Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Untitled Chapter 20

A flock of birds that eerily resembled extra large pink flamingos circled overhead, riding the currents in the air.  Every now and then one would dive bomb the river.  Those that caught something would fly away with their prize dangling from their claws, the prize being something that looked like an eel with fins.  The rest would rejoin the others in the aerial ballet.

One flamingo who thought himself lucky made the mistake of flying away in Park’s direction.  A young Frian named Kel felled the bird with a blow dart.  Free of the birds claws, the eel began to slither back to the water.  Kel ran over and swatted it on the head, and then he picked up the dazed eel by the tail and threw towards the rest of the Frians laying in the grass.  The injured bird writhed in the grass with the dart sticking out of its chest.  Kel snapped its neck in one smooth motion and triumphantly carried it back to the group.

“A rococo and a canawin with one shot,” Bo said, beaming with pride, “well done, son!  Take them to Taober to prepare for lunch.  We will have quite the feast.”

“Yes, father,” he said as retrieved the eel and ran off.

Bo stood up and walked over to Park.  He was standing off from the rest of the group with a stern look on his face.  He had been furious when he learned that the Frian commandos had, in Bo’s words, rescued him from the Klavacs.  He demanded that they return him to Klavaci, but they refused, saying it would be impossible.  When they arrived at Frian several hours later, Bo had taken him to his home as his guest.  Park had laughed at that because a guest who isn’t allowed to leave is just a prisoner.

Bo said, “He has grown so much since I left.”

“Why did you kidnap me?” asked Park.

“We did not,” he replied, “We rescued you from the Klavacs.”

If he thought he could win a fight with a seven foot tall tiger, he would have hit Bo.  Instead, he said as calmly as he could manage, “Fine.  Why did you rescue me?”

“The Klavacs intended to use you to improve your weapon,” he answered.

Park looked at him for the first time, “What weapon?”

“Your X-88,” he said.

Park looked away again, “The X-88 doesn’t have any weapons.  Yeah, it might be faster than your ships, but it isn’t a weapon.  I mean, shit, we flew here in a day.  How much faster do you need to go?"

Bo moved to face him, “Jim Park.  It has been two years since we left Klavaci.”

“Two years?” Park said, and then it dawned on him, “Time dilation.  Of course.”

“Yes,” Bo replied, “For me, I have been gone two weeks, but for my family, I have been gone for more than four years.  This is why it is impossible for us to take you back to Klavaci.  We have been at war for two years now.  They would destroy our ship the moment it came out of warp.  Even if we could get you there, they would never let you take your X-88.  If they can perfect your weapon, they could destroy the Granthiams and all of their allies in an instant, including Frian.”

“That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?” Park said, “Stop calling it a weapon.  It might give them an advantage, but at the end of the day it’s just an engine.”

Bo gave him a puzzled look before asking, “Are you not aware of how your X-88 works?”

Park quickly answered, “Of course I’m aware.  I’m a test pilot, not an idiot.  Oh.  I get it now.  You want me to build you your own Krupp Warp Drive.  Well, you fucked up buddy.  I can fly it.  I can’t build it.  I may not be an idiot, but I’m not an engineer either.  If you wanted the X-88, you should have stolen the X-88.”

“We do not want the X-88,” he said, “We do not want anyone to have the X-88.  It is far too dangerous.  Had we known about it in time, we would have had the Granthiams destroy it.”

“So you wouldn’t take me back to Klavaci even if you could, would you?” Park asked.

Bo replied simply, “No.”

Park repressed the urge to kill him, “Well, at least you’re honest.  You know, if you had just waited one more day, me and my ship would have been long gone by now.”

“The Klavacs would not have allowed that,” he said as a matter of fact.

“Yeah, you said that already,” said Park, “So how about you go ahead and spit it out?  What don’t I know about the X-88?  How is it so dangerous that you’d side with the people who tried to kill you?  Why would you go to war over it at all?”

“This war has nothing to do with you, Jim,” Bo replied, “It is about resources, and it has been many years in the making.  The timing of your arrival in the Klavaci system was very bad and more than a little suspicious, but do not worry, having met you I am convinced it was just an unfortunate coincidence.  The worlds in the Union of Worlds are not really united at all.  The Monarks and the Inju are the only ones able to travel instantaneously like you do, but they do not share their technology with what they consider lesser species.  The rest of us are fairly isolated.  It takes years to travel between systems.  This is the only reason your…ship wasn’t destroyed in the opening salvo.  We had no way to warn the Granthiams about it.

