Chapter 2 Chapter 8 Chapter 14 Chapter 20 Chapter 26 Chapter 32
Chapter 3 Chapter 9 Chapter 15 Chapter 21 Chapter 27 Chapter 33
Chapter 4 Chapter 10 Chapter 16 Chapter 22 Chapter 28 Chapter 34
Chapter 5 Chapter 11 Chapter 17 Chapter 23 Chapter 29 Bookmarks

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43,000 Words

PROLOGUE

     Somewhere beyond the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System in Interstellar Space, a small cube of unfolding energy was accelerating, powered by only its anti-gravity waves. As it pushed itself away from the nearest star, it opened like a bud to flower. It shimmered with particles of light barely detectable to the eye. It expanded beyond its own dimensions, like a canal giving birth from a womb beyond. A sharp point protruded through, like something out of nothing. The empty wall of Space was crackling from its birth pangs, as the gray wedge grew areo-shaped and lightning-rodded. Finally it was through. From the colorless gray of relativity it took on a bodily form, as it shifted into Newtonian-Quantum Space. Running lights came on the gray hull. They illuminated the Empire's Crown. The ship was a Heavy Cruiser and the name on its hull was Hell.

     The flat, wedged Heavy Cruiser rolled, then it stabilized with maneuvering thrusters. He came to an absolute bearing, aligned with the Galactic core. Plates on the hull slid open, above and below, astern. From each a sensor array dish slid out and then they started to turn. The ship heaved to, and he went to station keeping, as it made its scan.

     "We are through the rift, Captain," reported the Duty Officer on the Bridge. His eyes never left the console, which showed the status of all of the watch stations. His pink hands touched the pressure pads that stabilized the ship's roll. "Coming around to absolute bearing, just as you ordered, Sir."

     The Captain turned in the Command Chair and slowly looked around. There wasn't a station he didn't know, nothing he couldn't read or operate. "Heave to. Come to Station Keeping. I want an orientation scan."

     The Systems Officer, ahead and to the left of the Captain, was already in motion. "Activating the Mapping Sensor Array, Captain. Scan beginning -- now. Orientation Scan will be complete in four revolutions. Systems Officer, standing by."

     While waiting, the Captain swivelled in his chair and checked out the Bridge again. He especially noted the alertness of his four personal armed guards. They were in the standard beige uniform, with their red security sashes on. They were all four standing at attention, as bright as their polished belts and boots. Their Personnel Lasers were at the ready and they were darting their eyes about the room. 'A Captain can never be too careful,' he thought. Then his face took on a sinister grin. This was not like the old days, when battles on the Bridge tore up the place. Even if Personnel Lasers missed flesh, they would never damage the ship.

     "The Orientation Scan is complete, now, Captain," the Integrated Systems Officer reported. "Awaiting data correlation. Standing by for further orders, Sir."

     Captain Krom stood from his padded back Command Chair and took a heavy breath. He hated waiting. But then, he'd waited for two long planetary revolutions while tests were conducted to insure they would be able to survive the transition through the rift. It had been a simple task and he had told the High Command as much. But the confirmation had been hard. The everything-beige Bridge around him was waiting to hear his next orders. But he needed this information before he could give those orders.

     "Data correlation complete -- now, Sir."

     So, the Captain turned, grimaced, and said, "On Screen. Galactic View. Augmented." And it was instantly so.

     An edge-on view of the galaxy appeared. It was the side of the Galaxy they'd never seen before. The Galactic Core had always obscured the far end. A vertical line moved across the Main Screen from right to left. As it moved, it erased the old view and left in its place the new. Narrow lines made a Galactic Outline, but it could have been a from-anywhere view. The Captain thought back to another time when he'd seen a simulation of this side of the Galaxy and he pretty well remembered the sequence that had turned the general into the specific. He speculated that if he followed that sequence correctly, he would be able to determine the location of their intended destination. "Klem," he said to the Systems Officer who was overseeing the scan. "Augment: Globular Clusters. Thirty degree orientation view of the north."

     "Augmenting now, Captain. Globular clusters. Thirty degree orientation, north." The man entered a string of commands into the computer. And the Captain waited. "Coming up now, Captain."

     The Transition Line moved across the Screen and left only the Globular Clusters of the Galaxy, which are also called Galactic Clusters as most of them are found within the Galactic Plane. The Orientation Command was given and the Milky Way Galaxy rotated thirty degrees and showed a perfectly symmetrical spiral structure. Just to the north of the Galaxy was a lone Globular Cluster and an orbit line showed that it orbited through. "That lone cluster is our navigational reference," the Captain remarked. "Plot a line from Adlog to it."

     "Plotting now, Sir." Officer Klem entered the commands and a red line shot up from a star on the far side of the Galaxy and intersected with the target. "Standing by, Captain."

     "I want an area plotted thirty to fifty degrees Mark ten to thirty degrees. That will be our search area." The Captain put his pink hands on his hips and waited impatiently.

     The Transition Line again moved across the screen and left four red plot lines moving down into one of the Galactic Arms. "Augment three dimensions."

     Again the Transition Lines changed the plotting lines and outlined a three dimensional area. "Enlarge only the area within the Galactic Arm. Augment for Dark Matter, with Planetary Orbits."

     When the Transition Line had moved across the Screen again, it showed the enlarged area with two star systems, each having tiny rings around it. "Augment full-Screen enlargement.."

     The sound of his last order was getting higher pitched, like excitement.

     Finally, two Solar Systems were clearly defined. One system had seven definite planets with a hydrogen ring in the fifth orbit. The other showed a nine planet configuration with an asteroid belt in the fifth orbit.

     "There it is." The Captain pointed out the Terran Solar System. "New worlds to conquer. Old scores to settle."

     He laughed. The Captain of Hell laughed. "Plot a course for the outermost planet. Bring us in on the system plane. We want a complete reconnaissance, before alerting them to our presence. Let's see what we're getting."

Back to: Chapter Bookmarks

 

Chapter 1

EARTH ORBIT.

FIRST WORLD SPACE DOCK

NEW CALENDER YEAR

December, 2187 A.A.

     FIRST WORLD SPACE DOCK moved silently along it smooth orbit high above the blue planet Earth. To date, it was the singularly most ambitious project ever undertaken by the League of Nations, the pentagon of the elite world powers. A paradise of cooperation it was not. It was still divided into its original five Temporary Zones. Moving between them was now harder than crossing national boundary lines below. First World Space Dock was built to foster trust like parentage, but instead, its close quarters merely relighted the smouldering embers of the old wounds of the previous century. So, under the facade of an open, free exchange, information highway, lay its vaults that were locked more securely than any the ancient cold wars had ever owned. It was designed to symbolize the guiding star. But it passed overhead like a mace.

     First World Space Dock did look like a mace, once the initial Christmas-tree-ornament impression wore off. It looked like a giant, chrome globe, with spikes uniplasted on its skin for structural strength and physical access. Round Construction Spheres that opened like deserted observation domes used to crowned them, where ships were built. And High Tension security fields glowed like neon signs that read, "Keep away." Many secret stories were born and raised here. Some were in their birth canal even now.

     So, First World Space Dock moved silently along its smooth orbit high above the blue-jacket planet Earth.

     Somewhere deep in the heart of the American Sector, where the United States and Canada shared quarters amiably across from their allied England, Captain Belinda Ivory sat silently in her office, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the last of the Personnel files of her new crew. She glanced up at the chronometer and decided she had just enough time to review one more before she had to leave for the Ebony, the Exploratory, Ambassador Starship. It had been a long two years. The original Ebony had been scrapped, due to the new Technology Revolutions. The new Ebony had been built in record time, a crew had been picked and trained, and the Command Crew and new Ambassador was now ready. There was to be one final briefing this morning before they secured moorings and cleared Space Dock, to begin the First Mission of Exploration and First Contact with other worlds that had been far beyond the reach of Earth before the Ebony.

     Captain Ivory shook her gray powdered hair and called up the next file and started to read it, through her tired eyes. "Sterling, Patrick Henry, Chief surgeon. Graduate: Harvard Medical School with honors. Graduate: Medical Academy with meritorious citation ...."

     "Captain Ivory," a voice startled her from the intercom. The husky voice of her secretary invaded her thoughts.

     "Yes, Lieutenant?"

     "Captain Ivory to see you."

     At first, she was tempted to ask what the hell for. But she didn't. Next, she was tempted to ask if the Captain had an appointment. But he was a senior Captain, so she didn't do that, either. So, after a noticeable pause, she said, "Send the Captain in. But tell him I have a briefing, so it can be for a few moments and no more."

 

     Captain Peter Ivory came swaggering in -- in the way that had always irritated her. A tinge of gray touched his temples softly and the smile he wore was the one Belinda had come to despise over the years. "Good morning, Captain Ivory," he said in that silky voice of his that made Belinda realize how good it was just to be divorced from the man.

     "I thought you had died and had gone to -- heaven," she said. "You look four years older."

     He smiled then retorted. "You always were vain."

     "I can give you two minutes, Captain Ivory. Don't waste them." Having said that, she turned off her computer. She wouldn't be using it any more. "What do you want?"

     "The Ebony."

     "No. You can't have her. She's mine. Seriously, now. What do you want?"

     "I'm the Commander-in-chief of Uranus," he said.

     "Surely not of mine."

     "Cute, Captain Ivory. But seriously, we have been getting a lot of anomalous readings out in the Outer Rim. Ghost Images or something. We need a ship with greater capabilities to investigate further. That means the Ebony." Peter Ivory sat casually on the corner of her desk and looked down on her.

     "I'll make a note of it. In fact, that will be a good exercise for us on out shake-down cruise. So, that'll be my first order of business. Does that satisfy you, Captain Ivory?"

     "No. Negative, Captain." He laid a sheet of paper down on her desk. "Here are orders I've just delivered to the Port Master." He leaned further over and took out another paper and slapped it down in front of her. "Those orders forbid the Ebony from leaving port without me aboard. And this is a Writ of Possession. In short, Captain Ivory, the Ebony is my possession."

     Captain Belinda Ivory was furious, as she walked along the light green corridor of the Docking Strut that led out to the Construction Pod, where the Ebony was moored by the restraining beams. The smell of new paint hung in the air like an irritation. She now had enough of that. Before boarding the shuttle that would take her over to the Starship, Captain Ivory stepped up to the observation window and looked out across at the ship. And she fell in love all over again. The Ebony hung there motionless, like an old tall ship, sails furled, and riding at its anchor. Belinda took in a heavy breath and moaned how awesomely beautiful she was.

     The Ebony had a chamfered square end marked by the barely visible lines of the docking bay doors. Graceful lines fanned out until wide, thin wings were formed that tapered forward into a smooth point. Inverted arches reached up from the stern and touched, forming a triangle above and below the rear square, then they tapered forward to the forward point, too. She was wedged in two dimensions and capable of atmospheric flight. She was ebony in color, as dark as Space, rough-surfaced and designed to be non-reflective and scan-resistant. Captain Ivory regarded her as a dark angel with a soul of light. And Belinda Ivory loved her all over again. Flattish and double-wedged, she was the Ebony. Captain Ivory stomped her foot and promised herself that no one was ever going to take the Ebony from her. There had to be a way. She would find a way. Or she would make a way. She boarded the shuttle and was taken over and then delivered into the bosom of her dark angel.

     Captain Ivory stepped out of the airlock into the shrill whistle of a traditional Boatswain's Pipe. She walked between two rows of side boys, who all honored her with a salute. But Belinda Ivory didn't feel like being honored just now. The silky sheen of her gold uniform jacket glistened, as she returned an empty salute and walked hurriedly through the unfurnished, beige reception area. She was late for the final briefing now. She stepped into the elevator and commanded the computer, "Bridge."

     When the door opened and Captain Ivory stepped onto the Bridge, she could hear the voice of Admiral Holmes, who was the man scheduled to give the final briefing. He wasn't one of the regular instructors, but he was one of the Line Officers who had commanded just about every kind of ship the small fleet boasted. He stopped in mid sentence and looked up. "Well, fashionably late, aren't we, Captain?" He crossed his arms about the same time as he crossed his face.

     Captain Ivory cleared her embarrassed throat and glanced at him, unable to keep her eyes off the computer-generated view of the Ebony on the Main Viewer. "I'm sorry, Admiral. I have just come from an unscheduled and unavoidable meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of the Outer Rim."

     The Admiral was studying her face and the agitated way she was speaking and asked, "Is all well with the Mission, Captain?"

     "I have every hope that it will be, Admiral," she answered, as she looked down at the Writ of Possession in her hand.

     It was sheerly by habit that she scrutinized the Bridge, as she began to make her way over to the Command Chair. Captain Belinda Ivory had been on this very Bridge before, as well as the Training Simulator two decks down, and she was still not used to its vast size and complexity. Yet, she had her doubts whether or not she would ever become accustomed to its utter simplicity. Complexity was merged with simplicity here. The Main Viewer that showed the image of the Ebony measured a full eight feet tall and twelve feet wide. To either side of it stood a smaller viewer coming back at a forty-five degree angle and measuring four feet in width each. A station faced both the secondary screens. The Science Station was the one on the right, where Commander Richard Dysart presently stood and the Weapons / Security Station was on the one on the left, manned by Ensign Ben Reynolds, who had served often as Duty Officer on Captain Ivory's last Command. Between them were the Navigation Station on the right, manned by Ensign Mark Coleman and the Helm Station to its immediate left, where Ensign Greg Brown was sitting. To the left of Weapons / Security and against the wall was the Communications Station occupied by Lieutenant Junior Grade Thelma Jones who was in the line-of-sight with the Center Seat, as her chair faced the Captain and not the Forward Screen. A little forward but between Communications and the Command seat sat the Duty Officer Station manned by Lieutenant Jennifer Bova, the Ebony's Third Officer. And finally to the immediate right of the Command seat was the Operations Station, where the First Officer Charles Waverly was on duty. The Operations Station and the Science Station were positioned so that the Captain in the Command Chair could see and address both her First and Second Officers at the same time.

     There were two patches in the carpet to either side and just behind the Center Seat, where Observation chairs could be brought up out of the deck by a simple voice command. The Command Chair was on a small riser with a laser control that interacted with the main viewer and a small computer terminal immediately to her right on a diagonal with a reader module slot in the front.

     "I hope that everything does work out," the Admiral was saying, as the Captain took her seat and slipped the sheet of paper she was holding into the scanner.

     "Thank you, Admiral," she answered, as she transferred a copy to her First and Second Officers with a large question mark off to the side.

     "Now that we're all settled in, I was just about to explain how many of technical advances that are incorporated into the Ebony work together and make her our greatest achievement."

     The Admiral walked closer to the image on the Main Viewer and regarded the ship almost affectionately, certainly admiringly. "The Ebony is a product of a hundred major advances and dozens of Revolutions. Knowledge Revolutions. The event of the Ebony is a turning point in our history. We can never look at the Universe in the same way again. She was built to be an explorer, to take you farther than your dreams. She's designed to be a First Contact Vessel. That's why you'll be carrying a First Contact Ambassador with you. And we'll be hearing from her a little later on. The Ebony is equipped with more complex Communications equipment, FTL-COMM: faster-than-light Communications. She's built with a new generation of Universal Translators, to establish meaningful First Contacts for the purpose of entering into immediate Diplomatic Dialogue. She's built with new physics engineering, to get you farther, faster, safer. She's built with an entirely new generation of medicine to keep you healthy on your journey and to re-make you when you're not. With the new medical transformation-technologies, if you are critically injured you can be transformed into energy equivalents and reconstituted through the use of data bases. And she's built with new generation defences for when you need them and with devastating offensive energy weapons if you require them. And she's built with Personnel Quick Retrieval Systems, if you're in trouble off-ship. The Ebony is built to be one tough son-of-a-bitch. Computer," the Admiral ordered, "display hull views."

     A barely perceptible line ran across the Main Screen from right to left and reorganized the Screen, leaving a new image in place of the old. The Admiral in Senior Officer Whites pointed at it and then turned to address the eight-member Command Crew. "The hull is the main structural defence between us and the cold heart of Space. Between us and harm's way. This hull in particular is unique. This is the only single-shell hull in the world. There are no weak joints, here." The Admiral smiled, as they all moved noticeably in their seats. He had finally the reaction from them he'd wanted all along. Then, he went on. "Oh, the hull is not a single casting. But due to a major breakthrough in manufacturing processing, we are able to super compress our hardest metals so that feet-thick becomes inches-thick. We can fashion the sheets into precise forms and then super compress them together until they are chemically cohesive: a single piece, both physically and chemically."

     Captain Belinda Ivory turned and looked over to the Duty Officer's Station, where Lieutenant Jennifer Bova was sitting. When the little woman in her long, braided hair looked back, Captain Ivory smiled and winked a secret eye. Bova smiled back, then turned back to the Admiral while thinking this was hardly the same Officer she'd met two years earlier. At least she didn't act like the same Officer.

     The Admiral was talking again. He wrinkled his face as he watched the two Commanders at the Science Station and the Operations Station entering inquiries into their computers. At first he tried to ignore it. "The super compression of the metals of the hull not only creates a hull hundreds of times stronger and a thousand times more resilient to structural damage, but it also provides us with a density that Penetration Scans cannot break through. It also creates a strong property of super conductivity. The first thing this means to us in terms of ship defence is that it can be rammed by another ship without sustaining a hull breach. The second thing it means is that it can be struck by any known energy weapon without sustaining any damage at all. The super conductivity spreads heat and energy so instantly that it is dissipated over the whole mass of the hull at the same time. What that means to us is that it would require sufficient energy to damage the whole hull in order to damage any small part of it." The Admiral especially enjoyed the awe he was seeing cross the faces like a wind crossing a wheat field.

     Lieutenant JG Thelma Jones spoke up from the Communications Station at this pause. "I'd still feel a lot better with shields, Admiral."

     "Ah yes. Good point, Lieutenant. Shields. Well, shields we have. The new generation shield generators are just one more of the many by-products of our recent Physics Revolution. None of our power generators or energy transmittals are using moving parts anymore. Nothing strains. Nothing overheats. Nothing wears down. It's all energy transference now. Very efficient. Very reliable. And this new generation of shield generators dissipates a hundred times the energy for ten times the duration than anything we've seen before. No energy weapon we know of can penetrate them."

     The Ensign who was sitting almost at the Admiral's feet was fidgeting and the look on his face was telling. So the Admiral called on him. "Ensign, you appear to be a man with a question. Now I know this is the only class we've had together, but I'm always open for questions and comments. You may indulge yourself."

     "Well, Sir," Ensign Coleman said from the Navigation Station, "if our shields are so impenetrable, then how can we shoot out through them?"

     "Now, that was an intelligent question, Ensign." The Admiral rubbed his chin and began to pace in front of the Main Viewer. "As each weapon is fired from the Weapons / Security Station, a Polarized Relativity Wave is fired with it. So, energy can be transferred through the shield in one direction -- out. But never inward."

     The Helmsman, Greg Brown, spoke up. "Exactly what do you mean by a Polarized Relativity Wave, Admiral?" Brown then leaned back and put a finger to the corner of his mouth.

     "Your Science Officer probably knows more about Relativity Waves than I. It was recently invented here at First World Space Dock in conjunction with the Ebony Project by Doctor Richard Dysart. I don't know how it works, but I can tell you a little bit about what it does. Polarized Relativity Waves create a hole in something, relatively speaking. Something like that." The Admiral now glanced over toward the Science Station, where the Science Officer was entering a string of inquiries into his computer. "Excuse me, Commander," the Admiral said to him.

     The Science Officer looked up. "Yes, Admiral?"

     "Unless you are Doctor Dysart, Commander, perhaps you should at least listen in on our discussion about Relativity Physics." Plainly the Admiral was slightly perturbed, judging from his sarcasm.

     "I am."

     "You are paying attention? Come now, Commander."

     "Negative, Admiral. I am Doctor Dysart."

     "Oh."

     "And Admiral, just for your information, I did not invent Relativity Physics. Relativity Physics is simply a series of observations which describe what the Ebony does."

     "Well. Thank you, Commander. What a pleasant surprise." The Admiral rubbed his hand together, as his face broke into a smile. "This is an unexpected opportunity, then. Perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten us as to some of the essentials of Relativity Physics. Something we can all understand."

     Commander Dysart secretly would rather not. He had other matters calling on his time. Nevertheless, an Admiral's request was still an Admiral's request. "I would be delighted, Admiral." Commander Dysart crossed the front of the Main Viewer and considered the problem of describing a whole new science to those not truly initiated in the old. 'This should be interesting,' he thought.

     He stood at center screen. "As with all new sciences," he began, "Relativity Physics has acquired more criticism than following. To put it fairly, it has acquired one follower. Only one. Relativity Physics is hotly contested. Obviously, all of the heavy-weights are in the corners of established science. In one corner are the Newtonian Physicists. In another corner are the Quantum Physicists. And in a third corner, I stand alone as the Relativity Physicist.

     "Listen carefully, now," he said. "Newtonian and Quantum Physics are really together. I regard them as a single Newtonian-Quantum Physics. Together, they are contrasted against Relativity Physics. Now, the difference between the two opponents is that in both Newtonian and Quantum Physics solid things are absolute, whether or not they are random, whether or not they are mostly space. And no, things really aren't about to evaporate in Quantum Physics. But in Relativity Physics absolutes are relative. This is not to be carried over into the Philosophical and Theological disciplines, of course. But this Physical Relativity applies only in Relativity Space. And so you see, Relativity Physics is not the enemy of Newtonian-Quantum Physics at all. It simply supplements them in realms where they no longer apply in the same way that Quantum Physics supplements Newtonian Physics. Simple enough, yes?"

     "Commander?" the young Navigator broke in. "Is any of this proved experimentally?"

     "All of it. At the outset, I mentioned that Relativity Physics is simply a series of observations which describe what the Ebony does. I don't think Relativity Physics is anywhere near being a complete catalogue -- in its present form. But the existence of the Ebony is the experimental proof of all the theories and propositions of Relativity Physics in its present, incomplete, form. And the proof that it is not at odds with the Old School Physics is the fact that the Ebony operates in Newtonian-Quantum Space as well as in Relativity Space. And that is enough. But motion through Relativity Space is by far the least expensive."

     "In what way?" asked the Admiral.

     "In every way, Sir. The power-to-work ratio in Relativity Physics is radically different, Admiral. In Newtonian-Quantum Space, the force required to move an object must overcome both the mass and mass's property of inertia. In Relativity Physics this is not so, relatively speaking. There is relatively no mass, which means there is relatively no inertia to resist the force required to move it. Relatively speaking. In Newtonian-Quantum Space, the force required to move a mass with the specifications of the Ebony is tremendous. Force must overcome the mass plus force must overcome the inertia. But this is not so in Relativity Space. Explanation: In Relativity Space, a Starship is relatively the same size and mass as a star. That is one point of view. Here is another point of view: a star is relatively the same size and mass as a Starship. So, from a third point of view, a Starship is relatively the same size and mass as a molecule. And it takes very little force to move a molecule, doesn't it? It follows, then, that in Relativity Space it would take very little force to move a Starship or a star. And it actually takes very little power to push the Ebony along at multiples of Light Speed in Relativity Space."

     "Faster than our C Drives, Commander?" The Helmsman asked.

     "Multiples faster at a fraction of the power, Ensign Brown. And it accomplishes this with none of our current navigational difficulties. Since we will be traveling in Relativity Space, we will not be traveling in Newtonian-Quantum Space. This means that if you pass through the coordinates of say a star, which is in Newtonian-Quantum Space, while engaged in Relativity Space, you are not in the same Space at the same time. Remember, Newtonian-Quantum Space and Relativity Space are not the same Space. The Ebony will be able to steer right through a star or black hole or whatever, while she is in Relativity Space.

     This has certain strategic value, as you may suspect. If the Ebony were outnumbered, outgunned, or out matched for some reason in Newtonian-Quantum Space, she could move into Relativity Space and avoid injury. Or catastrophe.

     "Well, I have covered some of the essential concepts that you may find useful in our Mission. I will no doubt expound on others as the occasion demands. And no doubt I will be learning others myself as we go along. So, Admiral, have I satisfied your request?" The Commander turned to the Admiral, crossed his hands behind the small of his back, and waited.

     "Relatively," the Admiral said with a laugh tickling the back of his throat. Then the Admiral snapped his fingers, as a light came on in his head. "There is one more thing, Commander. The Planck Strategic Maneuvers are applications of Relativity Physics, aren't they?"

     "Indeed they are, Admiral. Planck's Constant just happens to be the shortest period of time measurable. Following that, I should say something like 'that we know.' Some Information Revolution may change that. But right now that is true of Newtonian-Quantum Space anyway. Planck's Constant looks something like this," he said as he briskly walked over to the Science Station. With his back to the group, he quickly read some of the information he'd queried earlier and smiled. Then, he entered a command and the hull graphics on the Main Viewer were replaced by the single equation:

Planck's Constant : h = 6.6262 X 10-27 erg.sec

     "The Planck Strategic Maneuvers are pre-programmed tactics that automatically engage the ship into Relativity Space for a Planck's Constant period of time. This works out to roughly fifty kilometers. Thirty-five kilometers is roughly the range at which the Ebony's light-absorption hull will portend to disappear against the dark background of Space. In conjunction with the Planck-jump, the computer will shut down all exterior lighting and establish Condition Circle Zebra, which is to darken all ports. Darken Ship.

     "And incidentally," the Commander said, as he slowly made his way to the center of the Main Viewer again, "fifty kilometers is well within the near side of moderate firing range of our weapons. Immediately, you can see the battle value of pre-programmed Planck-jumps. We can have the computer perform a series of them and fire at the end of each jump, when the Ebony is back in Newtonian-Quantum Space."

     "Commander?"

     "Yes, Helmsman Brown."

     "If we are in Relativity Space during these Planck-jumps, does that mean we are passing right through the target coordinates?"

     "Good point. I argued against it and prevailed. Too many unknown factors to be considered during engagement with a target. For safety sake, during Planck-jumps, the Ebony will hop over and under and around the target area. Anything else?"

     "Thank you, Commander," the Admiral said. "That just about wraps up my part. I know you all are anxious for me to go. I don't blame you. As soon as I leave, you begin your six year Mission of exploration. I envy each one of you. However, before you set sail, the Presidential Council on Space Administration has an important commercial announcement for you." At the laughs he'd generated he held up his right hand, as though to take an oath. "Honest. And to present that commercial announcement, I now call in your own First Contact Ambassador, the woman who negotiated the Semele Peace Treaty, Evelyn Wind." The Admiral pushed a button and in came Evelyn Wind.

     Everyone on the Bridge rose and applauded her Grand Entrance. She was an elegant, blonde woman of surprisingly simple dress. She wore guileless beige coveralls with Ambassador's epaulettes, half covered by the train of her long hair. Her dark eyes glanced around the room and smiled more than her thin lips. And everybody liked her immediately.

     "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she said, as though Aristotle were whispering in her ear. "Please be seated. We're all anxious to leave Space Dock, so I'll be brief. You all know the Mission. You've been studying different facets of it for two years now. But I have to tell you about it, anyway. Just from a different perspective. I am informal, unless I have to be and I am diplomatic only when I have to be. Space Exploration may not be the romance some of us have come out here to find."

     She held up a hand and drew everyone's attention. "And now, a word from our sponsors. Beneath the facade of learning new things about the Universe and of meeting new neighbors in the Galaxy, we are embarking upon our greatest Mission of Commercial Space Exploitation. We just have to go about it in a diplomatic manner. It has been said that diplomacy is saying 'nice doggie' while looking for a stick with which to hit it." Evelyn Wind paused to look out over all the surprised faces.

