Improbable: The First McGee
(a satire about large numbers)
by Steve M
Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else.
I am telling you this story per the exception made for FACTION (Facts Told as Fiction) in accordance with Section 183.17 of the Charter of the History Department at the University of Centrum Kath, the largest repository of knowledge and learning in the universe.
A time of hatred, a time of war. Most of the universe was under the control of an empire, Goodness, who were far from good. They were an alliance of smaller empires. Former enemies that shared one trait in common. They were all authoritarian societies, that ugly blend of industry, government, media and military where the only disagreement allowed is over who agrees the most. Their populations were organized around the three traditional pillars of righteousness: job, state and religion. Military service was mandatory. Their economic model was built upon growth and growth was best ensured via conquest and exploitation. A few lived well under this system, but the vast majority did not.
Fortunately their authority did not reach into the far outer spiral arms of galaxies. Out there it was a hodgepodge of people and cultures, largely self-determinant. It is on one of these planets that our story begins.
The planet is Kath. We are interested in a stone building covered in vines. It sits near the center of a small university and houses the Mathematics Department. There is a meeting happening inside the building. It is one of the most important meetings in history.
"Professor Chu, we've examined your study and we find the subject unusual," commented the chubby woman wearing the red robe of a Master Mathematician.
Lawrence Chu looked at the ten men and women that made up the Numeracy Committee. He had never been before the committee, despite having seen their pictures for most of his career. Knowing their profiles and professional accomplishments, he was honored to be in the same room with them.
Larry corrected his posture to a stiff stance and took a deep breath while waiting to hear if his proposal would be accepted. He had dreamed for years that one day he would be wearing a red robe. All mathematicians did. But no one from his university had ever come close to the mark, and he wasn't even considered one of the best in his small math department of nine professors. Yet here he was, the only professor from his university to ever be summoned to Kath by the committee. He had spent three days explaining his models to various teams assembled by the committee. They had debated his hypothesis regarding Occurrence Accumulation Pressure and Release for hours the first day. Most did not accept his ideas. Not until he showed them the results of his Rochambeau simulations. Today was the final decision. His moment of truth.
"We would like to put a team together to assist you in validating your findings about Improbables."
Larry grinned. He couldn’t help it. He had taken a long journey in a short time. His previous attempts at bringing the idea of Improbables to the attention of anyone outside of his own department had been met with scorn and more than a little derision. Most along the long chain between an unknown math professors and the most renowned group of mathematicians in existence, they ridiculed the idea, or dismissed it outright as preposterous. Yet, here he was. Someone important had finally heard of it and wanted to know more. Fifth times a charm or so they say. Things must really be desperate. He thought of the defeat at River Flow and how there was now a sense of desperation in the rebel held areas.
So "it can't be done" had changed to "maybe it can." Good enough, Chu believed.
"May I have Professor Kassman on the team?" he asked.
"I see no problems" replied Professor Souf.
Good old Kassman. It was a late night drunken argument with her that had prompted Larry's method for finding Improbables. She had called him on his explanation of why the central tendency of the universe suggested that they kiss again. He had responded that if they didn’t kiss, a statistical aberration would be more probable. And Kassman was having none of it. So Chu kept coming up with a more elaborate and outrageous explanations and the more he bullshitted, the more she rejected him. And then a funny thing happened. Even in a drunken state, he recognized the idea of Occurrence Accumulation Pressure as something that might actually be possible, as well as an excellent reason to get Kassman to kiss him again. The leap from Occurrence Accumulation to Improbables is not that large.
It all started months before when she unexpectedly kissed him one night. With that single kiss she had unleashed the demon in him. The demon of affection, of adoration, of lust. I was a monster for which she was unprepared, as Lawrence Chu had never exhibited romantic tendencies towards her prior to that kiss. What she discovered was that he was unsure of how to make the first move. That’s all. And when she finally made it for him, it was like a dam busting bomb had gone off in him. Professor Lawrence Chu was not alone in this. It was heightened by a phenomena everyone called ‘desperation pairings’. The more desperate the times, the more people paired off romantically, as if there was an hourglass full of sand running out.
But let me explain an Improbable for a moment, I’ll just take a brief glance of time. Imagine a roulette wheel. Now imagine a nearly infinite population of roulette players. I think you see where I'm going with this. There will be a very small number of people who will have the ability to choose correctly or incorrectly for a significant and long winning or losing streak. These are Improbables. They are the antithesis of Regression Towards the Mean. But don’t misunderstand this. They have no magic powers. They are not blessed. They just sit at the very far ends of the normal distribution (bell curve) and are a part of the natural order of outcomes when dealing with large numbers approaching infinity.
Professor Larry Chu believed he had found a method of finding these people and most importantly the circumstances that will produce them. But there was a catch. He does not know if these people would always win or whether they were the ones that would always lose, and the likelihood of being either was roughly equal. But those were desperate times. It had to be for a professor from a backwater planet to be given funding.
"When can I get started?" Larry asked Professor Souf.
"You now work directly for the committee, as of this meeting. You begin the moment this meeting is concluded. Are there any immediate needs you have?"
"My clothes, my cat, and Professor Kasman. That's all."
"A military squad will be sent to Orji to get them today."
"Military? Won't that take real people from the war effort?" asked Larry.
"Professor Chu, we believe that you may have answered a very difficult question, a question so intimidating no one tries to solve it because we all assume it is impossible to solve. But if, and I repeat IF we can verify your results and Improbables can become another weapon to help us win this war, sending a small squad to get what your cat and some clean underwear is a very reasonable price.”
Larry nodded in agreement, not unlike a child being admonished by a parent. Professor Souf continued.
“And let me make this very clear to you and everyone. Your work is now rated with the highest security possible. Any discussion of your work with people outside of the project and this committee will result in an immediate terminal point (death sentence). Do you understand me?"