“I would be lying if I said I was not upset that I was not given any warning about the attack on the estate, but I am just a diplomat.  I negotiate on behalf of the Frian government, but I have no say in our policies or military strategies.  And certainly not in the military strategies of the Granthiams.

“My mission on Klavaci was to distract the Klavacs from the Granthiams’ attack.  You did a much better job than I ever could have.  They treated you like a guest, but they assigned two of their elite soldiers to guard you.  They need your assistance to reverse engineer your weapon.  Getting you away from them will slow their progress, I am afraid it will not slow them enough.”

“Stop right there,” Park interrupted, “and tell me why the hell do you keep calling the X-88 a damned weapon!”

“I was getting to that,” Bo replied, “You say you are aware of how your ship works, but you do not appear to be aware of its potential for destruction.  I think it would be best if you see it for yourself.  Come with me.”

Bo led Park up a garden path lined with an array of colorful flowering plants to the entrance to a cavern prominently adorned with an ornate archway covered in hieroglyphs.  A split second after wondering what the glyphs said, Park knew it was the Frian version of a welcome mat, welcoming visitors to the home of the Pendu clan.  Park sighed as he stepped out of the oppressive heat of the Frian daylight and into the delightfully cool air of the cave.

A small anteroom opened up into an expansive multi-tiered hall.  A massive orb hung high above in the center of the room and filled the room with naturalistic light.  Smaller, brighter spotlights within the orb shone on murals painted on the walls of the cavern.  A waterfall poured down the wall at one end of the room into a small pool that flowed through a channel down the moss covered tiers to a larger pool that filled the lowest tier.  The first and third tiers each had a small stone bridge crossing the artificial stream.  The second tier, by far the widest of the four tiers, had three.  

A few Frians lounging around the room noted their entrance with a wave while a couple of children played in the pool on the lowest tier blissfully unaware of the adults in the room.  Park could hear Kel excitedly recounting his double kill from one of the many rooms that branched off this main hall, but the acoustics made it seem as though his voice was coming from everywhere.

“Wow, nice cave.  Being a diplomat must pay pretty well,” he said to Bo as they descended the slope to the second tier.

“Thank you, Jim,” Bo replied, “I admit I am quite proud of our home, but it pales in comparison to the homes of some of the larger clans.  There are two hundred in the Pendu clan, but some of the ruling clans have more than a thousand members.  Their homes are truly spectacular.  This way, please.”

They walked down a passageway on the second tier seemingly lit by the rock walls themselves and soon entered a smaller cavern.  A portrait of Bo’s immediate family adorned one of the walls spotlighted by a more modest orb hanging from the ceiling.  He led Park into his office, one of several rooms around the perimeter.  Bo took a seat behind his desk and directed Park to a stool opposite him.  A computer screen filled the top of the desk as soon as Bo sat down, and he began searching for a file as he spoke.

“This file I is from a group of satellites studying the Klavaci sun,” he said as he tapped away on his desk, “You will need to face the other way.”

Park turned around on his stool, and the room went dark.  A hologram of the red star appeared in the center of the room with several planets around it.  Bo walked around and activated the video from a touch panel hidden in the wall.

“Watch this side of the sun here and this area here,” Bo said as he pointed out the area of interest about forty degrees ahead of the second planet for Park.

The video seemed fairly mundane at first, but after a few seconds a black spot began to form on the star.  The spot grew with alarming speed to the point that it noticeably dimmed the star.  A stream of plasma began to flow out of it toward the area that Bo had noted.  Within two minutes the plasma stream had reached as far as the first planet which was luckily on the opposite side of the sun at the time.  The plasma continued to snake its way out from the sun for another two minutes until began to swirl around like water going down a drain.  Park knew this must have something to do with his arrival, but he didn’t see Bo shield his eyes so he was completely unprepared for what happened next.

Piercing blue light filled the room.

“Ah!  What the shit?!” he yelled as he turned away from the flash.

“I am not sure if that translated correctly,” Bo said, “but I am sure I agree.”