     "If we represented just the Government, then things would be much different. But we don't." Evelyn began to pace the floor before them. "Oh, we do represent the interests of the Government. But not just of the Government. And we do represent the interests of the League of Nations, but to an even lesser degree. We represent the interests of our Government and the Commercial Concerns who are our financial sponsors and who made this six-year Mission possible. Now, we meet reality.

     "You have all heard the saying, 'Love makes the world go round, but money greases the wheel'? The double line is always the bottom line. The one with the dollar sign." Evelyn Wind turned to look at Commander Dysart. "Or the Pound. In short, ladies and gentlemen, the Commercial Concerns expect a return on their investments."

     "What kind of returns do these blood-suckers expect, Ambassador?" Lieutenant Jennifer Bova asked.

     "'Blood-suckers', Lieutenant? A bit strong, aren't we? I was coming to that. But let's not be too hard on the Commercial Concerns who invested in us. We would have no Ebony. We would have no six-year Mission. We would have no jobs. They invested in us, when they could have invested in someone else. We owe them a return on their Capital Investment. Anyone disagree?" Evelyn looked around and saw there were none. "To answer the question then. The Commercial Concerns expect Commercial Returns: Trade Agreements, with their best interests in mind; New Technologies we acquire, with their interests in mind; new sources of Natural Resources; Contracts with other worlds, with these Commercial interests in mind; Information; etcetera Commercial causes, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And we have to deliver these returns nicely to all sides.

     "Naturally, we hope that all these things can be done on a mutually advantageous basis." Evelyn paused to look at them all again and she wondered if they would applaud her entrance ever again.

     "Now, the reason I bring all of these things to your attention now is because you are all the Senior Officers of this ship, the ones most likely to come into contact with our new neighbors in the Galaxy. More than any of the other Crew. A preliminary thing to bear in mind is that we don't give anything away. We negotiate. This does not cover assistance and other things outlined in our interstellar law. More on these matters later, as the occasions require.

     "Thank you all. Thank you, Admiral. Now, Captain Ivory: let's go see the Galaxy."

     As soon as the Admiral was off the Bridge, Captain Belinda Ivory was in motion. "Stations. Power up. Stand-by to contact the Port Master. Security. Notify me the second that Captain Peter Ivory steps on the Bridge. The very second."

     "Aye, Captain." Ensign Ben Reynolds turned and faced the elevator in the rear of the Bridge. He determined that, judging the Captain's mood, he would not be caught with his pants down -- so-to-speak.

     "Ambassador. If you are staying to see this, please take the starboard Observation Seat."

     As soon as the Captain had said the words, the chair rose out of the deck.

     "Waverly, Dysart," Belinda Ivory called, "Report." The Captain walked over to them. "You'd better have something for me."

     They spoke in practiced low tones so that no one else on the Bridge would hear them. Commander Dysart started his report first. "A Commander-in-Chief with a Writ of Possession has virtually unlimited authority over the Mission of the Ship, Captain. It is extensive over policy, but limited from Command."

     Captain Belinda Ivory smiled in a way credited to devils. "Good."

     "However, Captain," Commander Waverly interjected, "if Captain Ivory takes Command, he will assume that he in fact has Command. It would be most difficult for you to regain Command in that instance. I recommend that you give him Command, that is turn over the Con, as soon as he arrives on the Bridge -- before he has the opportunity to take it. There are many precedents for Captains to retract Command. In fact, this is done every time you transfer the Con. Transfer the Con to him and you can reclaim it from him."

     "Captain on the Bridge," the Security Ensign reported.

Commander Waverly whispered, "Any more discussion can be interpreted as conspiracy to commit Mutiny."

     Captain Belinda Ivory was spitting rapid-fire orders. Then she said, "Communications. Raise the Port Master. Captain Ivory. Take the Con."

     Commander Dysart whispered to her, "Important, Captain: request permission to commence Exploration Mission by name. Full name."

     "Stations," said Belinda Ivory. "Port Observation Chair." The Observer's Chair rose from the deck and she loitered over by it.

     Captain Peter Ivory was strutting like a tom turkey in front of a hub cap, as went slowly to the Center Seat. He settled into it and watched as the face of the Port Master filled half of the Main Viewer. "Good morning, Port Master."

     "Good morning, Captain Ivory."

     Peter Ivory rubbed his chin with one hand and smiled. "Request permission to leave First World Space Dock."

     "Granted. Opening Space Dock doors -- now."

     "Port Master," Captain Belinda Ivory called. Her ex-husband looked over at her with a troubled face. "Captain Belinda Ivory requesting permission to commence Exploration Mission."

     "Captain Belinda Ivory. Permission granted to commence Exploration Mission. So logged."

     "Thank you. Take us out, Captain Ivory," said Captain Ivory.

     "Retract all moorings," Peter Ivory commanded.

     "Moorings retracted."

     "Ahead slow. Inducer Power."

     "Ahead, slow, Captain. We are giving way," the Helmsman reported. After a pause, he reported, "We have cleared Space Dock."

     Ensign Mark Coleman turned at the Navigation Station and reported. "We are free and clear to navigate, Captain."

     Captain Belinda Ivory stood and stepped over to the Center Seat. Peter Ivory looked at her questioningly. "Do you have a question, Captain Ivory?"

     "Yes, Captain Ivory. I have the Con. What is the Mission, Commander-in-Chief Ivory?"

     "I am in Command of this ship." Peter Ivory's voice had developed a razor-sharp edge to it.

     "You are in Command of the Mission. Yes. Of the ship? No." Captain Belinda Ivory turned and addressed the Communications Officer. "Lieutenant Jones. Maintain strict Communications silence until further orders. Monitor all in-coming transmissions and log."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Stand-by on Navigation," Belinda said.

     Ensign Mark Coleman replied crisply, "Standing-by, Captain."

     Captain Belinda Ivory turned and faced the Center Seat. "I have the Con, Commander-in-Chief. What is the Mission? Will you kindly relinquish the Command Chair?" Belinda shook her head so that the gray powder seemed to sparkle.

     Peter Ivory's hands started to turn white around the knuckles as he grasped the arm rests tighter, as though he would have to be torn loose before giving it up. Then, he gritted his teeth. "I see we need to settle our differences of opinion right now, Captain. I have served you with a Writ of Possession in Space Dock. And now I am in possession of the Ebony in accordance with that Writ of Possession."

     "Correction: not within the terms of a Writ of Possession, Captain."

     The whole Bridge Crew turned around and watched as the two Captains faced off.

     "Mind your Helm, Ensign Brown," Belinda Ivory said kindly.

     "Aye, Captain." The young Officer turned around and busied himself with the controls.

     Peter Ivory spoke next. "I didn't want to cause a scene in front of the Command Crew, Belinda. But you leave me little choice in the matter."

     "Thank you for your generosity, Peter. But I'm not as generous as you. It has come to my attention," she said loudly enough for everyone to hear her every syllable, "that a Writ of Possession grants the bearer power over the Mission, but restricts the bearer from assuming Command. I transferred the Con to you, which is the prerogative of the Commanding Officer, and now I simply restore the Con to myself, also the prerogative of the Commanding Officer. Simple. Even you can grasp these concepts."

     "I don't believe it."

     "Peter, you're just sore because I sent you our interlocutory decree on your birthday. By regulations, the ship under my Command is at the disposal of your Mission, because you are the Commander-in-Chief and I am the Captain."

     Captain Peter Ivory's mouth was opened and he let out the first thing that rattled out of his mind, "This is Mutiny." Then he turned and faced Ambassador Evelyn Wind to his other side. "Ambassador Wind. I have a Writ of Possession. As the Senior Representative of the Government on board, isn't it your duty to enforce that Writ?"

     "No."

     "Ambassador." He tried again. "Can you advise the Captain over here as to what my rights are?"

     "Yes."

     "Well?"

     Evelyn Wind stood and gathered up her dignity draped it all around herself, like a goddess wrapping herself in haloes. She walked slowly around until she was facing both Captains and she looked between them, as a mother looks at her two naughty children. "Captain Belinda Ivory," she addressed her. "Having been logged by the Port Master as commencing an Exploration Mission, no Senior Representative of the Government, Civilian or Military, can assume Command against your will, unless of course you are not fit to Command. Those are my orders and they apply to the Captain, as well."

     Belinda Ivory turned slightly and regarded her Second Officer, Richard Dysart, who stood at the Science Station with practiced innocence. Belinda smiled a tiny smile like a message. Then she turned to Peter and asked him again, "What is the Mission, Commander-in-Chief."

     "You tricked me, when you talked to the Port Master. It's just a technicality. Don't you see, Ambassador?"

     "Technicalities are the Law," Evelyn Wind said.

     Captain Peter Ivory looked back and forth between them and bit his lip. Hard. Then, he stepped down. "You have the Con, Captain Ivory," he said, as relinquished Command of the Ebony. "The Mission is to investigate the ghost sightings in the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System. The objective is to find the source and determine if it is a danger to System Security. If it is then take whatever action is appropriate and possible."

     "Thank you, Captain Ivory." Belinda sat in the Center Seat. It felt especially good to her now. "You are allowed to take the Observer's Seat on the Bridge at your discretion. You are not allowed to give operational orders at any time or to assume the Con, unless I personally transfer it to you. Do you understand?"

     "Yes, Captain."

     "Duty Officer," Captain Belinda Ivory called over to Jennifer Bova.

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Enter in the Ship's Log: Standing Orders. Captain Peter Ivory has unrestricted access to the Observer's Chair on the Bridge, as Commander-in-Chief. However, he is not a Line Officer in the Chain-of-Command of the Ebony. He is prohibited from taking the Con or assuming Command or giving operational orders except on the direct orders of Captain Belinda Ivory."

     "Standing Orders are entered into the Ship's Log and the file is saved, Captain."

     "Bova, notify all Department Heads to rig for Silent Running and report to Communications. Science Officer. Rig for passive scanning. Operations Officer. Secure all running lights and notify Engineering to stand-by to enter Relativity Space."

     "Aye Captain," all the Stations reported.

     "What do you mean rig for silent running?" Captain Peter Ivory asked.

     "You have just proved that you are not qualified to run this ship, Captain. And I don't have two years to explain it to you." Captain Belinda Ivory turned from him to the matters at hand. "Navigation. Plot a parabolic course for Jupiter. If there is something out there, we don't want it to track us coming straight from the Earth. Helm. Notify me when you have the down-load of course and heading."

     "Aye, Captain."

     Captain Belinda Ivory settled back into the Command Seat and rubbed the temples of her head. She had been ignoring the storm brewing in there and knew she would be paying for it later on. When she opened her eyes, she was a little content to see the irritation bubbling behind her ex-husband's eyes. She nodded her approval: at least she wouldn't be the only one with a migraine.

     "Captain. All Departments report readiness for Silent Running."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Jones."

     Commander Waverly at Operations turned and made his report. "Engineering reports readiness to make the transition into Relativity Space, Captain."

     "Course and heading laid in now, Captain," Ensign Greg Brown said from the Helm.

     "Very well. Begin the parabolic curve at point nine light speed -- now." She felt the vibrations of the Inertial Dampers coming on. She was actually pleased to know that something had some real, moving parts in it. And it was a smiling Captain who watched Captain Peter Ivory stomp his macho way across the floor and enter the elevator. Maybe she wouldn't have a migraine, after all.

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Chapter 2

     The gray dust of Relativity swirled and twisted past the portal at Evelyn's left elbow in uneven streamers outside, like the smoke of a prairie fire on a moonlit night. Evelyn sat back in the antique recliner in one of the back rooms of the Ship's Library Deck. The room was extravagant, she thought, as her eyes raised and looked around at the actual wood shelves holding real books. In many ways, Evelyn was like that. She was genuine no matter how hard the world battered against her to make her like itself. She was authentic no matter how hard she tried to emulate sophistication, a big word that simply means something devoid of its natural qualities. Evelyn was in some ways quaint like the room in which she was studying. If this were not so she would not be studying what she was studying. Her eyes were softening to the earth tones around her and she found it relaxing. And she was glad she had come to this room. She felt she would again often. The smell of the room was comforting. She couldn't quite place it, but it was an easy odor. And she liked the light shining down from the lamp, coming from one place instead of coming from everywhere. Evelyn sipped her coffee and smiled as she set the cup back on the small table next to her. She stifled a yawn almost. The open book on her lap was off her reading list. But it was there, anyway. It had a synthetic feel about it. But she knew it wasn't. It was a computer print out on sulfide bond paper, glue bound and paper backed. Over size. The running header on each page identified it as The Ambassador's Guidelines. Evelyn Wind would never have guessed by the way they acted that Ambassadors couldn't do so many things!

     "No wonder they all sound alike," she said to herself, as she started reading where she'd left off in the chapter on Public Relations, The Press, and Interview Answering.

PRESS QUESTION:

"How do you view the initial session(s) of the negotiations, Ambassador (your name)?"

YOUR ANSWER:

"I have a real positive feeling about it (the informality endears you to the Public). Definite progress (incomplete sentences sound spontaneous). Substantive. We're laying important groundwork here (the contractions connect you with the audience and make them think you speak their language and identify with them). As time moves on I can see us (pause as though looking for the right word or phrase, so what you say will seem well-chosen) arrive at the same place at the right time."

PRESS QUESTION:

"Can you be specific about the topic(s) you've been discussing, Ambassador (your name)?"

YOUR ANSWER:

"Why certainly (the strong affirmation dismisses any pre-conceived skepticism). Over this past (morning, day, couple days, week, etc.), we're really getting down to some very specific topics. Connecting. I hadn't thought it possible at -- well, just this morning (informal). Tough questions, all right. (generalities), the kind of topics that can bring opposing sides together in spite of their historic differences (vague). The topics we'll be discussing next will be deep ones. But meaningful. Substantial. I don't know if I'll be able to tell you as much about them, though (side track). But in the final analysis, it's all on the table for further refinement. Thank you."

     Evelyn Wind found herself half laughing out loud, as she leaned back into the soft cushions of the chair. How many interviews had she heard that sounded just like that?!

     "Something amusing?" Captain Peter Ivory came in and sat in the chair on the opposite side of the portal from her. "A little gray out, don't you think?"

     Evelyn looked up and over and was silently glad he wasn't any closer. She thought there was something about his bearing she just didn't like. But it was so broad that she couldn't quite narrow it down to any half dozen things. "Small talk usually leads to one's intentions. Where are you leading, Captain?"

     Peter Ivory physically moved the chair around to better face her -- conspiratorially, she thought. He smiled with what she thought was practiced amiability and he crossed his legs to appear relaxed. "Can you tell me what you really think about all this, Ambassador?"

     Her first impulse was to ask him "What things?" but she didn't. The vaguer she could keep him, the vaguer she could get away with being. She smiled, as she thought about some of the things she had just read. The book had said strong affirmation disarms pre-conceived skepticism. "Why certainly, Captain. I have some very Definite feelings about it -- all of it. Deep. Unshakable. To be honest with you, the whole thing has taken me by surprise. But just as honestly, I can say that didn't alter those feelings from the outset." Evelyn picked up her coffee, smiled, sipped, and wondered how she was doing, as she watched his eyes narrowing at her, as though he were concentrating.

     Then, Captain Ivory's eyes diverted from her and seemed to stare at a place just to one side of her. "I see," he said at length. "Let me put it another way. Don't you get the feeling that things haven't worked out the way they should?" His eyes focussed on her again.

     "Does that bother you, Captain?" She thought she would turn the conversation in another direction. "What I mean is this: there are many curves in the road. But the road always leads to the destination," As Evelyn watched the man, he leaned forward and tried to listen to her very carefully. So she decided to drop the volume of her voice to make what she was about to say seem worth hearing. "Hills and valleys are many but the roads go over and through or else around, Captain. But (dramatic pause) the traveler travels. I knew that would be helpful. But how do you think things should have turned out?" She wondered if this would be a good time for some good old rabbinical argumentation.

     Peter Ivory blinked his eyes and tried to recover as quickly as he could for an answer. "Well." He studdied her face, but it told him nothing. But he found its beauty distracting. He normally thought clearer than this, he thought. "Well, I thought my position was clear, Ambassador. I have a Writ of Possession. I should have possession. Logical, yes?"

     "There are many kinds of syllogisms, Captain. Logic takes many forms. Propositions don't always seem to lead to the conclusions we feel are correct. And...." Evelyn started the thesis / antithesis of the dialectic. "And sometimes they do. We just have to learn how to live within the balance between what we want and what we get. Don't you find that life is like that, Captain?"

     "Well. I guess. I just thought that if I had possession of something then I should have that something. Doesn't that make sense to you?"

     "If that's what a Writ of Possession means. Then it's logical. But if it means something else, then it's not relevant. Just what was your objective in obtaining the Writ in the first place, Captain?"

     "To have Command of the Ebony and to investigate the ghost sightings. With the Ebony under my Command." Captain Peter Ivory settled back and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

     "Well, you've certainly achieved your major objectives in getting the Ebony to investigate the ghost sightings, while under your Command. I think you've come around the bend and reached the destination after all, Captain. Congratulations." Evelyn opened the book and feigned reading more of it. She was hoping that he would just get up and leave.

     "But that's not the way it should be," he said instead of leaving. "Look. You could use your considerable influence with Belinda, Ambassador. You could over rule her. You could put me in the Center Seat. You could do that." Peter Ivory had leaned forward in the chair and had stretched out one hand.

     Ambassador Evelyn Wind felt sorry for the man now. He reminded her of a man filled with wanting and empty of all else. "Why should I do that? Assuming I could." As soon as she said it, she felt she'd made a strategic mistake. She had wanted to converse uncommittedly. Had he picked up that she might have committed herself against him?

     "Because supporting me in this is the right thing to do, Ambassador. It's the right thing to do. And if you don't, then you'll be doing the wrong thing."

     Evelyn Wind wondered if the Ambassador book had a chapter on Double Entente, saying things with two different meanings. She thought she could use some right about now. "As I indicated on the Bridge," she said, trying a last attempt at non-commitment, "I am unqualified to assume Command and powerless to aid anyone else. I can not."

     "Would you?"

     "The point is moot."

     "You are just trying to get out of committing yourself to anyone else but yourself. Aren't you?"

     "If that were true, I'd be like you at this very moment, wouldn't I?"

     "I see. That's how you feel about it. You want Belinda in the Center Seat just because she's a woman. But because I'm a man, you won't support my cause, which you know to be the right one." He stood and walked away.

     "That didn't go as planned," Evelyn Wind said, as she looked back at the book. "Maybe I just don't get this stuff."

     Evelyn Wind tossed the book on the carpet-padded floor beside herself and sipped cooled coffee that needed changing.

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Chapter 3

     The Ebony was a little hazy around the edges, as it surged relatively fast and labored relatively slow through the colorless, gray, near liquid of Relativity Space. It was relatively there and relatively not. Being and non-being embraced, the way opposites attract in nature: North and South Poles of magnetism, Positive and Negative charges of atomic structure, Matter and Antimatter. But nothing was cancelled here. The Ebony was nearing a dark and massless object that might have at one time been there, or that might be there sometime in the future. Both possibilities were relatively potential. The Ebony was like a surfboard riding the crest of a wave, where air and water were all the same and only the forces of Antinature surrounded her, relatively speaking anyway. Crests of force were erupted chaosically from the massless giant, as well as being drawn and swallowed into it, in a synergy that made both motions static and dynamic, relatively speaking anyway.

     "We are coming up on Jupiter's coordinates now, Captain," Commander Dysart said, as he watched the anomaly on the Main Viewer with fascination. "Scans indicate complete magnetic flux and depolarization. It appears in Relativity Space to be a solution of Matter-Antimatter fluid, relatively speaking. Unusual."

     "Thank you, Commander." Captain Belinda Ivory addressed her First Officer, "Make the transit into Newtonian-Quantum Space, Commander Waverly." Then, she swiveled her chair to the port and addressed the Helm. "Mister Brown, Put us into Standard orbit a thousand meters astern of the Orbital Base, Jovian I."

     "Aye, Captain."

     The dark Space took on a spherical quality, as it changed from nebula to planet. It took on the quality of roundness first. It was becoming a slick globe and then changing into a multi-banded storm of erupting gas. At first it was like an invisible man wearing clothes. It took on substance. Then it was like a man wearing invisible clothes. Finally, it was Jupiter and above Jupiter was the Orbital Base, Jovian I. And the Ebony took on a bodily form behind it.

     "Has the Commander-in-Chief been notified we have arrived?" Belinda Ivory asked Lieutenant JG Jones, the Communications Officer.

     "Doing so now, Captain."

     Captain Belinda Ivory smiled one of those sardonic smiles and thought about saying that was a long way of saying no. But she didn't. She turned to her right and regarded the Main Viewer again. There was a small globe in the center of it. That small globe was Orbital Base, Jovian I. "Magnify image," she ordered. A line ran across the Viewer from right to left, leaving the new image on the Screen, the way the line between light and darkness sometimes moves across the sky at dusk. The Orbital Base, Jovian I. hung there over the gas giant of a planet. Jovian I looked like a small version of First World Space Dock orbiting Earth. Back home. The large, spiked globe was suspended in the ether. But the small spheres on the ends of the spikes weren't Construction Pods. They were Personnel Transport Vehicles used to pick up visitors from other ships. "Open a channel, Lieutenant Jones." Belinda said.

     "The Commander-in-Chief is on his way now, Captain. Opening hailing frequencies -- now."

     A young woman's face appeared on the Main Screen. The Ensign looked somewhat startled.

     Captain Belinda Ivory smiled and introduced herself. "This is Captain Belinda Ivory of the United States Starship Ebony." Captain Ivory watched as a couple of men in the background seemed to be scrambling from one computer terminal to another. A burst of activity was going on over there that couldn't be normal. If it were, the ergonomics of the Orbital Base wasn't worked out very well, she thought.

     "Welcome to Orbital Base, Jovian I, Captain. For a moment, we thought we had another ghost image sighting right in our own back yard, Captain. We are relieved you're here." There was some muffled conversation in the background and the young woman turned to one side and held up her index finger to the Viewer. "Now it seems we have some problem with our scanners, Captain. We still don't have you on our sensors."

     "That is understandable, Ensign. This ship is unscanable and we are rigged for silent running."

     The look on the young woman's face was one of disbelief. "Unscanable, Captain? Well. We were expecting to hear from Captain Peter Ivory. Isn't he in Command?"

     "The Commander-in-Chief of this present Mission is on board. He is overseeing the Mission, but I am in Command of the Ebony. Captain Peter Ivory is in route to the Bridge now." Belinda leaned back and made herself more comfortable with a smile. "Can you down-load all of the ghost sighting data in the Outer Rim, Ensign?"

     "Negative, Captain. Captain Peter Ivory felt it inadvisable to have the data dispatched. He was concerned with the integrity of the security of the System. The Captain planned to visit each of the planets: Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and of course the System Perimeter Monitor Stations beyond."

     As Belinda listened to the young Officer, she noticed the Science Officer shaking his head, as he called up a planetary alignment graphic from the computer and displayed it on the screen in front of him. It was an elliptical view of the outer five planets. Below it appeared another elliptical view of the inner four planets with a slightly different configuration of planetary placement in their orbits around the sun. And from behind, Belinda heard the elevator door open and close.

     "Captain on the Bridge," security Ensign Ben Reynolds reported.

     Captain Peter Ivory addressed the image on the Viewer even before he could be seen by her. "Ah, Ensign Morris. Report."

     "Negative contact here, Captain Ivory. Received another ghost sighting from Saturn within the last twelve hours, Sir. That makes four, Captain. Orbital Base, Jovian I is presently at low level security alert. We are maintaining maximum scanning." The Ensign had scrambled to her feet, while she was talking. She now stood at attention in the center of the screen.

     "Very well, Ensign Morris. Have Computer Science down-load all available information to the Ebony."

     As the Commander-in-Chief kept talking, the Ensign on duty at Orbital Base, Jovian I turned and signalled for the information down-load. Quick and efficient, Belinda thought. She figured the Commander-in-Chief must be good at something.

     "I will be coming on board for a few minutes to tie up some loose ends that have unravelled themselves." Peter Ivory was closing and opening his fist as he spoke.

     Commander Dysart caught Belinda Ivory's attention and shook his head very slightly, as he received the transmissions. "Down-load is complete, Captain. Recommended course is computed and being transferred to Navigation and the Helm."

     Captain Belinda Ivory nodded curtly. "Stand-by on the Helm to break orbit." She turned to the Commander-in-Chief with as neutral a look on her face as she could conjure. "Sorry, Captain Ivory. No time for shore leave. But if you must go ashore then we'll be leaving without you. Understood, Captain?"

     Peter Ivory frowned but nodded. "Understood."

     To the young Ensign on the screen, who was looking shocked at what she had just witnessed, Captain Belinda Ivory said, "This transmission ends -- now. Helmsman. Engage."

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Chapter 4

     The Ebony was in orbit around the planet Pluto with its iceberg of a moon showing on the Main Viewer. The diminutive Orbital Base, Pluto I was standing off the port bow, just within view. It had been twelve hours since the down-load of the last of the available information on the ghost sightings in the Outer Rim and Captain Belinda Ivory wanted some answers. And she wanted them now.

     "I am now prepared to give a preliminary report on my speculations, Captain." Commander Richard Dysart had just turned from his Science Monitor and awaited instructions.

     "Senior Officers to the Briefing Room." Captain Belinda Ivory said. "Lieutenant Jones, call the Relief Command Staff and the Commander-in-Chief. Tell him we are meeting in the Briefing Room and he may join us -- at his discretion."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "This includes you, too, Lieutenant Bova. Senior Staff includes Captain and the first three Command Officers."

     "Aye, Captain." Lieutenant Jennifer Bova was still a little overwhelmed by her rapid rise in the Service. It wasn't as though she hadn't earned what she had, it was that she hardly believed in her own abilities and the good fortune they'd brought to her.

     The Senior Staff Officers were smoothly relieved and adjourned to the Briefing Room with its long, polished table. A great Viewer took up one wall and keyboards were sunken into the table top in front of each of them. They all grabbed a cup of coffee and took a seat.

     "This is your meeting, Commander Dysart," Belinda Ivory said, as Captain Peter Ivory walked through the door. "The Commander-in-Chief is in attendance. Commander Dysart. If you please."

     "Thank you, Captain. I have prepared a graphic of the Planetary Alignments of the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System. I have chosen a ten degree orientation to give you a better perspective of the material we will be discussing." Commander Dysart entered a few simple commands into the console and the computer-generated view came up on the wall screen. "As you can see, the planetary alignment is roughly oriented at twenty degrees, plus or minus. The center point is, of course the sun. Above and to the left is our present position, Pluto. The planet directly to the left of the sun is Saturn. Just below and slightly to the right we find Jupiter. Further out to the right and just above the Sol Plane is Uranus. And finally, farther away from the sun and farther below we have Neptune. This is how the planets appear from a ten degree orientation, from a point a couple of Solar System Diameters out as of this date, December twenty-four, 2187 A.A.

     "Our course from Jupiter was a corkscrew that took us from Jupiter to Uranus, from Uranus to Neptune, From Neptune across the center line to Saturn, and then from Saturn to our present location at Pluto. All our sensor scans along the way have been negative. However, the Information Down-loads have produced some provocative speculation. I will go into that now.