"Yes," Larry replied with a worried look. Professor Souf smiled at him. She had a lovely smile for someone threatening everyone with death.
"Computational resources?" Larry asked.
"You and your team now have A level priority on all resources."
"Thank you," Larry replied with a nod and a slight smile.
"Professor Chu, we appreciate the work you have done with little to no resources at your disposal. We’re impressed by your resourcefulness" replied Souf.
"The University of Bilcor-Anders has some very powerful computational resources," Larry replied.
A chuckle ran through the committee.
"We believe you will find your new resources improved," replied Souf with the confidence of someone holding four aces.
"Thank you very much," Larry said.
"Do you have any further questions?"
"No," Larry replied.
"The guards outside will show you to your quarters."
"I'd like to thank you and the committee for the opportunity to contribute. I will do everything possible to be successful."
"We count on that, Professor Chu," once again, she responded with a smile. "There is one last thing however. The council has decided that it would be fitting for the head of our most important project to wear the red robes of Master Mathematician. I trust you will not object."
"Fuck Yeah!" Larry blurted out before he could stop himself. Some chuckled. A few looked disappointed. "I apologize," a blushing Larry quickly added.
"Not a problem. Your response was the highest probable outcome."
He was from a planet that never made the news, never accomplished anything important. The only thing that ever came from his planet was Connor Lusp, the space pirate. Now there was Lawrence Chu to add to the list of notables. Professor Lawrence Chu left the council chambers as the sort of person he always dreamed of being, vital. He held tightly onto the small list of names in his pocket.
There were only 30 Improbables identified in the entire universe. He would run the team through the process of identification and testing. Actually, the list had thirty one names. But there was one name that kept showing up on the list total scores despite failing two of the testing regimes. It came in through the back checking allowance for variance. It meant that they scored so high that it overcame failing scores in other places, a very improbable outcome. It was the part of his model that was the weakest.
It was a name of someone from a primitive planet too. A planet so backwards it didn't even know about the damned war. Larry included it at the bottom of the list so that others could confirm that it was just a statistical anomaly before deleting it. He pulled the list from his pocket as he walked with two armed guards next to him. He reread the names. In red at the bottom, was the 31st name. The Improbable Improbable as he jokingly referred to the name.
Elaine McGee (The First McGee).
The following is from the book, The First McGee: In Her Own Words.
This is the passage she called Origins.
"9-1-1, what is your emergency?" asked the male voice on the other end of the phone.
A guy, just great, I thought to myself. With what I'm about to tell him he'll go from zero to hysterical woman conclusion in under a second.
"You're not gonna believe this. There's a spaceship hovering overhead."
"Ma'am, do you know that it's a crime to make prank calls to 9-1-1. Your call might make it take longer to get someone else's call that's life-or-death," he articulated in a rather stern baritone voice.
"I'm not kidding. Listen, I'm the science teacher at Krause High School. I'm not drunk. I'm not on drugs. I'm camping up logging trail seven off Highway 42, and there's a spaceship directly overhead."
"You’re Elaine McGee, are you?"
"Yes," I replied quickly.
"Good, then we'll know who to arrest," he replied.
"Dammit! I'm not kidding."
"Yes, you are. Now, Ms. McGee, I'm going to cut you some slack. I'm not going to escalate your call and have you arrested. My girl is gonna be in your class next year. She’s a smart one. Wants to join your chess team too. So listen, I'm going to hang up now to make sure the lines will be free for authentic emergencies. And Ms. McGee, if I might suggest something, if you are going to do drugs, leave your phone in your pocket, don't take it out. And definitely, don't call unless it's a medical emergency."
"Shit!" I said as the ship moved slightly. Something the size of four blocks you’d find in New York City just moved about a meter to my left. It was silver trending to blue.
"Are you alright?" he asked me.
"It moved," was my stunned response. I scurried from my tent and hid behind a tree.
Then I realized that there were no engine sounds -- nothing. It was just floating like a leaf on water. Millions of kilotons, enough to crush me thousands of times over and was floating only 40 to 50 meters directly overhead.
"Goodbye, Ms. McGee. You stay safe now."
Then the dumb son-of-a-bitch disconnected the call. I was furious. I won’t repeat all of the expletives I shouted at my phone. I know you know them all well enough. I knelt beside a pine tree and quickly hit redial.
"9-1-1, what is your emergency?" said the female voice.
"Oh thank God it's you and not him," I said.
"Pardon me ma'am, is someone threatening you?"
"No, well yes...shit, maybe, okay maybe. I'm just glad you're not the last idiot I talked to."
"I'm sorry ma'am, I don't understand. Please tell me your emergency." The voice was soft and old with a polite tone to it.
"I'm camping up in the hills off of Highway 42. There is a huge spaceship hovering 40 to 50 meters directly above me. And I'm not crazy, and I'm not on drugs, and I'm not drunk. My name is Elaine McGee and I teach science at Krause High School." I said all of this in less than eight seconds. About 7.4 seconds by my reckoning. I've got this thing about time. I'll tell you about it later.
"I know who you are," replied the older sounding woman on the other end. Remember that polite tone? It was gone.
"I know who you are and I'm calling bullshit on what you're telling me," she spoke to me like a mother to a teenager.
In the background of the call I could hear the man I had talked to previously when he asked the woman on the other end of the phone if I had called back. I didn't hear her reply to him, but I know she did as he said 'shit' real loud and clear.
"Now honey, I'm gonna tell you something, so you want to listen, you hear. There are 17 women in this call area that are pregnant. And two of them are having a damned hard time of it. There's 36 people in this call area that are over 80 years old. Four over ninety. We've got 19 disabled children. So I want you to think about that because those are the people that might have to pay the price for your little joke. Now I don't know why you're doing this, but honey, you need to stop."
Another idiot. I looked up at the spaceship. No beams of light were coming from it, but it was luminescent and had a cold glow like a light behind ice. I needed to try something different.