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Untitled Chapter 19

The order came down from a diplomatic yacht in orbit around the planet, and a team of six commandos was in the air within five minutes.  They left from a safe house on the outskirts of Nomaparra in a nondescript bread van type ship that had been discretely upgraded to make it space worthy, but making the upgrades discreet meant it had no heat shielding though so any trip to space would be one way.

An hour into their flight, they killed the lights and dropped down to treetop level.  The commandos checked their equipment and went over their orders one last time while they waited for the ship to arrive at the target.  Nobody spoke in the last few minutes of the flight.  Their intelligence indicated there would be only light resistance, but everyone on board had combat experience.  They knew that intelligence is military speak for ‘we think’ and plans are usually the first casualty in combat.

Five kilometers from the target, the ship began to slow down.  At a kilometer out, the rear hatch opened.  The commandos got to their feet and prepared to move as soon as the ship landed.   The ship cleared the last of the trees seconds later and put down a few feet from the front door of the house.  The commandos poured out of the back of the ship and got into position to breach the house.

At just that moment a Klavac guard walked around the side of the house.  Before the shock of seeing a team of commandos at his front door could fully register on his face, one of them shot him.  He stood there for a split second looking at them through already dead eyes before his body fell to the ground.

The point man cut through the door with a laser saw, and the team stormed the house.  In the main room, Park, who had been asleep on the floor, woke with a start.  One of the commandos shot him in the chest with a tranquilizer and then pinned him to the floor while another bound and gagged him.  The other four went to clear the rest of the house in two man teams.

As soon as they cut through the door to the first room, the pop-pop of a pulse gun took down one of the commandos.  His partner roared and threw a grenade into the room.  An explosion shook the house, and the room burst into flames.  The commando charged into the burning room firing his pulse rifle, but the Klavac inside had already been killed in the blast.  He yelled something to the rest of the squad in a series of hisses and growls as we walked back into the main room.  He put the wounded commando over his shoulder and began to carry him outside.

Smoke was already beginning to fill the house, and flames licked the ceiling through the open doorway.  One of the commandos at the door to the other room made a sound like he was coughing up a furball.  The door opened, and Bo emerged with a small suitcase.

“Right on time,” he said, “Let’s go.”

On the ship, they strapped the unconscious Park into a seat next to the wounded commando.  Bo strapped himself into the other seat next to Park.  The pilot lifted off and closed the rear hatch while the rest of the commando team took their seats.  The commandos growled and roared as the ship gained speed and altitude.
Fighters launched to intercept them as soon as they entered the no-fly zone above fifty thousand feet.  Even with its modifications, the bread van wouldn’t be able to outrun them.   By the time they reached ninety thousand feet, the fighters had closed the gap on them.  An alarm sounded inside the shuttle, but there was nothing they could do except continue on and hope the cavalry arrived in time.

The cavalry arrived in the form of two impactor projectiles fired from the Frian diplomatic yacht in orbit.  The little, high mass bullets tore through the fighters with no warning.  With the fighters climbing at nearly fifteen thousand miles per hour and the impactors traveling three times as fast, the devastating impacts set off huge explosions that lit up the Klavaci sky brighter than day.  Thousands upon thousands of smoldering bits of fighter and pilot rained down on the countryside.

When they felt the force of the explosions behind them, the passengers in the bread van were sure they had been hit, but they kept climbing up and away from Klavaci.  They left the atmosphere behind and kept climbing.  The pilot didn’t stop accelerating until it was too late.  The yacht came into view and grew quickly in the windshield.  The large luxury ship opened its rear landing bay, but they were closing much faster than they should have been.

Park began to regain consciousness as someone was putting a mask over his face.  He tried to push the hand away from his face, but his own hands were bound behind his back.  He tried to move, but he was tied down.  He couldn’t see what was happening or where he was.  All he could make out were blurry flashes of color.  He blinked to clear his eyes, but it didn’t help.  He thought he heard his name.  Someone was telling him to stop struggling.  Then he felt himself thrown forward into the straps holding him down.  That was a sensation he could identify even in a drugged state.  Someone was hitting the brakes.  Hard.

The pilot did his best to match the speed of the bullet-shaped yacht, but they would still be going to fast.  They wouldn’t be docking so much as crashing into it.  Nobody would die from the impact, but if they did too much damage to the landing bay or the van they might wish they had.  The dockmaster saw that the ship was going to crash and began closing the outer doors just before they came barreling into the landing bay.