     "The order in which the ghost sightings have appeared suggests that a vessel is making a sensor sweep of the Solar System." The Officers around the table looked at each other. This theory was, of course the most logical, but it was the last they wanted to hear based on the evidence. "The first sighting was observed from the Orbital Base at Neptune. Perhaps I should be more specific and say the first set of sightings. The second at Uranus. The third at Pluto. And the last at Saturn. No fewer than twelve ghost sightings were recorded at the first three Bases and so far eight at Saturn -- at last update. These sightings occur within an average of eight day's time. This would be consistent with the duration it would take the Ebony to make a preliminary planetary scan."

     "But, Commander," the Commander-in-Chief broke in, "the ghost sightings are unique. How do you account for this?"

     "They are not unique. While collating the data, I observed two different sets of sensor data."

     "Two?" Belinda asked. "Are we dealing with two ships making sensor scans, Commander?"

     "Not likely, Captain. But the difference between the two sets gives us some provocative insights into the nature of the ghost sightings, as we've been calling them. The first set of data gives us pairs of graphs. Analogous to the Doppler effect. Analogous to listening to a train approaching and then receding. Now, I could not have made that assessment without discovering the second set of graphs. The second set appeared at all planets in updates and coincide precisely with our arrivals and departures. Now, what did we do at our arrival and departure from each planet? Can anybody tell me?"

     Lieutenant Bova spoke up. "We came out of Relativity Space at our arrival and we went back into Relativity Space at our departure."

     "Precisely. What we have, then, is a vehicle traveling through interplanetary space within its Relativity Space. That is the reason we can not detect it with conventional scanning equipment. Nevertheless, it is still a difficult ship to track, since we have no records of a sensor scan in Newtonian-Quantum Space."

     "Can you tell us anything at all about what kind of ship we're dealing with, Richard?" Commander Waverly asked.

     "Very little. However, comparing the two sets of graphs, it appears that our visitor uses roughly twice the power to enter Relativity Space than we do. I extrapolate from this that it is twice the mass."

     "Twice the size, huh?" The Commander-in-Chief asked.

     "Not size, Sir. Twice the mass. If the Visitor is of the same construction as the Ebony, with the same super-compressed hull density, then the Visitor would be twice the size. If the Visitor is of conventional construction, that is if it had a less dense hull than the Ebony, then it could be roughly four times the size of the Ebony. In any case, Sir, we are dealing with a vessel with technology certainly more advanced than our conventional ships and perhaps equal to the Ebony or perhaps even beyond it."

     "Is it a threat to the security of the Solar System, Commander?"

     "I'm afraid I can't answer that, Commander-in-Chief. All I can say with regard to that is that anytime we have a vessel passing through and scanning us without communicating with us, we have at least a potential threat to security. But surely you don't need me to point that out to you, Sir. Silence is inherently militant."

     "What should we do about it, then?" the Commander-in-Chief asked.

     "The Mission is, of course yours, as is that decision. But if you are asking for suggestions, then I believe the logical course of action is to make haste to its next projected destination. That location is Jupiter. Its estimated time of arrival, based on its past performance, is three days. We can easily make it in minutes. It would be to our advantage to take it slowly for sensor scanning and not to alert the vessel. That's if you were asking for suggestions, Sir."

     "Very diplomatic. Captain Ivory. Take us back to Jupiter."

     "Aye, Commander-in-Chief." Belinda was beginning to like that title -- it distanced him from herself. "Stations. Looks like we'll have Christmas off."

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Chapter 5

     Almost the full Crew of the Ebony began Christmas Day by attending Mass or one of the smaller Protestant services. It was an established space faring tradition. Even the New Calender A.A. reflected that. The year After the Advent. One of the few on board the Ebony who attended no service at all was the Commander-in-Chief, Captain Peter Ivory. There had been some who joked that on Christmas Peter didn't go to Mass, but Father O'Brian quickly quashed that as being in the wrong spirit of the season.

     Peter Ivory spent his morning in his state room with his security lock engaged. And his computer on. He was reading files. Personnel files that only Captains know how to access. And he was a Captain. He started with a simple list. The list of the Command Crew.

Ivory, Belinda M., Captain.

Waverly, Charles R., Commander; First Officer. Ops.

Dysart, Richard G., Commander; Second Officer. Science.

Bova, Jennifer V., Lieutenant; Third Officer. Duty.

Jones, Thelma P., Lieutenant Jr. Grade. Communications.

Reynolds, Benjamin H., Ensign. Weapons / Security.

Coleman, Mark M., Ensign. Navigation.

Brown, Greg P., Ensign. Helm.

     What Captain Peter Ivory was looking for was a weak link in the Chain-of-Command. He reasoned that the best way to find one or more was to find those who had not served with Belinda before. After all, this Crew had spent a very short time together. And he figured there would be no bonding taking place as yet. He asked the computer for their last permanent duty assignment. And, of course, the computer complied.

Ivory, Belinda M., Commandeer; Captain, Submersible One.

Waverly, Charles R., Lieutenant; Exec. Submersible One.

Dysart, Richard G., Lieutenant; Science. Submersible One.

Bova, Jennifer V., Ensign. Commander, Semele Project

Jones, Thelma P., Ensign. Communications, Submersible One.

Reynolds, Benjamin H., Ensign. Bridge, Submersible One.

Coleman, Mark M., Ensign. Navigation, Submersible One.

Brown, Greg P., Ensign. Helm, Submersible One.

     Peter smiled broadly and rubbed his hands together briskly. "There she is," he said. "There's the weak link!"

Bova, Jennifer V., Ensign. Commandeer, Semele Project

     Quick advancement, though, he thought as he pulled her name out of the list and starred at it. She was the Duty Officer. She was the Third Officer and Fourth in Command. But she was the young one with the long braided hair.

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Record synopsis, before current: Bova, Jennifer V."

     "Working."

     "What could be taking so long!" Peter Ivory demanded. "Two years ago the woman was an Ensign. She must have a five-line record. How long does it take to analyze that?" Of course the computer was never programmed to respond to general ranting.

     "Work complete. Details follow."

Record synopsis: Bova, Jennifer V.:

ACADEMY:

GRADUATED WITH HONORS, CLASS OF 2185

COMMAND TRAINING.

MINING ENGINEERING.

ASSIGNMENT:

OFFICER-IN-CHARGE, SEMELE PROJECT

SEMELE PROJECT CLASSIFIED

DETAILS CLASSIFIED

CLASSIFICATION AUTHORITIES:

DOD : SECRET

DOD : TOP SECRET

DOD : CRYPTO

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE : TOP SECRET

DOE : SECRET

DOE : TOP SECRET

DOE : Q

DETAILS: NEED TO KNOW : ENCRYPTED

DISTINCTIONS: The Service Intelligence Award

     "Dunga Sanctus. Holy shit!" The Captain said out loud. "If this is the weak link! Then I'm really screwed. The Service Intelligence Award! What in the fuck could she have done to earn The Service Intelligence Award?" He sat back in his chair and felt his heart beating against his ribs. Wanting to break out.

     After a long time he said, "It could be a clerical error. She's worth a try, anyway."

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Chapter 6

     Commander Richard Dysart stood at a bench in the Physics Lab assembling some components from a rough sketch he'd made. He was humming a tune. Off key. The parts snapped together as though they had been made for each other, but Doctor Dysart knew this was a first time. He barely noticed the sound of the door behind him as it slid open and then closed on its own. But instinct stole a look. It was the Ambassador.

     "Good afternoon, Ambassador," he said amiably. "What brings you down to Physics?"

     "Just a tour. A habit of mine I picked up some time ago. I like to see what there is to see." Evelyn Wind stepped up and watched. "May I ask what you're building? Or is it classified, or something?"

     "It probably should be. But then, nobody knows enough about it to classify it." Dysart looked up into those captivating eyes of hers and had to blink his eyes to break their wonderful spell. Well, he thought it was wonderful, anyway.

     "What does it do?"

     "What I hope it will do is become an Inertial Reciprocity Generator. If it does, it will be the first."

     "How does it work, Commander?"

     "With all due respect, Ambassador, I think you can better understand the answer to your first question: 'What does it do?' Let's see. Reciprocity is the state of reciprocation. Sounds circular. I know. But we're dealing with Relativity Physics, here. It's kind of circular itself. The Inertial Reciprocity Generator will generate a reciprocal transaction in Inertial Relativity Physics. What that means is this: Relatively speaking, in Relativity Space everything has the Inertia of a molecule. Everything is very easy to move. Right?"

     "Right. My finger has many molecules and I can move all easily." She illustrated for him.

     "Very good!" Commander Dysart looked at the mind of Evelyn Wind through her eyes and was warmed. "Now, if we generate an Inertial Reciprocal and exchange that value for the target's value, then what do we have?"

     Evelyn thought about it. "I would say we get nothing in exchange for everything. No, no, no."

     "Yes! Yes! Yes! By George! I think you've got it ol' girl! Ah, sorry. Sometimes I do so get carried away."

     "You need much forgiveness, Commander."

     "I agree."

     "We must spend much time together -- for you to accumulate a sufficient amount."

     "Forgive me, Ambassador. I must act logically in this. I am simply fascinated by your mind. If your mind concludes that, then it must be so. May I see you over dinner?"

     "Yes. Tell me, Commander, is there any reason I did not see you at Mass this morning?" Evelyn asked.

     "Indeed. You were not attending First Mass. I attend First Mass because more blunders occur in it and it helps to keep us the humbler for it. I can change my habits, though." The Commander bowed at the waist ever so slightly.

     "I wouldn't think of it. Sounds charming. I have had a life time of perfection. Perhaps a little imperfection could be redeeming."

     "Are you really the Harlequin Queen?"

     "Yes. Does that disappoint you?"

     "Dear me, no. I have read all your books with interest. At least, all the books of yours I've read, I've read with interest."

     "I have never met a man who would admit to that before, Commander."

     "Please call me Richard."

     "You may call me Carolyn. In private. If you like. Evelyn Wind is just my professional name."

     "Carolyn. A sweet name. Fits you."

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Chapter 7

     Jennifer Bova was like a cat on the mat. Oh, she wasn't landing on her feet, but she was landing with precision twisting out of her instincts like a cat. Off her feet and roll. On the mat and bounce. Silently. Ever since she was almost bested two years ago on the Imperial Flag Ship the Khas, she worked out so that she would never be almost bested again. Today she had confidence in her physical being, if not as much as she should have in her professional being. That was just about to change. Off her feet and roll. On the mat and bounce. Silently. On her feet. Deadly now.

     Commander-in-Chief, Captain Peter Ivory was watching her exercise from just inside the door. He was watching her through the eyes of a spy watching the movements of the enemy. He was watching her the way Combadiers and Commandos rehearse their strategies in their minds before a strike. And then he straightened. And then he smiled. Who was the most subtle of creatures in the garden today?

     "What a pleasant surprise, Lieutenant," Peter Ivory said, as he slowly crossed the room toward her and walked onto the mat."

     "You don't look very surprised to me, Commander-in-Chief. And you shouldn't be walking on the mat with your shoes on." Jennifer Bova moved to her left, spun around and kicked a hanging dummy in the face. She was a big woman for a small person.

     "Well. I'm surprised I found you. You're a hard woman to find, you know."

     "The Bridge knows exactly where I am, Commander-in-Chief. All you had to do was to call the Bridge and ask for my location." She turned, puffed a few times and rested her hands just above her knees, as she bent over slightly. She liked to look off-guard.

     "I wanted to be more discrete than that."

     "I find discretion alien to you."

     "As it is with you, Lieutenant. So tell me: how is it that you won The Service Intelligence Award."

     "For being intelligent."

     "It was a serious question."

     So Jennifer answered truthfully. "A forbidden subject, Commander-in-Chief. Are we speaking discretely and off the record or are we just speaking trivialities on the record?"

     "Everything between us is off the record. How did you win The Service Intelligence Award?"

     "I fucked an enemy Commander. Don't be jealous. He didn't like it." Jennifer Bova squared off with this man whom she didn't like. She didn't like what she saw him trying to do. To take Command of the ship. And that defined him in her eyes. "Why do you want to know?"

     "Isn't it frustrating to have won one of the highest honors of the Service and not be able to tell anyone about it?" Peter polished up his smile like an apple a child puts on a teacher's desk.

     "No." She turned and started walking toward the door.

     "Someone with your talents should be higher in the Command Structure than Third Officer, don't you think?"

     Jennifer thought back to something the Priest had said at Mass. The Priest had said the serpent tempted Eve with an easy way of becoming something she wasn't. And he said that Peter, at Caesarea Philippi, tempted Jesus to do something that would have made Him less than what He was. So, Jennifer gave the Commander-in-Chief the answer that Jesus gave to Peter: "Get behind me Satan."

     "I love a sense of humor like the next man, Jennifer. But we are in positions where we could be mutually advantageous for each other. If I were in Command of this ship, and if you had supported me in rising to that position, then it stands to reason that you would rise in the Command Structure along with me. Logical? Think about it."

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Chapter 8

     Captain Belinda Ivory stood, stepped down from the Center Seat, and walked slowly up to her Science Officer to whom she spoke in a low tone. "I understand that you have been spending a lot of time with the Ambassador, Commander."

     Commander Dysart turned and looked at her with curious and saddened eyes. "Would you object to that, Captain?"

     "Of course not. However, I abhor rumors. Things should be done openly, honestly, honorably. Have you been spending a lot of time with the Ambassador?"

     "The Ambassador says that I require a lot of forgiveness from our first meeting and that it will take a lot of time together for me to acquire it."

     Belinda Ivory smiled. "I'm afraid we have a culture gap compounded by our common language. Just be honorable."

     "Captain! Have you ever known me to be otherwise?"

     "No. But you're both too valuable to be impotent by your potency."

     "Captain. I believe you are beginning to speak my language after all. I will be honorable. And careful."

     "Thank you. I'm glad we had this talk."

     "Yes mother."

     Belinda restrained herself from any further comment and withdrew herself back to the Command Chair.

     "Commander Dysart. We have waited three days. Is there any explanation as to why the Vessel has not arrived?" The Captain turned from watching the Main Viewer to looking at him.

     "Yes, Captain. Firstly, three day's time was an estimate based on their past performance. Secondly, a full three day's time has not totally expired. I can say with reasonable accuracy that within the next twelve hour window the Vessel should be arriving. Unless it met with an unforeseen difficulty or disaster on its part." He nodded and dismissed the subject.

     "Thank you. Carry on." And the Captain waited. She wanted to be doing something. Anything. But she waited like everybody else.

     "Captain."

     "Yes, Commander Dysart."

     "With your permission, I would like to make some alterations in Engineering. Since there seems to be a lull just now."

     "Very well. See to it that you don't get carried away and take too long. Be ready to return to the Bridge at a moment's notice."

     "Aye, Captain." Doctor Richard Dysart left the Bridge smartly and Lieutenant Bova called in his temporary replacement.

     Captain Belinda Ivory smiled at her and was glad that things were working so smoothly on the Bridge. But there was something in the young woman's eyes that Belinda didn't like. It rang a bell. It sounded a klaxon. It turned on a red light. There was something wrong. Belinda reached over and typed out a question on her computer keyboard and transferred it to Lieutenant Bova's Station:

     IS SOMETHING BOTHERING YOU. OFFICIALLY?

     The Captain didn't look over. But a message came back on her screen:

     COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF IS RECRUITING SUPPORT. TAKE-OVER.

     Captain Ivory nodded and knew that Lieutenant Bova saw it. She grinned, actually. Of all the people on board, she thought, Lieutenant Bova should be the last one the Commander-in-Chief should reckon with. The young woman was dangerous. But loyal. And Belinda Ivory was glad to have her around and on her side. Belinda typed in another question -- just for curiosity sake:

     WHAT DID YOU TELL HIM?

     GET BEHIND ME SATAN.

     On the console of the Science Station, over to one side, a dormant circuit light came on. At first, it flashed red. Then, it flashed orange. Finally it burned vivid blue. The Officer on the Station was looking up at the Main Viewer. It had a way of hypnotizing people who weren't used to it for long periods of time.

     After some time, the First Officer called over. "Captain."

     "Yes, Commander Waverly?"

     "I have an anomalous reading on the Scanner."

     "Confirmed," said the Lieutenant Science Officer.

     "Bridge to Engineering. Dysart to the Bridge. This may be it."

     "Dysart to the Bridge. I've finished up down here and I'm on my way. Judging from what we know, Captain, this is a possible First Contact situation, Captain...."

     "Affirmative. Pick up the Ambassador on the way. Your Station is covered until you get here."

     "Acknowledged. Dysart out."

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Chapter 9

     The Bridge was tense, as Commander Dysart compared the findings of the Scan with the graphs taken earlier by the Orbital Bases all over the Outer Rim. "I believe that in the gold rush era, the miners used to say, 'Eureka'. We have found it."

     "All decks and Departments. This is the Captain speaking." Belinda had opened the ship-wide intercom. "We have made sensor contact with what we believe is our target vessel. Double check: Rig for Silent Running. Darken ship: Condition Circle Zebra. All movement and conversation is to be maintained at a minimal level. Let's all pull together on this one. Commander-in-Chief to the Bridge. Captain Belinda Ivory out."

     "Suspect Vessel bearing: 183 degrees, astern, Mark 004, Relative," Commander Dysart reported. "Coming in at Standard Orbital Approach. In long-visual range -- now."

     Captain Ivory looked around to the Helmsman. "Ensign Brown. Bring her about to 183 degrees, astern, Mark 004, Relative. Station Keeping. Let's see what she does."

     "183 degrees, astern, Mark 004, Relative, Captain."

     They all watched the Main Screen, as the star field swung around. "On Screen and Magnify."

     "On Screen, Captain," Commander Waverly replied from the Operations Station. "Magnifying -- now."

     Commander Dysart reported in. "Scans report the subject's configuration is consistent with that of the Ebony, Captain. The Vessel is scannable. Shape and design homogeneous with the Ebony. Relative size to the Ebony: four times. Estimated power levels relative to the Ebony: one half."

     "Thank you, Commander." The Captain was now studying the enlarged view of the ship while she had listened. "We are in pretty good shape, then. Yes?"

     "Indeed. Technologically, the vessel we are seeing is a full generation behind this one."

     Then, the gray hull came into focus. "Hell," somebody read the word on the ship. "Is that the name of the ship?"

     "Who would name a ship that?"

     "Krom." Jennifer Bova breathed out. The Captain looked over at her and squinted her eyes.

     "Captain on the Bridge," Ensign Reynolds announced as Peter Ivory waled out of the elevator.

     "Shall we hail her, Captain?" Lieutenant Junior Grade Jones asked.

     "No," said Bova. "That's an Imperial Heavy Cruiser." Jennifer turned around and looked her Captain in the eyes. "Blow her the hell out of the stars. While we still can."

     "That's against regulations, Lieutenant," the Commander-in-Chief said flatly.

     "Fuck the Regulations. You wanted to know if the vessel is a threat to your security. It's a threat to the whole Galaxy. It's a Galactic Cancer. Surgically remove it."

     Peter Ivory was shaking his head. It was his call. "Open a hailing frequency, Lieut.... Belay that. Captain Ivory. Make First Contact."

     "Jones." Belinda simply snapped her fingers and the Main Viewer split and then a uniformed Officer came on the Screen. He looked from side to side, he settled back, he chuckled, and then he spoke.

     "Greetings, Commanding Officer of the Moon. I see you have been promoted, Bova."

     "Hello, Krom. And I see you are a full Captain now."

     "No thanks to you."

     The Bridge Crew were now looking back and forth between the two. And the Captain typed in a message for her and sent it to her Station:

     KEEP HIM TALKING. INFORM ME OF YOUR IMPRESSIONS.

     "We did part unexpectedly, Captain Krom."

     "Tell me, Bova. How is your little moon?"

     "Your question tells me a lot about Proxi."

     "As does your reply about your Semele, Bova."

     "And how is the Imperial Flag Ship, Khas?"

     Jennifer saw the momentary flash of lightning in his eyes, just before his smile overwhelmed his face. "The Khas is on Patrol just now."

     Jennifer was tapping her finger as though impatient. But the end of her finer was tapping on keys. And Captain Ivory read the message as it came up on her screen:

     HE LIES. KHAS IS DESTROYED. STRIKE NOW.

     "Ah! Now we have you on visual, Lieutenant. Am I correct?"

     "You are correct, Captain Krom."

     "Very nice ship. You know, I've always liked the design. You realize, of course, I'll have to ask you to surrender him now. We will give your Officers and Crew safe passage to your home planet."

     "Fuck you."

     Captain Krom sat back and laughed. "You know, I still don't know what that means. But from the reaction of your fellows, I can imagine what kind of phrase it would take in our language to get a rise out of my Bridge Crew like that." His face turned as cold as Space. "I'm side-tracked. You came to the Empire through the Rift. We graciously offered to make you and all your people a part of the Emperor's family. But you refused and then you stole the Technical and the Manufacturing specifications of the Khas from us. Now. We want your ship. Correction: we want our ship."

     "Take it," Jennifer said. "If you can. I'll see you in Hell before we give you anything!"

     Captain Krom laughed out loud. "You do see me in Hell. And now you'll give us anything we want. Especially your ship. Tell you what. I'll name him after you. Something never done before. Think of it, the Imperial Star Ship Bova. Hand him over and you will Command him."

     "That's a lie. And even if it weren't I would refuse. But if I were in Command I would blow you right out of the stars."

     "I'm hurt. I liked you. You treat me this way. You have until we complete our Star System Scan to think it over. If you haven't surrendered our ship, then we will begin our own negotiations with your Home World. I trust you understand. Until then, Bova."

     "Until then, Krom."

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Chapter 10

     On the Main Viewer, the form of the substantial Imperial Heavy Cruiser seemed to melt away like an ice sculpture under the stare of a desert sun. And then Hell was absorbed into the sands of Relativity Space. Relatively speaking. The Command Crew of the Ebony watched on silently as it happened. Hell was gone from Newtonian-Quantum Space.

     "Lieutenant Bova." Captain Belinda Ivory addressed her. "Call the Relief Command Crew to the Bridge. The Command Crew will be meeting in the Main Conference Room."

     "Aye, Captain." Jennifer Bova busied herself with the task.

     "Captain." Commander Dysart said from the Science Station. "A matter of confirmation. Sensor readings indicate this vessel is the same vessel which produced the ghost sightings throughout the Outer Rim. We have succeeded in finding the subject."

     "Thank you, Commander."

     The Relief Command Crew came onto the Bridge and relieved all posts. "Command Crew Officers, Commander-in-Chief, Ambassador. To the Conference Room."

     Lieutenant Jennifer Bova stood at her station and entered in a security access code on her board and withdrew a black instrument with a shoulder strap on it. And she joined the others at the elevator.

     "I can use a good cup of coffee," said the Captain, as she had the synthesizer make her one. "Everyone find a place."

     After all were settled in, the Captain stood at the end of the table. "This meeting is Classified. No information discussed here will go beyond those present. Lieutenant Bova. Bring us up to date."

     "Aye, Captain." Jennifer Bova stood and went to the small podium that stood to one side of the main viewer. She extracted a cord from her Imperial Recorder and plugged it into the podium console. She called up a computer graphic of the Ebony. "This is the Ebony, as you know." After entering in three commands, a larger ship of the same design appeared next to it. "This is the Imperial Heavy Cruiser Hell." Three more commands brought up a third vessel, larger still. The image on the Viewer had to change to accommodate all three. A line went across the Viewer from right to left and painted in the three ships in proper proportion. "This third ship is the Imperial Flag Ship Khas. The Khas was the prototype of the Empire's newest generation of technology. It is my belief that the Khas was destroyed two years ago.

     "Notice the profile of the Heavy Cruiser, Hell. To each side, there is a modification, obscured by a pictorial glyph of the Imperial Crown. I believe this modification is evidence of their Relativity Space Inducers...."

     "This is all very interesting, Lieutenant. But is it really necessary to take up our time with a discussion of Imperial art?"

     Before she could respond, Commander Dysart spoke up. "The Lieutenant's remarks are indeed necessary, Commander-in-Chief Ivory. The Lieutenant is giving us a technology comparison between our capabilities and the capabilities of the enemy."

     Commander-in-Chief Ivory threw up his hands. "Proceed, Lieutenant."

     "The Heavy Cruiser, Hell, is a full generation of technology behind the Ebony and the Khas. With the destruction of the Khas two years ago, the Ebony is the superior ship between the Empire and the Earth and its colonies."

     "How do we know the Khas was destroyed, Lieutenant?" Captain Belinda Ivory asked.

     "May I address a question to Commanders Waverly and Dysart?" After the Captain nodded, Jennifer did. "What result would you expect if all the files on the hard drive of the main frame were Erased star dot star?"

     "Most significantly, the Engineering containment fields would collapse." Commander Waverly said.

     "The ship would self-destruct within fifteen minutes." Commander Dysart sounded sure about that.

     Jennifer Bova smiled. "What counter measures could you take on the Ebony, if this were to happen here?"

     "In fifteen minutes?" Waverly sputtered out.

     "Nothing," said Dysart. "Escape, if possible. But there's no way to re-program for the containment units in fifteen minutes. But then, Commander Waverly is the expert in this area."

     "He's right. Did you really do that to the Khas?"

     "Affirmative, Commander."

     "Captain. I strongly suggest we establish Security Measures to correct this weakness." Commander Waverly was visibly upset to think that the possibility existed.

     "Agreed. See to it after this meeting. Lieutenant Bova, I believe you have answered the question. Now please go on."

     "Here's how I see our position: we have the superior ship. We have one superior ship. The Empire has perhaps a hundred last-generation ships. Powerful ships. We have just seen one of them. They have experienced Warrior Crews. We do not. They have a history of conquest. They own half a Galaxy. They want to expand. Now they want our half of the Galaxy."

     "How do we know they are a real threat?" asked Ensign Brown.

     "If you had talked to the Emperor face-to-face, as I have, you would know that joining his family is different from joining our family." Jennifer entered in a couple of commands on her console and read the outcome. "What have our sages said about Empire? Let me read some:

"De Tocqueville:

     "As a general truth, nothing is more opposed to the well-being and freedom of men, than vast empires.

"Johnson:

     "Extended empire, like expanded gold, exchanges solid strength for feeble splendor.

"Crabbe:

     "It is not their long reigns, nor their frequent changes which occasion the fall of empires, but their abuse of power.

     "Does that sound like a family you want to join, Ensign?" Jennifer looked over all their faces. "We have only a few weeks to meet the demands of one Imperial Captain on one Imperial ship. I'm confident that we can win over him in battle. But more ships will come. Eventually we will loose."

     "Don't you have anything more positive to offer than that?" Lieutenant Jones asked.

     "Well. I do," Lieutenant Bova remarked. "The only way we can have peace with the Empire is if the Empire sues us for peace. That will happen only if the Empire negotiates from a weaker position."

     The Commander-in-Chief laughed. "How do you propose we do that, Lieutenant?"

     "We do unto them what they have done unto us. But, with our superior ship. We just do it better. There's a Rift out there. The Empire came through it. We can go through it. Their home world must have a Space Dock, just as we do. Right now, they are two years into building -- or I should say re-building -- a ship that dwarfs the Ebony. They'll probably call it the Khas II. Khas is the Emperor. I say we go through the Rift. We find the Home World. We destroy the Space Dock. We blow up their Space Stations. We generally raise hell. Then Khas will negotiate peace and recall Hell from our side of the Galaxy. It's the only way to get the job done."

