Crisis of Idealism: A Space Opera

The World is destroy. Nearly a thousand years later a sinister plot that could destroy all faith in a transcendental power is revealed. Will Good prevail, or will Evil gain power?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Inside the Beast

The Angle droped heavily to the surface of the docking bay inside the enormous ship. There was a resounding rining clang as the ship landed. It was dark inside the bay, there were no lights. Shadowy figures and shapes could be seen in the darkness. Jonathan could feel the vibrations of the great old ship through his seat. They sat in silence for about ten minutesbefore the vibrations underneath them stopped.
The lights came on and a large landing bay was revealed to them. The mysterious unmarked ships were resting in neat lines along the walls, hanging in a sort of rack. The bay passed ended in what looked like mighty metal doors. They looked as if they had long since degraded and would no longer open. They were far enough away that Jonathan theorised that they might well have been at the other end of the ship. Although some machinery seemed in good repair, there was a considerable amount of old rusted and broken machinery strewn about.
Strange things seemed to have happened to parts of the ship through the ages. Melted piles of metal refused on the surface, evidence of an accidnet of some sort - perhaps a crash of one of the unmarked vessles.
A group led by a very stern looking woman was walking towards the ship. She stopped where the crew could still see her in the port, but some of the men continued forward. Teh hatch was opened from the outside, and a gun was teh first thing through. An armored man followed looking carefully around him. He quickly scanned the four crew members. Jonathan noticed two things. The first was how professional this man looked, the second was that Norman seemed to have dissapeared again.
"Walk real slow" the man said. He stepped inside the ship and cleared the way to the door. "If I die, they blow up this ship." He kept the weapon trained on Grinder. "I want you out first. The rest of you follow, one at a time, real slow. Keep your hands where I can see them. If you try anything I will not hesitate to kill you." He kept the gun in his steady hands and watched as Grinder slowly moved out of the ship.
Marcelle looked levely at the man. She pointed at Andy and said "He can't walk."
The man snapped his arms to point the barrel of the gun directly at Marcelle's forehead. "Did I say you could talk?" He demanded.
Marcelle replied by pointing at Andy's leg. The man glanced down breifly and saw teh amputation. "Alright." He said, then mumbled something into a microphone in his armour. He looked up and said "You help him out the door."
Marcelle and Andy were out the door next. Jonathan was the only one that remained. The gun was trained at his head. Moving slowly towards the hatch, he moved through the ruined Angel. He stepped down onto the ground and was met by a squad of six people, lightly armoured compared to the man inside the ship. None of his shipmates were in sight. The squad quickly looked him over and one ran a sort of machine past him that he did not recognise.
One of the squad turned towards the stern looking woman and said "He's clean."
The woman looked at him for a moment, then said "Take him to a cell. Make sure its not near his companions."
Most of the squad boarded the Angel, put two people took him by teh upper arms and began to march him across the rusty floor of the cargo bay towards a staircase. It was beside an elevator that had lost it's cable and crashed to the deck.
They went up a floor and moved towards the relative front of the ship. Here things were a bit cleaner. By no means did it look fresh, but the metal was putting up a good fight agains the rust. It was a very stark environment. There was something very military about the ship.
Jonathan was led to a room with a solid metal door that looked new. There was a small barred window in the door and that was the only distinguishing feature about it. There was no handle on the outside or the inside, it was just a smooth flat surface that nestled to within a milimetre of the wall around it. It swung outward into the passageway. The interior of the room was funrished with a small bathroom and a cot. The furniture was moulded out of the same ceramic-like materiel as the walls, floor and roof. The room was white and very bright. Jonathan was pushed inside and the door swung closed as if on its own accord.
There seemed to be no escape. Jonthan explored the room fully, but found that there were no seams that he could try and pry apart. The few that there were were thinner even then his fingernails and would not budge apart, no matter how much force he applied.
Admiting that there was nothing he could do for the time being, Jonathan sat down on the cot. He eventually laid back and tried to sleep. He couldn't, it was too bright in the room. He sat back up, and began to pace. He was bored, but questions buzzed in his minds. Where did this ship come from? Why was it buried on an alien moon? Who were the people that had captured them? Why had they done it? Where were his companions? What was happening to them? What was happening to Marcelle? Jonathan worried about Marcelle. He stopped pacing and sat back down. A very deep unsetteling emotion passed over him as he though about Marcelle being kept by these people, whoever they were. He wanted to be with her at that moment.
Time passed, and eventually, Jonathan fell asleep. He woke up and looked around himself. There was no visible change in the room, there was no indication that time had passed. He might have slept for ten minutes or ten hours, he didn't know.
Jonathan could, however a voice in the hall. It was Grinder's. He was talking animatedly to the guards . "Where are you taking me? Where? Where are my friends? What is this place?" The questions just slipped out of his mouth. He showed great concert for his companions.
Grinder passed Jonathan's cell and Jonathan called out to him. "Grinder!"
"Quiet!" one of the gaurds said, and he beat Grinder with a club. "Don't talk to the other prisoners."
Jonathan watched the guards travel down the corridor with Grinder as long as he could. Eventuelly, they passed out of sight.
It was over an hour before he returned. Jonathan heard three people walking down the hallway. He stood up and looked out the window and saw Grinder walking freely down teh hall without the guard's hand son him. When he passed the cell, he looked up and had a horrified look in his eyes. He just shook his head a few times, and then looked down at his feet and kept walking.
The guards passed by again soon with Andy. He was leaning heavily on the two men and hopping down the hall as best he could on his one leg. He gave a brave grin when he saw Jonathan, but didn't say anything as he went. Andy was also gone for some time, but when he returned he was making no effort to walk freely down the hall. He was begin carried by the two guards and his foot was dragging behind him. His head hung down and he didn't even seem to move.
Marcelle soon passed by excorted by the two guards. She stared breifly into Jonathans eyes before being shoved forward and moved along. When she came back from whatever was at the end of the corridor, there were tears on her face. She look upset, but she was still apparently enough of a threat to be manhandled by the guards.
It wasn't a minute before the door of Jonathan's cell swung open. One of the guards motioned for him to step forward and grabbed his upper arm. The other moved in on his other side and grabbed his other arm. They walked him down a series of corridors to a wide double door that perhaps used to slide open on its own accord. Under all the grim, stains and rust, Jonathan could just make out a familiar looking logo, surrounding four very important letters: USNA. handles had been welded on the doors, and the gaurds wrenched them open with a sqeeking sound. They led Jonthan into what once might have been a conference room of sorts. It reminded him vaugely of the hall of Elders on Port Orpheus, only that the wooden table here was rotten and crumbled when touched.
A grisly, skinny, bald old man sat in one of the chairs. He looked up from a pad of paper he was holding in his hand. Hand written notes were take on it, Jonathan could see that, but the language didn't look familiar. The old man looked Jonathan up and down and said with a suprisingly clear voice "Ah, Jonathan Brooke. Welcome to the Beast. It is my home." The man was speaking english, but it didn't sound write. The inflections on the words sounded different than Jonathan was used to.
"You know who I am," Jonathan said as the gaurds released him and walked out of the room. "So I think I have the right to know who you are."
The old man looked at Jonathan critically. "Of course," he said after a moment, standing up. "Where are my manners? I expect you know me rather well, Mr. Brooke." The old man offered Jonathan a hand. "My name is Septimus. Septimus Jones."