"Okay then, arrest me," I said defiantly. "Go ahead, send your biggest and baddest. Let them tell me I'm crazy when they see this. Yes, please, arrest me. I'm a couple of miles up logging trail seven off 42."
"We've got more important things to do Elaine McGee," she said right before she ended the call.
Dammit. I needed a plan. Who can I call? Not him. He’s not reliable. Shit. So much for the dramatic breakup. I dialed his number.
"Well, that didn't take long. Let's see, not even 24 hours" Roger said in a smug, self-satisfied voice that reminded me of one of the many reasons we broke up. I wrote them all down the day before.
More ego than brains -- reason 5.
"Listen to me. There is a massive spaceship directly overhead. I need your help."
He started laughing hard.
"Stop laughing, asshole," I said furiously.
"Now you want to smoke weed? After all the times I asked you to and you said no, you're going to try it hours after we break up and trip the hell out your first time. This is great!"
Stoner -- reason 9.
"I'm serious Roger. I'm not kidding, and I'm not trying to get back together with you."
"Yes, you are. You are totally trying to get back together with me. And you try to do it right before bedtime. Smart girl" he said with a chuckle.
Sex machine -- reason 2. I get sore, ow.
"Stop being a shit head; I'm serious."
"So what do you want me to do about it, my dirty little girl," he said in a repulsive attempt at a sexy voice.
Next time I'll ignore the really cute ones I promised myself.
"I want you to come out here on Highway 42 and get me."
"Why don't you just head back home. I'll get a bottle of champagne, and we can celebrate." He spoke confidently.
"God dammit Roger, quit being a dick and come get me. I’m a couple of miles up trail seven."
"Oh, I see. I see what you're doing. You want me to go way out in the woods at night, get lost looking for you. Meanwhile, you're comfy and warm back at home and laughing your ass off at me. But I'll tell you one thing Elaine McGee; I'm not as stupid as you think."
I disagree. And to think at one point I actually considered marrying this shining example of sloth with a decent paycheck.
Then I heard a female's voice in the background. It said, "Who are you talking to, honey?"
"A friend" he replied.
Cheating son-of-a-bitch, asshole, jerk -- reason 1.
I even knew her name. Roger didn't waste any time. I disconnected the call this time.
I stay crouched behind the tree. Three strikes, but I wasn't going out that easily. If nobody would come to my rescue, I'd have to rescue myself. That's what I was thinking. I was thinking about cigarettes too. I had hiked so far up the trail that it would be too damned far and too much effort to walk back up to the road and get on my bicycle and pedal the six miles back to town just to buy a pack of fucking cigarettes. The weekend was supposed to be about breaking bad habits.
My thoughts went to things in the tent: my purse, my wallet, and the rest was camping stuff. And the science fiction books. They were my secret weapons in the war against nicotine. That and anti-smoking patches. Leave it all, I thought to myself. But it included the lost Schreiber book, the manuscript they found after he died. It will be the biggest thing in science fiction when it happens. Shit, I remembered all the other books I had on my e-reader. I definitively had to go back and get my books.
Wait a minute. I need to record this, I thought.
When someone is really excited working a touchscreen usually takes several attempts. Turning on the video recording on my phone did just that. Three times, that's what it took. The image wasn't anything to see, a silver-blue glow right above the trees. The problem with my image was that I was too close to it, there was no sense of size and scale, and it was uniform in appearance. It could have had curves at the edges I couldn't see. It was like trying to read a big sign in the window by pressing your face against the glass. I cursed when I saw my brilliant recording would just result in a YouTube video that most people laughed at or had a hard time seeing because their tinfoil hat had slipped down over their eyes. Still, I kept recording. Maybe it would change, and I would get a good shot of the spacecraft leaving.
I quickly scrambled back to the tent. I grabbed my Kindle and right as I was getting my purse, my phone rang. Deaconville Emergency Services displayed on my phone. What the hell? I answered the call.
"Ms. McGee are you there?" It was the old woman again.
"Yes," I replied.
"Ms. McGee, we've had a call from the Prichard farm out on 42. They said there's a big ass spaceship hovering just south of their place. They even sent us pictures and video. And the whole family is confirming it, all eight of them. Ms. McGee, we're sending two patrol cars to assess the situation. What I need you to do right now is to find a nice safe place and hide. Do you understand Ms. McGee? I need you to hide. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes. There's a cave in the rocks about two hundred meters from here."
"How far away is that in feet and inches?"
"218.72 yards," I replied.
You learn what you want for fun. I learned conversion tables.
"Good. Now Elaine, I need you to go there now. Don't worry about your stuff; we can go can back for that later."
At last, I thought. At last, they're taking me seriously. I remembered my journalism class in college, back when I wanted to be an investigative journalist. Long story short, without corroboration, a single source is just not good enough.
"Okay," I replied.
"I want to stay on the phone with you Elaine. Is that fine with you?"
"Yeah, no problem" I replied quickly.
"My name's Angie. Elaine, do you have a camera on your phone?"
"Already on it, Angiel. I've been recording it for the last few minutes."
"George and Chris. That's the two men coming for you. They'll be calling your name."
I stuck my head out of the tent again. No change, still hovering overhead. The video I was recording was still crappy. I made the seven steps back to the tree as fast as I could. Then I did something that changed the universe forever. I switched from video to camera mode. And whether I needed it or not, in all my excitement, I turned on the flash.
"How are you doing Elaine?" Angie asked me.
You know what the security systems on those vessels are like. The moment that flash went off on my camera, they sounded the general alarm, and I learned why the Dietz are all hard of hearing. What a racket! It sounded like one of those enormous horns they will blow in the Swiss Alps on Earth Five except thousands of times louder. It was so loud and startling I dropped my phone. And that saved my life. Before it hit the ground a high-intensity discharge beam blew the crap out of my new iPhone. And I had even purchased the phone insurance plan. I freaked out. I panicked. I took five steps and dove into the tent. Not my smartest move ever but in the long run, I think historians will look at it as a good choice made in a hurry.