     We can't do that without star charts, Lieutenant," Commander Waverly said.

     Jennifer Bova entered in a string of commands and a line ran across the Viewer. The ships were replaced by a star chart with a large red dot blinking in the center. "This is a star chart. That is their Home World."

     "You're talking about starting a war!" the Commander-in-Chief said.

     "No, Sir. War is declared already. Military History proves you cannot win a defensive war. I am suggesting we do the only strategically sound thing: strike first; strike hard; strike them on their turf. Win the war."

     "There is a certain elegance and logic in what the Lieutenant is suggesting," Commander Dysart said. And people listened.

     "This is insanity," said the Commander-in-Chief.

     "This is war," said the ship's Captain. "War is insanity.  And, Dear Lord, forgive us all. Stations."

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Chapter 11

     "I have located the Rift, Captain." Commander Dysart reported from the Science Station. "197 Mark 014, Relative. Three Astronomical Units distant."

     "Thank you, Commander. Helm. Set a course. 197 Mark 014, Relative. Best speed."

     "Aye, Captain. 197 Mark 014, Relative. Engaging -- now."

     The star field spun around, as the Ebony turned and surged ahead. "Relativity Space Transition, Commander Waverly." The Captain ordered.

     "Contacting Engineering, now, Captain."

     The Ebony evaporated from Newtonian-Quantum Space. She entered the gray-thick void. She was running a perpendicular course through the grain, skipping as a flat stone across the wave crests, slicing through the crisp wind like an arrow, burrowing through the ground like shock waves. Relatively speaking, anyway. She was moving faster than men and women from Earth had ever moved. Lazily. Effortfully. Economically.

     "Ambassador," Belinda Ivory said, as she turned in her chair away from the Main Viewer. "We have not heard from you. Comments?"

     Ambassador Evelyn Wind looked up and smiled like a woman who wished she had a good reason to smile. "I fear there are times when diplomacy merely prolongs the suffering of the innocent. But more than that, I fear this would be one of them."

     "I see. None of us favors our actions, Ambassador. We just favor the alternatives less." Captain Belinda Ivory turned back to the viewer and watched the variance in the gray patterns smear themselves against the sensors. Gray. Streaked. Granulated. Polished. Burnt. Scorching. Frigid. Kaleidoscopic monochromaticity.

     "Do we have another channel, Captain?" Evelyn wind asked.

     "I'm afraid not. We're on an extended sight-seeing tour, headed down a long, hard highway, where the only changes are in the foliage along the side of the road."

     "While you're discovering new depths of monotony, Captain, I'll be in the library. Perks of the Post." The Commander-in-Chief stood and headed to the door.

     Belinda Ivory was tempted to ask her ex-husband when he had ever learned to how read, but then she decided against listening to his answer. "Acknowledged, Commander-in-Chief."

 

     After a while, Captain Ivory rubbed her eyes, then she opened and closed them as though exercising her eye lids. "Lieutenant Bova."

     "Aye Captain."

     "Enter into the ship's log: 'Standing Order. Coffee is now allowed on the Bridge during Relativity Space Transits.' And Lieutenant, could you request that Maintenance installs a limited-use synthesizer -- somewhere out of the way?"

     "Now, Captain?"

     "Why not?"

     "If you would like a cup of Coffee, Captain, I could get you one. I seem to be the only one on the Bridge who hasn't anything to do." Ambassador Evelyn Wind stood graciously.

     "I would like that. But you're not alone in that just now."

     "Richard?" the Ambassador asked.

     "Sure."

     "And I'll have some other cups sent up."

     "Thank you, Ambassador," Belinda said, as she stifled a yawn almost successfully. She watched the screen absentmindedly, as she listened to the real-life steps of Evelyn Wind cross back to the elevator. Then she heard it. The gasp of surprise. Reflexes put Belinda on her feet. She could see her Science Officer taking out a Pulsar weapon as he turned. Lieutenant Jennifer Bova was on the move, a weapon for a body. Coiled and ready to strike like a snake with rattlers. And they converged at the Ambassador's side. And they all looked down. On the floor of the elevator lay the Commander-in-Chief with his head cocked at an impossible angle -- impossible for living. Belinda motioned for Commander Dysart to get the Ambassador out of there, as she took out her small hand-held communicator. "Captain to Medical. Medical Emergency on the Bridge elevator. Sending victim to your level on the elevator. We don't want to move him."

     "Aye, Captain. Medical Team responding."

     "Computer," Belinda ordered. "To Medical Deck. Open for Medical Team only. Authorization: Captain."

     "Acknowledged." The automated voice said. Then the doors closed and carried the Commander-in-Chief down through the ship.

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Chapter 12

     The Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday, sat at the end of the table in the large Conference Room and took notes on his data pad as he listened to the Senior Officers. "Is there any reason anyone would want to murder the Commander-in-Chief?" He looked up and scrutinized each of their faces.

     Lieutenant Jennifer Bova spoke up first. "The Commander-in-Chief wanted Command of the Ebony, as well as Command of the Mission. He approached me and asked if I would support him in gaining Command. He indicated that I would move up in the Command Structure if I did." She looked the man straight in the eyes as she spoke. "I believe anyone loyal to the Captain would have a motive for killing the Commander-in-Chief. Not everyone had an opportunity, however."

     "What did you tell him, Lieutenant?" Commander Holiday leaned over the table in interrogation fashion.

     "I told him, 'Get behind me Satan'."

     "Hm." He looked at her, as though she were a prime suspect. "Just where were you when the Commander-in-Chief was killed?"

     "I was at my Station on the Bridge. Like the whole Command Crew, the Ambassador, the Captain, there." Jennifer snapped her head in a nod at the others.

     "I see."

     The Ambassador spoke up. "He approached me, also. Just before we arrived at Jupiter the first time. I was in the library. He asked if I would use my influence with Captain Ivory. I told him that I neither could nor would. He left quite upset, as I recall." The bearing of a goddess had not left her.

     "And you were on the Bridge, when the murder transpired?"

     "Yes. All present in this room were. Except for you, of course."

     "Of course. Did the Commander-in-Chief approach any of the rest of you with an offer of any kind?" The Lieutenant Commander looked slowly around the room and watched as each of the faces shook their heads in the negative. "Then I will begin my investigation immediately. Unfortunately, I will have to thin-out security in other areas and use all available Security Personnel. Regulations, you understand. They have five hundred Officers and Crew to interview. May I pull Ensign Reynolds from his post for investigation duty?"

     "You may not." The Captain snapped it out in no uncertain terms. "Ensign Reynolds is an integral part of the Command Crew. No Bridge Security Officers are to be pulled from their specialized duties. Bridge Security answers to the Captain and to the Command Crew and not to Ship's Security. That's the way it's always been. That's the way it will remain. That's the way it will always be on this ship, as long as I Command her."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Keep me informed."

     "Aye, Captain," the Chief of Security said, as he rose from his chair and left the room.

     "How are we doing on the coffee machine, Lieutenant Bova?"

     "Maintenance should have it installed in about an hour, Captain. Of course, that is their estimate, not mine." Jennifer regarded her superior Officer for a moment. "Are you all right, Captain?"

     "I'm fine, Lieutenant. Thank you for asking. I have no grieving to grieve." She settled back and sipped her coffee as the rest of her Command Crew waited for further instructions. "Still. His death is -- inconvenient." She set down her cup and turned to one side. "How long until we arrive at the Rift site, Commander Dysart?"

     "Approximately four hours thirty minutes."

     "A shift. Stations in four hours, then. I want us to be rested up when we get there. Special attention to Security until then. Oh, Commander Dysart. I commend you on the speed and effectiveness of your actions today. A commendation will be read into your file. Yours, too, Lieutenant Bova. However, I would like to see you armed in the future, if you decide on risking a possible confrontation."

     "Thank you, Captain." Dysart commented.

     "I am always armed, Captain," Jennifer said. But at the sight of the Captain's glare, she said, "Aye, Captain."

     Belinda gritted her teeth slightly but smiled. She nodded. "Stations in four hours, then. Dismissed."

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Chapter 13

     "Stand-by on the helm," the Captain said.

     "Helm standing-by," Ensign Brown replied.

     On the main Viewer something odd was happening. Something blue was wavering. Cubicon. "Helm. Station Keeping."

     Now, the Ebony was at rest. In Space, at rest is always relative to something else. No matter in what Space you're in. There is no absolute zero in Space. Now, the Ebony was at rest relative to the blue energy fluctuation. "Sensors, Commander Dysart?"

     "The energy field is approximately twenty-five millimeters square, one inch."

     "One inch!" Ensign Coleman snapped in disbelief. "Look at it. That's not an inch. Sir."

     "It is magnified, Mister Coleman. And no doubt you are thinking in terms of Newtonian-Quantum Physics. We are presently in Relativity Space. If you were to drop an apple here, it would not fall. Relatively speaking. If you were to push that apple here, there would be no Re-action. Relatively speaking. If you were to collide with it here, there would be no collision. Relatively speaking. And that is precisely what we are going to do, Ensign. There will be no collision here, because one inch square is relatively the same size as the Ebony and the Ebony is relatively the same size as one inch square. In short, Mister Coleman, we will pass through the Rift."

     "Has this been experimentally proved, Commander Dysart?" the Ensign asked.

     "The Imperial Heavy Cruiser came through," Jennifer Bova said.

     Commander Dysart smiled and said, "That, Mister Coleman, qualifies as a big yes."

     Captain Belinda Ivory listened with interest. She would have stopped the conversation, if it had been banter. But it had served to explain what they were about to do. She nodded. "Listen up on the Helm. Take us through. Ahead slow. Minimum power."

     "Ahead slow. Minimum power, Captain. We have forward motion -- now."

     Nobody spoke. No eyes blinked. No chests swelled or deflated. No muscles tightened or relaxed. No muscles moved. Only the Cubicon one inch square on the Main Viewer seemed to be alive. AntiNature was waiting. Slowly it engulfed the ship and slowly she forced herself through the impossible, through the impassable. And they were through to the other side. It had been easy. Relatively speaking.

     "We are on the other side now, Captain," Commander Waverly said, as he looked at the Operations consoles.

     "To Station Keeping. Bring up the Empire's Star Charts and secure our own, Commander Dysart. We're on the other side of the Galaxy. Secure from Relativity Space, Mister Waverly."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "I want an Orientation Scan, Mister Waverly. Let's find out where we are in relation to where we're going."

     "Scanning now, Captain."

     Commander Dysart turned and looked softly at the Ambassador. She nodded and smiled back. Reassured.

 

     The Captain noticed the look on the Executive Officer's face when he finally looked up. "Do you have a problem, Commander Waverly?" Belinda Ivory asked the expression on his face.

     "Just spoiled, Captain. The Imperial Home World is a long, long way off. It's a whole week away."

     "Not like the old days, Commander. It would have been years. Commander Dysart, send heading and course to the Helm. Let's get this war going. Make Transition to Relativity Space."

     "Receiving data now," said the Helmsman.

     "Transit into Relativity Space commencing -- now, Captain,: the Commander said with a pause.

     "Course and heading laid in."

     "Engage."

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Chapter 14

     They were in Commander Dysart's private quarters. In fact, they had just arrived from the Bridge and their eyes were not used to seeing color anymore. Relatively speaking. "A glass of wine to soften the lips of Carolyn the sweet?"

     "How would you know they need softening?"

     Richard laughed. "They probably don't. Still."

     "Richard."

     Commander Dysart took down two glasses and uncorked a bottle of room-temperature red wine. "You know, the Captain had a talk with me."

     "About us?"

     "About us."

     "She disapproves, then?"

     "No. She said...." Richard walked over to her, sat down on the sofa, handed her a glass and continued. "She said I abhor rumors. Whatever you do, do it openly, honestly, honorably." He held up his glass. "Here's to openly, honestly, and honorably."

     They tipped their glasses together and sipped. "That's pretty good advice, Richard. What did you say?"

     "Why, I said, 'Yes Mother'." He smiled at her with a smile she didn't quite understand.

     "What are you thinking?"

     "I'm thinking that I'd like to take you out to a movie. Sit there in the dark and spill popcorn on the floor so somebody else has to clean it up. I'd like to sneak my arm around you so that you don't notice. At first. And when you did, I'd like you to rest your head on my shoulder until we fell asleep. And when we woke up, my arm would be tingling and I'd rub the circulation back into it. And maybe you'd help me. And I'd probably be so grateful, I'd kiss you for it. Maybe like this." Richard leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. But Carolyn the Sweet would have no part of that.

     She gave him her lips instead and wine spilt out over the rims of their glasses. But they didn't care.

     "So, what's playing at the movies?"

     "Does it matter?"

     "No."

     "Carolyn."

     "Hm?"

     "Your lips don't need softening."

     "Richard!"

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Chapter 15

     Ensign Ben Reynolds sat at a table in the Officers' Mess and was eating what the synthesizer had assured him was a traditional steak dinner. It looked like one. He was chewing and chewing, when a fellow Ensign walked up and set his tray down. His polished boots and belt would have given him away as a member of the Ship's Security Force, even if Ensign Reynolds hadn't known him.

     "So, you really lucked out this time, Reynolds. Getting out of the Investigation team. Oh! Am I tired of asking the same stupid questions over and over." He deepened his voice and asked, "'And where were you on the Day In Question?' Reynolds, have you ever had to fill out the Standard Interrogation Form, number 492?"

     Reynolds looked up and smiled shallowly. "No." Ship's Security just didn't fraternize with Bridge Security -- as they say. "So, am I your next interviewee?"

     "Oh no! The Command Crew is exempt from all of that. But you probably already know that. Don't you?"

     "It's not that, Farber. The Security Chief has already interviewed the Command Crew. We were all on duty AT THE TIME ON THE DAY IN QUESTION. That's all."

     "Of course." The Ensign started eating his own meal and looked up now and then. "What's new topside?"

     "I haven't been above decks, Farber."

     "You know what I mean. On the Bridge."

     "Which bridge is that?"

     "The Command Center, Reynolds."

     "Oh, that Bridge. Bridge Duty is Classified. That's all I know about it. We're getting a Coffee Machine. That's all that's new."

     "Come on, Reynolds. What's it like to be up there, where the action is? To work with the Big Whigs. To be close to that Ambassador. Boy! could she be an Ambassador of good will to me!"

     "Knock it off, Farber. I'm eating. You make me want to throw up. Grow up and get a life."

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Chapter 16

     Captain Belinda Ivory was sitting behind her desk reading an up-date on the status of the murder investigation. It had been six days now and almost the whole crew had been interviewed. Soon, the forms would be run through the computer and the suspects would be sorted out. The Security Chief would win a commendation for this one, she thought. The hailing call came from the door.

     "Enter."

     Commander Charles Waverly stepped in and nodded his head. "Captain."

     "Come in, Commander. Have a seat. What's on your mind?"

     "I'll come to the point, Captain. How much of what Lieutenant Bova suggested are you considering?" He sat down and raised his eye lids.

     Belinda Ivory had served with the Commander for a long time. She could sense the tension he was trying to hide. "I am open for further or modified suggestions, Commander. I think you know that."

     He smiled. It was the smiled with the look of a man who has just been put in check on a chess board. The next move was his to make. "It is my considered opinion that this is an all-or-nothing operation, Captain. We do it or we do not. There are no half measures. No compromises. If we hit our first target, we are committed to the last. We are half a Galaxy away from Earth. Everything rests on our shoulders. If we fail, we loose all. If we succeed, we win for the Service, but we may still loose all, personally. There is a slight chance we will be vindicated."

     "Then you are saying we should do it. If we fail, it won't matter. If we succeed we may be Court Marshaled anyway."

     "Yes."

     "I agree. I was just thinking that. Perhaps we should have just blown him out of the stars to begin with."

     "That would have simplified matters. Temporarily, anyway. The Empire would still have come through. Sooner or later."

     "How long until we reach the Imperial Home World, Commander?"

     "Sometime tomorrow."

     "We'll have to risk surfacing into Newtonian-Quantum Space -- for a while. Long enough to scan the target. Then we can re-Transit into Relativity Space and plan the attack. How does that sound?"

     Commander Waverly moved in his seat, while he thought about it. "Sounds fine."

     Belinda laughed. "Is that all you can say about it, Commander?"

     He shook his head. "I've thought out a dozen complicated schemes. Everyone of them rests on some little detail that we just can't count on falling into place. I think your straight-forward approach is clearly the best. We'll have to talk to Commander Dysart when we go on watch in the morning. We can't afford anyone working at cross purposes."

     "Have you seen him about lately?"

     "I've seen them. You know, it's refreshing to think that even all the way out here the flowers of romance can bloom like a rose."

     "Why, Commander. I never knew you had any romance in you."

     "That's because it's just not proper to have these feelings for your own Commanding Officer. That's all. Things could become -- complicated." Charles looked at her through squinted and wondering eyes.

     "Yes. Things would become complicated. Still, some complications would become pleasant. But now is not the time. Is it?"

     "No. Not on the eve of uncertainty."

     "Hm. When is the day of certainty, Commander?"

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Chapter 17

     In the Executive Officer's Office, Commander Charles Waverly sat reading a book. Humming a tune. A hailing call came from the door. And he didn't even grumble about it. Charles closed the book, set it into an open drawer, slid it closed and said, "Enter."

     The Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday entered the room with a large, bulgy manilla envelop in his right hand. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Commander."

     "Nonsense," Charles Waverly said through his broad smile. "Have a seat, Commander Holiday. Can I get you a cup of coffee? Anything?"

     "No thank you, Commander." Lieutenant Commander Holiday looked at him a little askance. "I tried a little earlier and you weren't in. And I didn't want to bother the Captain then."

     "And I'm sure the Captain appreciates that." Charles grinned. He sat back in his smile and rocked in his chair. "So, tell me. What may I do for you?"

     "I have the preliminary results from the computer reports."

     "What computer reports?"

     "On the murder of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir."

     He snapped his fingers. "Of course. And?"

     The Lieutenant Commander handed him an envelope. It's all there."

     Commander Charles Waverly took it and set it down gently on his desk. He patted it. "Good." He purposely leaned back with unblinking eyes and smiled one of those smiles one fabricates for another. "Excellent, as a matter of fact. Tell me about it."

     "We know that the Commander-in-Chief was killed by hand, Sir. To accomplish this requires training, skill, competence. The kind a Security man or woman would have. With this in mind, I paid close attention to my own staff. The Questionnaires ruled out everyone in the Crew except for one of the Security Officers on Duty at the time. Together with other factors, it is my opinion that the murder was committed by that Security Officer: Jose Farber. My report is included with a copy of the Security Data Tapes. Security Officer Jose Farber is currently under arrest and in the Brig. Charges are being processed and will be signed and delivered to your office tomorrow. Sir."

     "Well done, Commander. Well done. I will review these Data Tapes before then. Is there anything else?"

     "Nothing, Sir."

     "Good Day."

     "Good Day, Commander Waverly.

 

     When the Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday, had departed, Commander Waverly opened the packet with an uneasy feeling. Why? He didn't know for sure. He had what they all wanted. He had an investigation made according to Regulations. He had ample evidence against a prime suspect. The prime suspect was in the Brig. To this point, it was all cut-and-dry like tobacco. All it needed was a match for smoking.

    Commander extracted the Security Data tape and slid it into the slot in his computer. "Computer."

    "Working."

     "Up-load data and search for possible suspects. Disengage all security lockouts. Authorization code: 002"

     "Working."

     The Commander waited.

     "Work complete. List follows:

SUSPECTS

IN ORDER OF PROBABILITY:

Holiday, Michael Lieutenant Commander Security Chief

Farber, Jose Ensign Security Ofcr.

     "Hm," moaned the Commander.

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Chapter 18

     The Main Viewer was almost phosphorescent, with layered rivulets of white marble running through the uneven gray mass that stood before them. "It's my guess we're nearing a powerful energy field, Captain. Something on the order and magnitude of a planetary defence shield." Commander Dysart turned from his own viewer to face her.

     "Thank you, Commander. Stand-by for a thirty second scan of the area. Nothing too specific. General impressions is probably the most we can hope for."

     "Aye, Captain," Commander Dysart said as he prepared the scanners. But he was really thinking how long thirty seconds really was, especially in comparison to the time he'd hopped to get. In thirty seconds, he could gather a great deal of information, indeed. In a hundredth of a second he could take a good quality picture. In thirty seconds he could take three thousand pictures. Scans were more than pictures. Secretly, Commander Dysart wondered just how primitive the Captain thought their equipment really was! "Standing ready, Captain."

     Belinda Ivory looked from him over to her First Officer and smiled. Life was more complicated now, she thought. She wanted to say Charles, but she said, "Commander Waverly, make the transition to Newtonian-Quantum Space on my Mark. Commander Dysart, commence your thirty second scan on my Mark. Counting down: Three, Two, One, Mark."

     The world came into focus, the way the old movies used to, when they used lenses to project a flat and lifeless image onto a dirty screen. The Main Viewer was alive with surprises. A blue planet formed below them, with swirls of clouds that partially covered oceans and odd continents. The crystalline haze of energy surrounded it, a shell protecting its yoke. Platforms revolved around it, speeding on their ways. A metal moon looked down on it and smiled with the radiance of a force field. Tiny ships scurried like insects with single-minded instincts directing them. And in the midst of it all, a Heavy Cruiser sailed on its way. All this and more was taken by a sensor, like a picture to be remembered. And then the Main Screen went gray. Gray streaks of phosphorescence ran like finger paints across the scene.

     "Thirty Second Scan complete, Captain."

     "Thank you, Commander. How long before you can tell me anything?"

     "It would be helpful if you would be specific, Captain. In thirty seconds, I could have taken three thousand pictures and scans are much more informative than that."

     "Did we get the Space Dock? Is that where they build their ships? Is this new ship in it? What are their defences? Can we penetrate them? Is that enough?"

     "I see. I will endeavor to answer them now. I am bringing up the scan of the Space dock -- now." The computer put a graphic picture on the Main Screen.

     "We are looking at the Space Dock from a Southern View. To the left at 18 Mark -40 degrees is East by South East and on the right at 9 Mark -40 degrees is West by South West. You will find the South Pole region interesting. Sensors indicate that this is an iris-type juncture. It dilates to a latitude of approximately -30 degrees and then separates along the longitudinal lines to accommodate the entrance and exit of a Starship. Penetration Scan suggests there is the largest, densest Starship under construction in there that we have ever dreamed could exist. Lieutenant Bova's Intelligence Information and her extrapolations are correct.

     "As to their defences, Captain, they are using a non-polarized but extremely powerful energy field. It is emanating from inside the shell from six different, supplemental sources. They are themselves shielded by conventional electromagnetic shielding and are housed in moderate-compressed metal alloys.

     "The final question I believe concerned our ability to penetrate their defences for the destruction of the Starship inside and the Space Dock that surrounds it. Indeed we can. One moment please."

     Commander Dysart began to set in a stream of commands requesting specific information. When he finished, he was smiling. "The defences themselves will enable us to achieve these two goals."

     "What do you mean, Commander?" Captain Belinda Ivory was sitting in the Center Seat trying to follow along.

     "All right. Here is my suggested plan of action, Captain and my reasons for submitting it instead of anything else:

     "Point One.

     "The Outer Shielding is non-polarized. They are well equipped to fend off conventional-type weaponry. With the Polarized Relativity Generator we use to fire weapons out through our own shields, we can cut a polarized Relativity hole through theirs to fire into theirs.

     "Point Two.

     "Once through the shielding, we should blow a hole through the iris, which is the weakest structural point on the surface of the Space Dock. Then, we can mount a Strike inside.

     "Point Three.

     "The placement, power and synergy of their shielding equipment makes them all most difficult to knock out in a Military Strike. So, I suggest we use them to our advantage and to their disadvantage. How do we do that? If we send in a thermo-nuclear weapon, it will detonate inside the defenses and the shields will hold up long enough to destroy the ship entirely before the shields themselves are breached and the entire Space Dock explodes.

     "Any questions regarding Tactics or Strategy?"

     "Can you do it?" The Captain asked.

     "If I could not, I would not have troubled you with the details, Captain."

     "Do whatever needs to be done. But do it. Commander Dysart."

     "Yes, Captain?"

     "You are a genius."

     "That is recorded in my Personnel File, Captain."

     "Do we have a thermo-nuclear device on board, Commander?"

     "I shall build one. It is an old technology, Captain."

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Chapter 19

     The Starship Ebony was still pacing the Imperial Space Dock. Thrusters were still at Station Keeping. On the Main Viewer, phosphorescent beings still scurried around their hive like bees. And on the Bridge of the Ebony, the Command Crew still waited.

    "How long does it take to build a bomb like this, anyway?" Captain Ivory asked whomever might answer.

     "No one has ever built one on a Starship before, Captain." Commander Waverly observed. "Hard to say. One thing's for sure: he can't run down to the corner hardware store if he doesn't have something."

     "You're right about that. How is the investigation coming along?"

     "Lieutenant Commander Holiday has arrested a suspect and will be filing charges sometime today. The young man is currently in the Brig."

     Belinda Ivory was shaking her head in the Command Chair. "That's good work. Who is the suspect?"

     "Suspect is a Security Officer, Ensign Jose Farber."

     "Farber?" Ensign Reynolds was sitting at the Weapons / Security Station embarrassing himself. "Pardon me, Captain."

     Commander Waverly looked over at the young man with eyes that burned him. "You don't seem to think that Ensign Farber's arrest is a reasonable action, Ensign?"

     "It is not my place to judge such matters, Commander."

     "Right. Now that I've heard your disclaimers, I want to hear your opinion. No back-peddling Reynolds. I am waiting. In fact, I'm through waiting."

     "In my opinion, Commander, Jose Farber is too untrained and incompetent to have killed anyone with his bare hands. It would have taken a professional to have pulled it off. Jose Farber is not a professional at anything. Sir."

     "Thank you. Because your opinion is important on the Bridge, it is acknowledged and noted." Commander Waverly noticed that everyone was trying to look like they weren't watching. "The same is true of all of us." The Commander stressed the us. "We are all here to pull together and that means bringing together all we know and can do and think. Relevant opinions are important and welcomed. Thank you, Ensign Reynolds. I think you have made an important contribution to the investigation." And off to one side, Waverly whispered, "A private word with you, Captain?"

     They walked over to a vacant corner of the Bridge and turned their backs to the Command Crew. "Report," Belinda said, trying to keep the moment professional and her personal feelings buried.

     "I ran the data supplied by the Security Chief yesterday. All Security Lock-outs disengaged. I came up with a slightly different list from the one he turned in. In order of probability, Farber ranks second."

     "Who ranks first, Commander?"

     "Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday, Captain. No other suspects."

     "Very interesting. Thank you."

     "You may also find it interesting to know that the Security Chief was strongly implying how professional and well trained Farber is."

     "I do."

     Commander Waverly smiled at that, but he said,       "Thank you for your time, Captain."

     "What are you going to do?"

     "I've been carrying out my own investigation. For example, something Holiday said about the data tapes he gave me made me think of visual security tapes. I ran them and one of them is a forgery."

     "No."

     "Afraid so. Good job. Professional job. So, from what Reynolds says, it's not a Farber job."

     "Well, for once, not doing a good job is in somebody's favor. Will you leave him in the Brig?"

     "Have to. I don't want to play the trick until I can call the trump. I don't want to make suspect number two nervous yet. If he hasn't destroyed the Security Tape yet, perhaps I can retrieve it."