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Ignition

The days pasted slowly in the close quarters of The Angel of Redemption. The ship was not designed for comforatable living, it was designed for functionality, and that is what it provided.
It took days for the ship to revert back into space in the Ranch system. Jonathan began to pilot the ship in towards the planet, but it was not long before a few ships slithered out of space and onto their scopes. They were pacing the Angel of Redemption and surrounded it on all sides. Andy immediately recognised them as the same style of ship that had attacked the colony on Norton. None of the ships had any visible markings.
A gruff voice crackled over the speakers. "We are escorting you through the system. Match our course changes directly or be destroyed." The com crackled off before the crew of the Angel had time to respond.
There were too many of the unidentified ships to try and fight their way out, and by the way they bristled with weapons, a run was out of the question.
As a group, the ships peeled away from ranch and towards one of the outter gas gaints. Jonathan matched the course and began to fly to the outer system. It was a long flight, and the crew of the Angel was so apprehensive of what might happen next that they did not speak.
The com stayed dead as they continued to fly outwards. They passed the first of the gas giants and continued outwards. The second in a series of seven in the Ranch system was the largest in any of the colonial systems. It was so huge that the scientists of ranch were still studying it to attempt to understand why it wasn't a star in it's own right. There were as many as fourty large moons orbiting the beast of the planet, most of them lifeless pieces of rock. Others, closer to the planet were volcanically active, and in the case of a smaller moon that orbited almost danerously close to the atmosphere was a ball of molten iron.
The myserious ships began to pilot towards one of the moons. Grinder's face passed into a kind of scowl. "The only thing out here is a research station. I'm not sure what moon it's on up here, but it could never support all these vessels."
Jonathan just continued to follow the ships. they began a decent onto a large moon that looked much like Earth's moon, but with less craters. It was also much larger. Jonathan was surprised when the Angel began to buffet as it passed through the upper levels of a thick atmosphere. This world did not look as if it had one - nothing but dry grey craters and rock. There was no evidence of weather of any kind.
The gruff voice returned on the radio. "You will dock in port seventeen" is all it said.
Following instructions, Jonathan carefully piloted the ship down to a groud level and saw a large opening in the side of a grey cliff face. The ships began passing into it one by one. Jonathan waited for a moment after the third ship went in before the gruff voice returned once again. "Proceed into the bay." Jonathan pushed the nose forward a little. He glanced at Grinder and Marcelle. "If we're going to make a break, now's the time."
Grinder looked at Jonathan. "Do you think you can pilot us out of this one, son?"
"It will certainly be easier than the last system. This planet might have enough gravitational force for us to preform the dive on - we should be able to jump out of here within seconds."
"I've already got a course layed in." Marcelle told them.
The gruff voice once again made itself heard. "Proceed into the bay," it told them forcefully. Jonathan griped the controlls tightly. Andy poised himself over the missile defence system. Marcelle held onto Norman and Grinder lined up the ships in his sights.
"You have ten seconds to move forward or we will open fire," the gruff voice told them.
Jonathan mashed on a foot pedal and the Angel lurched upwards. A strange noise filled the cockpit. It took a moment for anyone to idenify it as noiseing coming from underneath Norman's carpace. The alien creature looked excited. The clicking hum eminating from his body continued as the ship ripped itself away from the moon's gravity.
Streaks of flame soon burst out of the side of the mountian, tracing their way through the atmosphere towards the Angel and the three ships still outside of the bay immediately took action. The crew of the Angel were being forced down into their chairs, they began to see spots due to teh undue acceleration, yet Jonatha continued. He shifted the rotation of the ship so that the nose pointed upwards. The steaks of flame, whatever kind of weapon they were, could not catch the Angel. The missiles could. Andy deftly handeled the defence system, there were a number of explosions in the wake of the Angel of Redemption.
The three mysterious ships were not far behind, and they began firing their chain guns at the Angel. One managed the trace a pattern of fire across the hull, but the armour held and the only effect was a metallic clinking that seemed to interfere with Norman's voice.
Grinder laced one of the ships with small explosions from his explose ammunition. More ships were streaking out of the base below. Grinder realied that any missed shots would continue downwards and possibly hit the shits behind the one he was targeting. He opened up a little because of this fact. Sure enough, one of the foilowwing ships began to spew black smoke and stalled its forward movement, hanging still in the air for the breifest of moments before it slipped backwards towards teh surface of the moon, landing in a spectacular cloud of dust.
As soon as they breached the odd world's atmosphere, Jonathan started the dive towards the large gas giant. The Angel of Redemption's lightspeed drive locked in on the centre of the planet and started to use the source of gravity as a way to accelerate.
Something went wrong however. Infront of the crew's eyes, they saw the Gas Giant suddenly shudder. there was no other word for it. It began to collapse, great chunks of atmosphere began to sink in towards the interior or the planet. Great jets of gas began to climb their way into space and in an instant, the world suddenly exploded. The light was so sudden that the ship could not automatically compensate for it by tinting the port, and it blinded the crew.
The Angel was struck by a wind off a sudden flare of gas, now burning, and shoved forcefully off course. None of the crew could see anything but white and did not know what was happening.
Eventually, distinct shapes began to fade back into their vision. What they saw before them was not anything like what was there when they had been blinded. In the place of the giant planet, there was now a turbulent white star, flaring out with long arms of buring gasses out into space. More than one moon had already been hit by a flare, and the remaing peices were drifiting outwards from the place of impact. Jonathan tried to engage the engines, but there was no response in the controls.
He leaped out of his chair and back into the living space and pulled a panel off the wall. He was met with a sharp tangy metalic smell and saw black mass of burned parts of the engines.
A large ominous ship that looked a lot like the mysterious ships that had been pursuing them drifted through space in their direction.
Marcelle first noticed that it seemed to have rocking growing off of it. The next thing she noticed was that it was ancient. The ship looked older than anything she had ever seen. There was a sudden tug, and their ship began moving in towards the ancient vessel, directly towards an familliar looking hole.
Andy stared in wonderment at the ship in space. "It was burried in that cliff," he said with wide eyes. "It must be hundreds of years old."
Jonathan returned to the cockpit and flopped down in his chair. "We're done - the engines are basically melted. I think something happened when we connected with the gravity well of the planet."
Grinder stared at him. "I'd say something pretty serious happened," he said, gesturing towards the new sun.
"Well, the engines are basically melted together" jonathan told his companions. They drifted in closer to the large ship. "As ominious as it may seem, that big ship might be our only hope for survival."
They hole in the side of the ship slowly grew larger in the port, and eventually the Angel of Redepmtion, dead in space, passed inside the large ship.
"Into the belly of the beast," Grinder mumbled as the light from the new star was blocked off by the wall of teh strange vessel.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Chapter Twenty-Six: Dangerous Flight