Most of you are familiar with the rest of the story. The bright light, the tractor beam, the incredible shock of finding out that most aliens are human and variants.
This is how I entered the Intergalactic War.
Parliament of Bastards
“Will the first minister please tell us why he’s taken us from our homes and families? What can Chiro have to tell us that is so important?” asked Huldin, the elderly chief minister for the Dulium faction. He sat back down after his question to the roar of laughter, shouts and cheers. The man next to him nodded his head to him. Huldin and his group held 105 seats of the 500 in the…well, the 500. That’s what it’s called. The 500. It could have been named Congress, Parliament, Assembly, lots of things but they were by consensus a mostly unimaginative group as will become clear soon. But some individuals…
A man sitting at the front of the chamber with a large metal cymbal hit is with a hammer.
“Order! Order! First Minister Chiro is permitted a response. Let him speak.”
Then he hit the cymbal again. It was such an annoying sound that it worked to quiet down the raucous group.
First Minister Chiro stood up from the chairs surrounding him. He felt the excitement of verbal combat rush through him. He wondered if it was as strong as the rush from physical combat. He didn’t make his way forward from the group but rather stood in the middle of his faction like the solitary nail sticking up.
“Perhaps if Minister Huldin would keep better contact with his own sub-minister for security, Kolfax, he’d know why I have called for this special assembly. But regrettably he can’t do that because Kolfax sits in prison awaiting trial for treason.” The 190 seat Asina faction erupted in applause and cheers. The man at the front of the room permitted it to go on for a while before he smashed the cymbal again. Chiro looked at his ministers surrounding him. He smiled at them and said ‘just wait’ to those closest to him.
“The second highest ranking member of the Security Ministry was discovered trying to flee with his family to rebel held areas. Perhaps later Minister Huldin can explain how Dulium screens their ministers for loyalty,” said Chiro. He folded his arms in front of his chest and looked at the old man seated in the middle of the Dulium faction. The Asina faction began chanting ‘Treason, treason, Kolfax is the reason’. The man with the cymbal permitted it to go on for a few minutes before shutting it down. He tried to show just the right amount of deference to the largest faction, Asina. Chiro held up his hands for silence. He gave an awkward smile towards the other factions seated in the chamber. It was awkward because Chiro had no eyebrows and because of that even pleasant things looked menacing when he did them.
"Ministers. Ministers, let's not return to the old ways of fighting among ourselves. We have an enemy. Let's focus on them. And I can assure Minister Huldin that I value the elder statesman's contribution so much that it would take something very important for me to keep him from his family."
"Get to the point, windbag!" yelled a minister at the back of the Dulium faction. This caused cheers in the other factions and jeers from the Asina. Chiro held his hands up again.
"Our enemy plots against us with dreams of greatness. Tonight I come before you to tell you of something so insidious and evil that it seems ridiculous at first glance. But our intelligence indicates that it is indeed true and being acted upon right now."
"Get to the point windbag!" yelled the same voice a second time. This time it was accompanied with laughter from the other factions. Chiro scowled and leaned over slightly. "Find out who that is" he said to his younger second minister, Malu. Chiro raised his hands again for silence.
"They're called Improbables and they are the new secret weapon of our enemies. Now I do not understand how they have done it. And at first I dismissed the idea outright. No one can do what they claim to have done, it's impossible. Then I thought it was an elaborate joke on their part and at our expense. Let me share the idea with you. The rebels believe they can calculate a method that will predict who among us will be lucky. And I don’t mean just a little lucky. Specifically those capable of long winning streaks. And they intend to use them to help command their fleet and defenses."
“Primeshit,” a loud voice yelled from the smallest faction. Fu controlled only 45 seat in the 500.
Chiro smiled. “I agree, minister. That was my initial reaction too. Primeshit. Complete Primeshit. A bigger lie than my father told my mother on their wedding night.” The chamber erupted in laughter as all 500 men thought of the promise to stop in time, a traditional lie told first on the wedding night then for the rest of the marriage. “But my minister, look at the level of resources they have committed to this project. They have a list of 31 possible Improbables and have committed resource to extract each of them, even take them from under our own noses, in our own territories. That’s right, the infidels are willing to send stealth missions onto worlds under our control to extract something you and I believe to be an impossibility.”
“They are fools,” someone yelled to cheers from the other factions.
“I agree” yelled Chiro. “They are fools and we are foolish if we give second thoughts of their foolishness.” Chiro stopped for a moment. “But let me ask this: How did you get here today? What was your means of transport? Was it your own feet entirely? Did you walk all the way here? I didn’t. I took my personal transport for most of the way and only walked once I got to the steps of this august building.”
“What’s your point, windbag?” came the taunting voice from the Dulium again.
“My point minister is that your means of transportation is derived from technology developed in the outer spiral arms. You have the rebel areas to thank for your ride to work. And when was the last time it rained on you? Can you even remember when rain fell during the daytime? And you know why. Because of technology from the outer spiral arms. So when the mathematicians from those areas believe that they can find Improbables and when the leadership of our enemy commit significant resources and risks to extract these people, considering how we harvest what they develop, I have cause for pause. And my thought is this: do I have to understand the mathematics that they use? No. What do I gain if I understand it, other than the ability to do the same, identify people they have already identified? And I can tell you that I will not understand it. My skills are in other areas.”
This caused many to laugh and some to yell out. ‘Breaking slave women is your skill’ came the voice inside Dulium again.
“So I ask you if a wise man would ignore this evidence. Does a wise man ignore the warnings of our agents inside of the rebel command structure?”
