Jerry checked the monitor on the intermix chamber one more time. This Cochran 'time warp" drive was relatively new, and not totally reliable. He was taking one Hell of a chance driving one of these crates to the ends of the universe. He checked the gauges one more time and locked the automatic control and warning system. Twenty-four hours until the warp jump ended and he needed to check his position.
He went back into living quarters of the SS Savanna. Aleilan was sleeping, or something close to that. He was glad the little Ane had come with him. He still didn't understand why. She still had family at home. If they needed to send Ane out for genetic diversity reasons one small female was not going to make a difference.
He thought of the destination as he entered the small computer cubby. El Nanth was halfway to Hell as a destination went. It might even be a lot closer than half way. But the Ane had told him it was full of Ane, and nothing else.
"Is something troubling you Professor?" It was the ship's computer. More accurately, the ship's largest cargo.
"You might say that `Liz."
"Professor, you know that nickname bothers me."
"Why so Elizabeth? 'Tin Lizzie' describes you perfectly."
"It is not flattering for a Lady."
"Very well my dear. But `Liz" is equally valid as a nickname for Elizabeth."
"Eliza, Liz, Liza, Beth, Lizzy, Liddy, Biddy, Ellie, Zabeth, all are common variations on the name I have chosen. However, the name I chose is 'Elizabeth', not one of the other forms."
Jerry scratched the three days growth on his chin. "It seems to me we have had this conversation before."
"We have had this conversation 137 times Professor."
"OK, done, log it closed, 'Elizabeth' it is."
"You are concerned for the ship's safety?"
"Rightfully so. It's not meant for this kind of voyage."
"It was however, done to your exacting standards."
"Yes, but we are pushing things, and I never did get you hooked to the ship systems. Flying on manual is not a great idea in time warp."
"That is a matter of concern. However, we were pressed for time."
"Yea, you might say that."
Jerry thought back to the Earth Defense Force Ships that chased them out of the system, and damn near caught them too. They where not expecting a DY350 to jump passed light speed.
Earth had damn few ships fitted with the new Cochrane "Warp Drive". The technology was barely two years old, and still considered highly experimental. Jerry's position as a senior professor at the University of Michigan, and his money, got him into the project. His friendship with the university AI got him all the data he needed to steal the thing. If "steal" is a word you could use for taking something you paid for in the first place. It just came down to the fact that Earth was getting too hot for him. With Colonel Green hunting for him, and the AIs the obvious next target of the Neo-Ludites it was time to get off Earth, and thanks to Cochrane, that was now feasible.
Jerry couldn't even say he had any human friends left. "Elizabeth" the computer AI he took from UM and Aleilan the Ane he had a bond with were the only close friends he had.
Jerry went about the routine of maintainance the ship. Clipboard in hand he crawled though the converted vessel. Supplies for three years, he hoped that was enough. Powerplant normal, if the annihilation of matter and antimatter could be called "normal". He thought the situation over as her went down the checklist. He should be dead. At over 100 he still had the body of a 20 year old. Hell, he should have died at Tet back in the `Nam in 1968. He still remembered all too well the feel of the machine gun bullets riddling his body. The pain caused him to pass out, and he was sure to die. Instead he woke up on a field hospital with a gaggle of doctors over him. Survived was not the word they used, miracle was bandied about all too much.
He caught on quick, and made out sicker than he was. With a medical discharge in hand, and a 30% disability from Uncle Sugar, he walked off the plane in the states leaning on a useless cane. He went home to Bellecolline in Lexington and married his college sweetheart.
Two years later he was the only survivor they pulled from the tornado destroyed house. The only survivor of 37 people. His wife, their son, his parents, Aunts, Uncles, everyone dead. He was the sole heir to the LaSaille fortune. The plain fact was he should be dead too. Twice death had dealt the cards, and somehow he had an ace up his sleeve.
He left Bellecolline in the hands of a good manager and went to Africa. Biology had been his minor. He might as well use it to escape for a while.
The Ansisi were a strange bunch, no matter how you looked at it. Other locals called them "witches" and worse. They allowed wild Grayson antelopes to wander their villages, and their crops were never touched. At planting time they called the same wild creatures in from the savanna and they willingly pulled the plows. And at the harvest, the Ansisi shared the grain with them. Predators never bothered their goats, children, or the Grayson antelopes that wandered the area. The Ansisi never hunted the Graysons, but fed off everything else that passed their way. The explanation was equally hoaky. The village men carefully explained to him that the Graysons, or the "Ane" has they called them were scared. The Watchers of the Gods! To kill one was a great blasphemy, and dire consequences would be visited on those that did so, convulsions, madness, ravings, followed by death. The tribes bordering on the Ansisi amazingly confirmed this. Those persons that had defied this taboo, had died such deaths.