Andy presented his book to the local leader of the Realist cell, Grinder's wife Victoria. She took care of the distribution among the local realists. It was not more than a day or two before the reactions to the book started to come in from the Realists around Port Orpheus and surrounding towns and cities. There was even one man who owned a printing company and was willing to risk printing limited run of the book in hard copy during the night.
Overall, the book was a sucess, it was what the movement needed to really challange the Idealists. They could articulate and spread the message easily, and they had a common source with which to be able to describe the ideas.
It took a few days, but eventually a number of copies were delivered to Marcelle, Joanthan, Grinder and Andy. They could not stay where they were after that. The had a new weapon against the idealists, and they had to use it.
They took the box of books and once again returned to the Angel of Redemption. Grinder once again tried to smooth talk their way out of port, but his efforts were not as successful as they were when landing.
"I'm afraid we can't let you take off sir," the voice on the com said. "We've been instructed to impound your ship."
Grinder looked at his three companions. They were not in a good position. If the ship was to be impounded, but there were no security gaurds there yet, it could only mean that they were on their way. Blasting out of the spaceport garunteed pursuit by the local authorities and quite possibly the Spaceing Commission. Waiting, however, would ensure them of capture. The copies of the book would be found and would be traced back to their origin. "It's too dangerous to stay." Grinder said to the ground.
Marcelle nodded. Jonathan took the controlls in his hands. "This could get a bit serious," He warned the group. "I suggest you belt yourselves in."
Jonathan turned on the engines and put the ship throught a fast warm up proceedure. The man on the com came back on with a warning. "Set down immediately or we will be forced to take action against your vessel. I repeate, set down or we will take action."
Grinder looked at Jonathan and said "I'll look after the weapons. You fly this beast away from this rock."
Jonathan set to the controlls and pulled up hard, throwing the ship into the air. The com continued to speak warnings, but they paid no heed to them. The Angel of Redemption and her crew were focused on escaping from Port Orpheus.
They broke atmosphere without any trouble, but there were four Port Orpheus port control patol ships waiting for them in orbit. There was also no doubt that there would be more ships launching from the surface.
Jonathan kicked the Angel into high speed. The ships had actually almost managed to surround him. There were three in a trilangle around him and one in a higher orbit than the angel. Turning around to escape out the bottom of the trianlge would have lost too much time, so Jonathan increased the forward velocity of the ship; durectly towards one of the port authority vessels. There was one obvious way Jonathan saw out of the situation that the port authorities must not have considered. He began a shallow dive back towards the atmosphere. The port authority ship began to dive as well, but on a much steeper angle, attampting to cut off Jonathan's path of descent. It was a judgement call, but Jonathan got lucky. At the right moment, the wide and flat body of the Angel skipped off the upper atmosphere like a stone on a smooth lake. Jonathan used the ships engines to provide extra energy into the jump and managed to pass over the port Authority vessle.
That ship would take time to turn around and break orbit or travel around the planet and break orbit on the other side. There were still three more ships in hot pursuit, however.
As soon as they saw that their trap that had been most likely an attempt to force them down to the Port Orpheu's surface had failed, the three ships increased their speed and began to use weapons. Solid fuel rockets began to streak from the front of the lead ship. Grinder deftly activate the missile defence systems and managed to destroy the rockets as they came in, but he was too busy to return fire. "Andy! Take over the missile defence," he shouted when there was a slight break oncoming barrage of missiles.
Grinder switched his panel over to the weapons. The Angel was equiped as an attack vessel, it wasn't really meant to be running. The designers had not made it weak, however. The aft section of the ship had two rear-facing chain guns. Grinder wasn't certain about what kind of ammunition they carried or how effective it would be against the port authority ships, but he took aim anyway.
The lead port authority ship was slowly catching up on them. Soon the missiles stopped coming and the ship behind them lurched into gear, throwing itself towards the Angel.
Jonathan was trying his best to get a clear course down towards the dueal red suns, but there was an asteroid belt in the way. They would have to break above the plain on which the planets orbited the stars and dive in from a different angle. Relative to the system, he pulled up. The change in trajectory gave teh ships behind a chance to change their course and catch up even more. It was an unfrotunate reality, but it was a necessity.
It wasn't long before the lead port authority ship was in range of Grinder's guns. He opened on on the ship. His initial volley went wide, but he swept the guns to the left and was surprised to see a line of small explosions trace across the port Authority ship. Apparently the ammunition was equiped with exploding tips. The ship behind them continued forward, but did not accelerate anymore and began to rotate of a strange angle. It was dead in space for whatever reason.
As he fired, Grinder watched a number couting down from twenty thousand for each trigger. It had to be an ammunition count. he was limited to how much he could fire. Grinder knew that this would not be their last battle, and thus descided to conserve as many rounds of amunition as he could.
Jonathan knew that to try and take any sort of evasive maneouvers while the other two port authority ships were still out of range would be counter productive to his purpose. They would only slow him down. He pressed forward in what was essentially a straigt line, trying to outrun the ships behind him that were not really much faster than his ship.
Marcelle was busy plotting the destination into the ship's computers. She had programed the computer to tell Jonathan when he could safely dive towards the sun and activate the faster than light travel engines.
Before the other ships could catch up enough, Jonathan nosed the ship into a down angle and hit a few buttons. It provided the ships behind them with an opportunity to once again cut off the angle, but it was not a sufficient advantage. The Angel of Redemption dove towards the two suns of the Port Orpheus system and, soon enough, blinked out of space and time.

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Book

Andy could not stay on Norton in his condition. Living in a tent with a recently amputated leg was just begging for complications. He was to weak to move at the time however. The doctor among the colonists assured them that Andy needed rest to gain strength. In a few days time, they could take him in the ship to a real medicale facility that would be able to take care of him properly.
In the mean time, Jonathan helped the colonists. They were stranded on Norton and were unable to go home. The Angel of Redemption had another mission to preform. Jonathan was convinced that his message pod theory was sound. The colonists managed to cobble together a strange sort of machine that was perhaps a little more effective than Jonathan's. It was their best hope. Jonathan also promised that he would alert Earth of the situation of the Colonists when he could.
Marcelle stayed with Andy in the hills and talked. She told Andy everything about what she had experienced when she went introspective, and all about what she had learned on Earth. About how teh human race was being led astray and into a sort of eteral darkness, and that the only path to redemption was to once again find an embrace the Transcendental Power.
Andy sat and listened and contently wrote down what he heard. He took notes on paper and carefully wrote everything out on an electronic data pad. He re-told the stories as he wrote with an elegance of prose that went far beyond what Jonathan remembered his capable of. If it weren't for the proof of the writing directly infront of him, Jonathan wouldn never have believed that the young man who had told him one of Grinder's former military exploits was indeed the same person writing what was essentially a mixture between history and a prophetic dialouge.
Andy wrote without end. He continually directed the information into a kind of book that he was designing. It layed out the paths of history and how they intertwined and how it was relevant to the culture of the Idelists. But it did more than that, it had an almost timeless quality to it, liek it could still be read and used generations after the fact. He called it Crisis of Idealism: The Transcendental Power and the Destiny of the Human Race.
It was a powerful book when he was finished. The text was all there, but Andy insisted that it still needed editing. He played with the words and changed passages to make meanings more clear.
He was still not happy with the outcome when he was well ebough to be moved to the Angel of Redemption. The six days it took to transport the ship to the Orpheus system were enough for him to satisfactorily complete his text.
Port Orpheus was weary of the arrival of a new type of ship, but Grinder managed to smooth talk the local flight control into letting them land. It was a simple matter of claiming to be a new experimental vessel of the Tapert family.
Port Orpheus had the largest realist population out of all the world. It was not as much of a military operation on this world, because it was a civilian colony world. There were many cities and towns, and they were not patrolled by a military like Vaudevelt. The realists could walk around in the open on Port Orpheus if they claimed to be Idealist in public.
There were three people waiting just off the landing pad by a hovercar when the Angel of Redemption landed in the spaceport. The strange red suns once again met Jonathan's eyes as he stepped out of the hatch and onto the ground. He accepted an end of a makeshift stretcher which Andy was sleeping on, holding his book in his hands. Norman was sleeping on the stetcher as well, curled up by Andy's remaining foot. Grinder carried the other end. They moved over towards the car. A tall woman smiled and nodded as Jonathan pushed the stretcher into the back of the large aircar.
Marcelle walked over and greeted the realists, thanking them for coming to get the party. She got into the car and all of the others followed.
Jonathan suddenly recognised one of the realists. It was the young woman who had been working in the Spacing Commission building at the front desk during his breif stay there. She bore a striking resemblence to the tall woman who had met them. Jonathan could only assume that the girl was her daughter.
"I'm sorry," jonathan said, "I don't think I even caught your name."
"Ellen" the girl said simply, looking at Andy in the stretcher and seeing the missing leg. "You didn't have a safe trip, Andy." She said, leaning back into her seat.
Jonathan was surprised with the ease at which they moved through the city. He assumed that Marcelle and Grinder were wanted criminals, and he guessed that he was as well.
Grinder was talking with the tall woman who was driving the car. "I heard about Magdalina," she was saying.
"It was a damn shame, she was a good woman. I'm just glad I got out of that wreck alive."
"I'm glad that you survived as well. Managed to bring a couple people you, too."
"Well, I do have a reputation to live up to."
The woman grinned. "That's why I love you James. You're always so cheerful."
Jonathan leaned forward and asked "Grinder, how do you know these people?"
Grinder looked back at Jonathan. "My God, where are my manners! Jonathan, I want you to meet my familiy. My daughter Ellen, my son Greg and my beautiful wife, Victoria."
"Please, call me Vic." The tall woman said.
"You're whole family converted to realism with you, Grinder?" Jonathan asked.
"I'm a lucky man. What else can I say? I suppose its because they're all so damn smart."