The chamber was silent. The rumors of agents inside of the rebel leadership had finally been confirmed. Speculation had been rampant ever since the victory at Tonnis in the Lesser Nebula. Half of the rebel fleet had been destroyed in the surprise attack as they gathered their ships to fit the latest weaponry. Not only had they destroyed a large portion of the rebel fleet, they had taken over one hundred rebel scientists and engineers captive. These were the jewels in the crown and powered their war machine.
“Now let me tell you what I’ve done about this” said Chiro with a confident tone. “I’ve sent our agents to intercept them. And in case you think it will be a fair fight let me assure you that it will not be.” Chiro stopped for a moment to listen to the chuckle as it moved through the chamber. Chiro was known for always having the advantage in battle, often an unexpected one.
“What’s your secret this time?” yelled the voice from the Dulium assembly.
“Tax records,” replied Chiro. He stopped again to let them yell their childish admonishments. He smiled as he heard their cat calls. After a few seconds the sound of the cymbal silenced them again.
“Tax records, give us the location of the Improbables that live within areas under our control. And spare my fascination with the ironic but a most improbable event happened to these improbables. They died. Now we have our own people in their place. All biological records have been replaced.”
“Well done, ” yelled the elderly Huldin as he rose to his feet. “Well done,” he repeated even louder and looked around him. Slowly the rest of the Dulium faction got to their feet. And with Dulium rising the other factions rose in a show of respect to Chiro. Chiro the master strategist, master manipulator, Chiro the cheater. The chamber echoed the sound of applause. Chiro stood still with his eyes barely open letting the sound wash over him. It had been a long journey from being a governor in charge of a newly conquered planet to the leader of the most powerful group in the 500, rulers of 80% of the universe.
Chiro looked at Huldin. The old man smiled and nodded to him. Then Chiro turned his glance to Omrad, the leader of Tilfo with ninety seats. Omrad was wearing his permanent scowl. Omrad hated the 500. He preferred the old days when the factions fought each other for new planets, new resources, new slaves, new wealth. The Tilfo were a strict meritocracy. Hierarchy at the lower levels was determined by combat when necessary. Omrad had prevailed 47 times before being allowed to join the officer corporation. He had a boot strap life story and that made him a mean asshole most of the time. If he could do it, why the hell can’t you? Now get busy!
Chiro looked for Bindo, leader of Osso. Osso sent skillful diplomats to represent them in the 500. When he caught Bindo’s eye, Chiro smiled widely. Ah, he loved surprises. Not getting them, but giving them. He had spent weeks in secret negotiations with Bindo. Soon he would have an unbreakable majority. And the need for alliances would finally be over. No more trading mining concessions with Dulium in order to get agreement on conquest funding. No more rotating guardianship of war production planets. No more fights over warship allocations. Tax regulations. Contributions. No more of it.
Chiro had offered a power sharing agreement to Osso in exchange for a merger. There would become two First Ministers, dividing the portfolio between them. At least in theory. And we know that there is a wee little gap between theory and reality. Chiro would exploit it to ensure that he was dominant. His knowledge would give him an edge. The Osso come from a peaceful tradition. They had only joined the 500 after a campaign of misinformation that convinced the Osso that the rebels had destroyed Osso’s new settlements on Clandon in the Isque constellation. The attackers had in fact been sent by Chiro.
Malu stood beside Chiro as the cheering began to subside. He leaned in close before he spoke.
“First Minister. The man’s name is Peter. He is from the planet Urdanis. He meets with Huldin before each session. They use iconic blockers to prevent listening but I would guess that they discuss how Peter will heckle you. I will have more soon, sir, but that’s the flash of it.”
“Thank you” Chiro said. “I will send you my new slave tonight.”
“Thank you, sir.”
‘War is chaos and killing. Generals will tell you its a precise exercise. But generals are a long time away from the battle field and have forgotten the smells, the screams of the dying, the sight of the dead. Those who order your sons to their death do not deserve our respect. Best those old men die from neglect.’
- The Final McGee
They stood onboard the troop transport in a block of soldiers one thousand strong. 1,000 black helmets with heads up display on the inside. Anton Heap’s stomach was in knots. He was sweating despite the cool temperature of the air. Soon he would feel the hard thud as the craft landed. Then he would be part of the mad rush into battle. The pushing and shoving and yelling and screaming of battle. Anton thought about his new wife, Kim and the rushed marriage when his final orders came through. Still, those were the best two days of his life, so far.
Mindo Group C. That’s what he belonged to. They had a long and honorable history as a fighting force, despite the illogic of honor in killing. Mindo Group C was known for their ferocious attack capabilities. They were also know for having the highest fatality ratio of any of the battle groups.
“Are you scared?” asked the man standing beside him. His name was Atur and he was from the same planet as Anton, Polido.
“Yes” Anton replied. “I’m trying not to be, but I’m am.”
“Do you think we will ever see Polido again?”
“Yes. I’ll see my wife again” Anton replied.
“You’re married? You don’t look old enough to be married.”
“I am. Are you?”
“No. Never found the right girl.”
“Did you hear the Captain? There are reports of no resistance” Anton said.
“Good, it will be safer.”
There was the sound of an alarm and then the feeling of thrust as the troop transport reversed its downward direction. A moment later there was a loud explosion and the underside of the vessel was torn open beneath them. Several hundred men were killed by the explosion. Of those that survived, several hundred including Anton and Atur fell from the transport onto the ground below. Many did not survive the fall. Atur did not. But his body provided the cushion necessary for Anton to survive with only two broken fingers.
The head’s up display on the inside screen of his helmet had quit working. It was pitch black without it. He couldn’t see through the screen. There were no comms sounds coming through the headphones. But there were screams, terrible screams of men injured and in pain. “I’m dying” a voice began yelling over and over. “Help me” rang out from many voices. Anton rolled over onto his back . He pulled on the snaps for his helmet and fumbled the last one twice before finally getting it loose. He pulled his helmet off and threw it away from him as if there was a spider in it. Above him were the other nineteen ships in the expeditionary force sent to Naich to capture the capital Nank. He lifted his head slightly to see the massive troop transport ship he had been on, now off in the distance, crashed against a hill.