     "Can you do that legally?"

     "I can do just about anything legally, Captain."

     "I can order you ...."

     "Sure you can. But remember the Fortunians."

     "And just what do they have to do with this?"

     "Everything, Captain. The Commodore gave you enough loop holes to accomplish your goals and keep himself covered at the same time."

     "You're saying he made it easy?"

     "He made it hard. But he didn't make it impossible. Don't make this impossible, Captain. Whatever happens. However it appears. It'll work out."

     "I don't want you to take the risks, Commander."

     "Trust me."

     "How are you ...."

     "You can't know. It all boils down to trust. Adler said, that is the foundation of any relationship. But it's got to work both ways."

     "Be careful."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Station," she told him and they went back to their respective posts.

     "They're going right by us, as though we're not even there."

     "We're not 'there' Ensign Coleman," Commander Dysart said, as he came onto the Bridge, "we're here. All right!" he said as he slapped his hands together and commanded attention. "We're locked and loaded. We just need to saunter up and draw." His hand made the motion.

     "I'm afraid the English just don't have the knack for that sort of thing, Commander," the Captain informed him.

     "You're quite right, Captain. Sorry."

     Belinda turned and looked at Commander Waverly, with a quizzical look on her face. "We are ready, then?"

     "I'll have to plot a course that will give us a polar alignment, Captain," Commander Dysart answered. "That kind of precision will be difficult in Relativity Space, but not impossible. When we are aligned, we will go in slowly. At fifty kilometers, we will fire the Polarized Relativity Wave, at forty kilometers, we will fire the Pulsars and blow the iris, and at thirty kilometers we will fire the thermo-nuclear rocket. We will be visible to the station at that point." The Commander was already at his station and entering his commands. "Then, as soon as the rocket is inside, Captain, you should make a double Planck Maneuver and then get us the hell away from here."

     "Computer," said Commander Dysart.

     "Working."

     "Record the following sequence of commands:

     Fire a sustained Polarized Relativity Wave, at fifty kilometers on command: Sequence 1.

     Fire sustained Pulsar batteries on the iris at forty kilometers: Sequence 2.

     Fire Thermo-nuclear rocket through the iris at thirty kilometers: Sequence 3."

     Commander Dysart nodded to the Captain.

     "Computer. engage a double Planck maneuver and take us out to one Astronomical Unit and return us to Newtonian-Quantum Space: Sequence 4."

     "Sequence recorded and standing by for Sequence Commands.

     Commander Richard Dysart turned and looked at Ambassador Evelyn Wind in the Observer's Chair to the right of the Captain. They traded smiles and nods. He even winked an eye, which surprised her that he would do such a thing on the Bridge with the Captain in attendance. Evelyn Wind nodded again and tried to appear relaxed and in control of her emotions. But she wasn't. She was in control of only her body.

     "Captain, I have plotted a hair-pin course from the sensor's information," Commander Dysart reported. "It will be approximate. The Helm will have to make fine-tuning adjustments on our approach. Sending maneuver specifications to the Helm -- now."

     "On you toes, Helm," the Captain said to Ensign Brown. "Let me know when you're ready."

     "Course laid in and ready to respond."

     "Initiate now."

     Richard Dysart looked at the Main Viewer and rubbed his chin. "Computer. Augment view with the target's polar grid lines." As they came on screen, Commander Dysart said, "All right!" His fist held a thumb up.

     "Commander," said the Captain, "would you contain yourself on the bridge? This is not a one ring circus."

     "Sorry, Captain. The Helm may now make approach corrections by the grid."

     "Helm," she said, "make alignment corrections by the grid."

     "Aye, Captain," said Ensign Greg Brown, as he fine tuned his approach. "Two hundred kilometers, Captain and closing."

     "Slow ahead. Give us a count down: by fifties till fifty; then by tens."

     Captain Belinda Ivory swiveled her chair until she was looking at the Science Officer's back. He was working hard at his station. She glanced over to the Ambassador and frowned. She didn't like what she saw in her. The Ambassador had just turned away from the Commander and her face was a wrinkled brow. Heavy with quizzical emotions. A little hot and a little pale. Her worry worried the Captain.

     "One hundred fifty kilometers, Captain and closing, Captain. Helm reads ahead slow."

     The Captain looked over to see her First Officer, who was monitoring all Stations. His face was concentrated query. His eyes were burnt questions. His mind was scorching answers. His emotions were hidden treasures in the sand. "One hundred fifty kilometers confirmed, Captain."

     The Captain nodded and swung around and scrutinized the Duty Officer Station. Lieutenant Bova was monitoring the stenography being entered into the Ship's Battle Log. Her strength of concentration was impressive, as she indexed entry after entry.

     Just then, a wedge of three Imperial Light Cruisers appeared on the screen and accelerated toward them. They were heading right into Ebony's bow. Each ship was wedge shaped, just like the Ebony. And they were gray-hulled, just like Hell. Along each side of the swept-back wings, a series of red lights came on slowly, until they were fire-hot pots.

     "Range!" Captain Ivory snapped.

     "One hundred twenty kilometers and accelerating to attack speed, Captain. One hundred forty kilometers to target."

     "Ships at forty kilometers. Firing torpedoes, Captain. One hundred thirty-five kilometers to target."

     "Computer! Planck-Jump. Execute."

     On the Main Viewer, a barrage of lights appeared, coming from the enemy vessels. Then they weren't there any more. The lights had vanished. The Wing of Light Cruisers had vanished. The Space Dock was a little larger. And the Helm was giving an up-date.

     "Eighty-five kilometers, Captain and closing, Captain. Helm reads ahead slow."

     "Eighty-five kilometers confirmed, Captain. Stand-by. Coming up on fifty."

     "Fifty kilometers, Captain and closing, Captain. Helm reads ahead slow."

     "Fifty kilometers confirmed, Captain," Commander Waverly confirmed again.

     Commander Dysart looked up and said instantly, "Computer, Sequence 1:

     Fire a sustained Polarized Relativity Wave, at the southern iris."

     "Forty kilometers, Captain and closing, Captain. Helm reads ahead slow."

     "Forty kilometers confirmed, Captain."

     "Computer, Sequence 2:

     "Fire sustained Pulsar batteries on the iris -- now."

     "Thirty kilometers, Captain and closing, Captain. Helm reads ahead slow."

     "Thirty kilometers confirmed, Captain."

    "Computer, Sequence 3:

     Fire Thermo-nuclear rocket through the iris now."

     He watched the rocket streak in. Then, Dysart turned all the way around and nodded to the Captain. "Go, go, go!"

     "Computer," Belinda ordered, "Sequence 4:

     Engage a double Planck maneuver and take us out to one Astronomical Unit; return us to Newtonian-Quantum Space."

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Chapter 20

     "Sensors indicate our location is one Astronomical Unit from the Imperial Home World and we are presently in Newtonian-Quantum Space, Captain." Commander Richard Dysart made some calibration adjustments on his equipment and continued. "Presently awaiting confirmation. The light from the explosion is due to reach us within eight light minutes."

     "Sensors picking up the radiation from the blast now, Captain. Yes!" Again, Commander Dysart made a fist and held it up in a kind of victory salute.

     Captain Belinda Ivory frowned. She looked at the Ambassador, who frowned, also. And that still worried her. "Well done, Commander Dysart. Genius work. Helmsman. You will receive a commendation along with Commander Dysart. Excellent performance of your duties, both of you. Commander Dysart."

     Yes, Captain." He turned around and faced her.

     "According to Regulations, when a Command-Crew Officer exhibits an abrupt and radical change in behavior, he or she is required to be immediately examined by the ship's Chief Surgeon. You are too valuable an Officer to the ship to ignore that Regulation. Will you please report to Commander Patrick Sterling at once?"

     "Captain. I feel fine. I was just -- excited. That's all."

     "I don't remember asking a multiple choice question, Commander. There is only one acceptable answer to my question." The Captain turned half around to the left. "Lieutenant Bova. arrange for Commander Dysart's immediate relief. Have Lieutenant Commander Sybex report for Science Officer's Duty. Commander Dysart, you are relieved of duty until you are released by the ship's Chief Surgeon. Dismissed."

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Chapter 21

     Commander Patrick Sterling was waiting when Commander Richard Dysart reported to the Medical Center. Nurse Barker brought the Science / Information Officer into the Examination Room where Diagnostic Beds were placed along the wall and full-length View Screens ran above.

     "Roll up your right sleeve, Commander Dysart," the doctor instructed, as he slung a stethoscope over his neck and took a blood pressure cuff from a drawer.

     "Don't you have a machine to do that sort of thing, Doctor?" Richard Dysart looked askance at the devices that looked pretty antique to him.

     "Yes," the doctor admitted. "But there's never any substitution for a good bed-side manner. Sleeve up, if you please." While the patient rolled up his sleeve, the doctor smiled and said, "So tell me, Commander, why did the Captain send you down?"

     "I'm sure she told you, Doctor."

     "I know what the Captain said to me. I'm interested in what the Captain said to you."

     "Well, Doctor," Commander Dysart began, as the doctor put the cuff on and began to pump it up, "she said I exhibited an abrupt and radical change in behavior. And Regulations required my being examined by you."

     "To what behavior was the Captain referring, Commander?" the doctor asked, as he started to listen for a heart beat through his stethoscope. "Do you know?"

     "I had just built a rocket. And I told her it was loaded and locked and ready to shoot. I made a drawing motion. That's just about it. Is that anything to worry about?"

     "Do you think that's normal behavior for you, Commander? I mean, you strike me as being dignified, well educated, composed. You don't seem like a shot-from-the-hip kind of a guy." He took off the blood pressure cuff and smiled. "Good blood pressure."

     "Thank you. Well, I was just caught up in the moment, doctor."

     "So, others were talking about shooting -- like a cowboy."

     "No. I mean, I was caught up in my own excitement."

     "That could be dangerous on the Bridge, can't it?"

     "At a critical or inappropriate time, yes."

     "How do you feel. Physically, Commander Dysart?" the doctor asked, as he looked the man over.

     "Just fine."

     "How are you feeling otherwise. Do you think you have a behavioral change?"

     "Nothing to worry about."

     "By that, Commander Dysart, do you mean yes, but it's not bad enough to worry about?"

     "Precisely. I was a little excited. I don't think it was endangering the situation. I don't think it's serious enough right now."

     "'Right now'."

     "'Right now'."

     "But if it were to grow steadily worse, Commander?"

     "Then it might become dangerous, Doctor. But by then, I'd have it checked out myself."

     "I see. Tell you what: Regulations require a brain scan in cases like this. It'll take thirty seconds. Just routine. Follow me. All right?"

     Commander Dysart didn't like it, but he followed the doctor anyway. He went where he was led. He laid down where he was told. He watched the scanner move over him from head to foot. And he sat up and dangled his legs over the side, when it was done.

     Commander Patrick Sterling asked him to remain there and the doctor walked over to the computer desk. "Computer."

     "Working."

     Up-load scan for Commander Richard Dysart, Science / Information Officer, Ebony. Current date. Analyze data. Bring up any abnormalities."

     "Working."

     Shortly, a full head scan came up on his computer console. Then layers of normalcy began to be stripped away, until all that was left was a horse-shoe shaped graphic: the Cerebral Cortex. To the doctor's trained eye, lightning bolts seemed to be flashing through it at random angles. Then lines of data began to form below the graphic. And the Doctor studied them. "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Compare this syndrome with all Medical Files and Articles. List all cases remotely similar."

     "Working."

     "We should have something useful coming up, here, Commander Dysart." The doctor smiled confidently with a curt nod of his head. "Our Medical Files have just been up-loaded from those of First World Space Dock. The knowledge we have aboard is exhaustive."

     "Work complete. No cases remotely related to the current syndrome are on file."

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Formulate patterns and prognosis."

     "Working."

     "Well, Commander Dysart, let's see if we can determine what we're dealing with.

     "Work complete:

PATTERN:

Scan duration detects and determines a Pattern of increased random neuron firing throughout the Cerebral Cortex.

PROGNOSIS:

Based on the high probability of pattern corollary, Prognosis is that:

1. incapacitating random fire occurring: 48 hours,

2. complete random fire occurring: in 168 hours."

     "Hm." The doctor frowned, as he raised an eyebrow and looked at the blank screen. "Save file for further study," the doctor told the computer.

     "Saving files."

     "Commander Dysart. Will you accompany me to my Office?"

     "Yes." The tone in the Science Officer's voice was shaded with lines of worry, as he stood and followed the thoughtful doctor out of the Examination Room.

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Chapter 22

     Security Officer, Ensign Jose Farber sat on the single cot in his cell in the Brig. A security cell was a desolate place to be. It was a lonely place to be, while waiting to hear how your fate is being handled by those who don't care about you. Ensign Jose Farber wasn't crying now. Not because he was a man and man don't do such things. Not because he was a Security Officer aboard a Starship and Security Officers don't do such things. Ensign Jose Farber wasn't crying now because all the tears he had to cry had already been shed. He'd always felt a little shaky in his job. In fact, Ensign Jose Farber always felt a little shaky. But he'd never dreamed he would be done-in like this. On charges for crimes he'd never committed. And he felt sorry for himself. And he asked himself two questions: could anyone else fare better under these circumstances?; could anyone else not feel sorry for him/herself?

     The door opened and the security force field was turned off. A Lieutenant stepped in. "Farber. The Executive Officer requests and requires your attendance. It is my duty to advise you of your rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice: you are not obligated to see the Executive Officer; anything you say to the Executive Officer can and will be used you at your General Court Marshall. Do you wish to grant the Executive Officer's request or not. There will be no representative present on your behalf - at the request of the Executive Officer."

     "I'll go." Ensign Farber didn't care about Codes and Rights. Ensign Jose Farber cared only about being able to leave the confines of this -- stimuli-deprived environment.

     "Let's go, then."

     Ensign Farber was inspected. He was made to shower, shave, change into a proper uniform, brush his teeth, comb his hair and then walk to the Executive Officer's Office.

     "Sit down, Mister Farber. How have they been treating you?"

     "Well enough, Commander," he answered as he sat down.

     "Coffee? Anything?"

     "May I smoke, Sir?"

     "Yes."

     Ensign Jose Farber took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up. He inhaled it hungrily."

     "You may leave us alone, Lieutenant."

     "Yes, Sir." And the man who brought him left.

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Security Level Fourteen. All recording stop. Security Integrity Shields engaged."

     "Full-Level Security complete."

     "Ensign Farber, the contents of this meeting is private. Whatever transpires in this room stays in this room. I will deny having discussed these issues with you at a later date. Do you understand these things?"

     "Yes, Commander." The young man was looking at his Superior Officer through wide and disbelieving eyes.

     "Ensign Reynolds informs me that you are incapable of having committed these crimes. I believe him."

     "Ensign Reynolds stood up for me, Sir?"

     "Ensign Reynolds gave his opinion, Ensign Farber. I would not say he stood up for you. He simply stated what he believed was the truth of the matter. That means that someone else is guilty."

     "Yes, Sir. Why don't you just release me, if you think I didn't do it?"

     "Because I can't prove your innocence. To accomplish that, I would have to prove the guilt of someone else. And to do that, I need information. The question is this: will you save your skin at the cost of the person who set you up? It's that simple. Some would observe some stupid Code of Silence and protect someone who's trying to kill him. What will you do?"

     Ensign Jose Farber looked at the Commander's face in that analyzing way. "You say you need Information?"

     "What I need to save your ass, Ensign Jose Farber, is delicate Information. Classified Security Information, Ensign Jose Farber. The kind of Information that could put your ass on the line. But consider this: if you're charged with divulging that information, will you be in a better position than facing murder charges? Will you tell me what I need to know?"

     "I don't know, Commander. I just don't know. I don't know what to believe. Can I have some time to think about it?"

     "All the time you need. But I want you to think real hard. I need Information from you that will allow me to retrieve the evidence that will prove your innocence and someone else's guilt. But every hour that goes by is an hour in which that Information can be destroyed."

     "I'll have to think about it."

     "Just call. But don't tell anyone anything about this conversation. If I learn that you have, it will be a cold day in hell before I follow up on this. Understand?"

     "Understood."

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Disengage all security systems in this room."

     "All security systems disengaged."

"     Lieutenant," Commander Waverly said through the intercom, "you may escort the prisoner back to the Brig, now."

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Chapter 23

     He set a hot cup of coffee on the edge of the doctor's desk, sat down in the chair as a condemned man does, looked up, and asked, "It's critical, isn't it?"

     The doctor placed his hands on the desk and looked him in the eyes. "If we were anywhere but on the Ebony or on First World Space Dock, yes. But we are here on the Ebony, Commander Dysart. The new medical technologies we have here make last year's procedures look like beads and rattles. Let me tell you about your condition first. Then, I'll tell you the option -- singular -- that you have. All right?"

     Commander Dysart's heart was racing. Blood was throbbing in his head. Then, he wondered if it were random firing instead. He nodded, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything.

     The doctor could sense the Commander's apprehensions. "Don't be overly concerned. Now, you know what neurons are and how they pass on information through pathways."

     The Commander did. When he had specialized in Marine Biology, he'd studied the neurotic functions in many species. "I am a Marine Biologist," he said lamely.

     "Of course. To the point, Commander: the neurons in your Cerebral Cortex are firing at random. The rate of random firing is increasing. Left untreated: in forty-eight hours you would be incapacitated; in one week you would be brain-dead or just dead. There is a procedure to correct this. Temporarily."

     "Just Temporarily?"

     "Just Temporarily, but the procedure is repeatable. It is not a perfect solution. But it is a life-saving solution. With this procedure, you will be able to function to the capacity you functioned on the day we pulled out of Space Dock." The doctor was nodding his head as he spoke.

     Commander Richard Dysart sat in his chair without moving at first. His thoughts about all the words were taking up his whole ability. Then he picked up his cup and sipped his coffee, while his eyes drilled holes in the hard rocks of the doctor's words. Setting his coffee down, Commander Dysart finally said, "I find that an odd way of saying the procedure will work."

     "well, it doesn't exactly 'work' the way we normally mean things will work. It works, relatively speaking, and you will be able to function to the capacity you functioned on the day we pulled out of Space Dock. But it won't be cured. After a week or two, you will be in the same condition in which you find yourself today. We will repeat the procedure and you will be able to function to the capacity you functioned on the day we pulled out of Space Dock. The symptoms will be reoccurring and the procedure will be repeated."

     "And I will be able to function to the capacity I functioned on the day we pulled out of Space Dock."

     "That's right, Commander."

     "There's something you're verbally circumnavigating."

     "That's right, Commander. You see, you just couldn't take it all in at one time. But I think you're ready to go on to the next step. Computer."

     "Working."

     "Date: Commander Dysart's Physical Data Scan?"

     "Working. December 20, 2187 A.A."

     "Commander Dysart," the doctor began his explanation, "the procedure I'm talking about performing on you is the Medical-Data Emergency Reclamation Procedure. The Emergency Reclamation Equipment converts your matter into energy. The Data Pattern the Scanner provides is then replaced with the Data Pattern of your last scan and then you are re-converted into matter. When the Emergency Reclamation Procedure is complete, you will be the same person you were at your last scan -- same body, same soul, same memories."

     "But no more memories than the time of the last scan? That is what you are telling me, Doctor?"

     "Yes, Commander. You will loose all experiences from the time of your last Scan to the time of your Reclamation. You'll loose just some of your marbles. Without the procedure, you will loose all your marbles and die. When shall we do it?"

     "You don't give a man a lot of time to think about it, do you, Doctor?"

     "You don't have a lot of time to think about it, Commander. We can have it done inside of an hour."

     "No. I have too many loose ends to tie up. Twenty-four hours."

     "How about zero eight hundred hours tomorrow morning?"

     "All right, Doctor. That'll give me the night to talk things over with the Ambassador."

     "The Ambassador? Why the Ambassador?"

     "We have established a relationship, since my last scan. I have a responsibility to her now."

     "That serious, Commander?"

     "It would be premature to say, Doctor."

     "Come to think of it, I don't think so."

     Captain Belinda Ivory glanced over at the relief in the Operations Station and wondered how Commander Waverly was doing on his private errand.

     "Dysart to the Bridge," the voice on the speaker called Belinda out of her thoughts.

     "Ivory, here, Commander. Is all well?"

     "If the Ambassador is free, Captain, I request her presence in my stateroom."

     Belinda and Evelyn traded strained glances. "The Ambassador is not otherwise occupied, Commander." The Captain saw her nod and said, "She will meet you shortly."

     When the Ambassador had stepped into the elevator, she heard the speaker on the Bridge. "Medical to Bridge. Captain, I think you'd better come down here."

     "On my way, Doctor Sterling."

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Chapter 24

     Richard was pouring a second glass of warm, red wine, when Carolyn the Sweet walked into the room and ordered the door closed and locked behind herself. Neither pretended a smile. Richard turned and motioned toward the couch and brought over the wine. Carolyn forced herself through the heavy atmosphere and then stood motionless until she was handed the glass. "It's bad news," she said directly and without apology. Her lips trembled slightly. "Isn't it?"

     "Not the worst news, Carolyn." The Commander tried to force a feeble smile to comfort her, although he badly needed it himself. But there was comforting. As he looked at her, he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was the sweetest woman he had ever known. "Complicated, though." He took in a deep breath of courage from the ever sanitized air. "Why don't we sit down and I'll tell you about it?"

     "All right."

     "The remedy has some unusual side effects," he told her. Inside himself he could feel a smile coming when she visually relaxed.

     "I thought it was --" Carolyn the Sweet looked away. It wasn't that she couldn't think of the word. Not that at all. She just couldn't face him while saying it. "Thought it was terminal."

     "It would be. But we're on the Ebony. We have all-new technology. But I guess you know all about that." Richard smiled again and was rewarded this time with a crack on her face. "Doctor Sterling said the Ebony's new technology makes our old technology look like beads and rattles. He says he can repair anything."

     "So what did he find wrong with you?"

     "The neurons in my Cerebral Cortex are firing randomly and the rate of acceleration is at an unprecedented pace." After having said this, he took a generous swallow of his wine.

    "And the technology of the Ebony can fix that?"

     Richard shrugged his one shoulder a little. "Not exactly. They have something they call a Medical-Data Emergency Reclamation Procedure. First, the apparatus screens the you and makes a data map out of you. Then, it converts the you into an energy wave and stores you in a Holding Capacitor. Then the doctor replaces the data scan it just took with an earlier scan. So, when you're finally converted back into matter, you materialize as you were at the time of the previous scan. So, what that means is that when the Procedure is complete, I'll be the same person I was -- at my last scan -- the same me,."

     "Hm. So, what's this about an unusual side effect?" They finally took their seats by each other on the sofa.

     "The effect is that I'll have all the memories I had at the time of my last scan. But no more memories than I had at the time of my last scan."

     "When was your last scan?"

     "December 20." They looked into each other's eyes. "Before I fell in love with you. I'm sorry. That was insensitive and selfish of me. Unfair of me to say that. I'm sorry."

     Carolyn the Sweet smiled more like herself this time. "And before I loved you. You won't remember? Any of us?"

     "No. I won't remember. I won't remember being with you. Alone. Happy." Richard looked so hard into her eyes he was afraid he was going to fall in and be lost there. He thought that would be a blessing now. "I won't remember holding your hand. Walking by your side. Bumping against you, as though accidentally...."

     "I knew."

     Richard smiled sheepishly. "I won't remember parading you through the halls and showing you the ship. Showing you off to everyone on the ship. Seeing the envy in the eyes of the other men...."

     "Richard!"

     "I won't remember how we threw popcorn at each other's mouths in the movies, like teenagers. Or the feeling of kernels bouncing off my face. Having you close enough to feel how fast your heart beats. Or how your kisses feel. And taste. No, Carolyn the Adored. I won't remember."

     "What are we going to do?"

     "First, Carolyn the Sweet is going to have to decide whether Richard Dysart is worth the bother."

     "Richard!"

     "Wait a minute. Listen. I haven't told you the whole story yet. After the procedure, the neurons will accelerate again. And I'll have to have the procedure again. And I will forget again. And again. And again. And again. It's not a cure. It's a postponement. The symptoms will reoccur. And my forgetting will reoccur. Is it going to be worth it? We'll be caught in a cycle. Perhaps every few weeks."

     "But we'll be together."

     "What are you going to do after I come out of the procedure? Are you going to walk up to me and say, 'Hello, Commander Dysart. I know you don't remember, but we're in love?" Richard held out his hands in resignation, a man beaten.

     Carolyn the Sweet set down the glass of wine she had not touched and nodded sharply. "Yes. Richard Dysart is worth it to Carolyn. I don't care if we have to go through it a thousand times. Love is the absolute of the Universe. When the seed is planted in fertile ground, it will grow. Even by the waters of tears. We have a vested interest in each other now. And I am going to protect my investment. No, I'm not going to just walk up and say that. After your procedure, the doctor will explain what has been done to you and why. Then, he will tell you your wife is waiting in the other room."

     "Wife?"

     "Isn't that what you want?"

     "Of course, but...."

     "Do you have any reservations, Richard?" Carolyn the Sweet looked at him with a knot swelling up in her throat.

     "I'm just surprised that you would marry me. That's all."

     "Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely! Right now. Call Belinda. She can perform the ceremony. What is it now?"

     Richard's mind had wandered away -- the way most men's minds do. "You keep talking about absolutes."

     "So?"

     "I don't mean to get away from our discussion. Really I don't. But I think that's the problem. Or it could be a part of it." Richard reached out, grabbed her by the shoulders, and kissed her hard on the cheek. "Right. We'll call the Captain. But listen first. Absolutes still operate in Relativity. I let myself forget that about Relativity Physics. Everything you get in life costs you something. We haven't paid for Relativity yet. So, Relativity takes. That's the problem. Relativity Space is effecting us. That's the cause. Relativity Space. AntiNature.

     "If I just had the time. Perhaps I could make an AntiNature shield or AntiNature Reciprocity Generator. Like the Inertial Reciprocity Generator. It could work." Richard stood and started pacing about.

     "That's the spirit!"

     "But do you know what this means?"

     "What?"

     "If Relativity Space is the cause, then everybody exposed to it for x amount of hours will come down with the same Syndrome -- the Relativity Space Syndrome."

     "Are you sure about that?"

     "Nothing's sure. But we'll have to let the Captain know about the possibility. Then we'll get married. Listen, let's make a visual recording. About us. And I can also record notes I can use later to fix this mess with."

     "Let's get married right now." Carolyn the Sweet grabbed him by the arm and led him over to the intercom. "Ambassador Wind to Captain Ivory."

     "Captain Ivory is presently off the Bridge. She is currently in Medical Central."

     "Thank you." Carolyn changed channels. "Ambassador Wind to Captain Ivory."

     "Ivory here."

     "Commander Dysart has a request to make of you."

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Chapter 25

     "By the authority vested in me as Captain of this vessel, I now pronounce you, in the presence of these witnesses and in the sight of God our Savior, husband and wife. Commander Richard Dysart-Wind, as a sign of your professed devotion you may now kiss the bride; Ambassador Evelyn Dysart-Wind, as a sign of your professed devotion you may now kiss the groom." Captain Belinda Ivory smiled, as she watched the two embrace in the passions of new-love.

     The few Line Officer who were present applauded the spectacle. Then all the well-wishers shook hands with the groom and kissed the bride. As soon as the new couple departed, Captain Ivory and Commander Waverly withdrew into a quiet corner. "How are things with your private project, Commander?"

     "Private."