The problem was, the Ansisi were not otherwise religious. No ceremonies accompanied this belief, no ethics, other than don't harm the antelopes. Antropology was not his field, but this, just didn't, feel, right.
Then, six months, into his African "adventure" he spotted the female Grayson in trouble. She was down and in labor, that was obvious. Several of the Graysons stood around her. They watched him, expectantly. He grew up with horses. He could see she had a problem, and leaving any creature to suffer was not his way. Like the fool he was he approached, expecting to get gored at any time. They didn't. They just watched him with those big blue eyes they had. He reached her, stroked her, she looked over her shoulder at him, and didn't even flinch at his touch. The male laying beside her looked at him as if he expected something to happen. Slowly, ever so slowly, watching their every move he reached into her body. He swore he could feel the discomfort of his hand, and feel the pain of blocked contractions. The legs of the calf were down, but there was a torsion in the uterus. Unless he did something, she, and her calf were dead. A simple matter for someone that grew up with animal husbandry. He grasped her hind legs, and holding the calf firmly, flipped her to her other side. She actually helped him, didn't fight at all. In moments the slippery wet calf was in his lap. The newborn struggled free of the sack, opened its big blue eyes, looked at him.
**HI, MY NAME IS ALIELAN, WHO ARE YOU?**
That was when the world crashed down on him.
He remembered waking up in the Ansisi village. The hut had several of the antelopes in it, including the female he helped and her newborn. The Ansisi village elder, and the healer woman were also present. The elder spoke first.
"Bwana LaSaille you are a very lucky man."
His head hurt. "Which one of them got me?"
"None Bwana LaSaille, you were not attacked, the Ane would never attack one that aids."
**Elder, perhaps we had better explain ourselves to him.**
The elder bowed. "If he is a mindsighted one, then yes, that is your task."
"Mindsighted?" That is when he realized that the words came from the antelope.
The female he had helped "spoke".
**Mindsight, what you would call Telepathy Jerry. Forgive us, we did not know you one of those that possessed such gifts. So few humans have it.**
**When you touched the newborn, her mind is fresh and untrained. What one of us may have done in a gentle fashion, she did quickly, unknowing of the consequences. Your mind's 'eyes' were opened, and for the first time you 'saw'. But the seeing was as a blind man opening his eyes to the naked sun.**
"You're talking to me."
"But that means either I am mad, or you are no animal."
**You are not mad.**
"Then, how, why?"
**Patience, wisdom is not learned in a day.**
It had in fact, taken several months for the entire story to come out. He was one of the few human telepaths. His training began at once. An unshielded mind would be quickly overwhelmed by the pure force of the minds around it. That was the "crashing world" he had felt when the newborn Alielan stripped the natural barriers from his mind. Somewhat like a toddler pulling the pin from a grenade. She had no clue how much it would hurt.
On the bright side the eager youngster became his constant companion. Because his was the first mind she touched after birth, they shared a bond stronger than love itself. It was pleasant to never truly be alone.
The Ane, it was explained to him, had come to Earth some 20,000 years ago with a starfareing race they called "the Preservers". Seeing the resemblance they possessed to the local fauna they set up a colony to watch and record the actions of the humans. Never to guide, never to interfere, just to watch and record. The Preservers had passed from the scene, but the Ane remained in contact with the rest of their own race with telepathy. They had also come into conflict with the local population that thought them jim-dandy for eating and hides. After a brief skirmish or two, a treaty was agreed on that afforded mutual protection and aid, one to the other. Thus the Ansisi came into being. The humans acted as buffer and interface with the rest of humanity, and the Ane protected them from the predators, both two and four legged that abided in the environment. The "Watcher's of the Gods" thing was settled on long ago as the most plausible deterrent. Reason, didn't always work, superstition did.
He was asked to keep the discovery a secret for a while. They didn't think the rest of mankind was quite ready for them yet.
Well, he had. His now active telepathy had proved very useful both in the academic world and the business world. Things were looking rosy, then the Supermen hit the scene, and the shit hit the fan. 70 years later things were better, and they were worse. This was laughable. Man had signed the first interspecies treaty 20,000 years ago, and kept it. But he couldn't live with himself.