The van bounced off the floor and ceiling of the bay with its retrorockets firing all the way.  The pilot killed the rockets at the last second before they hit the far wall, and the ship began to ricochet around the room.  A crack developed in the windshield.  It grew quickly, and then the windshield blew out.  The air inside the van vacated in an instant, but the passengers were lucky.  The landing bay had already begun pressurizing so they only had to endure a few seconds of vacuum.

As soon as the docking clamps latched onto the commandos’ ship, the dockmaster gave the okay to the captain.  It was still being lowered to the floor as the ship left orbit.  A squadron of fighters had been dispatched to give chase, but the yacht was well on its way before they could even circumnavigate the planet.  When he felt they were beyond reach the captain initiated the artificial gravity, and they barrel rolled into deep space.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Untitled Chapter 18

Park spent the next couple of days devising his plan.  He originally planned to steal the ship parked out front, but Mas and Sypha took shifts patrolling the grounds around the house.  Park found it to be a pointless impediment to his plan so he decided to make them unwitting accomplices in his theft of the X-88.  He made a lot of network queries about his ship and where it was impounded trying to glean what kind of security he could expect to find there without actually asking about the security.

In the meantime, Bo had gotten back on his feet.  Mas fashioned a sling for his arm, and he wore a robe to cover the large bald spot on his back.  He was already starting to talk about getting back to Frian, but off-world travel was still restricted to authorized military craft.  Even though the ship they had used for their escape was a space-worthy military transport, they wouldn’t be allowed to leave the planet until further notice.

The first order of business was to retrieve his rebreather from the diplomatic compound.  Park hoped Bo would want to stay at the cottage and rest, but he doubted he would be that lucky.  Just as he feared, Bo was eager to go collect his things as well.  Mas and Sypha weren’t as keen on the idea, but they agreed to go now that the Granthiam bombardment was over.

Despite taking heavy damage to key infrastructure in the opening salvo of the war, the Klavacs had regrouped and retaken control of their skies.  The reason they were able to beat back the Granthiam ships so easily was because the assault on Klavaci was a feint.  The ships that had entered Klavaci orbit under the guise of diplomacy had retreated to join the rest of the Granthiam fleet blockading the disputed mining planet.  While they destroyed defense and communications targets on and around Klavaci with hypersonic impactors, the bulk of the Granthiam forces had overrun the mining planet.

The planet was currently at its farthest point from Klavaci meaning the Klavac fleet would have to fight its way through a newly deployed minefield and the whole of the Granthiam fleet before they could even consider a ground assault to retake the planet.  Whether that was brilliant planning by the Granthiams or dumb luck would be decided by the victors.

They hovered above the ruins of the estate surveying the damage and looking for a place to land.  They found a relatively untouched area near the east garden and put down there.  The diplomatic estate wasn’t a viable military target.  In fact, it only had one conceivable  value as a target.  The Granthiams had attacked the estate to make a statement, and they spared no effort in getting their message across.

The dead and wounded had been recovered, but nobody had begun to clear the rubble yet.  Meters-wide impact craters scarred the grounds to such an extent that they had to take a circuitous route to cover the otherwise short distance to what was left of the dome.  Only a few pieces of the curved steel support structure remained standing.  Huge piles of wood and steel flanked the remains of the dome where they had been dumped during the search for survivors.

“You guys help Bo,” Park said to Mas and Sypha as they approached the first pile of rubble, “I’ll shout if I need you.  Bo, you got anything specific I should keep a look out for?”

“If it’s Frian, it’s mine,” he replied.

“Well, that’s pretty much the answer I would expect from a cat,” Park said to himself as he started digging into the pile.

Several hours of digging through rubble later, Sypha yelled out, “Jim!  We have found your breathing apparatus!”

Park ran over to their pile to get it from him, but he could see a problem with it right away.  Only a few inches of tattered hose hung from the side of the unit.  Sypha found his pressure suit and mask a few minutes later.  The pressure suit had a tear in it, but that wouldn’t be an issue unless he had to land on Mars.  The mask was a total loss, but that wasn’t a deal breaker either.  He wouldn’t have a HUD, but he should be able to set the controls from memory.  He’d be fine unless he did something colossally stupid like setting the max G’s to ten.  The cockpit of the X-88 was pressurized and held about an hour of breathable air of its own.  So as long as he could get the rebreather working, he’d still be in business.