The car eventually pulled into a small white building outside of the city. Jonathan couldn't say what the purpose of the building was, but he found it to be full of friendly faces. It was certainly a respite from some of teh times endured in his recent past. It was a Realist base, there was no doubt about that, but it was much more comforatable that the depths of the Realist caves on Vaudevelt.
Never before had Jonathan felt so among friends since he had started his journey through the stars.
There were ample medical facilities where Andy could be looked after. His face was a little hollow and his eyes a little harder, but it wasn't long before the onld enthusiastic smile was back on his face. Everytime that Ellen came into the room, he would put his book aside (he still insisted on checking it over to mae sure everything was right). She was the only person he would put it away for.
The entire party took some much needed rest. Jonathan was pleased to be able to spend some time with Marcelle just as people.
They knew that this happy life away from the city could not last forever though. When Andy as well enough to begin moving around on his own, it was time to present to the Realist community the Crisis of Idealism.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Defense of Norton

They attacked three days after you left, Andy told the group. It was a small strike force of Idealists, not from the Spacing Commission, but one of the planetary militias. There weren't any markers on the ships though, which I found to be odd. The first run just flew overhead. It gave us enough time to prepare for what was coming. The colonists didn't really have any weapons, but Grinder had gone through stores and found a number of things that would do the job. Like the people on Mars you told me about during the Destruction, Jonathan. We weren't really a match against the incoming ships, so Grinder had us take to trying to escape without them noticing. We were on the outside of the forest when the ships passed by again, this time bombing the buildings.
Only one of the rovers was in the town when the attack came, and it was hit with a missle. After the last explosion, the ships came down on the colony, surrounding it. Troops filed out and walked through the burning remains of the town, looking for, well, us, I guess. Grinder and I had stoped to look back. Grinder drew he rifle and used a sight - he managed to pick off one or two of the officers before the men returned to their ships. They knew then what was happening.
Grinder told me to take the colonists somewhere safe. I immediately went for the nearest hills, thinking that they could provide the cover I we needed. Grinder ran off in another direction, purposefully leaving himself open so that the ships could track him. One of them did, unfortunetly the rest continued to search for all of the rest of us. It was a dangerous situation.
There were five ships flying out a quick search pattern over the terrain, covering a lot of ground fast. Another one was hovering slowly after Grinder. I could hear the chain guns firing and as concerned as I was, I knew if they didn't stop he wasn't dead.
As we were climbing a short cliff-face, maybe three metres high, I heard a concussive boom and looked around behind me. The ship following grinder was spewing black smoke and listing down towards the ground. Grinder had used one of the two rockets he brought with him. I presumed it was because he had no other way to escape, otherwise he would not have used it with the odds stacked against him. Almost immediately, two ships peeled off and started towards his position. Although it bought us enough time to get up over the cliff face, there were three ships searching for us still, and Grinder had to deal with two himself!
I'm told by an expert on the situation, Grinder himself, that he managed to escape from further ataack by slithering under a boulder and finding an opening into a cave of sorts. A very tight fight for a man of his size, he told me, but apparently it was deep and long. He wound his way through the caves and tried to find another way out. He knew that there would be people helping the wounded on the crashed ship, and would be spotted if he exited through the same hole. unfortunetly the system of underground tunnels was expansive and it seems that Mr. Grinder has a certain lack of direction underground. He was lost until the next day, when the battle was over.
I was left alone running across that surface of the world, looking after the colonists with nothing more thatn a sidearm and a rifle and some home-made hand to hand weapons spread out among the colonists. i tried to lead them throught the areas with the most cover, but eventually it came down to a bare feild between us and the first rank of boulders on this series of hills I could see the dense woods on the peaks of the hills and knew that if we had to mount a defense, it would be the best place to do it. I couldn't do anything else, they could easily surround us where we were, concealed in light foliage. The trees on this world are solid. I thought, maybe, up on the hill the chain guns on the ships might not be too effective when they had to chop through an acre of hardwood to hit their target. Plus the close quarters would allow us to ambush the troops if we had to. However, the woods were across the open feild and up a steep rocky hill. The boulders might have afforded us some protection, but it looked dangerous.
I talked it over with the colonists, and they agreed that we had to take the risk; there was no way we could survive if discovered where we were.
So, en masse we stood up, and began running for the hills, literal as it may be. I'm afraid that I was trying my best to cover our retreate so I managed to fall to the back of the group, twirling around and looking behind us to see how safe we were, preparing to shout that we should get under cover.
We were doing well, I mean, we were almost at the top of the hill. I could barley run. It was a combination of the fact that I had tripped and cut myself, the slippery rocks underfoot and that I had been travelling fast on foot for a long time; I was getting tired.
The end was so close, I was so determined to get there that i gave up my dillagent searching of the sky. When I heard the thrumming of the engine, it was too late. I started to turn to see our situatuation when I heard the whir and clacking of a chain gun burst. I guess it was the fact that it wasn't a continuous burst that saved maybe. I don't know why it wasn't a continuous burst, maybe they were running low on ammunition, I don't know. The shot went wide, but the bolts obliterated the rocks around me. Shards started flying all around. I didn't even feel it when a sharp piece of sedimentry rock bit into my leg - almost through it.
I fell to the ground and passed out.
Afterwards, when I woke up, the colonists told me what had happened. The ship had moved on, leaving me for dead. Most of the colonists made it into the woods. As it turns out, the woods dis protect them from the bolts fired from the chain guns. After expending a lot of ammo, the ships just took off. There were distant explosions and then silence. The idealists had bombed out the rest of the buildings in the colony.
The colonists had enough medical supplies with them to patch me up enough so that I could survive, but there was no way of saving my leg. They did their best, and I guess this my life now. I'm going to write down everything that happens, Marcelle. I'm going to write it all down so that people will know years from now what we had to fight for, what we went through. People will know, Marcelle, because you did it and I wrote it down.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Flight of the Angel

Jonathan looked at the papers the President had handed them. He activated the communications consol and said into the microphone "ACR 001 requestion clearance for launch."
"ACR 001, you have been pre-approved for high priotity launch by the President himself. You have a take of window for the next seven minutes. After that, we have to open the air lanes back up."
The ship handled very smoothly. It was a gently rise of the ground, and the thruming of the engines was nearly inaudible. The whine simply wasn't present. They drifted out of the hanger and down a long strip of pavement to a yellow ring that was scorched by back-blast from rocket engines. From there, the direction of The Angel of Redemption changed, and she started to go directly upwards.
The ascent was quick, much better than a lot of the shuttles that Jonathan had been in. The ship was on the cutting edge of in-system space flight.
He reached parking orbit and plotted a course that would sling shot them by the moon. He wanted to see the black glass surface glitter once more. The absolute destruction that had happened there was terrible, but the new face of the moon was something to behold. It glittered in the night with the sun's reflection.
Jonathan kept with the speed restrictions of Earth Orbit. He watched as, a few minutes later, the moon passed beneath the hull of the ship. They were in orbit around the moon.
"Back to Norton to get Grinder and Andy?" Jonathan asked.
"That the best plan." marcelle agreed.
They went around the moon twice more before Jonathan got clearance to break orbit and blast directly toward the sun. The course was set and the light speed engined were humming quietly in the back of the ship. The Angle looked as if she was Icarus, flying to close to the sun before she dissapeared into seeming nothingness.
Jonathan and Marcelle were not asleep for the time spent outside of space and time.Their ship was operational, and everything was fine. The only sound was that of the computer making frantic calculations; somehow working out how to break back through into the universe.
It was oppressively quiet and out the window there was nothing. Not even infinte blackness, just an indescriabable nothingness.
The only had to wait three days before they found themselves floating above Norton. Jonathan stretched his arms and took the Angel of Redemption's controls in his hands, and began to guide the ship in towards the planet. The ship was directed right towards the colony that Jonathan had established, but when they approached, they found something they never expected to see. The buildings were scorched and dark, some were completely hulled out. One of the rovers was blasted into peices and there was no evidence of anybody anywhere in the complex.
"Andy and Grinder would have led the out into the wilderness." Marcelle said. "They can't have been captured, or ..." She couldn't bring herself to say it. There was a blood splatter on a nearby door that sugested that at least one person had been shot, quite possibly fataly.
"We'll take the Angel up, preform a low altitude search around the base, srating from a one mile radius out."
"I guess it's the best we can do." Macelle addmitted.
They looked around the colony quickly to make sure that there was nothing else the could learn. They found nothing, so they continued on their way.
They began flying around the base in wide cirlces, each one wider than the last, searching for any evidence of the people who had lived there. They were using military scanners and their own eyes, but the search was proving to be very fruitless.
The ship was able to scan quickly, but it was over two hours of circeling before anything was found. An alarm started to flash on the control panel. Jonathan leaned over and saw that it was a weapons launch warning. There was a missile streaking towards them. The self generated map that had been slowly growing as they flew pinpointed where the missile had originalted from.
Jonathan quickly armed the missile defense system. A high intensity laser tracked the missile and when it had a solid lock on it's position and flight path, it increased energy output to the point where it caused the missile to detonate.
Jonathan then took the ship back to where the missile had some from and brough it down on the nearest patch of level ground. He turned towards Marcelle. "It has to be the colonists. Why esle would they be out in the wilderness? The Idealists wouldn't hide out here."
Marcelle nodded in agreement, but Jonathan was surprised to see genuine concern in her eyes. "Be careful" she told him.
Jonathan opened the access hatch that dropped down to the ground. He lay down on the floor are shouted "This is Jonathan Brooke! I'm coming out!" He dropped carefully to the ground and stayed in a crouch, scanning the surroundings. He couldn't see anybody, but that didn't mean anything. Grinder was with the colonists, presumably. Jonathan knew he was a tactical genius.
A head popped out from beind a rock up on a slope. It was a familiar face, but Jonathan couldn't place the name. It dissapeared almost immediately and was followed by a man with a grisly beard on his face - Grinder.
"Jonathan!" he shouted. He ran down the hill and met the man. "Are we ever glad to see you. Sorry about firing on your new ship, but I thought it might be some sort of Idealst ship."
Marcelle dropped down beside Jonathan. "We understand" she said to Grinder. Norman slithered out of the ship and crawled contently around on his home soil once again.
"What happened here?" Jonathan asked.
"It's a bit of a tale, Jonathan." Grinder said as he led them back up the hill. In a collection of dense trees there was a small community of tents set up, well disguised from the air. Grinder led them towards one of the tents. "I'm not going to tell you the story. The historian here is." Grinder opened the tent flap and stepped inside. Jonathan and Marcelle followed.
Sitting upright in the bed was Andy. He looked up from a data pad where he was writting madley and smiled. "Hello Jonathan. I was just working on writing down your story so far."
"Hello Andy. How are you?" Jonathan looked at the young man. It was obvious he had been injured in the fight, but how didn't seem apparent at first.
"Well, it certainly hurts a little more when you know the pain is real." Andy said almost cheerfully. He patted what was left of his right leg. It had been amputated above the knee.
"Oh, Andy... you're leg." Marcelle said.
"It's okay, Marcelle. It's not like i can't go on living."
Jonathan felt a bitter feeling in his gut. Andy was young, too young to have that sort of thing happen to him. How, no, why did the idealist do it. Jonathan had to know. "How did this happen, Andy?" he damanded.
"It's a bit of a story." Andy said. "Not to worry, I think I've improved my story telling abilites since the last time I told you part of a history."