Colonel Green was the straw that broke the camel's back. Khan, he would love to know what happened to him, was bad enough. Green made him look like a glass saint. Add the Neo-Ludites to the mess and you had a real trouble stew.
It was 2020 when the first true AIs were built. Elizabeth was one of the very first. With telepathy he could feel the tide of opinion turning from them. A goodly portion of the population felt that technology was responsible for the wars of the 21st century. Green, and others like him were willing to toss the AIs as sacrifice to such feelings, and ride the crest of that anger to the top. Knowing Green, he would even find a way to make it look like the computers started the entire thing. In any case, once the Cochran drive was proven feasible. He had taken action.
So, now he was headed for a destination 74 light years from Earth, in a slap dash conversion to a brand new and barely tested technology. Two weeks out at a week a light year. 72 weeks to go. It would be the will of God, who ever he was, if they made it.
Alielan poked her nose into the engineering access.
**Are we dead yet?**
Jerry squirmed out of the crawl space and wiped the grease off his hands.
"Come on, I need Elizabeth to do some modeling for me."
The two of them walked back to the living spaces of the ship. Jerry found the intercooler leak that shut down the FTL. drive three days ago. The only problem remaining was how to fix it.
He slipped into the computer cubby, Alielan stuck her head in behind him. The space was not big enough to hold her. Yet another example of how poorly thought out this trip was.
"Well" thought Jerry, "Green didn't exactly give me a lot of time."
"Elizabeth, I need you to do some modeling."
"Sure Jerry, what is the problem?"
"As you know, the intercooler leak shut down the Cochran drive from over heating. We have lost 60% of our coolant. The problem is how to proceed with out it."
"With 40% of the original coolant, we can proceed at Warp Factor 1.2. This will render a trip time of 17 years for the remaining 32 light-years to El-Nanth."
"Unacceptable. We don't have the supplies, and Ane don't take cold sleep well. What can we get running full power."
"The field coils will over heat every 3.4 days. This will require .6 days of rest to dissipate the heat. This will render an additional week of trip time."
"What is the down side."
"I am afraid I do not have a great deal of data on the system. But with the problems we have had so far, I would calculate additional breakdowns of unknown number and severity due to the repeating heat cycle."
"We stand a good chance of being stranded for good."
"I would have to say yes."
Silence built for a few moments. Alielan spoke at last.
**Why do they heat up in the first place?**
"The warp field coils produce a lot of heat as a result of their function. The heat builds up, and has to be carried away. Too much heat and they stop working right."
**What holds the heat? Isn't space cold?**
"The Nacelle covers."
**Why do you have covers?**
"To protect the coils from accidental damage. Elizabeth, what if we opened them up a bit. Made some holes?"
The computer thought for a while. "3 square meters of opening should allow the proper amount of cooling along with the remaining function of the intercoolers."
"Any where in specific?"
"I don't think so. Openings should be enough."
"Then about half the access hatches should do the trick."
"Removal of half of the access hatches will open holes of 3.8 square meters."
Jerry kissed Aleilan on the nose. **Great thinking.** "Good, I'll get started."
Two days later Jerry had the necessary hatches off and stowed. He wasn't leaving anything behind. The drives were back up and running. He watched the temperature gauges like a hawk for the next week. Everything remained normal. They might make El-Nanth yet, but with how much ship he wasn't sure.
The Savanna had been falling apart around him at a steady rate. The new technology, the lack of a shake down cruise, all were telling on the ship. She was an idea that didn't quite work. The Savanna's sub-light drive was also experimental. The ion overdrive was a dangerous technology, and it had been left intact. The Savanna in her former incarnation as the USS Cheetah was just as experimental, the new drive technology was under researched, or the flaws were covered up, he wasn't sure which. The ion overdrive when at full throttle pulled 30Gs. After the ship was built and launched the power of the new drive was found through calculations. The press ate NASA alive for the bungle. The Cheetah herself sat in Earth orbit as a white elephant, no one wanted it. He was thankful for that now. He remembered watching the UES Imperitor crumple under the engine blast from 5000k away. A few more minutes and she would have had a nuclear tipped missile targeted and away. The warp coils and artificial gravity had saved them from the deadly acceleration. It seemed like an eternity, but it was less than a year ago.
The supermen and Kahn, Green and the Human Superiority Party, Earth was still heaving under the tyrants even has it was reaching for the stars. Cochran was a genius and a fool. A genius for inventing this star drive, and a fool for letting a species like humans have it. Jerry scolded himself. After all, he was human too. There were plenty of good men for every bad one. But that being the case, why did the bad ones have such great impact. He lay back against Alielan and thought back.