They gave up the search for Bo’s things when the sun began to set even though they still had the light of a full moon.  The moon hung even larger in the sky than the sun.  To Park’s eyes it looked just as bright as the sun, and his companions had almost preternatural night vision.  He didn’t object to returning to the cottage though because he needed to get to work fixing his rebreather.

On the way back to the cottage, Park was amazed to find the rebreather still worked.  He held the hose over his nose and smelled crisp clean air without even a hint of burning.  He left it turned on so it could recharge itself and stowed it in a locker in the back of the transport.  It would be easier to explain leaving it in the ship than why he wanted to take it with him when they went to start the repairs on the X-88.  So far his plan was going as well as he could have hoped.  Now all he needed to do was get into the cockpit of the X-88.

Park spent most of that night looking at satellite images.  He wouldn’t have a HUD so he needed to find a guide star.  He started with the Milky Way and worked backwards.  There were enough memorable groupings of stars to get him pointed in the right general direction, but there was nothing he could use as a definitive aiming point.  For a trip of thirty million light-years, the right general direction wouldn’t be good enough, but it was the only option.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Untitled Chapter 17

They landed on a pad next to a small A frame house that would have looked right at home in Park’s native Colorado.  The house was old but well maintained.  It had large skylights built into its roof, and there was even a shed in the backyard.  It sat near the base of a mountain overlooking a small river that cut through the valley a short distance away.  If it weren’t for the red sun that looked too big in the sky, Park might have thought he was home.

Bo climbed out of the ship first, and that’s when Park noticed the dark, matted fur below his left shoulder.  He jumped out and helped him lie down in the grass.  He couldn’t see the injury through all of Bo’s fur, but it looked like a significant amount of blood.

“When did this happen?” Park asked as he carefully tried to move the fur aside to get a better look at the injury.

“I was just talking to Ambassador Grohlen and her aide about…something, inviting her to visit Frian after the conference I think,” he said as if trying to remember, “and the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor face to face with her.  I asked her what happened, but she just stared at me, through me.  I didn’t realize until I reached out to touch her.  It wasn’t…it was just her head.  One step to my left.  One step to my left, and that would have been my head lying there.”

Sypha walked over while Mas went to open the house, “We are helping you walk into the house.  Mas is treating your wound then.”  They helped Bo to his feet and walked him into the house.  A main room that acted as kitchen, living room, and dining room dominated the house.  To the left were a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms.  Sypha led him into one of the bedrooms where he collapsed onto the pillow.  The rush of the attack had faded and taken with it most of his strength.

Mas came into the room with a bottle of something and what Park assumed was a first aid kit.  He held the bottle to Bo’s mouth for him to take a drink, and then he poured some onto the wound.  Bo tensed momentarily, but otherwise he didn’t move or make a sound.

“We are allowing Mas to tend to his wound,” Sypha said to Park as he led him out of the room, “We are staying here until we know what has happened.”

“Where exactly is here?” he asked.

“This home is property of the parents of Mas,” he replied, “We are approximately one thousand reddell northeast of Nomaparra."

“I have no idea what a…hang on,” Park queried the network for the definition of a reddell, but it only defined it in terms of other Klavaci values he didn‘t know so he pulled his file.  As soon as he converted his height from rennen to centimeters, the network began pulling information from his brain.  He didn’t think about anything specific, but everything he knew about weights and measures passed through his brain while UoW standards came to him in an instant.  He suddenly knew a thousand reddell were equal to twelve hundred kilometers, but he didn’t need to because he knew exactly how far a reddel was like it was second nature.

“I need to do a little homework,” he said to Sypha, “but first I need a drink.”  He walked over to the bar and poured a couple of cups of shiri for Sypha and himself, and then he sat down in the living area to figure out just exactly what he’d gotten himself into.  He started with the Union of Worlds.

The Union of Worlds consisted of representatives from twenty-three sovereign worlds in twenty-two solar systems within forty light-years of each other.  One solar system, the Unpronounceables system, had two members; the Unpronounceables from a fairly large Earth-like planet and the Cashians from an even larger moon in orbit around a gas giant.  Twenty of the twenty-two solar systems were in binary pairs.  Of those twenty binary systems, three had member planets from both solar systems.  Klavaci was centrally located within the sphere of the Union in one of those three systems.