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Word of Marcelle

They had to be sure. Marcelle was not willing to just accept that truth in front of them. They researched as much as they could but nowhere was there any proof that Spetimus and Warren were two different people. There was more and more evidence as they went on. They soon had enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what the truth was.
"You do know what this could mean, right?" Marcelle asked Jonathan.
"No, what?"
"Look at it this way - what if Septimus Jones was the anti-Christ? He came to rule the world after judgement day." Marcelle had a farawat look in her eyes.
"More of the book of Revelations?"
"Not really - more like an interpretaion of it." Marcelle sat quiet for a minute. "He came early to destroy faith in God. He managed to do it on Earth by turning religion into something that was seen as desctructive, and he's doing it post-humously in the colonies by making all the people worship the Mind instead of the one true God."
Jonathan pondered this for a moment. "Why set up the colonies at all? Why let anybody live, why not just destroy Earth?"
"He needed subjects to serve him. When judgement day comes, those without faith - any faith, not just one of the old organised religions - will be left to the eternal plains."
"You're not making sense, Marcelle."
"Religion, what is it? It's an attempt to understand the transcendental, which is by definition beyond understanding." Marcelle was speaking at an excited pace. it was as if she was beginning to understand everything all at once.
"So you're saying all the old religions were wrong?" Jonathan asked, trying to make sense of her.
"No, I'm saying they were all right. At least, all the major ones. Some of the cults were not centred at worshiping God, but rather the person who started the cult."
"So Septimus Warren Jones was all about debasing God's worshipers and stealing their souls?" Jonathan was flying through unknown territory. All of his experience with Religion was thorugh the realists or his grade-school history lessons. On Earth, it was a thing of the past.
"Basically, yes. I'd say that his plan is working rather well, too. There are so few believers now. Maybe the Realists are the only ones."
Jonathan and Marcelle gathered the data and took it back to the president. They presented him with the information they had, and marcelle explained her religious theory to him.
The President sat and pondered for a moment. "The people of Earth would never like it if this sort of thing came to earth. We can't have a theological battle going on here - we can't have any sort of battle at all. The people of earth don't want to worship anymore." He sighed, and leaned over his desk, staring directly at Marcelle. "Although, I do understand your plight. You obviously have great conviction, and I know that I could never keep you here. Your story tells me that if I don't let you go, you're going to try and steal a ship. So that's why I'm going to give you one ship - on one condition."
"What's that, sir?" Marcelle asked.
"You give me your word right here and now that you won't bring this conflict to Earth. If you are victorious, you won't impose your beliefs on us and if you fail, you won't come crawling to us for help. Earth wants to stay along for now. It's been a thousand years, and trust me, I don't want any followers of Septimus Jones here, but I can't have a radical religious group here either. If you win - and please, beat out those planet destroying bastards - come back to us and start talking. But do not under any circumstances come here expecting to convert a world to your cause. We may not fight anymore, but that doesn't mean we forgot how."
"I understand sir." Marcelle said.
"You can take the latest light-speed ship." He slid an envelope across the desk. "Directions and access codes. No liquid air, either, so you should have less trouble getting in and out of it. Military model. Don't know what the deisgners were expecting us to fight, but I guess it's appropriate now that you have."
"I'm going with her." Jonathan said.
"I thought you might say that, Jonathan. May I say it's a damn shame to see you go. I know that you're tied up in this one neck-high though. The best of luck to you both - I hope you can both find your place in the convoluted society you so eloquently described to me."
The President stood up and shook their hands one last time, he even said thank you directly to Norman. He then left them in the office with nothing except an envelope.
Jonathan and Marcelle left the parliment buildings and walked back to the Royal Hotel. They retreived the gear they had from the suite and got a cab to the spaceport. Jonathan tipped the mean heavily; he most likely would not be needing the cash he had on Earth for much longer. An eager boy of around eight saw Jonathan in the spaceport and asked for an autograph. Jonathan could not refuse, but as soon as he signed it, he kept on moving.
It was his home, his mind kept telling him. Had he expected to stay? Did he have to go? It was his home. Jonathan knew what it was that was driving his forward. It was the woman beside he. He felt an indescribable need to stand with her in her ordeal. He wanted to be there with her for her victories and her defeats. He wanted to be with her. Jonathan was giving up his world, his entire life, to go on a mission with a woman he had only know for a few weeks. The mission was futile, quite possibly suicidal and yet he went willingly. What did he stand to earn by staying on Earth anyway? Fame, a fourtune? What good were these things without love? They were a false reality meant to fufil his myth of necessity. They would make him feel as if his life had meaning when it did not. Staying with Marcelle, Jonathan realised, would give his life true meaning. It would more real than anything he could ever do while staying on Earth. That was why he kept on walking. That is why he went with Marcelle.
She took his hand and whispered "Thank you."

The ship was sitting in a secure hanger. Jonathan presented the papers to a guard outside, who promptly let them into the hanger. It was a sleek ship, wide and low. It look tough with it's sharp angles.
Marcelle walked up to it and touched the cold metal of teh hull. She ran a hand along the ship and turned towards the gaurd. "Does it have a name?" She asked.
The gaurd shrugged. "I honestly don't know."
Marcelle looked at the wonder of engineering and said "we're going to call it the Angel of Redemption."
"Who am I to argue with that?"
The ship was not large, it had four seats in the cockpit and a small galley and bunk room. The engines were in the sides and bottom of the vessel. She was built for efficiency. Jonathan sat down at the command consol and looked over the controls. They were not much different than those of the Starfish or Fatboy. The Angel of Redemption had a few extra control pads however. They were for the weapons.
"We can spread the word with this ship, and defend ourselves as we do it."
Marcelle sat beside Jonathan and looked at him. "I am truely thankful that you decided to come with me."
Jonathan just looked at her. He wanted to say everything he felt, but he could not. Not then. it wasn't the right time. "We should get going. It will take time to get back to Norton."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Chapter Twenty-One: Terrible Truths

Despite having slept for over two weeks, Jonathan did not need any encouragement to fall into a large bed in the crisp and stark large hotel room. Norman was perched on an end table, staring out the window onto the ground below. Jonathan though about how the creature had managed to get back to Norton as he drifted off to sleep. He must have gone on the idealist ship that met the colonists there. The intellegence that the creature possesed still seemed amasing to Jonathan.