     Belinda glared at him. "Don't ever take advantage of our private relationship, when I ask a question about ship's business again, Commander." Belinda's green eyes scolded him.

     "Believe me when I say I do know the difference between our professional and our personal relationship, Captain. Perhaps you'll just have to trust me for the time being. But there will come a moment when you will understand, and if I may be presumptuous, appreciate my reasons. Continue to disapprove of my actions, Captain. That is good Due Process."

     "Stations," the Captain announced and all the Command Crew personnel departed, careful to leave a respectable distance between themselves and the Captain and First Officer who were involved in quiet discussion.

     Belinda and Richard walked out of the small reception room together and went down the narrow, low-ceilinged hall. Off to one side, they glanced at a small kiosk recessed into the bulkhead, where one of the Relativity Transport Stations was located. A Technician was evidently tuning some of the adjusters below the monitor that would show the available stations serviced by the system. They would have to physically take the Inducer Cylinders to any intended location. Then, they could use the system both ways. Commander Waverly turned his eyes from it and focused them on his Captain. "Do you think we'll all come down with the Relativity Syndrome?"

     Captain Ivory thought about it before she decided exactly what to answer. "Well, it's not certain. But, as Commander Dysart said, it is logical."

     "And logical means likely, I suppose."

     "If nothing's done to correct it. That process of correcting it begins tonight. Commander Dysart and Ambassador Wind are going to make some visual tapes together -- to update him as soon as the procedure is complete in the morning. Commander Dysart's first priority is to formulate measures to prevent the Relativity Syndrome. His second is to find a way to correct his own effects permanently."

     "What a way to spend your wedding night, huh?" Commander Waverly shook his head slowly from side-to-side.

     "They're both very good at Time Allocation. I think they'll be able to schedule everything that has do get done." They laughed together. They stopped in front of the elevator and Belinda pushed the button.

     "You know, Captain, we're going to have to get used to calling Richard 'Commander Dysart-Wind'. The Ambassador, too."

     "Oh! I'm glad you mentioned that. We will. Dysart-Wind. Dysart-Wind. Dysart-Wind. Has no ring to it."

     "I think we should consider having daily scans done on the Command Crew and other key personnel."

     "I agree. Make the arrangements with Doctor Sterling."

    "First thing in the morning be okay?"

     "Affirmative, Commander." As they stepped into the elevator car, the Captain snapped back at the nauseatingly nice computer voice that had asked if they would please give their destination. "Bridge." Then, the Captain turned back to her First Officer. "Do you think the Commander-in-Chief's murder could have been caused by someone suffering from the Relativity Syndrome? In which case, could he be innocent by reasons of insanity -- or something like that?" She leaned against the back bulkhead.

     "My opinion? Well, Negative. But it's for the solicitors. But frankly I'm inclined to agree with good old Aristotle, who said a man should not be judged according to his reasons, but according to his actions. I think Commander Dysart-Wind has just been exposed to Relativity Space more than anyone else. He was a pioneer in the field. No one on board has equal exposure time to his."

     "I suppose you're right." The door opened and the Captain stepped onto the Bridge.

     "Captain on the Bridge, Lieutenant Bova announced.

     "As you were. Do we have that Coffee Machine yet?" At the sight of all the shaking heads, the Captain turned to Commander Waverly. "Do you suppose the Executive Officer can influence somebody in Maintenance to get it done? Like now, for instance?"

     "Aye, Captain."

     Belinda turned to the Helm Officer. "Helm. Take us in just above the Belt."

     "Aye, Captain."

     Belinda relieved the Officer in the Command Seat. "Lieutenant, I have the Con." Commander Waverly assumed his duties at Operations.

     "Science. Report," Captain Ivory instructed.

     "We are coming up on the Asteroid Belt now, Captain and Science has completed its initial scan."

     "And?"

     "The Initial Scan covers roughly one fifth of the Asteroid Belt orbit, Captain. Scanners detect forty-five unmanned Ore Carriers. They are all equidistant and evenly distributed. On the assumption these are a representative population of the whole, the total number of unmanned Ore Carriers would be two hundred twenty-five. They seem to be alternating between equidistant orbits north and south of the planetary system's plane. They seemed to be zoned, Captain." The Science Officer turned around and regarded his Captain.

     Captain Ivory was shaking her head, as she looked around the Bridge. "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex." Then, Belinda addressed the whole Command Crew. "Ladies and Gentlemen, our objectives are to destroy enough of the Empire's resources to get the Emperor's attention and to make it prudent enough for him to sue us for peace. We will take as few lives as we can. I intend to destroy all of these Ore Carriers. That should put a dent in the Emperor's pocket." Belinda smiled and then turned to face the Navigator. "Mister Coleman. Plot us a course on the outer edge of the rim, so we can attack to the north and the south."

     "Aye, Captain. Plotting a course now." He made some adjustments on the board, then he reported. "Transferring course to the Helm -- now."

     Ensign Brown spoke up. "Receiving. Course laid in. Standing-by."

     "Very well. Stand-by." The Captain rubbed her chin and turned to the Relief Science Officer. "Lieutenant Commander Sybex, what kind of distances and speed are we talking about here, to accomplish the objectives?"

     "The Asteroid Belt is approximately a two hundred eighty million mile radius from the star. Multiplied by pi, the orbit has an approximate circumference of eight hundred seventy-nine point six million miles. Divided by the number of equidistant stations, two hundred twenty-five, they are approximately three point nine million miles apart. This distance divided by the speed of light, one hundred eighty-six thousand miles per second, they are approximately two zero point nine light seconds apart. The circumference of the Asteroid Belt is approximately seventy-eight point eight two light minutes." Lieutenant Commander Brady Sybex nodded his head once sharply to emphasis his accuracy.

     "Thank you." Captain Ivory did some of her own calculations. "That would put the Ore Carriers about two minutes apart at one quarter light speed?"

     "With the Considerations of the standard factors of Positive acceleration / Negative acceleration calculated into the equations, yes."

     Belinda shook her head once and then raised her voice for all to hear. "Now, listen up." She stood and worked her way forward. "As I stated before, our objectives are to get the Emperor's attention so he sues us for peace. To accomplish that, we need as many witnesses reporting back to him as possible. We will expect resistance on this Mission. We will not destroy any of it, if we don't have to destroy them.

     "Once we've begun hitting our targets, it won't take very long for them to know about it. And after that, it won't take very long for them to figure out we intend to destroy them all and in sequence. They'll send ships. If possible, we will take their fire without returning it. This passive resistance will prove us the stronger. So, it's going to be a long day. Before we are relieved, we will have destroyed all two hundred twenty-five targets. And we will have become very famous in the process." By now, Captain Ivory was walking back and forth in front of the Main Viewer. Slowly, she turned and looked at each of her officers in the eye. "We want to attract their attention. Lieutenant Jones. Open a channel and feed them static. Secure the ship from silent running. Activate Parade Lighting and discontinue Darken Ship. And light up all portals."

     "Aye, Captain," her officers responded, as they busied themselves with their respective tasks. Then, Belinda Ivory made her way back to the Command Chair.

     "Mister Waverly," the Captain said. "Shields on full operating power. Mister Coleman; Mister Brown. Take us in."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Fire when in range, Mister Reynolds."

     "Aye, Captain," he responded sharply.

     "Target on viewer, Captain. Magnifying -- now," said the Duty Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander Brady Sybex. A line moved across the viewer from right to left and showed a new, enlarged view. It was a bulky Carrier with straight lines converging at odd angles. "Sensors indicate minimum shielding. It is on full automation. Status is at Station Keeping. No life-signs"

     "Firing range coming up, Captain." Ensign Reynolds busied himself on the Weapons console of his Station. "Locking on -- now." The large Ore Carrier was growing on the Main Viewer. "Firing -- now."

     Four beams of energy shot out from each of the swept back wings of the Ebony. Two red lines and two blue lines streaked out at converging angles. The Ore Carrier exploded violently.

     It was merely a cloud of gas and wreckage that the Ebony's shields pushed aside, as she flew through the area. "Lieutenant Commander Sybex," Captain Ivory said to the Science Officer, "down-load each set of coordinates and courses to the helm for each target."

     "Aye, Captain. Down-loading next set -- now."

     "Receiving and plotting, Captain," Ensign Greg Brown reported.

     "One quarter light speed, Mister Brown."

     "Accelerating. Target ETA is two minutes."

     From that point on, the average was about five minutes per target. Thirty minutes later they were detonating their seventh Ore Carrier. And it was already monotonous. "Captain," Lieutenant Commander Brady Sybex said, as he studied the sensors, "there are a number of small vessels in wing-formation coming out of light-speed on the near-side of our next destination. They appear to be three wings of attack fighters."

     "Looks like we've got somebody's attention already." Captain Belinda Ivory sat up a little straighter in the Command Seat and smiled. "Any chance of their being a danger to the Ebony?"

     "Most unlikely, Captain. They are far too small to carry a combined fire power to effect our shields to any appreciable degree." Lieutenant Commander Sybex turned and regarded her, as he awaited a response.

     "Very well. Keep an eye open for the appearance of any Relativity Waves from any ships coming out of Relativity Space, Lieutenant Commander."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Ensign Reynolds," the Captain addressed him.

     "Aye, Captain?"

     "Keep in mind your only targets are Ore Carriers. Do not target any of the fighters -- unless ordered to do so. Or unless the Ebony is in immanent danger. The object is to show them we are of such superior strength that we can ignore them."

     The Forward Screen filled very rapidly with a small asteroid that lit up like a sparkler, as it came into contact with the Ebony's shields moving at a speed of about forty-six thousand five hundred miles per second. "Shields double-front," Belinda ordered.

     "Shields now at double-front, Captain." Commander Waverly typed in some commands.

     "Thank you, Commander."

 

     The Ebony slowed from one quarter light speed with its Reaction Inducers and the Inertial Dampers came on line. The center of the Main Viewer was filling with the image of the bulky Ore Carrier in the background and the nine long-range fighters bearing down in three small triangles comprising one larger triangle. A standard attack configuration in anybody's Navy it seemed.

     Lieutenant Commander Sybex studied the read-outs at the Science Station carefully, checking energy waves and power consumption ratios and penetration scan information. He finally reported. "Sensors indicate nothing exotic or unexpected, Captain. Their combined fire-power is absolutely futile against the shields of the Ebony."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex."

     The Command Crew watched as a volley of torpedoes were fired toward them. They were all self-guided, self-propelled cylinders of polished metal glistening in the little light of deep Space. They reminded Captain Belinda Ivory of wasps rushing toward an intruder to protect their hive. Then, flashes of white light splashed on the screen like water. When they had drained away, they were replaced by the sight of the fighters bending their vectors like bows.

     "Firing range in ten seconds and counting, Captain." Ensign Brown reported from the Helm.

     "Fighters have come about and are indicating their intent to pursue," Lieutenant Commander Sybex said.

     "Steady as you go Helm." Belinda said softly.

     Light began to flicker on the screen, as the fighters began a run of the sustained firing of their energy weapons.

     "Firing range, Captain."

     "Fire, Mister Reynolds."

     The energy streaked away from the Ebony and found its target. And the more maneuverable fighters swarmed like bees around them in their attempts to protect the Ore Carrier that exploded into a cloud of gass and dust and debris. The fighters out-distanced the Ebony, came about and started another attack run, their noses sniffing at their prey. They were coming in head-on and fast.

     "Computer. Planck-jump Maneuver."

     Instantly, everything on the Main Screen vanished and was replaced by the stars beyond them. "Darken Ship; go to Condition Circle Zebra. Rig for Silent Running." Belinda turned to her left and addressed the Communications Officer. "Lieutenant Jones. Close that channel."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "Next target, please."

     Later. "Success is monotonous," said Lieutenant Commander Sybex.

     "I'll choose success over the alternative any day," Lieutenant Commander Sybex." Commander Waverly stretched his muscles and yawned. He must have sensed his Captain's slight concern over their chit-chat, for he followed up on the thought. "Present Mission is fifty per cent complete, Captain."

     "Lieutenant Commander Sybex? Mission statistics, if you please," the Captain requested, as she watched the half-way point Ore Carrier explode.

     "One hundred twelve targets destroyed, Captain. Mission elapsed time is five hundred sixty minutes; that is nine point three hours. Distance covered, four hundred forty million miles, the half way point, Captain." Lieutenant Commander Sybex looked up from the Mission Statistics Charts and raised an eye brow, as though asking if that were adequate information.

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex." The Captain seemed to be balancing on whether or not it was. After a few moment's consideration, she nodded her head sharply. "Lieutenant Commander Sybex. Can you give me an up date on the status of the Imperial Fighter Squadron?"

     "Although they are obviously long-range fighters with Faster-than-light capabilities, they appear to be unable or unwilling to keep up with us, Captain. They are, however, no longer on a precise parallel course. They should intersect our course near target number one hundred sixty-eight, which is the three quarter mark."

     "The three quarter mark. Hm. Would you say this is incidental or calculated, Lieutenant Commander Sybex?"

     "I would say -- it would have to be calculated, Captain."

     "Well," the Captain raised her voice for the whole Command Crew to hear, "I think we can expect a warm reception there. Lieutenant Commander Sybex, watch for Relativity Waves."

     "Aye Captain."

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Chapter 26

     Commander Richard Dysart-Wind was leaning back in his chair stretching. And yawning. His eyes were tired from starring at the Computer screen. His hands were tired from tapping the keys. He sat up straight and unwrinkled his lounging robe. The rattling in the other room made him glance over. Richard wasn't used to having anyone around in his quarters. As he was watching the open door way, he saw her cross it with another load of woman's things in her thin, graceful arms. More rattling came through the door way, as she arranged them in the lavatory. Richard smiled. The details wouldn't matter. That is, the clutter. They would be her things, Carolyn the Sweet's.

     After some moments, she poked her head through the door and he watched as her corn silk hair fell over her shoulder like a wave. "Finished?" Carolyn the Sweet asked.

     "Finishing," Richard said. He let out a long breath that expressed how he felt. "There's just so much."

     Carolyn the Sweet entered and walked over to him. She was smiling. It was a wide smile. It was the kind of smile filled with conversation best unspoken. Then, as she stood behind him, she dug her fingers into the steel wire muscles of his shoulders and she was glad when she felt him relax. "It's probably enough."

     "I hope so. I don't know. But if there is an answer, it's probably related to this." Richard motioned toward the computer graphic on the screen that showed the Inertial Reciprocity Generator.

     "It's hooked up now?"

     "Yes. But it's untried. It's hooked up to the blue light on the Science Station. The Pulsars have to be off-line, while the ship's in Relativity Space. The Security / Weapons Station has to lock on target. Then the blue button fires the Inertial Reciprocity Generator. The targeting might not be quite right in Relativity Space, so the fine adjustments have to be made manually. When it's fired, the blue light turns orange and needs to be re-set by pressing it again before re-targeting and re-firing."

     "What'll happen, when it's fired?" Carolyn the Sweet was still kneading his back with her fingers.

     "I don't know. But my best guess is that we'll trade Inertia. We will receive the target's Zero Inertia and the target will receive Infinite Inertia. Infinite Inertia will cause the target ship to infinitely do whatever it is that they are doing when they are hit. For example, If they are at rest and their engines are powering up to move them, the Infinite Inertia of the target will never be moved and the engines will infinitely power up to move them. This will result in Energy Containment Field break down and detonation of the engines. So, it would be advisable to get away from the target ship as soon and as quickly as possible." Richard continued to relax in Carolyn's hands.

     "Richard?" she asked. "Do you think you'll fall in love with me again?" Her question was as soft as it was direct.

     Richard stood and turned and took her into his arms. And he held her close with the kind of tenderness that frankly surprised himself. And he chuckled one of those low, ironic laughs. "Let me tell you about the first time I saw you, Carolyn the Sweet. It was at the final briefing shortly before we pulled out of First World Space Dock. I had just given the Command Crew a brief run-down on some of the basic concepts behind Relativity Physics, when Admiral Holmes announced you and you made your Grand Entrance. You glided not just into the room that moment, but you touched down deep in my heart. Your speaking voice was like an exciting song. And the glance of your eyes was like a spell cast. I had never believed in love-at-first-sight before. But when you said 'love makes the world go round', I knew that my heart turned on you. And when you said, 'let's go see the Galaxy', I knew I wanted to see it with you. Later that same day, I had my first scan. Will I fall in love with you again? I think I already had. It will just be a surprise that we both had and married."

     "Let's go to bed, Richard. It's late."

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Chapter 27

     The Ebony was moving along at moderate slow speed, one quarter the speed of light. Nothing on the Main Viewer seemed to change, since in astronomical terms forty-six thousand five hundred miles per second was creeping along. "Approaching target area one hundred sixty-eight, now Captain. Minus acceleration -- now." Ensign Brown was making adjustments on his board as he reported.

     The Captain nodded, then turned to her right. "Thank you, Ensign Brown. Standard target approach." For the briefest of moments she considered the irony in having a standard target approach, when they were on a peaceful, exploration Mission. "Lieutenant Commander Sybex, Report."

     "Nine Fighters in three Wings are coming in at 005 Mark 120 Relative, Captain. Their speed is now overtaking us. I am extending scan diameter -- now. Ah. Medium Range scan indicates we have company, Captain. Data Indications suggest: eight light Cruisers coming in at 005 Mark 240 and four Heavy Cruisers coming in at 005 Mark 000 Relative, dead ahead and between us and the target. I believe the proper phrase is 'we are surrounded', Captain." Lieutenant Commander Sybex kept his eyes on the scanners and transferred the data and graphics to the Science Station Viewer just in front of him and to the right of the Main Screen. The Ebony was in the center of a circle with clusters of labels dots at each third of the circle.

     "A flotilla," the Captain said under her breath, but loud enough for the Bridge Command Crew to hear.

     Jennifer Bova turned and addressed her. "Captain, I believe you asked me to inform you about any insights into the Empire I might have?"

     "By all means, Lieutenant."

     "When I spoke with the Emperor while I was on board the Khas, he said that the technology of the shields was designed to withstand the attack of a flotilla of Heavy Cruisers. The shields of the Ebony were built on that same technology, Captain."

     The whole Command Crew turned in their seats to face this woman, who had talked with the Emperor.

     Lieutenant Bova continued. "We should be cautious, Captain. But we are designed to withstand the Imperial flotilla."

     Captain Belinda Ivory smiled. "Thank you, Lieutenant. That is a comforting thought. Excellent." She raised her voice for the whole Command Crew to hear her again. "Our object is to show them that we can destroy any target of our choosing with total disregard of their Fleet of War Ships. Lieutenant Bova has just brought to mind that this ship is designed to do just that. Lieutenant Commander Sybex, I want you to monitor their attacks carefully and keep me informed as to the effects of their weapons on our shields. And I want to know well in advance if there is any danger."

     "Aye Captain," Lieutenant Commander Sybex said.

     "If we are endangered," the Captain went on, "we will initiate Evasive Planck-jump maneuvers. If not, we will take their fire without retaliation, strike our targets, and then vanish into Relativity Space until our next target."

     Lieutenant Commander Sybex turned around and reported. "All ships accelerating and will converge on us in ten seconds.."

     "Thank you. Ensign Reynolds. Stand-by to take out the Ore Carrier. Return no fire on the Imperial ships unless ordered."

     "Aye Captain."

     "Here it comes," the Science Officer said. "Scanners indicate they are powering-up Energy Weapons and Quantum Torpedoes. Nothing exotic or extravagant. Total fire power is estimated to fall within moderate safety margins."

     The Captain turned from him to face the Main Viewer. "Steady as she goes." She looked around the Bridge critically and saw all of her officers concentrating on their duties. She thought she must have the best Crew of men and women in the Fleet.

     "We are being hailed, Captain," the Communications Officer said. "We are being ordered to break off our attack and to negotiate terms."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Jones. Do not respond. After we complete the present mission, we will be in a stronger position to mandate specifications and terms."

     "Aye, Captain," Lieutenant Junior Grade Jones said.

     The Main Viewer went white with crackling energy. Red Quanta whipped across it like lightning. Orange patches flared up and then faded away like bruises. And Belinda found herself being surprised that she was feeling nothing. There was enough energy and destructive force being hurled at them to tire gods and devastate worlds. But the Ebony stayed on course like ancient Fate who controlled the destiny of the gods.

     "Shields are holding steady, Captain. Sensors indicate an even distribution of Energy Absorption all around the ship. Forty-two per cent margin of safety, Captain."

     "Forty-two per cent?"

     "We are absorbing a tremendous amount of energy, Captain."

     Belinda smiled.

     "Target locked on and standing-by, Captain," Reynolds reported.

     "Fire when ready, Mister Reynolds. Notify as soon as target is destroyed."

     "Firing -- now. Target is destroyed."

     "Computer," Belinda Ivory said. "Planck-jump Maneuver." All the chaos and light on the Main Viewer went blank. It was as though a teacher had erased the chalk board at the end of the day with one of those things they used to call an eraser. "Next target, if you please." The Captain ordered and then said, "Relativity Space."

     "We are in Relativity Space -- now, Captain."

     Sometime later. People were moving in their places on the Bridge. They had long since lost the sharp edge of their wit, but they were a dedicated lot, as Commander Dysart-Wind would have observed, had he been present. The Forward Screen was finger-painted gray, with streaks of nature's black and white canvas showing through the worn areas of Relativity's textures. Apparent surfaces moved through the polish of crystal to grain like wood to the granules like sand. Distributed evenly ahead were specks of darkness, shimmering with anti-light. Unshining emissions of an un-radiant void. "We are coming up to the final target, now, Captain," Ensign Brown reported from the Helm.

     "Thank you. Lieutenant Commander Sybex," Captain Belinda Ivory turned to face the Science Station. "Can you interpret what we're seeing?"

     "Best interpretation Captain is that the Imperial Flotilla has formed itself into some elaborate attack formation and is waiting for us to make our final approach. We have been completely predictable, Captain. They are undoubtedly waiting. Their probable strategy is to fire all weapons at one point on our shields for maximum penetration. I am computing probable results -- now."

     "Good thinking, Lieutenant Commander Sybex. I would like an answer soon."

     "Coming up, Captain. Simulation model suggests no penetration possible with their present fire-power. We will have approximately a twenty-five per cent margin of safety. I suggest we come out of Relativity Space with the shields on Double-front."

     "Do it," Captain Belinda Ivory ordered.

     "Shields on Double-front."

     Ensign Reynolds spoke up. "Coming within firing range -- now, Captain."

     "Fire when ready, Mister Reynolds," she said. "Listen up! Newtonian-Quantum Space, now."

     The Forward Viewer turned from gray to black Space and then to the white-blue light of battle. The flash was so intense, the whole Command Crew had to look away.

     "Shields holding, Captain," Lieutenant Commander Sybex reported. "Collision alert!" A klaxon blared. "Sensors indicate we will ram into a Heavy Cruiser in three seconds."

     "Shut off that Klaxon."

     The Ebony shook for the first time that Captain Ivory could remember. From out of the world beyond, blackness drank the light and darkness swallowed energy. For a brief moment, a ship came in to sight that dwarfed them. Then, it rammed into the double, polarized shields of the Ebony. The enemy began to break apart and atmosphere spilled out of him, crystalized. The Ebony rocked again like a Battleship cutting angry waters. And the Shield energy that the Ebony threw before herself cut the enemy half-in-two. And the hulk that was the Heavy Cruiser broke up and drifted away.

     "Firing -- now, Captain. Target is destroyed. Passing through debris -- now."

    "Computer," Captain Belinda Ivory said, "Planck-Jump Maneuver." Then she gave the order to move into Relativity Space.

     "We are in Relativity Space, now, Captain."

     Captain Belinda Ivory relaxed herself for the first time in hours and it hurt to do so. She settled back in the Command Seat. "What next?" she asked.

     It was Lieutenant Bova who spoke up. "Captain. The Imperial Home World is vulnerable."

     "Right. Ensign Coleman," she said to the Navigator, "plot a course to the Imperial Home World. Give us thirty-six hours. I think it's time for a well-deserved break after this."

     An ascent went around the Bridge.

     "Lieutenant Bova. Call in the Relief Command Crew."

     "Aye, Captain."

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Chapter 28

     The Chief Surgeon, Commander Patrick Sterling, separated the couple who were standing in the waiting room like Siamese twins and announced that the hardest part of the operation was over. "This shouldn't take more than ten minutes, Ambassador Dysart-Wind," he told Carolyn. But Carolyn was receiving both language and emotion. They are inseparable to a woman's mind. And quite frankly, she was spending the luxury of feeling sorry for the men whose minds so easily separated the two, who could talk about things without feeling about them. Carolyn thought perhaps that malady was the prime source of their insensitivity for a thousand generations.

     "I'll be right here, Richard," she said, then stole one last hug from the arms that had come to know her so well so fast.

     Commander Richard Dysart-Wind nodded. "And I'll be right in here." He pointed toward the inner room. Carolyn wasn't at all sure whether it was British humor or insensitivity. "I'll be right out," he reassured her. Then he kissed her on the cheek like a man in the presence of another man. It was appropriate behavior as far as the men were concerned, but it wasn't what the woman needed. Then, the two men turned and walked through the automatic door into the inner room, leaving Carolyn the Sweet to sit alone on a couch with the ghosts of emotion haunting her with what men called silly worry. But that worry was not silly to Carolyn the Sweet. It was real.

     Commander Dysart-Wind had been in this room before. That had been when his first scan was taken and put in the Medical Data Vault. All the wall space in the room was taken up with computer equipment, except for the door area. The center of the room was taken up by the long, hooded table, the Reclamation Scanner - Chamber. Two of the junior doctors came in and took their posts without comment. They started powering-up the units from a pair of control stations. And the Commander was a little discomforted.

     "Up on the table, Commander. And try to relax. There's nothing to worry about." Commander Sterling smiled generously and assured him with a stout grip on the shoulder. "This is really no different from the first scan. We'll take another data scan just like before: you'll be scanned, transformed into energy waves, and stored in the data bank. Then, we'll reconstitute you back into matter based on that pattern. The only real difference is that we're going to replace the present data pattern with the older data pattern. Simple." Sterling smiled again and patted the table, like a doctor's bed-side manner.

     "I'm not the least bit nervous," Richard told Doctor Sterling. Actually, Richard was hoping that if he said it he would hear how reasonable it was and it would make him feel that way. He crawled into the chamber and took in a deep breath. And he let it out slowly, little by little.

     "Fine," Doctor Sterling said in that confident way that doctors have at moments like these. "Doctors. Report."

     "All diagnostic programs have been run and all systems are 'go'."

     "Proceed, then." Doctor Sterling nodded curtly at Commander Dysart-Wind, then started walking around the room slowly reading data screens and computer-generated information.

     Commander Dysart-Wind looked up and watched the scanning bar move from his head to his feet, as it passed over him. He could feel some vibrations under him and he was sure there must have been another bar or two passing beneath him. Above him, the scanning bar slowly moved like the eyes of a man seeing the body of a woman for the first time. The blue-white light touched him with a weight he could almost feel, the way a woman feels the eyes of a man. And then the Commander began to shimmer and to take on patterns of light that aligned themselves like layers of cleaved crystal. And then, Commander Richard Dysart-Wind faded away, as he was being transformed into electrochemical information for the machine to remember. Finally, he was gone.

     "Data Storage complete, Doctor Sterling," one of the junior doctors reported. He made some fine adjustments at his station. "Transferring last Scan Data into current memory file -- now. Standing by for Reclamation Procedure order, Doctor."