When Anton looked to his left he saw Atur’s dead body beside him. He wanted to run away but didn’t. He could hear the muffled sound from inside of his dead friend’s helmet and he needed to know what to do next. He looked down at his particle blaster. 100% on the display. He reached over and unsnapped the helmet from Atur’s brown uniform. He carefully removed the helmet as if to avoid waking a sleeping friend. He closed his eyes to avoid seeing the face of Atur. Then he quickly slipped the helmet onto his head.
“Reinstantiating” said the soft female voice of the interface. Anton lay back down. He wasn’t going anywhere until he had comms.
“Welcome Anton. Should I show you a quick video of my features and benefits?” she asked him.
“No. Block level five.”
Anton opened his eyes again. He looked to his left. The body of Atur was still there but the appearance was altered on his visual display. There was an outline for his body but everything within the outline was pixelated. And the screams of the wounded men nearby now sounded very far off in the distance. There was some weapons fire but it was sporadic.
"Opening command communications" she said. And with those words the muffled quiet of the battlefield caused by blocking came to an end.
"No it wasn't. Look at the transport can. It blew from the inside out. It wasn't a missile." It was a voice of an older man.
"You're full of shit" replied a younger voice.
"No, you're an idiot. Look at the can. It was a heavy gun explosion. And it happened where the heavy weapons team was assembled. Get a fucking clue."
"I'm dying" said a soft voice with a calm tone.
"I'm with Mindo Group C" said Anton. "What am I supposed to do now? I’m on the ground."
"Are you weapons ready?" Came an older voice. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen was a picture of Capt. Eddington. He was smiling in his picture and it displayed in Anton's upper right corner of his vision to let him know he was speaking with an officer with command authority.
"Yes" he replied.
"Then you kill. That is your command."
Anton double clicked the picture in the right-hand corner of the screen as fast as he could. The display on the right side of his visor opened to the information page for the Capt. and there it was right at the top.
"Captains in race to see which one can kill 100 enemy combatants first."
It was him. Anton had heard of the race. It had begun less than two weeks prior and had made front screen news across the empire. When they landed on Naich Captain Eddington had 84 kills and Captain Eton 87. Enemy combatants was the term used to justify killing those mostly armed with only opinions. The 100 were civilians if one were to use language not corrupted by the psych op propagandists.
"Get up soldier. Get your weapon in your hand and move towards the city. Everything you come in contact with, if its not wearing a uniform like you, you kill it. Do you understand soldier?" Captain Eddington yelled across the command comms to him.
"Yes sir" came his reflex reply.
"Good boy. We will assemble at the farm house at the top of the hill. Get moving."
Anton stood up. He could see the transport ship off in the distance. And there were hundreds of the pixelated strewn on the ground between him and the ship. He turned back towards the city and the farm house on the hill. And for the briefest instance the display inside of his helmet flickered. And when the flickering stopped so had the blocking. In front of Anton were bodies of his fellow soldiers in full reality. And the sound came back with a roar.
"Help me" yelled a man laying a few meters in front of him with both of his legs at unnatural angles.
Anton slapped the side of his helmet. A hard slap and the blocking returned. The begging and bleeding soldier became pixilated with a voice a mile away. The image had only lasted for a couple of seconds. Still it was the most horrific thing Anton had ever seen. “Never see a kill” that’s what the advert for the military said. Primeshit!
He walked up the road to the path that went to the farm house. It was a steep hill and Anton turned around several times to see the view from the hillside. When he finally reached the top of the hill he saw other soldiers entering the farm house. Coming up the hill he could see the black uniform with the blue dot above it on his display. That was Captain Eddington. Anton heard loud voices from inside of the farm house and walked inside to investigate.
There was a pixelated near the door. Even with scrambled image it was apparent that the body had been cut into two distinct parts with a high energy beam setting. Anton had never understood why someone would use that setting. He heard distant screams. He entered the kitchen.
“Don’t you want a go?” asked a soldier his pants already pulled down to his ankles.
Anton didn’t answer him, he just ran out of the farmhouse as fast as he could. And he ran into Captain Eddington on the front porch.
“Slow down there boy. Where you going?” asked the Captain.
Anton pulled at the clamps for the helmet. He worked them as fast as he could. The moment the helmet was pulled from his head he puked. Then he bent over and vomited again.
“What’s got junior so upset?” said the Captain as he walked to the door of the farmhouse. “Sounds like someone might be having a little fun. Blocking off” he said to his helmet then went inside.
Anton sat on the wooden porch. Without his helmet he could see everything. He could hear the screams of the woman in the farmhouse. He looked down onto the ships that were landing and the thousands of troops pouring onto the ground like brown ants with black heads. He turned 90 degrees to look at the city laid out in the valley below them. Why didn’t they surrender? They had been given 24 hours to surrender. Instead of a surrender they sent a counter proposal of three days to permit civilian evacuation. Three days. Who would ask for three days from an opponent that can destroy you at will. Anton found it confusing. And what forces were available to protect the people of the city had run away into the vast emptiness of the continent, the uninhabitable center with its deserts and mountains filled with venomous insects and reptiles. Now down below Anton was a city of almost 600,000 people left to the mercy of a fighting force not known for mercy.
“Put your helmet back on” said an older man with salt and pepper hair peeking out from under his helmet. He was smoking a cigarette with a strange acidic smell to it. “Only the sickos turn off blocking. You’re not old enough to be one of those.”
Anton was desperate. He wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go. If he deserted he would never see his wife again.
“How do you go on?” he asked the older man desperately. “You know what you’re doing, how can you live with it?”