It was morning before he woke up again. Marcelle was sleeping on the other side of the bed. The sunlight was steeming in through a crack in the curtains, illuminating all of the white and grey furnature in the room. Norman was stretched out it the shadow away from the sunlight. His natural habitat, was, of course, much cooler.
Jonathan looked a clock. It had been so long since he has seen one. He realised that he did not know what month it was, let alone day. But he did know that it was eight thirty in the morning. The weather was warm and fresh, it seemed like spring to him. Out the window, he could see New Baghdad, one of the oldest cities on earth. It was built very near to the site of the old city. It was a vitcim of much bombing during the destruction, and then the elctromagnetic weapon had destroyed the rest of the city. It was easier to re-locate in the post-destruction world than it was to re-inhabit the middle eastern city.
A telephone rang in the room. Jonathan walked over and pick up the familiar machine nostalgically. It had been a long time since he had even thought about a telephone. Returning to Earth was something he was really beginning to enjoy.
"Hello?" Jonathan asked.
"Good morning Jonathan," the President's voice said over the line. "I trust I didn't wake you?"
"No sir. I was awake."
"I hope you slept well. I've booked a large part of the day for you and your companions. I hoped we could meet for nine thirty?"
"Of course. Harry, I have a question for you."
"What day is it?"
"May third."
"Nine Thirty?" Jonathan asked.
"Yes. You'll meet an escort in the lobbey, they'll bring you right over to the parliment buildings."

At nine thirty, Marcelle and Jonathan walked across the lobbey of the Royal Hotel. They turned heads, as Norman was sitting across Marcelle's shoulders, keeping very still but not even trying to blend in with the colour of her clothing.
The escort was immediately easy to spot. Two men in sombre black suits were waiting by the door, wearing sunglasses. They led the two people down the steps to a waiting car. It was identical to the one Jonathan had rode in the day before.
The parliment buildings were not far from the Royal Hotel. It was an uneventful ride to the long low building where the President lived and worked. It was as white as the rest of the buildings on Earth, and was kept very clean. It was not an easy task in the environment at times.
Jonathan spent the morning with the President and told his story yet again. The President cross referenced a lot of the information with Marcelle, and eventally leaned back in his chair, content with his knowledge of the galaxy.
He pondered for a few minutes and the leaned forward. "You're saying that the idealist are oppressive? That they've been killing followers of your ideology? They have lied about the existence of Earth for the last millenium, and went out of their wat do decieve Jonathan and the rest of the colonists?"
"That's the idea, sir." Marcelle said. "We don't know why they wouldn't tell us anything about Earth. We hoped that we would be able to find some sort of reason why here."
"That can't be the only reason why you came here."
"You're right, Harry." Marcelle said. "It's not. My group has no means of spreading our message without highjacking or stowing away on ships. We need your light speed travel abilities."
The president looked blankly at the woman. "You realise, of course, that it makes no sense what-so-ever for me to provide that data to you?"
"Yes, I realise that sir. I had just hoped that you might not have denied me something that could quite possibly save the human race from etneral damnation."
"Ah yes, I wondered if Religion might play a part in this. You are of course understanding of the fact that we are weary of Religion?"
"Sir," Jonathan began. "May I ask access to the historical library. Can we at least get the historical information we need?"
"Of course. I encourage it. You never know, maybe you'll find some evidence of something that might support your request for light travel data."
Jonathan and Marcelle took Norman and left the President's office. They walked down the hall and eventually out a door and across a yard to another building. It was a library of sorts that looked after as much of the information from pre-Destruction earth as possible. Jonathan and Marcelle took to the difficult task of trying to find out as much information on the time when Warren Jones had left earth as possible. They were trying to find some evidence as to why the Idealists would not want their population to think thatEarth existed.
They dug for hours through the electronic records, using special search programs, and they poured over the reproductions of paper books - and the few originals still holding together after a millenium. It proved to be a mostly fruitless search until Norman nosed a book infront of Marcelle and indicated a passage with one of his legs.
It was a record of births in an old earth hospital. Marcelle read the passage carefully, but did not want to believe what it said. It was a peice of information that she did not want to accept, but could not help but feel was terribly important.
The information about the Idealist's hero and saviour, Warren jones was all there. The date and place of birth, all of it well recorded in in Idealist history that Marcelle knew well. There was one problem however. The log said that on March 12, 2386 a boy named Septimus Warren Jones was born.
This passage seemed to suggest that Septimus Jones and Warren Jones were not in fact brothers, but that they were one and the same people. The hero of colonial humanity was also it's most terrible villian.

Chapter Twenty: Welcome Home

The emergency Return Vehicle was recovered without incident, and the crew of the recovery shop worked dillagently to open up Fatboy. It was no to long before Jonathan was once again trying his best to expell the liquid from his lungs - the sensation of drowning returned once again.
Marcelle had considerably difficulty with the transition again, Jonathan stood over her and encouraged her as best he could.
It was chilly in the large bay of the ship, and they were covered in the liquid of faster than light travel. Teh crew of the rescue vessle wrapped blankets around Jonathan and Marcelle and led them to showers where they could clean the fuild off and find some clean dry clothing.
Before too long, Jonathan was once again sitting in conference, this tiem with the captain of the vessle who was representing the leaders of the space exploration division of the government. He quickly learned that nobody had recived his call for help - perhaps his makeshift ship had never made it back to Earth. The mission profile demanded that the second stage go on whether they heard from Jonathan or not.
Jonathan once again recounted his tale, and the reason why he was returning to Earth.
The captain of the rescue ship heard the tale with nearly no interuptions, jut the occasional question for clarification, and accepted it with a nod.
"I think you shoudl talk to the preseident." he said, simply.
Jonathan was sent down to Earth one the ship was in orbit. They landed at the Bahgdad central Spaceport, capital of the United States of Earth. It was perhaps one of the kindest sights to ever lay themselves upon Jonathan's eyes. Back on earth, with the warm glow of the sun, and the gravity that was just right. He could feel it in his bones; this was his home.
The President of the USE was a very tall man with white hair. He was at the spaceport in person, with a large escort, to meet Jonathan.
Jonathan was, after all, a national (and thus planetary) hero. This was teh return of the first ever man to travel faster than the speed of light. He was home, at last. The that everybody thought was dead. Crowds were gathered around the spaceport, people were jostling to see Jonathan's return.
The President strode up to Jonathan and smiled. He said in an undertone as he shook jonathan's hand, "Smile for the cameras, son. You're a hero. We'll talk about the serious stuff soon enough."
The President winked at the crowd as he walked up to a podium. He was a crowd pleaser; the people of Earth loved him. He was serving his third term in office. He was a very charismatic man, and an excellent politician. He always did his best to fufil his own platform. "Today is a great day in the History of Man," his voice boomed out over a sound system. "Like the ancient Neil Armstrong, who first walked on another of our worlds - the moon - and the brilliant biologist Gregor Spinowski who first found extra-plantary life, today marks a great day. Today we are all honoured to once again have in our presence the next historical figure in the exploration and colonisation of Space. Today, Jonathan Brooke returns to us from the depths of space."
The mass of humans cheered, and Jonathan was pushed towards the podium. He had not considered a speech, nor had he expected this kind of homecoming when there were such important issues to discuss.
The president shook Jonathan's hand again, smiled, and stepped aside to free up the mircophone.
Jonathan stared at it for a while. He chose his words carefully. "We are on the edge of a new stage of human history. There are great challanges ahead of us, great battles to be fought with the very nature of the universe. I have seen what is beyond the next star, and I can tell you that it will not be easy, but humanity can and will pass on out of the system, and in someway, humanity will prevail."
He did not speak long, but the crowd seemed enamoured with his words. The President once again took up position at the podium and began to speak to the crowd. Jonathan stood back and let the words glass his over. Marcelle and Norman were nowhere to be seen, but Jonathan knew this world. He knew the traditions and he knew that they were safe. Here, at home, he knew where he stood. There was no mystery to Earth, not for him. He knew how Marcelle must have felt at that moment.
A few minutes of speach and the President turned towards Jonathan and said "That's that. I suggest we get out of here before they start asking for autographs." the President's eye twinkled a little as he moved through the crowd. He shook the occasional hand, but mostly smiled and walked on, nodding acknowledgements at his fellow citizens.
Jonathan was led by an escort of men in stark suits to an expensive sedan. He sat in the back seat and was soon joined by the President.
As the car pulled out of the Spaceport, the President turned to Jonathan. "Look, son, I know you're tired, but I was given a very interesting report by one of the captains of the in-system ships. You've come here with and alien and a woman who is not from Earth, but is still human?"
"Yes, sir." Jonathan replied.
the president sat in contemplation for a moment. He sighed. "Its going to cause trouble, isn't it?" For a moment, the man looked much older than he was.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I have no doubt that it will."
"Please, Jonathan, call me Harry. Just because I'm a political leader doesn't mean I don't have a name." The President sighed again. "Can you tell me just how much trouble is going to get stirred up around here?"
"Not really how much will be stirred up on Earth, sir. It's hard to say what might happen if you were to contact the society out there. In fact, I suggest you don't right now. And who knows how the people of Earth would react if they discovered that there were seemingly utopian worlds among the stars where they could be living."
"Earth isn't all that bad you know, son."
"Oh, I understand that, Mr. President -"
"Please, Harry."
"- Harry. It's just that these worlds have everything that pre-Destruction earth had plus a thousand years of development on top of that."
"I can see that we're going to have to talk about this a lot more." The President said. "I'm going to drop you off at the presidential suite at the Royal Hotel. You're companions should be there already. Welcome home, Jonathan."