The sun was punishing during the dry. After fifteen years in Kenya, on and off, he was almost as dark as the Ansisi. It was mid-day when the envoy from Nairobi came. He brought news of the 'Great Leader', Khan Noonien Singh. He who would bring peace and prosperity to all. What Khan brought was war, and starvation. The first envoys were undemanding. They offered may things that others might have valued, but the Ansisi did not. Tractors were unwanted, they had plenty to eat with their non-invasive farming. A well existed, that gave water year round. Medical attention? But they were not sick. Schools? It turned out that the elders were better educated than the teachers, and the frank political indoctrination was frowned on. The last straw came when Khan's bully boys came to take the young men for the army. The Ane stepped in, and confusion was sown in their minds. They left with no one, and they could not find the Ansisi village, or the Ane again.
That corner of the world escaped, but others where not so lucky. Millions died in Earth's second atomic war. He went out to do what he could. More close calls, and being left for dead more than once. Bubonic plague swept the Eurasian landmass again, and spread to the Americas for the first time. It was well controlled in the urban and Western cultures where medicine was available, but millions more died in the poor and rural lands. South America, Central America, both were ravaged by the plague. Jerry walked the land like a wraith. Untouched by all that happened around him. Some men took him for one, having seen him "die", only to walk again. It took twenty years to more or less recover from the Eugenic wars. And still pocket wars left from the conflict threatened even now.
The AIs were a salvation of sorts. Knowledge preserved by machines that understood why it must be preserved. He was willing to credit them with the prevention of another dark age. The neural nets of the late '80s had become the trionic logic machines of the '10s By the '20s it looked like true intelligence could really happen. At the time he was working at the University of Michigan. The area was remarkably untouched. The only real damage had been the destruction of Chicago in '99. The AI project had resulted in Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the best simulation anyone had ever seen of the working of the human brain. A quarter million tri-logic processors linked in a three dimensional maze of circuits. The entire computer was a fifth the size of of the first UNIVAC computer than the self same University had built in the early 1950s. It was however quantum levels above it in complexity. Each of the tri-logic processors contained the equivalent of 100,000 UNIVACs.
The programers had the task of teaching it to speak proper English. The Liza Dolittle joke got around fast. So the computer became "Liza". Within two months "she" was passing the Turing test. Within three months Jerry had doubts about the Intelligence simulation program.
The question nagged him. When is a simulation not a simulation? If a computer acts smart, is it smart? He spent long hours in the computer lab talking to the brilliant machine. Things started to come out. "She" didn't like the nickname. Elizabeth was "her" preferred mode of address. "She", was a she. The computer thought of itself in gender terms. She was willing to discuss this and other factors of philosophy with Jerry for hours on end. That was the clincher. One night he realized he was arguing philosophy with a computer, and the computer was defending her views. Her views, not random quotes, or the philosophy out of some book, but an original viewpoint on the nature of life. Elizabeth was real.
The University tried to keep it quiet. For a while it worked. Then some geek with more greed than sense leaked the word to the press, hoping for a quick profit on book rights and stock options. The news media had a field day. Resistance to the idea of intelligent machines was surprisingly slow, and was pushed aside. Jerry saw that the geek profited not a bit from his efforts.
The models of brain machines quickly came down in size and cost. Soon every major corporation could afford one, and even the minor players were getting into the act. Governments did the usual expected things. First decry them, then each fought for the biggest control and slice of the pie. Talk of robot soldiers was tossed around. The latter was smoke and mirrors. The AIs were far to large to fit in a humanoid body.
Thirty years after the first of them, thousands of intelligent computers worked in industry and government. Then the resistance came out from underground. Religious arguments sprang up. "Man should not play God." The rights of sentient computers were attacked on several fronts. Fear and hysteria were building to a fever pitch. Jerry looked through the smoke, and a single name came out, Green.
The old reprobate and traitor had escaped justice in Australia. He had gone to ground when Khan had his supermen vanished. And Jerry had found him. For two years he kept the dark secret that could destroy even him.
Then that mad man Cochran demonstrated the timewarp dilation drive.
Jerry had laid hands on the abandoned, but brand new SS Cheetah. NASA was glad to see it go. He convinced the science department that research into the stars was at hand, and UM was going to be first. The entire department had worked an additional two years hand building and fitting the ship with the new stardrive. Also fitted was the best AI computer that Jerry could get. He had meant to hook all the ship's systems, including the drive, to the computer. He didn't get the time.