Klavaci orbited a red dwarf star called Tur at about the same distance as Venus from Sol.  The Tur system, in turn, orbited a yellow dwarf called Paktakut at a distance of about nine light-months.  The planet Repus in the Paktakut system was home to the Granthiams.  The Granthiams were massive cold-blooded creatures with short, stubby legs, and four powerful arms.  They had cobra-like heads with eyes in front and back.  The Granthiam child’s boots Park had been given were actually baby shoes.  He hadn’t met them yet, but he already didn’t like them.

Union planets used a shared warp technology to travel between systems.  Unlike the Krupp warp drive which punched a hole in space-time, Union warp drives used true warping to achieve faster than light travel.  Rather than move their ships, they would compress the space in front of their ship and stretch it back out behind them.  This let them effectively move through space at up to ten times the speed of light, but that still meant fours years of travel time between the farthest planets in the Union.  Theoretically, there was no limit to how quickly they could travel, but they were currently at their technological limit.

The dispute between Klavaci and Paktakut had been ongoing for more than a century.  It centered around a small outer planet in the Paktakut system that was rich in rare minerals.  The Klavacs had already been mining it for decades before they made first contact with the Granthiams, and it was several decades more before they were admitted into the Union of Worlds.  With the new advances in technology they acquired through membership in the Union, they finally had the ability to mine that planet themselves, but the Klavacs had already claimed it as their own nearly a century earlier.  The conference on Klavaci was to have finally settled the dispute of who owned the planet and set clear guidelines for mining rights in uninhabited systems.

Park tried to get an idea of where in the Milky Way the Union resided.  When images of the galaxy began to appear in his mind, it took him a minute to acknowledge what he instantly knew.  This wasn’t the Milky Way.  It was a spiral galaxy, but there were only two spiral arms coming off a thick bar.  He tried to picture the Milky Way in his mind, but nobody had ever taken an actual picture from outside the Milky Way before so the network started flooding his brain with images of similar galaxies.  After a few frustrating minutes of watching spiral galaxies flash through his mind, he changed tack and tried querying for an image of the Milky Way’s galaxy cluster.

It only took a few false matches before Park found the image he was looking for.  He pulled the image up on the screen mounted on the wall behind him.  He couldn’t get a great look at the structure of the Milky Way because it was canted nearly forty-five degrees in the photo, but still, he was the first person to ever see an actual picture of the Milky Way.  Then other realizations began to creep into his consciousness.

He was thirty million light-years from home.  The Krupp warp drive had been categorized as a weapon, and the Klavacs would never let him leave until his ship had been retrofitted with a Union warp drive.  It would take him three million years to get home with a Union warp drive.  To top it all off, he had just given twenty-three advanced civilizations, who were obviously not above going to war, the location of the Sol system and the means to get there in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Untitled Chapter 16

Tash carefully closed the journal and rested her eyes for a minute.  Jackson sat at his desk translating all of the scans they had taken of Martian text in the five years since they started excavating Jiashan.  So far everything he had translated had been pretty mundane; signs mostly, but knowing whether you were excavating a school or a hospital couldn’t hurt.

Tash swiveled around to face Jackson, “Has Dr. Cho sent you the information on Colonel Park and Dr. Krupp yet?”

“Right here,” he held up a data pad.

“So Colonel James Park is real?“ she rolled across the room and took the data pad from Jackson.

“He’s real,” he replied, “and so is the X-88.  Pretty much everything about it is still classified, but it definitely existed.  All we know for sure is that it was a failed prototype in the teens, but we probably won’t be able to get much on it until we tell the U.N. about the journal.”

“That’s ok.  We can put that off for a while,” Tash said, “We need to learn as much as we can from this journal before we tell anyone we have it.  You keep working on your translations.  Worst case, you’ve got about a week to get fluent in Guohua.  Even if they confiscate everything we’ve got, like Bae thinks they will, they can’t wipe your brain.”

“You better be right about that,” Jackson said half jokingly, “You know Dr. Cho’s supposed to go to MethLab for a concert tomorrow, right?”