Chapter Nineteen: The Return of Norman

Jonathan and his party sat in silence on the flat-bed of the construction rover as they wheeled back into the home base. A number of people were working, walking around the base, using it to it's potential. There were a number of new buildings.
They pulled up beside a new building, larger than the rest. Jonthan recognised the prefabrabricated building as a conference centre. Rebecca invited them inside. It was a stark building, white and utalitarian, like so much on Earth. The four members of the party, Rebecca and two more members of the secondary colonial squad joined together in a large comforatable room.
Rebecca started to speak. "We ended up here Jonathan, and were met by the Survivors. They told us about the time-slip in the early light speed travel and also of the destruction of Earth. We know everything. But, we were lead to believe that you had died - that you had passed away years ago, after being stranded in time on this rock."
"What are you talking about?" Jonathan demanded of the woman.
"It must have been very trying for you - I know it is for us, knowing we can never go home. But at least we have each-other. And who knows, maybe the next ship will turn up, too? The kind humans who found us here assured us that they would send aid when the could, but advised us to go about setting up a livable colony here, and to go about our lives."
"Those idealist bastards!" Marcelle exclaimes.
Grinder leaned forward. "Listen lady, you've been lied to something harsh."
"Jonathan, who are these people?" one of the other colonists asked.
"Mac, they're telling the truth. You've been lied to. Those people you met, they're not survivors of the end of the world - at least, not in the way you think of them."
"Bullshit, Jonathan. Their explination explains a lot. Especailly how we ended up on this shithole planet."
"Yeah, and they also told you I died years ago. It hasn't even been a year since I showed up here."
"He's got a point there, Mac." the third colonist piped in.
At that moment, an old friend showed up. Norman dropped from the roof of the conference room onto the table infront of Jonathan. Teh creature had grown a little, but largely looked the same. Before Jonathan could react, the man who had just spoken jumped out of his chair.
"There's that fucking thing! Kill it!" he shouted, pointing at Norman.
Jonathan immediatley jumped up to protect the creature. "How can you say that Roger!" Jonathan shouted back. "This is the most intellegent non-human ever discovered. Furthermore, he's my friend."
"You're going to tell me it's rational?"
"Yes, Roger, Norman is a rational being."
"Maybe it explains why it's been raiding our food stores and has managed to evade us and all our traps thus far." Rebecca suggested.
Jonathan looked at the creature. "This is my proof. Norman, how many moon cycles ago did I meet you?" The creature immediately began walking in circles. He stopped his pace part way through and looked expectantly at Jonathan.
"Check that." Mac said to Roger; who immediately ran from the room. "You've trained this littl epeice of shit, Jonathan?"
"Mac, I'd appreciate it if you would back off a little. I've had a rough few months - I nearly died a number of times and I just want to straigten a few things out with you and the other colonist."
Mac stared Jonathan down until Rebecca said, "Mac, he was the best of the trainees. he got sent out for a purpose. Maybe we should hear him out." She put a hand on his arm and made him sit down. Norman curled up on the table and listened to teh conversation that followed.
Jonathan told his story from the beginning - about how he had crash landed on Norton, how he had been recovered by the Idealists and how he had been deceived by them. He explained how his cause, finding out why the elders wouldn't let him go back to Earth, was deeply in sinc with the realist cause somehow and he had to go back to Earth to find out why.
Rebecca told the story of her colonists. They had arrived in system to find no planet with orbiting satellites. They were afraid that they had been thrown off course, but they knew they could not go back with the carge they had aboard the ship, they had to at least dump it before going to Earth to try and get to where Jonatahn was. In teh interest of exploration, they mapped all the bodies in system and were surprised to find what appeared to be a strip mine on the surface of the most Earth like planet - one with large flora life. It did not take long to find that this was the lake Jonathan had had to strip though to get to his supplies. The colony base was locaed shortly thereafter in a nearby wooded area, so the colonist set down. They did not find Jonathan anywhere, but continued the set up of the colony.
It was only days until the Idealists showed up and began to feed them lies. They told a story of how the first light-speed travellers had been lost in time and space and that they had only just learned a few years before what had happened to them - they had been thrown ahead in time thousands of years to a time after Earth went through a second - and final - desctruction. The colonies were all that existed.
As the conversation went on, Mac began to become less and less agitated. He could see that there was more reason to believe Jonathan stories because of two facts - the three people who had come with him, and Roger's assertation of norman's data. Most likely accurate to the degree, Roger had stated about Norman's walking pattern.
"It's a wonderful story, Jonathan." Rebecca said. "But we can't give you the ship."
"I understand that." Jonathan replied. "Let me take the ERV."
"You won't all fit." Mac said.
"We don't need too. Grinder and Andy can stay here, breif you more on whats going on, maybe help defend you against the idealists, should they return. The Emergency Return Vehicle shoudl be able to support Marcelle, Norman and myself on our trip back to Earth. We'll be back within two months."
"It's sounds acceptable." Rebecca said. Mac looked as if he was about to object, but on seeing the definitive look on rebecca's face, he sat mute.

It took two days to prepare for the journey. The Emergency Return Vehicle was sall, it wasn't designed for more than one person. It would be a tight squeeze, but Jonathan and Marcelle would not notice most of the time spent in the vehicle. It was mostly automated.
Marcelle paniced when she started to breath the liquid. It wasn't an uncommon occurance - the human body was not used to breathing fluids. It took a lot for her to overcome an innate fear of drowning and to actually enter the vehicle.
It sat on the landing pad Jonathan had built, looking for the world like nothing more than a fat rocket. Grinder and Andy watched as Fatboy, as they had named it, took off.
The ship began it's elegant dive towards the sun, and in one instant, it was glinting in the telescopic lense of the colony on Norton, and the next, it was gone.

His vision was fuzzy. There seemed to be a hazy green glow from somewhere near his head. Jonathan felt the warmth of another body near him - Marcelle - a woman he could love.
He focused on that thought. It was foreign to him. Where had the emotion come from? There was no explination for it. He was glad to be close to her, however.
His mind slowly sharpened. The green glow, it was a systems operational light. The Emergency Return Vehicle had made it through it's flight without a hitch.
Blinking the drowze of a sixteen day sleep out of his eyes, Jonathan looked through the liquid at the data readout. They were sitting somewhere between earth and venus.
Almost immediatly after reading this date, Jonathan heard a voice say "Star Shark ERV 1, click for status. Repeat: Star Shark ERV 1, click for status."
his training took over, and Jonathan immediately set up a return communications link with the ship calling him, and tapped out a quick response. He was alive and the Fatboy was undamaged.
"Starshark ERV 1, we'll be in to pick you up. estimated time of Arrival is thiry seven minutes, repeate, three seven minutes. Click to copy."
Jonathan clicked the com once and sat let him self float. There was nothing left to do for the next thirty seven minutes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Chapter Eighteen: --Continued--