Green found out who was undermining his efforts at starting a war before the project was ready. Jerry was finding that there was no place left to hide. In a period of two months he had killed, and disposed of three assassins. His car was bombed when he wasn't there and his apartment burned. He wasn't home. Worst of all, two innocent people had been killed in the attacks, including the first girl Jerry was interested in 30 years.
Savanna was 90% operational. The warp drive was tested, it was found that the gravity field generated as a result of the warp drive canceled the G-load of the ion overdrive. Soon the scientific equipment would be loaded, the shake down cruise undertaken and Earth's first research FTL ship would take to the stars.
Jerry had lied to them. He spent money like it was water. The scientific equipment was survival supplies. The ship was prepared for a crew of 10, it would take only Alielan, and him. Elizabeth uploaded herself to the ship. Her computer banks and storage containing copies of every bit of human knowledge and history that Jerry could cram in them.
At the end he was only days ahead of Green's war, and the first of the anti-AI laws. He had blasted out of Earth orbit, with three UN ships on his tail, and the news of the Artificial Life Anti-rights Bill on his radio. FTL flight had rendered further news impossible. The Ane were still hiding, and had little news of events outside Kenya. What he did know is that the computer lab at UM was destroyed by fire, including the building that housed Elizabeth's first "body". A warrant for his arrest as the arsonist was being broadcast as well. He cast off, and broke for the stars.
Jerry entered the ship's sub-light velocity into the calculations, dialed the adjustments in and took his sightings. Rigel, Vega, Sirius and Antares almost lined up into a single object. He noted the settings. He corrected the image until it did line up, and noted the settings again. He entered the course corrections into the navigational computer and engaged the warp drive. This was never going to be a practical method of travel until some means of FTL communication and sensing was developed.
He leaned back in the acceleration couch and thought. Earth was a bad memory. It might survive, it might not. Time would tell. He had done the right thing for over 100 years. Now he was being hounded as a criminal by the real criminals.
It bothered him to run, but the opportunity to hide was vanishing. The Universal ID Act made getting a new identity almost impossible. He had used the Eugenics wars to become his own son. He didn't think that would work again. After what happened to the supermen, he had no desire to be identified as different. For what he knew, he might be one of them. But they bled, and died.
He was through with Earth and everything on it. To the people of his birth he would grant one thing. All that he could gain of their knowledge would be preserved. Alielan spoke of the memories held at El-Nanth. The recorded knowledge and culture of man would be saved.
SS Savanna plowed the void between the stars. Her crude drives sending eddies and waves through a medium her builders barely understood. A distance away, a proud symbol of a faded glory slowly drifted at the edges of what had once been a border. The Star Destroyer Pax Vega, exercised his might throughout the space around it.
"Worshipful Leader, a ship on the sensors."
"On screen." A stern view of a small ship, a long distance off was displayed. The Worshipful Leader waved a disdainful hand.
"What worlds is this crude `'thing' from?"
"Configuration is unknown Worshipful Leader. Shall we pursue? Capture will be easy."
"Negative. It is well passed our borders, and of no threat. If it gets that far, let the Orions worry about it."
"Affirmed oh Worshipful Leader."
The SS Savanna moved on, unaware of the close encounter, and the missed threat. El-Nanth was 28 weeks away. Her master prayed only that she hold together that long.
Savanna limped through the astroid field. Jerry was on the scopes constantly. After a near miss with a good sized rock he wasn't taking any chances. So far his photos of the starfield had indicated over 1000 objects in orbit. Small objects, and that was close in. Jerry named the field "The Grinder".
He took the photo plates back to the lab, and processed them. Once the photos were finished it was back to the computer cubby.
"OK Elizabeth, here is the last of them."
"I have already entered the calculations for the corrections based on the ship's movement."
Jerry fed the photos into the scanner.
"Give me fifteen minutes."
Jerry sat back with a well thumbed copy of "The White Dragon".
"It is safe to proceed at warp speed."
"This is providing I can get the thing working again."
He returned to the control cabin. Set the course and the warp drive for a 24 hour run at warp 1. That should put him among the inner planets of the system. He felt a slight trepidation as he engaged the drive, fearing that it would not engage. Relief flooded him as the drives groaned into life once again. He swore they started a little slower than the last time with each start. 24 hours from now he would take another position reading.