Tash looked up from the data pad, “What?  Now?  That’s ridiculous.”

She rolled back to her desk and called through to Dr. Cho.  A still picture of him appeared on her screen and remained there when he answered several seconds later to indicate he wasn’t at a video terminal.

“This isn’t a good time, Tashi,” said Dr. Cho’s picture, “Let me call you back when I‘m done setting up the bots.”

“We have to talk now, Bae,” Tash insisted, “Are you really going to MathLab?  For a concert?”

“Of course I am,” came the reply, “Why else would I go to MathLab?”

“I mean why are you going now?”, she said, “You said yourself that we only have a week or two before we have to”

“Dr. Floyd,” he interrupted, “This is something we should discuss in person.  Do you understand?”

She understood.  Dr. Cho never called her Dr. Floyd unless they were in a formal setting.  Even when he was upset with her, he always called her Tash or Tashi.

“Yes, of course, doctor,” she said, “We’ll talk when you get back.  Any idea how long you’ll be?”

“I was just stepping into the airlock when you called.  It shouldn’t take me more than ten minutes to get the bots setup, and then I’ll be on my way home.  You just keep working on that pendant until I get back, and we can talk then.  Goodbye, Dr. Floyd,” and with that, he disconnected the call.

Tash, of course, no longer had the pendant.  Dr. Cho had that locked away in his office where he could run a battery of tests on it.  Spectroscopic analysis showed that it was an artificial ruby, and carbon dating put it at ninety million years old.  She knew that Dr. Cho didn’t really mean for her to work on the pendant, but she pulled up an image of the human etching in the pendant anyway.

The bio on the data pad for James Park had his picture so she held it up next to the one on her screen to compare the two.  At first she couldn’t really tell whether or not they were the same person, but when she covered the lower half of each face and concentrated on the eyes, the resemblance was unmistakable.  Somehow this test pilot who died twenty years ago traveled to a red dwarf system, got a ninety million year old pendant with his picture engraved in it, and left it on Mars sixty million years ago.

Travel season would open in about a week.  That meant they had at most two weeks until someone arrived from Earth to secure the pendant and review their data.  ’Review their data’ meant all of their data, including the everything about the journal.  That two week window was a best case scenario.  It assumed that they hadn’t already sent someone on a slightly longer flight the second they found out about the pendant, and Bae Cho wanted to waste two days singing pop music for a bunch of terraformers.

When he walked into the lab, Dr. Cho didn’t give Tash a chance to start the scolding she had been honing for the last three hours.  He simply told her and Jackson to follow him and not to say a word about until they got where they were going.  Where they went was Constable Gilmore’s office.

Gilmore looked up from his lunch when they walked in, “What’s up, docs?”

“I was hoping you could tell us,” said Dr. Cho as he took a seat across from the constable.

“Well, there is one thing,” he said, “but first, did you get those coordinates for me?”  Dr. Cho handed him his data pad.  He looked at for a second and handed it back.

“I figured as much,” he continued, “Those dead looters had GPS coordinates for your dig.  More specifically, they had the exact coordinates of that safe.”

“That’s impossible,” said Jackson, “There’s no way they could have known it was there.  I only uncovered it that day.”

“Impossible?” the constable replied, “More impossible than a human who died twenty years ago being on Mars sixty million years ago?  Or more impossible than what’s in his journal?  I’d say this is the least impossible thing about this case.”

“You’ve read the journal?” Tash asked.

“Of course.” he said, “Haven’t you?”

“I’ve started, but I’ve only had it for day,” she replied.

Dr. Cho chimed in, “Can we get back to the topic at hand?  How did they know where to find the stasis box?”

“The what?” the constable asked.

“The safe,” Dr. Cho said.

“Oh, right,” he said, “Well, that has to do with why we needed to talk in person.”

“So I was right about a bug?” Dr. Cho asked.

“Bug?” Tash asked, “What bug?”

“Dr. Cho thought someone might have bugged his office sometime in the last week so he asked me to scan his system,” Gilmore turned to Dr. Cho and continued, “I’m afraid you were wrong about the bug, doc.  Nobody bugged your system last week.  There’s been a worm in your system for months, and it’s in all of your systems.  I don’t know who’s listening or why yet, but I think it’s safe to say that’s how they knew where to find that safe.”