     "Stand-by," Commander Sterling said automatically -- according to procedure. The Chief Surgeon walked slowly around the room double-checking read-outs. He looked closely at monitors and gages and digitals and computer-generated images. And he finished. Then, he cocked his head, as he always does when consideration possesses him. "Why don't you run a diagnostic on the original Scan Data for Integrity percentile."

     "I don't see that on the Procedure Check-off Sheet. Is it really necessary, Doctor?"

     "Perhaps it's not. But I'd feel better about it anyway. This is the first Reclamation carried out."

     "Loading diagnostic program -- now. Beginning -- now. And now, we wait."

     They all waited for the computer to consider the organization of the file.

     "My gaud!"

     Sterling seemed to just appear at the man's side, as though by some magic. "What is it?"

     "Only seventy per cent integrity of the data file, Doctor Sterling!"

     Chief Surgeon Sterling was already sweating, but his mind was cool. "Bring back the old data file."

     "I just dumped it, Sir."

     "Get out of the way, Doctor." Chief Surgeon Patrick Sterling side-stepped into position and knocked the younger man right out of the way. He worked the keyboard. Nothing. "Computer. Medical Emergency. Up-load the Richard Dysart data file."

     "Working. Confirm: Dysart, Richard; Dysart-Wind, Richard."

     Doctor Sterling snapped back crisply, so that there would be no error, "Dysart, Richard, 12/20/87."

     "File: Dysart, Richard, 12/20/87 is unavailable at this time."

     "Doctor!" The Chief Surgeon snapped at the man. "Get Waverly up here. Now. Update him."

     "Yes Doctor."

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     Chief Surgeon Patrick Sterling took in a deep breath to calm himself. "Freeze all program movement at this location."

     "Request complete."

     Commander Charles Waverly was yawning. He was patiently listening to Ensign Farber's story about how he had been trained not to do what the Commander was requesting him to do. Commander Waverly found the young man tedious. The Commander was already tired. Now he was being bored. And he felt as though he should be getting more sleep. Or that he should be spending some more time with the Captain. Personal time. A red light flashed on his Security Panel and he jumped. 'Something must really be wrong,' he thought. With his quarters on High Security Status, few levels of emergencies would be allowed to filter through. The Commander reached over to take the call, "Emergency in progress, Ensign. Hold that thought." Charles pushed the pad. "Waverly here."

     "Commander Waverly. Medical Computer Emergency in progress. Commander Dysart-Wind is presently in Data-holding. Loaded, original scan at seventy per cent integrity ONLY. Current scan: dumped and unrecoverable."

     "I'm on my way. Nobody touch anything. Nobody do anything. Waverly out." Charles turned to the young man. "Wait here. Computer: cancel Security Lock-outs." By the time the Security bolts had slid aside, the Commander was at the door. He left on the run.

     Commander Charles Waverly burst through the door of the waiting room before it was half way open. He bounded across the room and said simply to Carolyn, "Everything's under control." Then he was into the inner room, before she could reply. The door closed and Carolyn was left alone with the distinct impression that everything was out of control. She put her head in her hands and said, "Our Father, who art in heaven, Holy is your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done...."

     "Status!" Commander Waverly snapped, as he stepped into the inner ward of the Reclamation Room. The door snapped shut behind him.

     "Commander Dysart-Wind is in Data Storage. We brought him in. We replaced the scan with his first scan. We ran an Integrity Diagnostic program on the file and found it decayed by thirty per cent. We cannot retrieve the present data file. We called for you." The Chief Surgeon rattled off the series of events.

     "In the future, run the Integrity Diagnostic Program before beginning the procedure. Computer," the Commander snapped.

     "Working."

     "Load Norton Utilities."

     "Working. Norton Utilities loaded."

     "Reclaim Files."

     "Working. Utility ready."

     "Reclaim file: Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander."

     "Confirm one of the following: Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander; Dysart, Richard, Commander"

     Commander Charles Waverly slowly sat down in one of the chairs, licked his lips and considered a lot of information at once. "Confirming: Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander."

    "Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander file is unrecoverable from this location. Do you wish to enter an alternate file name to reclaim?"

     "No. Computer. Security Level Fifteen: freeze programs at this station. Open on my voice print only. Authorization code: zero, zero two." Commander Waverly was on his feet again and moving toward the door. "I'll be back. I'm headed to Computer Central."

     Carolyn the Sweet looked up just in time to see the Commander almost literally fly through the room, going the other way. "Everything'll be just fine." The door snapped shut behind him and Carolyn was left with a sick feeling fluttering inside herself. Now she knew that nothing was fine now. She squeezed her hands together and said, "Hail Mary full of grace. Blessed art thou among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus...."

     Commander Waverly burst into the Center of Computer Operations and snapped at Lieutenant Clark, "Log off -- now!"

     "Computer. Freeze."

     "Computer: load Norton Utilities. Main Frame Search. Security One." This command subordinated all computer work on the ship. "Sub menu, Find," he said.

     "Norton Utilities loaded. Find menu up. Place file name."

     "Computer. Find. Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander, Data File. Security One."

     "Working."

     It seemed like a long time. For a Main Frame Computer, is was a forever.

     "File: Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander located in pre-dump."

     "Copy to this station. Security One."

     "Copied to this station."

     "Copy to Medical Reclamation Chamber Computer."

     "Copied to Medical Reclamation Chamber Computer."

     Commander Waverly slumped back in the hard-backed chair and breathed out a half-prayer, "Thank God."

     "You just saved him, Commander," Lieutenant Clark said.

     Carolyn the Sweet looked up and saw a drained Commander walk through the door. Waverly smiled at her. "It's okay now."

     Charles walked back into the inner room and the door closed behind him.

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Computer. Load: Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander, Data File. Security One."

     "Working. Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander, Data File. Loaded. Security One."

     "Run Reclamation program on Dysart-Wind, Richard, Commander, Data File. Security One."

     "Initiating."

     The form of Commander Richard Dysart-Wind shimmered back into matter in the Reclamation Chamber.

     He was disoriented for a moment. Then he asked, "When are you going to begin, Doctor Sterling?"

     "It's over, Richard." Commander Waverly said bluntly. "Come on out of there."

     "What are you doing here, Charles?"

    "A long story. The Doctor will fill you in on the details. Now. This system is shut down until we review all procedures."

     "Aye, Commander."

     Back in his office, Commander Waverly re-instituted his High Security Measures and sat down across from the young Ensign. "Now, Mister Farber, you were just about to give me the Security information I requested. I need the Security Codes for accessing the Security Monitor Back-ups."

     "Yes, Sir."

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Chapter 29

     The Ebony was traveling at slow speed on its Inducer Drive in Newtonian-Quantum Space and was operating under Condition Circle Zebra, Darken Ship. She was moving comfortably on a course from the fifth planetary orbit of the Asteroid Belt to the third planetary orbit on the far side of the star. The Home World of the Empire. This was a distance calculated to be about three hundred seventy three million miles. Slow speed for the Ebony was approximately one sixty-fourth the speed of light, or about ten million four hundred sixty-two thousand five hundred miles per hour. The trip would take an estimated thirty-five and one half hours, long enough for the fatigued Command Crew to rest up for the Confrontation they were planning to instigate after their arrival.

     Just now, Commander Richard Dysart-Wind was sitting at a desk in the Physics Lab and was drumming his fingers on its hard surface. Carolyn the Sweet was sitting in a near-by chair, sipping coffee and generally just keeping her new husband company. Richard and Carolyn were just barely over the shock of learning that he had nearly been a victim of a thirty per cent decay in a data file. Something that never should have happened. But the Commander was almost certain it had something to do with what was happening to him in specific and probably the rest of the Crew in general.

     "Damn it!" Richard finally broke the hours-long silence of running calculations and looking at the problem from various points of view. "I just can't squeeze anything more out of these equations. There's just no new angle. There's no new plane of reference. There's just no analogy that fits the facts. There's just stone wall and we've hit it." He tossed his pen down onto the desk top and it flipped in an arc to the floor between them.

     Carolyn the Sweet was silent for a time. As he was. She finished braiding her long, corn-silk hair and looked at the pen lying there on deck. Still. Lifeless. Her eyes were on the pen. Her mind was on the ship. Then, her mind finally made an Ebony out of a pen. "Pick up the pen, Richard," she said as she squinted her eyes at it.

     "Screw the pen!" Richard snapped the words out with uncharacteristic sharpness and Carolyn regarded him silently.

     "Richard," she said at length. "You are Relativity Space. The Pen is the Ebony. Go over and grab the pen with a menacing grip. An enemy grip. How can the pen keep you from destroying it? How can the pen prevent you from endangering it?" Carolyn tossed back her long braid so that it ran down her back. She crossed her thin, long legs and drilled holes in Richard with her inquisitive eyes.

     Richard cocked his head at the thought. Otherwise, he sat motionless and surveyed the little ship. "Intriguing metaphor," he said, as his mind began to change paradigms. So, they both sat there regarding the pen for some time.

     The automatic door to the Physics Lab swung to one side and admitted Commander Charles Waverly, the First Officer. He looked at the pair sitting across from one another, starring at a pen on the floor and he shook his head. "Is this what marital bliss leads a couple to these days?"

     The couple looked up and saw him but neither said anything.

     "Richard. I need the Information Officer's Computer Access Codes." Charles just laid it out there flatly.

     "You know I can't do that, Charles."

     "Then just tell me how I can find them. Without implicating you. You know I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. Damn important. Listen. A young man is going to be unjustly tried and convicted of a murder he couldn't have committed. If I don't get those codes in time. I have roughly sixteen hours, Richard. Sixteen hours. That's to get the codes and do the research I need to do with them." The Commander walked over closer. "How do I find out the codes, Richard?"

     "Tell the computer you are Dysart and not Dysart-Wind. I'm making the change-over now and there's no Security lock-outs in place in the old ones."

     "Thanks." Then he was gone without looking back.

 

     It was during the afternoon shift, when Commander Waverly walked into Computer Center Control. Lieutenant Clark was running the routine daily diagnostic programs on the Main Frame. He turned when he heard the automatic door open then close again. "Hello, Commander."

     "Lieutenant Clark. How are the diagnostics coming along?"

     "Ninety-eight point nine per cent, Sir."

     "There must be some mistake." Commander Waverly crossed the room to look over the Lieutenant's shoulder. "It should be a flat one hundred per cent. Straight across the board."

     "Should be and is are two different things, Sir."

     "When you're finished there, I want a complete print-out on the Main Frame. Have it delivered to my office." The Commander was shaking his head. "Well, I have some Classified research to get out of the way. Log me into The Inner Sanctum."

     "Aye, Sir."

     The Inner Sanctum was the highest Security Computer Section on the ship. Only the top Officers had access to it and Waverly was one of them. The Commander put his hand on a palm reader and was admitted after giving his name and rank and position for the voice verification program. "Waverly, Charles. Commander. First Officer, the Ebony."

     "Identification verified." And the door slid open.

     The inside of the Inner Sanctum looked like a miniature, one-man Bridge. The far wall was a huge viewer that was presently flat gray. The rest of the wall space was taken up by Computer Equipment alight with stand-by power. Commander waverly walked to the middle of the small room where the Center Seat was located with its swivel computer keyboard pushed down and out of the way. He sat down and snuggled himself into the chair. At the press of a pressure pad on the chair arm, the Computer came alive and the screen winked on with a vivid blue. The Commander addressed the system. "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Open Information Officer's computer Classified access files."

     "State name and authorization code."

     "Hm. Richard Dysart. Commander. Authorization Code: two dash two dash three." Commander Waverly waited an unexpected wait. And he felt right then that this was not going to be as easy as he had hoped it would be.

     "Authorization Code / Name mismatch. Re-enter Name and Authorization Code."

     The Commander moved uneasily in the Center Seat. He felt like a boy being caught doing something little boys shouldn't be doing. "Disregard. Computer. Open Classified Personnel File Registers for: Richard Dysart. Commander. Disengage Security lock-outs. Authorization Code: zero, zero, two."

     A file appeared on the screen. But what it said was: "Authorization Code / Name mismatch. Re-enter Name and Authorization Code." The bold, white letters of the words blared out at him.

     "Computers are dumb," Commander Waverly said to himself. "They know only what you tell them." Again, he drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair and reviewed the directories and sub directories of his mind. 'They may know only what you tell them,' he was thinking, 'but this one is particular about how you tell it.' "Hm. Computer."

     "Working."

     "Disengage Voice Command Program."

     "Disengaged."

     Commander Waverly reached down to one side of the chair and brought up the swivel computer keyboard and slid it over his lap. He began typing out his request and his words appeared on the Main Viewer as he went along.

     "Open File," he typed. "Classified Personnel File Registers for: Richard Dysart. Commander. Disengage Security lock-outs. Authorization Code: zero, zero, two."

     Then, Richard Dysart's Classified Personnel File Registers came up, displaying his various Authorization Codes. He read down the list until he came to what he was looking for. Information Officer's Master Access Code: 123.

    "I should have guessed." Commander Waverly entered it into the Computer through the keyboard and he was into the Main Frame Information Access Programs.

     "Access to Main Frame Information Files confirmed, Commander Dysart."

     "Computer," he typed.

     "Working," the cursor wrote out on the screen.

     "Security Access Code four, two, one, zero." The Commander had typed out the Code given to him by Ensign Jose Farber a short time ago.

     "Access to Security Information Files confirmed, Ensign Farber."

     "Computer. Retrieve Security back-up file for surveillance camera four two, level twelve, file seven, seven, one, two."

     "Retrieving file. File retrieved."

     "Computer. Run file on the Main Screen."

     The text on the screen winked out and the video began to play off the tape. An empty corridor, long and beige and low ceilinged. The edge of an elevator door opened and the Commander-in-Chief stepped out and walked toward the camera. He appeared to be upset about something. Distracted. As he walked, another figure came into view, walking away from the camera and nodding to the Commander-in-Chief. They nodded cordially. As soon as they passed each other, the man walking away turned, wrapped an arm around the Commander-in-Chief's neck and gave one swift jerk. The Commander-in-Chief went limp at once and the assailant dragged the body over to the elevator, tossed him in, hit the deck selector, and walked back toward the camera. Finally, his face was in full view. "Hold." The Commander instructed. Commander Waverly shook his head at what he saw. The face looking straight into the camera was the face of Ensign Jose Farber. No doubt. "Continue," Commander Waverly said. The form of Ensign Farber walked right up to the camera, stopped, reached up, and the screen went blank.

     "Doesn't make any sense," Commander Waverly said to himself. He wondered why the young Ensign would give him the Security Access Codes, if he knew it would incriminate him.

     "Computer." Commander Waverly typed in again. Transfer the present, active file to Waverly Investigation File."

     "Copied and Transferred," the print-out assured him.

     "Computer. Close File. Erase Record of present sitting. Security One. Authorization Code: zero, zero, two."

     File closed. File Access Records erased, Commander Waverly."

     "End session."

     "Session ended."

     "Farber," the Commander said to himself again. "Still doesn't make any sense."

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Chapter 30

     A contented Captain Belinda Ivory was lying face down on the couch in her private quarters. Her eyes were closed to the cares of Command and her emotions were open to the pleasures of life. Personal life. And her face was smiled from the delights of having her bare back being rubbed and massaged by the strong, kneading fingers of her lover.

     The room was quiet by the phantoms of blossoming romance. She was serenely thinking about the last few words that had passed between them.

     "I do love you," Charles had said. Finally. Secretly, she would have preferred hearing it before they had made love. But she admitted to herself that she hadn't spoken them, either. Still, hearing it then wasn't altogether anti-climactic. No pun intended, she thought.

     Ship's business was far away now. Yet, its shadow cast images of potential conflicts over them. The Giant of duty. The statue of discipline. The monolith of opinion. They all starred down at the couple enraptured by the being of pleasure. Personal pleasure. And the woman who was Captain Ivory wondered just where they would end up, going down this path they were deciding to walk together.

     "I love you, too," Belinda had told him. After that, his hands had felt warmer against her bare skin. The pleasures she felt from his fingers seemed better placed and relaxation ran deeper. Then she had fallen asleep only to be wakened more naked and better loved.

     "Where are we going, Charles?" Belinda asked in perfect seriousness, in perfect innocence, in perfect harmony with the glasses of cold wine they now sipped, as they sat on the couch together. "Tradition suggests ...."

     "Tradition suggests that Tradition is obsolete. Long ago, the sea Captains of Tall Ships fell in love with the lady passengers they were carrying, but always gave them up for some greater good or another. Space Ship Captains never married the women they would have left behind. But there's never been a real Starship Captain before you. You are the maker of Starship Tradition. There is no greater good. And I'm with you always, not somebody who'll be left behind. Where are we going from here?" Charles leaned back and half closed his eyes, as though to see something un-seeable. "Anywhere we decide." Charles took a small sip of wine and chuckled. "Why, our First Contact Ambassador has already shattered all those obsolete Traditions, like a good Evelyn Wind book. So, 'Love and Marriage' is already a part of Exploratory, Starship Tradition. As much as 'Duty and Discipline'. Without the whole life experience on a Starship, life will be unbalanced. Where are we going from here? Well. Will you walk down the Chapel aisle with me and exchange vows? Will you marry me?"

     "Yes."

     "Let's call the Chaplain."

     "Now?"

     "Of course."

 

     Commander Charles Waverly had just a few hours before the ceremony. They had decided that getting married during the present respite might be a whole lot better than waiting until after the up-coming confrontation at the Imperial Home World. Time allocation after that was presently a great unknown factor. If all went well, long negotiations would take place and their chances for free time would be greatly decreased.

     Charles had mentioned that the great "they" have always said that a benevolent monarchy was the most efficient form of Government, since the monarch could just say "Do it" and it would be done. For all practical purposes, the Ebony was a benevolent monarchy and the Captain was the monarch. So, Captain Belinda Ivory had set the time with the Chaplain and it was so.

     For the moment, Commander Waverly was playing back the recording he had transferred to his office from Computer Central. He was watching it again and again. There was something he was missing, he thought. It wasn't showing him the right answer. He knew the right answer. Instinct told him that. But the tape was showing him the wrong one. "Why? How?" Every time the figure on the tape turned, it was Ensign Jose Farber. But it shouldn't be. But it was undeniable.

     "Computer." The Commander settled back in his chair, propped his feet on the corner of the desk and took his coffee in hand.

     "Working."

     "Analyze the movements of the subject on this tape and search active monitor files for similar movements of Ensign Jose Farber, Security Department."

     "Working."

     After several sips of hot coffee, Commander Waverly began to drum his fingers on the arm rest of the chair. Another recording of Ensign Farber appeared on the computer monitor. He was walking away from the camera. He stopped. He turned back and walked toward the camera and finally passed out of view. "Hm." The Commander had it re-played several times and studied the man's movements. Awkward movements. "Computer."

     "Working."

     ""Split screen. Play both recordings side-by-side. Synchronize movements."

     "Working."

     Commander Charles Waverly watched them run together. The Farber in the Subject tape moved with a simple grace, with fluid motions, with flowing efficiency. But the Farber of the control tape was Awkward. Commander Waverly couldn't fight back the image that invaded his mind of a small, downy, adolescent Canadian goose with its stubby little wings raised as it ran through the grass. Waddled through the grass. "Computer."

     "working."

     "Compare the subjects of these two tapes. Give me a probability of identity match."

     "Working."

     Waverly drank more coffee as he awaited the results.

     "Probability of match: forty-three per cent."

     "Hm. Damned low. Like zero. Computer."

     "Working."

     "Run through the active Security Monitor files and select the subject of the highest probability match."

     "Working."

     The few moments dragged by slowly. Commander Waverly was getting impatient with all this waiting. But he knew that doing this the old way would take days or weeks, instead of these few moments.

     "Work complete. Highest probability match is ninety-seven per cent. Match identity: Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday, Security Chief."

     "All right. Computer."

     "Working."

     "Analyze Suspect tape for authenticity." He derided himself for not having done this first.

     "Suspect tape classification: computer enhanced."

     "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Restore Suspect tape to its original form."

     "Working."

     Commander Charles Waverly smiled. "I've got you now," he said.

 

     Executive Officer's Mast was now in session. It was an informal hearing to determine whether or not there was sufficient cause and evidence to send Ensign Jose Farber before the Captain on the charge of murder. Commander Waverly sat behind the raised bench in full dress uniform. He was dressed so formally because he planned to leave the hearing and go directly to his wedding. "This shouldn't take long," he told himself, as he settled in and booted up the computer with the files he was planning to use. The Security Detail standing just inside the door snapped to attention when their Security Chief and Security Administrator, Lieutenant Paul Hanks, brought in the defendant.

     Commander Waverly could see that the young Ensign was pale and his forehead was beaded with the cold sweat of shock, as he was taken over and sat down at a table. The Security Chief walked to the other table and put his brief case on it.

     Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday turned and snapped to the boy-man standing trial. "Stand at proper attention, Ensign. State your name, rank, and your posting."

     "Jose Farber, Ensign, Security Officer, the accused."

     Commander Waverly watched the humiliation of the young man with practiced detachment. But he felt compassion for the young man. "Security Chief. What is the purpose of the Security Administator's presence? Will he be functioning in this proceeding?"

     "No, Commander. Lieutenant Hanks is here as an observer, Sir. Training Requirements."

     "I see. Is your case ready, or do you require a continuance?"

     "Prosecution's preliminary case is ready, Commander."

     "Very well. Ensign Farber. You have no counsel at this point?"

     "No, Sir. I will be presenting my own defence."

     "It is your right to act unwisely, Ensign. But your position is accepted and noted." The Commander turned to the Security Chief and addressed him. "Read charges and specifications, please."

     Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday opened his brief case and extracted a file folder. "On the day of December thirty at approximately eleven hundred hours ship's time, Ensign Jose Farber, while on Security Detail, did deliberately, willfully, and premeditatedly, murder the Commander-in-Chief of the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System, Captain Peter Ivory." Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday looked up and grinned just the slightest. He walked over and handed the Charges Document to Commander Waverly.

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Holiday. You may now proceed with your preliminary arguments. Now, this is an informal hearing. Its sole purpose is to determine if the case is strong enough against the defendant to be sent to the Captain. Its purpose is not to judge the innocence or guilt. Proceed, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday."

     "The initial investigation was carried out under standard procedures and under my direction. The ship's complement was interviewed and they filled out Standard Security Form 492. These forms were objectively analyzed by computer. I submit the computer's conclusions to the Bench as Exhibit 1. It names the defendant, Ensign Jose Farber, as the sole suspect in the case." Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday walked over and handed the form to Commander Waverly. The Security Chief said, "I believe you have seen these results before, Commander."

     "I have. I now enter them into evidence."

     "Thank you." The Lieutenant Commander walked slowly back over to the prosecution table, then he spoke again. "The follow-up investigation I carried out myself. I reviewed the Security Surveillance tapes." Lieutenant Commander Holiday took out a tape from his brief case and tossed it into the air and caught it. "I would like to play the results for the Commander, before entering it into evidence."

     "You may."

     "Commander Waverly, this is the tape I retrieved from the Security Back-up Archives. Watch closely, Commander. I think you will find it to be self-explanatory. Computer."

     "Working."

     "Main Viewer on." Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday walked over to a terminal and inserted the tape. "Computer. Run this tape."

     A line of text ran across the viewer which identified it for the viewers. Then, the text on the screen winked out and the video began to play the tape. An empty corridor, long and beige and low ceilinged. The edge of an elevator door opened and the Commander-in-Chief stepped out and walked toward the camera. He appeared to be upset about something. Distracted. As he walked, another figure came into view, walking away from the camera and nodding to the Commander-in-Chief. They nodded cordially. As soon as they passed each other, the man walking away turned, wrapped an arm around the Commander-in-Chief's neck and gave one swift jerk. The Commander-in-Chief went limp at once and the assailant dragged the body over to the elevator, tossed him in, hit the deck selector, and walked back toward the camera. Finally, his face was in full view. The face that was looking straight into the camera was the face of Ensign Jose Farber. No doubt about it.

     "Computer. Hold the image!" The Lieutenant Commander instructed. "Commander Waverly, there is no doubt as to the identity of that face. It is the face of Ensign Jose Farber. Ant to cover his tracks, the Ensign tried to alter the tapes.

     "Computer. Continue," The form of Ensign Farber walked right up to the camera, stopped, reached up, and then the screen went blank.

     The smile on Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday's face was a Cheshire cat. He nodded his head in conclusion. In finality. In victory. "So, Commander Waverly, what form 492 strongly suggested, this visual display has proved. Physical, Security evidence has proved. So, I enter this tape into evidence as Exhibit 2.

     "Now, on the basis of Exhibits 1 and 2, I move that the defendant be bound over to Captain's Mast to be considered for a General Court Marshal."

     Before Commander Waverly said anything. he glanced over to the defendant's table. Ensign Farber still looked stunned from seeing himself murder the Commander-in-Chief.

     "Lieutenant Commander Holiday, your recommendations are so noted and are on a permanent record in this proceeding. However, in the interest of justice, I would like to make a few observations about the Exhibits you have entered into evidence before the Defence begins." Commander opened up a file through the keyboard in front of himself and had the read outs sent to the main viewer on the wall. "Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday, I have done some investigation regarding this case on my own. Our conclusions differ. Radically." Nodding his head toward the screen he said, "This is the computer conclusions of form 492 that you entered into evidence."

SUSPECT

FARBER, JOSE ENSIGN SECURITY OFFCR

     "Now, Lieutenant Commander Holiday, I will call up the conclusions of my independent research. You will note that there is a second suspect in the case. And that suspect is even more likely than Ensign Farber." Commander Waverly entered in his commands.

SUSPECTS

IN ORDER OF PROBABILITY

HOLIDAY, MICHAEL LIEUTENANT COMMANDER SECURITY CHIEF

FARBER, JOSE ENSIGN SECURITY OFFCR

 

     Commander Waverly carefully watched the Security Chief's face as he read the lines of the small chart. Commander Waverly saw how the man's eyes widened slightly and how his nostrils flared. Holiday's body language said uneasy things. And he tasted his lips with his tongue, like a man who knows no truth is on them. Commander Waverly smiled and said, "Computer."

     "Working."

     "Analyze the last footage shown for authenticity."

     "Working. That file is a Computer enhanced image."

     "Computer." Commander Waverly went on. "Identity percentile for Jose Farber."

     "Forty-three per cent."

     "Computer. Reconstruct the visual to its original form."

     "Working."

     Commander Waverly locked eyes with the Security Chief, like two beasts locking antlers.

     "Reconstruction complete."

     "Run reconstruction."

     The text on the screen winked out and the video reconstruction began to play off the tape. An empty corridor, long and beige and low ceilinged. The edge of an elevator door opened and the Commander-in-Chief stepped out and walked toward the camera. He appeared to be upset about something. Distracted. As he walked, another figure came into view, walking away from the camera and nodding to the Commander-in-Chief. They nodded cordially. As soon as they passed each other, the man walking away turned, wrapped an arm around the Commander-in-Chief's neck and gave one swift jerk. The Commander-in-Chief went limp at once and the assailant dragged the body over to the elevator, tossed him in, hit the deck selector, and walked back toward the camera. Finally, his face was in full view. The face that was looking straight into the camera was the face of Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday. No doubt about it.

     "Hold." The Commander instructed. Commander Waverly smiled at what he saw. "Charges against Jose Farber are dismissed," he said.