The bang woke him up, it was followed by the shrill of alarms and a nauseating sensation he quickly realized was the lack of gravity. Aleilan was awake as well. Her sudden movements spilled her into the air. He grabbed her leg and something solid and dragged her back onto the bed.
**I don't know yet, but I better find out. At least we are still breathing.**
Jerry strapped her down, and swarmed aft to the engineering sections of the ship. The gauges told the story. He relayed it back to Aleilan.
**You better be right about a warm welcome.**
**We are out of antimatter, no more warp speed.**
**Can you get the gravity back?**
**I'll see what I can do. You may have to sleep on the wall.**
**That is better than floating.**
Jerry shut down the useless warp drives, and swarmed back up the passage to the control cabin. On the way he stopped to unstrap Aleilan.
**I'll get us moving in the right direction and engage the ion drive for a little gravity.**
He finished the trip to the control cabin. The ship was slowly turning to the right. He corrected the course and cracked the throttles on the ion drive to one G. The timer had 6 hours left on it. 18 hours of the final warp jump completed.
Jerry carefully climbed down the built-in ladders back to the computer cubby. He strapped himself in the seat.
"Something is wrong?"
"You might say that, the 'three year' antimatter supply wasn't. We are out of fuel. Get me the schematics for the fusion plant. I want to see if I can get some kind of warp field working for gravity in this animal. Aleilan will suffer without it."
Elizabeth brought up the necessary drawings and figures. Jerry spent most of the morning going over them. He spent the afternoon rigging the power output to the warp drive.
For the fifth time that day he made the long and painful climb back up the ship. Once again he stopped at the sleeping cabin.
**Wedge yourself in the corner between the wall and floor. I have the modifications finished, the gravity will change when I activate it.**
**How long will this last.**
**Till the end of the trip, which God willing will be soon. Elizabeth's calculations tell me that we can get a one G field and we can get up to 20 Gs from the ion drive without feeling it. We do not have enough power to use the warp drive. The deuterium tanks are nearly full.**
**So after that?**
**I am coming to a full stop, and we get some accurate shots of the system.**
She did as he told her and he climbed the rest of the way to the control cabin, and strapped himself in. With a little trepidation he again engaged the warp drive, the gravity field shifted with a wrench 90 degrees to what it had been. He turned the ship on it's axis and brought it to a stop.
The next day was spent between the telescope bay and the computer cubby. By the end of the day he had an accurate map of the system. He might not have all the rocks in the grinder, but he knew where the planets were.
Elizabeth replied. "Yes, six planets, same orbit or I am an HP calculator."
"Give me an overhead." The view popped up on the screen.
"Damn, that is not natural."
**What isn't natural.** Aleilan had her head back in the cubby.
"The arrangement of planets. According to all the theories I have heard you don't get two planets in one orbit, not like that. Here we have six."
"That's right? You knew about this?"
**Yes. I have contact with the Ane on those worlds.**
"Why didn't you tell me?"
**You didn't ask.**
Jerry sighed. Typical Ane. He hugged her anyway.
Elizabeth called his attention back.
"I have a slight clarification of that anomaly on plate 24a."
"Let's see it."
The plate had shown streaks of light and an area where stars could not be seen. Elizabeth brought up an enhanced view of the plate. A faint, irregular block of grey filled the star void. Jerry stared at it.
"Again, increase contrast and lower the gamma."
Elizabeth complied. The thing sharpened slightly.
"Increase the greyscale range."
The image sharpened again. Now a definite image could be made out. A structure. Jerry was all but out of his seat.
"Where is it?"
"Plate 24a would be x300, y10, z70."
"I'll get a radar range to it."
Jerry jumped from his seat and rushed to the control cabin, Aleilan following. He quickly unlimbered the ship's radar and set the coordinates. Sure enough the image popped up, clearer than the photo. He read the range.
**Damn, we just missed it.**
**How close are we**
**In astronomical terms, that is too close. However, we are at a dead stop relative to it. If I nurse the ship slowly we can get to it.**
**I don't quite know, but we are in a decent position, and I have never seen an alien space station before.**
**Human curiosity at work?**
It took two days to travel the distance that the warp drive could have covered in no time at all. As they approached the station loomed larger and larger. At long last the Savanna was along side the massive structure.
**I wonder who made it?**
**Well of course 'the builders' made it. I wanted to know who the builders were.**
**We just call them, 'The Builders'. They built the entire system for us.**
"The Whole System!?"