“Calm down, son. Calm down. You’re going to spike your sensors and that will get you onto the list” said the old man.
The List is what they call it when the men back at Central Command begin to monitor those they suspect of being less than fully committed to the battle. Deserters are shot in the back as they flee. He would be nothing but a drone kill by the the fat asses back at Command.
“I can’t. I have a wife. What if it were your wife in there?”
“Put your helmet back on boy. Give yourself a chance. Listen, put it back on and I’ll tell you my secret. You’ll know how I can make it through all of this without losing my mind or becoming one of the animals in there.”
Anton raised his helmet to his head. He lowered it then fastened it again.
“Welcome back Anton” she said to him. “I noticed that your heart and respiration are elevated. Are you in combat mode?”
“Would you like to hear soothing sounds and music?”
“No” Anton replied.
“Good lad” said the older man as Anton adjusted the helmet fit one last time.
“Block Level Five resumed” she said to him.
“So how do you keep it together old man, huh? Tell me” Anton demanded. His voice couldn’t hide any of his feelings. He was thinking of his wife. He had to get back to her. He had to preserve as much of the man that she fell in love with as he could. And he wasn’t sure if he had already too far gone.
He felt the small needle when it punctured the skin at the back of his neck. An instant later the man stepped away from him.
“What the hell have you done to me, you bastard?” Anton said and moved away.
“I ought to kill you” said Anton, putting his hand on his particle blaster.
“But you won’t.”
“Because in a couple of seconds the first wave is going to hit you like a troop carrier running over an ant. Yeah any second now.”
“Primeshit. Total and comple…whoa.” Anton reached out to the post of the porch to steady himself. He felt as if every inch of his body was tingling, yet his mind was being kept at a distance from everything as if he were looking through binoculars the wrong way.
“There, you should be feeling better soon” said the old man.
“What did you give me?”
“An old medicine from a forgotten people.”
Elaine came out of the tent slowly. She smelled something in the air but couldn’t place the odor. It was sweet and acidic. As she crawled out she could see two sets of legs. It was a man and a woman. They were wearing long shirts, like in India, the kind that are almost a robe. Underneath they wore pants. The woman was wearing blue, the man purple. She looked up at them. They smiled but didn’t speak. She got to her feet.
“You almost killed me” she said. “You blew up my iphone and I want the money back for that.” It was all that she could think of to say. She had transitioned from being scared as hell and expecting some sort of monster to being relieved that they were human, which gave her the freedom to be annoyed with them. Funny how the mind transitions sometimes.
The couple did not respond to her. Not verbally anyway. The woman with jet black hair and huge nose stepped forward and opened her hand. In her palm were two very tiny black dots. The man stepped forward beside the woman then put his his index fingers into his ear. When he withdrew them he had two identical tiny black dots on the end of his fingers. He smiled then put them back into his ears. Then he nodded to Elaine and smiled slightly.
Anger is something that can dissipate quickly under the right circumstances. Wonder and awe are two strong characteristics that can cause dissipation. Elaine looked at the woman with her hand out and took the two small black devices from her hand. She put each onto the end of her index fingers then put them into her ear. They tickled the tiny hairs in her ears for a moment. Then there was a very minor hum. This was followed by a soft male voice that said ‘personal calibration commencing’.
“Cool” Elaine said. “Sexy voice, I like it.”
“It was chosen based on your personal history” said the woman in front of her. But she didn’t say it like that. Her mouth moved to different sounds, like Elaine was watching an old Kung Fu movie that was dubbed into English.
“My personal history?”
“Yes” the woman responded.
“What do you know about me?”
“We have a significant understanding of your history. It was necessary in order to evaluate you” the woman with the black hair and a big hooked nose responded.
“Evaluate me? Why?”
“We think you may be able to help us” said the man. He was tall with brown hair and had the same sort of nose as the woman.
A loud alarm sounded like before. This time it was muffled and Elaine could hear a slight buzzing from the small devices in her ear canal.
“We’re under attack!” said the woman.
“Come with us” said the man as he and the woman turned to leave. “Quickly” he said to Elaine.
And then something that she didn’t believe possible happened, a space ship as large as four city blocks shuddered and bounced around.
“Must be a squadron formation” said the woman.
They ran to the door of the room and the woman held up her hand when they got close to the big metal doors. They slid open quickly and effortlessly as if they were made of paper and wood and in a traditional Japanese home. As soon as the door opened, there was a rush of people running to an fro in the corridor.
“Battle stations” said the sexy male voice in her ear canal.
“Follow me” said the woman. Her and the man ran against the majority of the traffic in the corridor. Elaine followed them closely. She noticed that no one wore a uniform. Some were dressed in colorful robes. Some in somber black robes. Some wore tight fitting clothes like they were going to the gym to work out. Elaine ran with her two escorts down the corridor then turned right and ran down another corridor. The smell from earlier had been replaced by the smell of food and Elaine remembered that she was hungry. Then they turned left at another long corridor and ran to the end of it where two more large metal doors opened.
You know how science fiction movies always portray the bridge of a spaceship as a collection of knobs, dials, and displays surrounding the perimeter of the room with people seated at the control panels? It wasn’t like that at all. Instead it was a collection of people standing in front of four large clear slabs of glass-like material rising vertically from the floor. There were several people in front of each of them and they moved their fingers in the air in front of them as if touching something that wasn’t there. When Elaine got in front of the slabs she could see that they displayed symbols that slowly rolled upwards. Some of the symbols were larger than others and surrounded by a red box.
That’s when Elaine noticed her. She was shorter than everyone else. Four feet tall at best.
“Is that her?” yelled the diminutive woman.
“Yes, commander” replied her male escort.
“Navigator, what’s taking you so damned long. Get us in the damned asteroid belt now. Not tomorrow. Right now.”
“Sir, one of our engines is offline. Direct hit.” The man stood in front of one of the display slabs and his fingers moved like a concert pianist playing the fast parts of a piano concerto.