It was a long wait before the ship was out system and the decks went silent. The crates were very uncomforatable after the many long hours. Once the party could no longer hear the crew moving about the ship, they muscled their way out of the crates and into the dark cargo bay of the small excort vessle.
Grinder looked at Jonathan and Andy, who had never preformed an operation like this, and raised a finger to his lips, indicating taht they should stay quiet.
Grinder knew his way around the escort - he had boarded more than one for inspection during his days in the Spacing Commission.
It took a while in the dark, but they navigated their way to the door, holding onto each-other's shoulders so they would not get seperated. They would need to stick together if any of the crew was still awake - and on a military vessle, that was almost a garuntee.
The door slid open a crack and a shaft of bright light illunimated the interior of the cargo bay. A security chain was hooked on the outside of the door to keep it from sliding open during spaceflight. Andy procured a crowbar that alowed Marcelle to reach the latch and un-hook the chain.
They stalked into the corridor, trying to keep as quite as possible. they stalked their way all the way to the bridge without seeing so much as a hint of another human being. The door was ajar, and there were people stretched out of bunks and one man sitting in a command chair, all with thier eyes calmly closed.
There was one man sitting with his feet up on a control panel, obviously asleep. He was snoring softly, and his arm was hanging down fromhis chair. Grinder steadied his weapon at the mans head and nodded. Andy shook the man's shoulder and he awoke with a start.
Seeing the gun in his face, the man exclaimed "Oh shit!"
"Shhh," Grinder demanded. "How many others are not with The Mind?"
The man sat silent.
"Alright, Jonathan, keep your gun pointed at this man's face. We'll check the rest of the ship."
Jonathan moved forwards a pulled his weapon out. He had never even fired it. It was teh same one he used in the battle. If he couldn't shoot a woman in combat who had killed her own husband, what was he supposed to do about this man? He stood there, sweating, and staring down the barrel at the man's calm face. Jonathan kept expecting to make some sort of move and wrest the gun from his grasp, thus taking the situation into his own control. The man, however did not budge, and it was not long before the rest of Jonathan's party returned with two more military personel with their hands tied.
Almost immediately, Marcelle began talking to the crew in a soothing voice. She repeated the destination's co-ordinates again and again, easing the five sleeping members of teh crew into taking them where they needed to go - Norton.
She spoke for almost two hours before her voice gave out. Sortly thereafter, the ship transfered to world they needed to go to.
"That's it" Jonathan said, looking down from orbit. "That's Norton."
Andy spoke from a scanning console. "I've got a small patch of buildings on the scope."
"We're going to have to set this beast down, quick." Marcelle said. "Who knows how long it'll be before the rest of the crew wakes up? There's no way we could fight them."
"Let's tie them up and throw them in the back" Andy suggested.
"Classic move, lad. Good planning," Grinder replied. Andy grinned at the compliment.
Marcelle began to operate the ships controlls as Jonathan, Andy and Grinder tied the crew up and carried them gently back to the store room. The three concious crew members were taken back as well, but tied up more tightly.
The ship glided through the atmosphere and down to the surface or Norton. After a sort touch-down in the wilderness, Marcelle grabbed a data pad that had a map of the surrounding topography and met the three men at the hatchway.
"It's going to be a little cold out there" Jonathan warned. "It's not harsh, but it's very dry."
The hatch creaked open and the four people jumped to the hard soil of Norton. Marcelle handed Jonathan the topographical date. He took a minute to look at it, and then at the surrounding area.
"It's this way," he said, beginning to walk towards his old base camp.
It wasn't two minutes before the work rover Jonathan had left behind him was seen driving towards them over teh terrain. It stopped and a woman wearing a parka jumped out.
"Who the hell are you?" She demanded.
A reply came out of Marcelle's mouth, but it was not heard. The thrum and whine of the escort ship's engines drowned her out.
The ship flew overhead. Jonathan could just see one of the men they had tied up waving from the cockpit. Teh ship screamed out of the atmosphere.
"What the hell was that?" The parka wearing woman demanded. Jonathan recognised her form training back on Earth - she was the captain of the second vessel - Star Shark. Her name was Rebecca.
"Rebecca, I suggest you take us back to the base camp right away." Jonathan was technically her senior in rank. It didn't mean much as part of a colonial settlement group, but Jonthan knew that he would be able to get anything he needed there.
"Jonathan Brooke! Johhny! You're alive?"

Monday, November 22, 2004

Chapter Eighteen: Return to Norton

The plan was simple for one main reason; it worked. It was how Grinder had managed to get aboard Captain Fortworth's ship; it was how the realists travelled from world to world. It was a crude system but it was effective and the idealists rarely caught on to the system.
The realists would hide in the cargo containers aboard a ship - preferably one with a small crew - and ride out the journey to another planet. It was how Marcelle's messages had first spread from Vaudeveldt.
If the realists needed to make the ship go to another destination - like Grinder had - the coudl use a form of hypnosis to get the idealists to change their course inadvertantly. This type of travel was dangerous because it exposed the realists. If one of the crew members was not with The Mind, they might be able to fight off the realist stowaways.
This was how Grinder Marcelle and Jonathan had planned to get back to Earth. Andy had demanded that he go along, and there was no reason to deny him. He knew more about the history of the colonies, specifically teh military portions, than anybody else in the party, and his position was justified.
The only issue with the getting into the city and thus the spaceport. Because of the military presence, Vaudeveldt's capital city of the same name was under a high amount of scrutiny. Sneaking was the only option, and there were walls around the city.
"Our best bet is one of the smaller gates, for pedestrain use," Marcelle told the three men accompanying her. "We are going to be disguised as prospectors. We will, of course, all have fake drivers liscences that will identify us as citizens of vaudeveldt. They'll be real citizens, so computer data checks should be okay, just hope that when they card us, it'll be data check only and not photo."
With the equipment they needed, they set out. The disguise of prospectors was perfect, they'd be able to carry a lot of equipment and food without suspicion.
Jonathan noted that they took a different route to the city than they had when they made attack against the junk yard. They walked along the ridge of the low mountains that the realist base was hidden among. Marcelle turned to him at one point and smiled. She said, in reference to the route, "It'll kick up a lot of dust, tire us out a little. The disguise will be that much more convincing."
They marched through the night along the rocky hills - thats all they really were - with the stars overhead. The sky here was almost frightfully dark at night. There were two small irregualar moons in orbit that did not provide any kind of real lighting.
It was dawn when the reached the walls of Vaudeveldt. There were two gaurds in the gate that were looking very lax. It was almost the end of their shift.
"Good morning" one of them yawned. He blinked heavily a few times and then asked "coming back from prospecting?"
"Yes, we are." Marcelle answered as she pulled out her ID. Jonathan, Grinder and Andy followed suit.
The first gaurd looked at the cards and smiled. "Hey, man, you've got the same name as my cousin." He said to Andy.
"Well, uh, imagine that," Andy said, quickly folding the card into his pocket.
"You're clear," The second gaurd told them. She waved them through the gate lazily.
"Oh, hey!" The first gaurd said just as they were about to get through. The party tensed up, and anticipated what might happen next. "Did you find any good places to settle a town?"
"Yeah," Grinder said, realxing. "There was a good one over in the moutains. A little hard to spot, though."

In the early morning hours of Vaudeveltd, the party moved about without nay sort of complications. The spaceport was easy to locate, it was basically at the centre of the city. There was only one ship heaving out that night - a small military escort vessle returning to it's homebase on the Tapert family's homeworld. It had theoretically been escorting some noble of the family. It was perfect for what the party needed, a small crew and it was travelling alone.
the only difficult part would be getting into the cargo bay. It was always difficult. Snooping around the spaceport, the four people managed to find their window of opportunity. There were crates being loaded into the ship in a few hours, filled with basic military supplies that needed to be taken back with the ship.
They worked feverently to get enough equipment out of the crates to fit their bodies in, but it was difficult work without being noticed. They could not simply replace the crates, they were already marked for shipment.
Time was running out and they had no option but to cram into the crates when there was barely enough space for their bodies. Grinder and Andy shoved themsleves into one crate. Marcelle and Jonathan sealed the crate and crawled into their own. They adjusted the lid as best they could form inside, but there was no way they could seal it properly.
It wasn't long before they heard the crunch of wheels on the ground near the crates.
"Oy, this one iddn't sealed right!" a voice said.
"Fix it up quick, like, man. We don't have time to report it to the administration," a scond voice replied.
"Right-o." There was a hammering, and the last slant of slight that had been illuminating Marcelle's face was cut off. Jonathan could no longer see anything, but he felt the closeness of everything around him. Especially Marcelle.