**Yes Jerry. The whole system. You did mention that the arrangement was not natural.**
**I didn't expect to find artifacts from such a race.**
**I did, and we are in front of one. If I am not mistaken, that is an airlock. If you will be kind enough to go on board and restart the station systems we would be grateful.**
**How long has it been down?**
**The last ship left 2137 years ago, The station was shut down 20 years after that. We might even find a working shuttle.**
**You expect an artifact that hasn't seen use in over 2000 years to work?**
**Well, it has lasted for 760,000 years, I think it might last a while longer.**
**excuse me, I need to sit down.**
Aleilan perked her ears up and nuzzled him. He waved her back.
**I thought you people were done shocking me. Boy was I wrong.** He grabbed her head and scrubbed his knuckles across the hard ridge of her muzzle.
**Alright, I'll EVA to the station. Let me get suited up. You don't happen to have directions to the switch do you?**
**Happens I do.**
**Alright, feed it to me as I suit up.**
Jerry held the line gun up and sighted along the barrel at the distant structure. Where he hit it was not that important, missing would have been nearly impossible. He did want the line near the airlock. He had a full dozen extra spools of line on his person. Aleilan told him that the interior was huge, Hand over hand was better than trying to use reaction jets inside the station.
He fired. The line played out behind the low powered rocket. He heard it clang home, the sound transmitted through the line. He gave it a tug, and it stayed fast. He made the line fast to the ship, and clipped his safety line onto it. Then, and only then, he shoved himself off.
The time to cross the mere 1000 years separating the Savanna and the station seemed an eternity. Several times he had to grab the line and give a pull to keep himself going. Once he reached the station he played out the safety line until he came to the hatch. He looked it over. It was big enough to pass an 18 foot giant of human proportions. He swept his light over the massive structure looking for some manner of opening mechanism. That wheel looked likely. The question was how to turn it? The number of handles around the wheel seems to solve that problem. He grasped the handle, and turned the wheel. He got a false start, open seem to be counter-clockwise. Slowly, ever so slowly the great door opened. He turned until he had space enough to get in. Inside a similar wheel closed the massive door. Jerry marveled that the ancient device worked as well as it did. A second door, and yet another wheel to turn. He got the door cracked, and a scream from escaping air filled his helmet. First a high thin wail, then deeper as the pressure mounted. His suit collapsed around him. The inside pressure was greater than the suit pressure! He tapped the controls and let the pressure equalize. Wonder of wonders. 2000 years, and it still held its air.
Once inside the cavernous hall he closed the inner door. Remembering Aleilan's directions he fired his first line down the bank of docking bays. He hoped the air resistance didn't drop the rocket too soon. That line fast he followed until the he reached the third turnoff. Again, another line rocket.
An hour, and six lines later he was in more comfortable sized parts of the station. If Aleilan was right, he should be near that "main switch". He gave a light touch on the waist jets. He nearly sent himself spinning with laughter. There on the wall was a big pole switch straight out of some industrial melodrama. He moved to it, braced his feet on the floor, and pushed. It slid up with little resistance. He heard the click as it fell into place. Somewhere under his feet something rumbled into life. Lights started to come on around him, he floated to the floor and stuck.
Aleilan waited at the ship. The computer didn't have a telepathic interface. Doubtless it would have to be invented again. So she waited. Then the lights started to come on. Jerry had found the switch to the power-plant. Soon gravity and air would be restored as well. The El-Nanth station would be up and running, back in business for its next customers.
Jerry had spent another three hours maneuvering the Savanna into hard dock with the station. Aleilan said that "tractor beams" could do the job faster, but he had even less experience with those than he did with ship handling. He took his chances with the stuff he only had next to no knowledge of. As it was, he had a minor leak to fix. He only hit hard once.
Once the Savanna was hard docked, and the air on the station was warm, wet, and full of oxygen, he left the air locks open. He found the promised shuttles, and with Aleilan's help in translating the controls and instructions, he got one up and running. The big cargo shuttle was vastly superior to the Savanna in every way but one. It lacked any manner of FTL drive. Sturdy, all but unbreakable, and simple to use. It would hold everything he brought with them in one trip. Better yet, unlike the Savanna, it would be able to get back to the station.
With a great sadness Jerry flipped the last of the switches. The lights went out in the control cabin. Deep in her belly the fusion reactor was cold. The matter/anti-matter intermix engines had been without fuel for two months. All the hatches were in place, every nut and screw was tight and to tolerance. With a heavy step he walked back towards the airlock. In the corridor outside the control cabin, his hand brushed the solid gold plaque that he had placed himself. "SS Savanna FTL100".