     "Continue," Commander Waverly said. The form of the Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday, walked right up to the camera, stopped, reached up, and the screen went blank.

     "Well. Developments do develop." It would seem, Mister Holiday. I believe that we have at last found our murderer. Haven't we?" Commander Waverly drilled the Security Chief through with his eyes.

     "Finding and adjudicating are two different things, Commander." In one fluid motion, Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday snatched a stylus from his breast pocket and jabbed himself with it. He vanished in a flash of light and without a trace.

     Commander Waverly blinked once then touched a pressure pad to enter a Security One Command. "Computer. Trace Emergency Evacuation / Personnel Quick Retrieval Wave. Location."

     Working. Stern. Shuttle Docking Bay."

     Commander Waverly opened a channel. "Captain."

     "Ivory here, Commander."

     "Security Chief Holiday is guilty of the murder. He has just used the Emergency Evacuation / Personnel Quick Retrieval Wave to get him to the Stern Shuttle Bay. I'm on my way. Waverly out." He was over the bench in a not-too-dignified a fashion, across the room, and through the door, while everybody else was just standing by awaiting orders. Orders he was no longer there to provide.

     "Let's went," Lieutenant Hanks said.

     Captain Ivory was in her quarters getting ready for the wedding ceremony with Lieutenant Jennifer Bova attending. Belinda would have used that word loosely just now. Belinda would have said she was fussing with her. Worried about this detail. anxious about that detail. Generally being an annoyance. Well meant, though. Belinda Ivory practiced her breathing exercises and smiled through it all. This was one of those occasions when the intent really was what mattered.

     Commander Waverly's excited voice abruptly opened a channel. "Captain."

     "Ivory here, Commander."

     "Security Chief Holiday is guilty of the murder. He has just used the Emergency Evacuation / Personnel Quick Retrieval Wave to get him to the Stern Shuttle Bay. I'm on my way. Waverly out."

     "Negative, Commander. Leave it to Security. Over." Belinda waited for a response. "Commander Waverly. Come in. Negative, Commander. Leave it to Security. Over." She waited again. But there came no response from the other end. Commander Waverly was not there. "Damn it!"

     By then, Lieutenant Bova was on her feet and at the door. The automatic door opened. And then the Captain stopped her in her tracks. "Where in the hell are you going, Lieutenant?"

     "For a walk, Captain."

     "You stay away from there, Lieutenant. Or I'll have you Court Marshalled."

     "Understood, Captain." Jennifer nodded and then was gone and the door closed automatically behind her.

     "Damn it!" The Captain repeated herself. "Damn it! Anyway!"

 

     Lieutenant Commander Michael Holiday was dragging a full back pack of gear across the Shuttle Bay deck toward the open door of the sleek Shuttle, Ebony I, when he heard something. He looked around. The Shuttle Bay doors leading to the inner shell of the ship were secured. The Shuttle itself looked secure. Lieutenant Commander Holiday looked up and saw nothing on top of the aerodynamic Shuttle Craft. Nor was there anything amiss about the other three Shuttles. Nothing amiss anywhere. So, he went back to dragging his heavy load of supplies toward the Ebony I. He wished he could have stored his gear inside it. But that had been out of the question. With the way he'd trained his Security Crew. They would have found it stowed away within eight hours of his placing it there. That was if there had been a screw-up. Four hours if not. Then, above the scraping noise of his dragging the pack, he heard something again. Lieutenant Commander Holiday stopped again. This time it persisted. He turned. And then he saw him.

     Commander Charles Waverly was walking around the nose end of the Ebony I. "Going somewhere?"

     "Vacation," the Lieutenant Commander answered. "Out of the way, Commander. Let's do this thing easily."

     "No chance, Holiday. You are under arrest for the murder of the Commander-in-Chief of the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System, Captain Peter Ivory."

     "How long did it take you to memorize all of that?"

     Commander Charles Waverly was walking between Holiday and the open door of the Shuttle. Holiday let loose of his load and the two men faced each other, like cowboys in the middle of a dusty street.

    "Give yourself up, Holiday."

     "You can't win, Commander. Not against a Security-trained Lieutenant Commander."

     "And you can't pilot that thing more than fifty yards from the Ebony, Lieutenant Commander. One shot from the Ebony can make you Star Stuff."

     "You have more faith in the Command Crew than you should, Commander. Nobody up there's going to shoot at anything that's not shooting at them! Think about it, Commander. Isn't that how you and your lover-Captain have trained this Whole Crew? Of course it is. You're all soft. None of you have the stomachs to do what needs to be done in a pinch."

     "Lieutenant Commander Holiday. Enough talk. Enough wasting time. I'm taking you in. Period."

     "Commander Waverly. You're a smart man. You can outsmart me. You can uncover me and free the innocent. But I bet you couldn't even beat Ensign Farber in a fair fight -- and he was incompetent. Fight me and you're going to die. Back off. Now!" Lieutenant Commander Holiday made cross hairs of his eyes and trained them on Commander Waverly.

     "Why did you do it, Holiday?"

     "The man was taking over the ship. Remember? No one else had the guts to do anything about it. Remember? He was just too dangerous to let live. Why did I do it? I did it for the Captain, for the Ship, for the Crew. Out of my way now. Or I'm coming through you."

     "Your philosophy is what's dangerous, Lieutenant Commander Holiday. And you'll have to face trial for it."

     All of a sudden, Holiday rushed Waverly and swung a devastating blow with his fist. But it missed. Commander Waverly stepped aside and made a swinging miss himself. Then, Waverly delivered a kick at the man, as he turned back toward him. Holiday caught it. Holiday laughed. A sinister laugh. Then, Holiday kicked Waverly in the inside of the thigh below the groin. And Waverly was down on deck, moaning.

     "How quickly you fail, Commander. You had done your duty on the Bench, Commander. You had cleared Farber. You had implicated me. You had done your duty. Now you will die in the Stern Docking Bay, because you tried to do somebody else's duty. When those Docking Bay Doors open, you will be blown out into unforgiving jaws of Space. Make your peace with God, Commander. You are crossing over to the other side." Lieutenant Commander Holiday picked up his pack and started to drag it again, when he heard the ice-chill of a voice.

     "Don't be too sure about that, Lieutenant Commander Holiday."

     Holiday spun around. He looked. Then, he laughed. "Bova!" The Security Chief found the little woman stepping between him and the open door. "Get out of the way."

     "You are under arrest, Lieutenant Commander Holiday"

     "To effect an arrest, you have to take me into custody. You can't win. You have less of a chance than the Commander. I'm leaving. You can save yourself. I'll even let you save the Commander. If you can make it through the air lock in time. But stand in my way and you will die, too." But the woman was on him, before he really knew.

     Lieutenant Commander Holiday threw his shoulder behind his arm and shot a hard fist at her jaw. With dangerous force. But before it connected, he felt her strong fingers digging into his fore arm and pulling him off balance. Then he felt himself being hurled over her shoulder and onto his back that crashed against the steel deck. His arm twisted in her hands and he felt her knee brace itself against his elbow. And his arm twisted. And pain sprung forth like artesian waters. And his elbow snapped. And paralyzing pain prostrated his body like a drug. A drug of fire and sulfur.

     Lieutenant Commander Holiday's arm snapped like a twig in a brown forest. Then, the little woman bent over, grabbed hands full of fabric and pulled him to his feet and smashed her forehead against his face. Pain and blood erupted in volcanic proportions. And she began to smash him with kicks and side-fisted blows, until he was leaning against the sleek Shuttle Craft, held up only by the force of blow after blow. And the man's consciousness faded like the sun that sinks under the horizon.

     "Stand off, Bova!" The Captain's voice arrested her attack.

     When Lieutenant Bova turned, she saw Belinda standing near with a Security Team back-up. And they all watched, as the ragged figure of Lieutenant Commander Holiday dropped heavily onto the deck.

     So, Lieutenant Bova stepped back. Then she moved to Commander Waverly's side. His eyes were just beginning to open. But they weren't quite seeing anything. Jennifer knelt down and cradled his head in her lap. "Don't move, Commander. I'll get a Medical team for you." The Third Officer of the ship took out her hand held communicator and spoke into it. "Medical Team. Lieutenant Bova on the Stern Docking Bay Deck. Two men down. One is the Executive Officer."

     "Medical Response Team here, Lieutenant Bova. Stern Docking Bay Deck. Two men down. One is the Executive Officer. On our way."

     Captain Belinda Ivory relieved the Lieutenant from her watch over the Commander. "I'll take over from here, Lieutenant." The Captain's voice had a dangerous chill to it and Jennifer knew exactly why. Jennifer decided they had a matter to discuss. Later.

     "Aye, Captain."

     As Lieutenant Jennifer Bova backed off, she looked around. The Captain was with Commander Waverly -- Charles. They were to be married soon. A Security Lieutenant was just now standing from inspecting the Security Chief. Who would soon be the former Security Chief. And this dashing, young Lieutenant would become the new Security Chief. Jennifer found herself hoping that he would prove himself worthy of the title.

 

     The young Lieutenant walked over to Lieutenant Bova carefully or cautiously. She noticed how he was regarding her. Professionally, of course. When he had come up, she said professionally, as the ship's Third Officer, "Report."

     "You really worked the Security Chief over pretty well, Lieutenant. Broken arm. Broken leg. Broken ribs. Ever consider a career in Fleet Security, Lieutenant?"

     "Never. I plan to Command a ship like this one day."

     They stood there for a few moments too long to be comfortable. "Until further notice, Lieutenant, you are the Acting Security Chief."

     The man smiled. "I believe you will Command one day, Lieutenant. If you ever need a real Security Chief, keep me in mind."

     "Your name would help, Lieutenant?"

     "Paul Hanks. Lieutenant Paul Hanks. At your service."

     "See that the former Security Chief is taken to the Security Area of Medical Central and placed under arrest for the murder of the Commander-in-Chief of the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System, Captain Peter Ivory."

     Thank you, Lieutenant. Perhaps we could tie up loose ends over dinner."

     "Tonight will be -- appropriate."

 

     The Chapel was small and rather dimly lit, when Belinda Ivory and Charles Waverly entered it from the back. There was a small fount of water on a stand and the Captain dipped her fingers into it by habit. She touched her them first to her forehead, then to her left shoulder, crossed to the opposite shoulder, and then touched her sternum. Then, they walked up the aisle, awash in Traditional Wedding Music. The couple walked together in dress uniform. Once, Charles faltered so that Belinda had to help him through a few steps. Everyone in the room had now turned to watch them, which was only natural at a wedding. And Belinda felt a small wave of amusement splash over her, as she caught a glimpse of the new couple on board. They were standing together. Lieutenants Jennifer Bova and Paul Hanks. And Belinda's eye caught the fact that Paul was sliding his hand around her waist and she wasn't objecting. It was probably that moment that Belinda decided never to mention Jennifer's disobedience. It was one of those all-or-nothing situations. It was drop it cold or Court Marshal. Nothing in-between. Then, the music stopped and Belinda became aware of the fact that they were standing in front of the Chapel, looking up at the Chaplain.

     He said, "Dearly beloved, we are all gathered here together in this place, in the presence of the Lord our

     Savior, to join this couple in the holy bonds of matrimony...."

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Chapter 31

     Ensign Greg Brown double checked his instruments, turned, and reported. "We are just outside visual range of the Imperial Home World, now, Captain."

     Captain Belinda Ivory smiled. "Very well, Mister Brown." She stood and stretched. "Lieutenant Bova. Would you ask the Ambassador to report to the Bridge?"

     "Aye, Captain."

     Belinda turned on her heel and walked to the back of the Bridge, where the new Coffee dispenser was located. "Coffee. Black. In a cup." The first time Belinda had tried the machine, it had given her coffee without a cup. It was a messy affair. She had seen to it right away that it also had a drain.

     "The Imperial Home World is on Screen -- now." Lieutenant Commander Sybex made his report sharply. "Magnifying, Captain."

     The same planet at which they had destroyed the Orbital Base was growing on the Main Viewer. It was a blue planet with swirling cloud cover, giving it the appearance of a globe of odd marble.

"Excellent, Lieutenant Commander Sybex. Scan the area. We want unmanned targets only. Coordinate with Coleman at Navigation and Brown on the helm and Reynolds at the Weapons Console."

     "Aye, Captain.

     "Communications." The Captain addressed Lieutenant Junior Grade Thelma Jones. "Be alert, now. Monitor all hailing frequencies. We don't want to miss their call when it comes."

     "Aye, Captain. Continuing to monitor."

     "Ensign Reynolds. Be on the alert, now."

     "Aye, Captain."

     "When we reach our destination, target and destroy unmanned quarry only. Unless, of course, the Ebony is in immediate danger. Understood, Ensign?"

     "Understood, Captain."

     "Bring us into Standard Orbit, Mister Brown."

     "Slowing and coming into Standard Orbit, Captain."

     "Standard Magnification, Captain."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex." Captain Ivory sat down in the Center Seat with her coffee and sipped from the cup. The coffee left a slightly bitter after-taste, but the Captain concluded that she couldn't ask for everything. She watched as Lieutenant Commander Sybex coordinated the clean-up operation above the planet.

     "Mister Reynolds. targets are in the computer. Relaying coordinates and sequences -- now."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex. Beginning automatic firing -- now."

     Odd shaped satellites came into view at the center of the Main Screen and they vanished on the ends of the Ebony's long, red and blue streaks of energy. A dozen flashes of light silenced a dozen communication relays. Small craft began to move off in harried vector changes.

     Lieutenant Commander Sybex looked up from the main Sensor array monitor. "We have a positive contact, Captain. A Heavy Battle Cruiser has just left its moon orbit and is heading this way. Commencing Penetration Scans in ten seconds."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex. Keep me informed. Communications. Any incoming?"

     "Negative. So far."

     The elevator door whisked open and shut behind them and the Captain turned. The Ambassador had just come in and was headed toward her normal observation chair. "Good morning, Ambassador."

     "Good morning, Captain."

     Belinda Ivory smiled and briefed her on the status of the Mission. "How is Commander Dysart-Wind doing on his Relativity Project?"

     "Relatively well." She smiled. "The Commander feels he is on the brink of a major break through on it, Captain. When I left him, he said it was like swimming toward the surface of a disquieted lake. He will reach the surface. It's just hard to judge how far away it is. But it is close."

     "Thank you."

     Lieutenant Commander Sybex looked up. "Up date, Captain. The vessel is the largest we've ever seen. Although it is an older generation ship, it seems to have superb shielding. However, its superior defences are a trade off with offensive weapons. It poses no direct threat to the Ebony."

     "Excellent work, Lieutenant Commander Sybex."

     Lieutenant Junior Grade Jones squinted her eyes and listened intently. "Incoming transmission, Captain."

     "On Screen."

     The face of a tall man sitting erectly in a padded, high-backed chair came on the viewer. At first glance, the man looked as though he had been in the sun far too long. But the redness of his skin was his normal pigmentation. "This is Captain Kon of the Imperial Flag Ship Khas I. Identify yourself. You are Commanded by His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor Khas, to cease all hostilities, to surrender yourselves and your ship, and to explain your actions before a tribunal to be appointed by the Emperor."

     "I am Captain Belinda Ivory of the United States Starship the Ebony. We will negotiate our position with the Emperor. With the Emperor only."

     "Captain." Lieutenant Jennifer Bova spoke up."

     "Yes, Lieutenant Bova?"

     Captain Kon on the Main Viewer sat forward in his seat. "Bova is there?"

     Captain Ivory looked back and forth between the two. "You two know each other, then?"

     "We have met." Captain Kon said.

     "Captain. Ambassador. Over here, please." Jennifer Bova continued. "A point of vital information: Captain Kon is the Emperor."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Bova." Belinda looked at the little woman. "That is -- important to know."

     "That woman is a spy!" The Emperor snapped. Then he sat back. "Why have you come back?"

     Jennifer Bova stood and walked to her Captain's side, so the Emperor could see her. "Your Imperial Majesty," she said with due respect. "One of your Heavy Cruisers went through the Rift. Captain Krom. He declared war. We have come through the Rift to wage that war. We have a full Ambassador on board," Jennifer motioned to Evelyn Wind. "She is empowered to negotiate a mutually advantageous settlement. That is why I am here. That is why we are all here."

     The two of them locked eyes. The two of them locked wills.

     "Captain!" Commander Dysart-Wind's voice cut through the air in waves of excitement. "I have just finished the Project to protect us against the Relativity Space Effects! Permission to make modifications?"

     Belinda opened the channel. "Commander. The Emperor is on the Main Viewer. No more details. Permission granted. Make your modifications and keep us informed by non-verbal means. Captain out."

     Jennifer Bova turned her back to the Screen. She stole the eyes of the Captain and the Ambassador with the iron look of her face. "Cut voice," she whispered.

     "One moment, please, Emperor."

     "Not two," he snapped in reply.

     The Captain turned to Lieutenant Junior Grade Jones and put her fingers to her lips and Jones cut off the sound transmission.

     "Report."

     "I saw the look in the Emperor's eyes when the Commander reported in. Emperor Khas wants that Project information, to protect his own against the Relativity Space Effects, Captain. I think he'll do anything to get it, Ambassador."

     Captain Belinda Ivory nodded her head. "Ambassador Wind. I think the Lieutenant just put the ball in your court. Play ball." The Captain signalled for Jones to raise the voice transmission.

     "Emperor Khas, I am the United States Ambassador, Evelyn Wind. I am not a diplomat. I don't believe in diplomacy any more than you do. We want something. You want something. We trade. We have peace."

     The Emperor regarded her. "What could you possibly have that would interest an Emperor?"

     "The results of a Project to protect us against the Relativity Space Effects. That is what we have that you want desperately. In return, we expect you to recall Captain Krom with his ship and for you to sign a mutual nonaggression treaty with us. We don't come through the Rift. You don't come through the Rift. Simple."

     "You are a practical and persuasive woman, Ambassador. I agree. However, should we not be compensated for our losses, Ambassador?"

     "I do not know, your Majesty. To be honest with you." The Ambassador shrugged her shoulders. "If you feel it is right, then I suggest you send an Ambassador to represent your case before our Government. In any case, your Majesty, the outcome of that issue has no bearing on -- or should have no bearing on -- the outcome of the Peace Issue."

     "I agree."

     Carolyn the Sweet smiled that winning smile of hers and clapped her hands once in Royal Fashion. "There it is."

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Chapter 32

     Somewhere beyond the Outer Rim of the Terran Solar System in Interstellar Space, a small cube of unfolding energy was accelerating, powered by only its anti-gravity waves. As it pushed itself away from the nearest star, it opened like a bud to flower. It shimmered with particles of light barely detectable to the eye. It expanded beyond its own dimensions, like a canal giving birth from a womb beyond. A sharp point protruded through, like something out of nothing. The empty wall of Space was crackling from its birth pangs, as the gray wedge grew areo-shaped and lightning-rodded. Finally it was through. From the colorless gray of relativity it took on a bodily form, as it shifted into Newtonian Space. Running lights came on the ebony hull.

     The flat, wedged Ebony rolled, then it stabilized with maneuvering thrusters. She came to an absolute bearing, aligned with the Galactic core. Plates on the hull slid open, above and below, astern. From each a sensor array dish slid out and then they started to turn. The ship heaved to and he went to station keeping, as it made its scan. "We're back home, Captain Ivory. The Imperial Heavy Cruiser has just made the transit back through the Rift."

     "Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Sybex. Communications. Open a channel to High Command. Inform them we have returned from Imperial Space and we have negotiated a mutual nonaggression treaty with the Emperor. Commander-in-Chief, Captain Peter Ivory was murdered in route and we have the Suspect bound over for General Court Marshal. Awaiting orders."

     "Coding now, Captain. Transmitting."

     "Helm." Captain Ivory turned to her left in the Center Seat. "Thrusters to Station Keeping. Hold her so."

     "Aye, Captain."

     The Ambassador was sitting in her seat in a pained position. Waiting was hard on her. Richard had collapsed after sending the shield modifications to the Emperor and his brain scans were getting worse all the time. The best hope, Doctor Patrick Sterling had said was that he would pass away quietly. The Relativity Space Effects had just taken over too far too fast to reverse now. But thanks to the Commander, no one else would have to suffer the same fate. They were naming the Shield expander after him, the Dysart Modifier. Captain Belinda Ivory was watching her, trying to feel what she was feeling, while trying not to.

     "Incoming Orders, Captain. Urgent. Pick up 'Ohst Ambassador with Ambassador Priscilla in Sector Gamma one eighty-one and return them to Earth at maximum speed. Subject: Classified."

     "An ask-no-questions assignment. Navigator. Plot a course and send it to the Helm. Helm. Maximum speed when you receive."

     "Aye, Captain," the Officers said.

     "Course laid in and standing-by, Captain."

     "Engage Dysart Modifier. Relativity Space. Engage engines: Maximum speed, Mister Brown."

     "Aye, Captain."

 

     The 'Ohst ship was sitting off the port bow. The Ebony was at Station Keeping. Captain Belinda Ivory and Ambassador Evelyn Dysart-Wind were standing in the reception room, waiting. "How are you holding up, Ambassador?" Captain Ivory tried to be as supportive as she could be.

     The Ambassador simply shook her head. She wasn't taking Richard's failing condition at all well. Belinda could understand that. She thought of how it would be to loose Charles. Devastating.

     The air lock doors opened and Ambassador Priscilla led the 'Ohst party in. The Captain shook her head, when they wheeled in a bulky, straight-backed chair that looked like it had a hair dryer on it. But that made no sense, because they were a hairless race. "That thing will have to be examined by our Acting Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sybex!" she said in a tone of voice that left room for no negotiation.

     The group of 'Ohst grouped together and discussed it. They confided with Ambassador Priscilla.

     "Captain," Priscilla said. "The 'Ohst say it can be inspected, but they will not travel without it."

     "What is it?"

     "It is a medical device, Captain. I'm not technical. I haven't the slightest idea of how it works. But it is necessary for their well-being in Space Travel."

     "Leave it. We will take it. But it will be inspected by Lieutenant Commander Sybex."

     Ambassador Priscilla explained the Captain's position and they all agreed to it.

     "This way. Ambassador Dysart-Wind will show you to your quarters. I will arrange to have this inspected."

     Captain Belinda Ivory was shaking her head, as she took out her hand held communicator. "Lieutenant Commander Sybex, to Receiving."

     "On my way, Captain."

     When the Lieutenant Commander arrived, he found the Captain looking at an odd chair-contraption. "I want you to go through this thing. Now."

     "Aye, Captain. I'll have to take it down to the Physics Lab."

 

     The Ebony was cruising through the charcoal gray of Relativity Space with its Dysart Modifier pushing the shields out beyond themselves, Relatively speaking. It created an envelope of Newtonian-Quantum Space around the ship, where it had not had one before. So the Relativity Space Effect was outside the range of reach. Visibility was much better, since the sensor arrays were clear of the Effects caused by contact. Even the Relativity Speeds were enhances by a factor of two. The Ebony was making better time than anticipated.

     Ambassador Dysart-Wind and the Captain were trying to engage in some meaningful conversation on the Bridge, but were finding it difficult. It was difficult to avoid the important topics -- that cause such deep-rooted pain.

     "Captain. Lieutenant Commander Sybex, here."

     "Go ahead, Lieutenant Commander Sybex." Belinda Ivory shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

     "I have my preliminary results on the 'Ohst apparatus, Captain."

     "So. What is it?"

     "It is a Brain Wave Modifier, Captain. The 'Ohst have devised a way to re-structure the neural pathways caused by the Relativity Space Effect. Obviously they haven't discovered anything like the Dysart Modifier. So, instead of preventing the problem, they simply heal the problem. It is my opinion that, with the help of Commander Waverly, we can adapt it to use on humans."

     "You're saying we can use it on Commander Dysart-Wind?"

    "Affirmative, Captain."

     Belinda turned, snapped her fingers and sent her husband scrambling toward the door. "Get it to Medical Central. Commander Waverly is on his way."

     "We should not hope too much, Evelyn."

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Chapter 33

     The 'Ohst Party was sitting along one side of the conference room table and Captain Ivory and Ambassador Evelyn Dysart-Wind were sitting on the other. Captain Ivory began the discussion without preamble. "It has come to our attention that you have not developed a shielding system that protects you against the Relativity Space Effect."

     The 'Ohst Party looked at the diminutive Universal Translator in the middle of the table and were delighted. "This is so. Do you have a reason for saying this?"

     "We have developed one."

     The 'Ohst Party was initially elated, but their excitement was brought under control. "There is a reason the Captain says these things."

     "Yes. There is. We have a shield to prevent the Effect. But we have no cure for it. You do."

     "You know what our equipment does, then"

     "Yes. We are willing to trade one for the other," Ambassador Evelyn Dysart-Wind said. Our Science Staff is looking for a way to adapt it for use on humans. Us." Evelyn indicated themselves.

     "This is done, Ambassador."

     "It is?"

     "Yes. We use it on Priscilla." The 'Ohst Ambassador pointed to the woman. "There is a switch on the side of it. Up is for us. Down is for yours."

     We have a man deathly ill of the Effect. My husband. May we use it?"

     "We would be honored."

     Captain Belinda Ivory took out her communicator and snapped into it. "Commander Waverly."

     "Waverly here, Captain."

     "There is a switch on the side of the apparatus. Up is for use on the 'Ohst. Down is for use on humans. We have their permission to use it on Commander Dysart-Wind. Do it."

     "Affirmative. Waverly out."

     "We will trade one for the other," the 'Ohst Ambassador continued the discussion. "But we would also like one of these devices."

     Belinda smiled. "We will trade one for the other. But as an act of friendship between us, we would like you to have this Universal Translator. As a gift."

     "We accept this gracious gift. Thank you."

     "You are welcome."

     The 'Ohst Ambassador looked at Captain Ivory critically. "You have nice breasts, Captain."

     Captain Ivory stole a side glance at Priscilla, who was grinning. "Thank you. I will take that as a complement."

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Chapter 34

     Commander Richard Dysart-Wind stood at his Science Station and smiled. "The returning landing party has docked, Captain. The Shuttle Bay doors are closing now and we are free and clear to navigate."

     "Thank you, Commander. How does it feel to be back among the land of the living?" Belinda Ivory turned in her chair and stretched.

     "It is good."

     "Is that all you have to say about it?"

     "That's all God had to say after He created the whole Universe, Captain. It is enough to say it is good."

     The Captain took a look around the Bridge and felt a sense of well being. They were all here. Seasoned now, she thought to herself. "Well. We've had a treaty signed by the Emperor. A killer turned over for Court Marshall. A Dysart Modifier invented. We've acquired a Brain Wave Modifier. And we've delivered the Ambassadorial Party to Earth. I can't think of anything else that needs to be wrapped up. Anything to add? Anyone?"

     "One thing, Captain."

     "What is that, Commander Dysart-Wind?"

     "I've been thinking about the enforcement of the terms of the treaty with the Empire. I don't exactly trust them."

     "How English of you," Carolyn the Sweet remarked.

     "Seriously. I have made an Inertial Reciprocity Generator constructed that will trade zero inertia for infinite inertia in Relativity Space."

     "So?"

     "So, Captain, if we put one on course with the Rift, and if the Empire sends a ship through, which can be done only through Relativity Space, then that ship will be destroyed by the Inertial Reciprocity Generator as soon as it is through the Rift. That will enforce the terms of the treaty. Then we'll be ready for our second Mission."

     "How long will all of this take, Commander?"

     "Twenty minutes, Captain."

     "Do it."

 

 The End

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