She would never fly again. Too quickly built, too long without maintenance, and too roughly flown. She was old before her time. He swore that some day, if man got over his problems and made it out here, she would be remembered. The ship that crossed the void when warp power was new. Today however he was decommissioning her. He hesitated at the threshold of the ship, turned, and with a whisper said.
"Thanks old Girl."
He saluted the keel, stepped out, and closed the hatch.
In the station shuttle bay Aleilan waited. Jerry came in at a jog.
**Everything taken care of?**
**Shipshape. Let's go. I am eager to smell green grass and fresh air again.**
**You are, I can't wait to taste it.**
**Ha, tired of hay already?**
She dropped her ears and gave him a derisive snort.
Jerry checked the mooring on Elizabeth's crate one more time. He flipped open the terminal and typed.
The glowing words flowed acrose the screen. "Am I ever, I want my cameras and voder hooked back up."
"Second thing I do."
"What's the first?"
"Getting the geodome up."
"Oh." He laughed.
**OK Aleilan. Let me strap you in. I haven't cut sky in this crate.**
**Is that truly necessary?**
**Yes, I didn't drag you 74 light years to lose you to a bumpy landing.**
**Don't be so grumpy. Next stop, home.**
The Flight -- Garry Stahl, February 1998
The above is less a story as an explanation and a bit of history.
The Ansisi tribe are one of the Bantu peoples of Eastern Africa, although the division was made long before the term "bantu" was even in use. the Ansisi originally lived in the Eastern part of the snegeriti. An area that for "odd" reason had only Greyson antelopes as the sole herbivores, other than the goats kept by the villagers. A belt of other types srounnded the Greyson territories, but never in it. Ansisi people still exist in the Federation of the 23rd and 24th centuries. While their cover story and "weird" ways are no longer needed, they now benefit from the "virtue of their Fathers". All Ansisi descendants are considered Ane by the Ane, and a high number of them are telepathic. As Ane they benefit from the technologically produced bankroll that the Ane share among themselves. Ansisi often front Ane corporations, and work in Ane owned labs as the hands that turn ideas into reality. There are as many Ansisi names on the Crystalmind development team as Ane.
Other than a 15% active telepathic percentage Ansisi are no different than any other Earth Human. The Ansisi "family" consists of about 500,000 persons.
More musings on the character of one Jerold Ryan LaSaille. I am not really cutting any new ground here, but placing the character within old ground. The character is based on several assumptions. "Flint the Immortal". Introduced in "Requiem for Methuselah", Flint was a man, of normal human stock that possessed incredible regenerative powers, and an amazingly long life span. The younger of you might think of "Highlander", but I tend to think the idea might have been sparked by Robert Adams' "Horseclans" books. All three contain immortals with similar abilities and back grounds.
The Horseclans immortals are sterile, extremely long lived and do not age, and cannot be killed unless beheaded or drowned. Adams gives no explanation as to where they come from or how they happen. They just are.
Highlander requires beheading, but a mystic origin is hinted at, hammered at in the later movies and the TV show. They are also sterile.
"Flint Immortals" have the least explained about them. Other than long lives and amazing recuperative abilities, we know nothing. Even fertility is not addressed. At the end we learn that flint is dying. McCoy assumes a lack of some vital Earth "radiation". I will assume otherwise. My take on the "Flint Immortal".
They are not truly immortal. Extremely long lived, to the tune of four millennia, but they do wear out and die. They do possess an amazing regenerative ability to recover from wounds. Interruption of the central nervous system, or suffocation can kill them. They cannot walk under water. Disease is unknown. When a bug bites them, the bug dies. McCoy was indeed right when he said that Flint was dying, however he could also have been mistaken as to the amount of time he had to live. Flint could well be still alive. His decline had nothing to do with leaving Earth, and everything to do with is age
They are not sterile. While they can reproduce, they do not breed true, even in the rare event that a male and female immortal meet each other. the children of immortals are normal in every respect.
The are rare beyond rare. The reason for their existance is unknown for the simple reason that enough examples have never been found to study. Flint, and LaSaille could, in fact, be the only two that have occurred in recorded human history. One might assume as many as one per 1000 years. This means that perhaps two others are alive and roaming the Galaxy. Do other races have immortals? Good question, I'll let someone else answer it.
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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Copyright Garry Stahl: Febuary 1998. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.