“Show me” yelled the commander. And then a most wonderful thing happened. The walls of the room disappeared and in their place was the view of outside of the ship.
“Whoa” said Elaine as she saw your solar system from a vantage point new to humans from your planet. And directly in front of them was Jupiter. Then another shudder and jolt happened to the large ship.
“Get me into the asteroid belt” yelled the commander.
“Jupiter. Wow. It’s so beautiful” Elaine said.
“I’m expecting a larger contribution than that” said the commander to Elaine in an annoyed tone. “You’re supposed to be special. Well its time to earn your place on this ship.”
“Sorry. I’ve just never seen Jupiter like this before.”
“Commander” said the navigator, “it may be possible to use the gravity of Jupiter to propel us into the asteroid belt faster than by our remaining engines alone.”
“What are you waiting for? In the name of Hydrogen, do it!” yelled the small woman. Elaine spread her feet apart into a more sure stance.
And that is when Elaine experienced for the first time the feeling of making a sharp turn in a huge spaceship with a gyro and gravity compensator in a universe where there is no right way up. She experienced nothing. Yes, nothing. She didn’t need to hang on to anything. In her finite world, everything was right way up and things still fell to the floor, just slightly slower than normal. She also noticed while they were running to the bridge that her escorts didn’t run very fast. In fact by her standards they ran ‘slower than molasses’, that sweet thicky substance with a risk reward value below zero according to the Department of Public Health ratings. In these times we don’t prohibit you from using harmful substances but want you to understand just how abusive you are being to yourself. But check as there might be some special advisories about giving these things to the newer of your species that are under your direct parental care.
"Deflector energy levels" said the commander. A second later there was still no response. "Deflector energy levels now!" She yelled.
"99.6%" said a young woman standing in front of one of the four slabs.
"Whats your deflector range?" Asked the commander.
"Pi 4" replied the young woman.
"Widen to Pi 5"
And through the invisible walls of the ship Elaine could see the planets of our solar system and our sun to her right. Then there was a very strange sound. It reminded her of the wobble sound from the walls of a big plastic container or maybe it was the sound of a bubbling thick liquid but it was a sound primarily in the bass range. Then it happened again. It wasn't an unpleasant sound but rather a sound that is best appreciated by the newest of our species.
Directly ahead of them and approaching very fast was a large asteroid. Elaine wondered as they made no attempt to evade the object. And then, right before Elaine was going to ask about a change of course, that deep throated sound happened and the asteroid was knocked out of the way not unlike your game of pool if you were the cue ball. Then it happened again with a smaller asteroid and it made a softer thunking sound. Then again. And even more, a lot more. It was enough for Elaine to note that it sounded like a drunken drum solo at a rock concert, syncopated beyond connection most of the time. However, there were moments when it had a beat, the strong rhythm, something she could dance to.
"Commander" said the young woman, "they've all stopped except for one of them using our slipstream." And as if on cue the huge ship shuddered and trembled.
"Back gunners. We do not want to die today because you're not doing your fucking job." The commander walked over to the front wall of the room. "Back gunners. Back gunners respond. "Fuck" she said. "Medical, tell me."
"Gone commander." Said the young man standing at the slab on the far left.
"Rearview." And at the very end of those words the front wall of the room filled with large image of two dead men in a shot up bubble attached to the ship.
"Get them out of there. Weapons, drop a net now."
"Yes commander" said a tall blonde man with coffee toned skin. He was the first person that Elaine found attractive. And he was no homerun in the parlance of your game. She formed an opinion that most of the people she had seen were ugly. It was those big damn noses. Now humans from your planet have occasionally produced people with pronounced proboscis, so this phenomenon should not be unknown to you. And Elaine remembered pictures in a history book of a French leader named de Gaulle. She spent just a moment thinking about how nice it would be if the universe was predominantly French. Sure every group's history has negatives and positives, but okay it's the French. Slightly better than some of their neighbors if you look at their history.
A net is a series of very fine cables with explosives attached. These very fine cables are assembled in what you would recognize as a spider web but on a much larger scale, large enough to entrap the spaceship.
"Deployed" said the tall blonde man.
"Combat capture" said the commander in the front wall change view again. Now the net could be seen and the ship that was in pursuit of them. And within a few seconds that ship flew directly into the net and exploded. The 28 people on the bridge standing in front of the four slabs cheered. Many of them said a word that didn't translate.Ingfar.
"What is Ingfar" Elaine asked the woman beside her.
"It's slang for Fuck Yeah'" replied the woman.
"Ingfar" Elaine repeated. She didn't tell them that for slang it was pretty poor and whoever came up with it should have spent more time on it.
"Calm down" said the commander. "We've left them behind but there is a big wide clear path leading right up to us. Sooner or later they are going to come for us. Continue forward. Collapse deflectors to Pi 1. Let’s make it a little harder for them.”
"There is a formation waiting for us on the other side of the belt. They calculated our direct line" said a woman at the second obelisk.
"Change course 25° on the Z vector, 24 on Y". And again Elaine felt nothing. After a few seconds the woman at the second obelisk spoke again.
"Cmdr. they're moving. But it appears to be a sub optimal intercept path."
"Give me the bottom line not a lecture on the superiority of our technology we don't have time for that right now. So flush your ego and tell me" said the small commander in a very annoyed tone.
"Apologies commander. We'll come out less than 2000 Pi outside of the range of their guns" the woman replied. "Cmdr., long-range scanners indicate 1143 ships positioned around the solar system and the number is growing at a rate of two per minute."
"Shit" said the commander. "Improbable, what do I do now?"
Elaine did not make the connection that the commanded was asking her a question.
"Are you deaf?" said the commander as she walked over to Elaine. "Well?"
"I don't know" said an astonished Elaine. "I don't know why you think I know the damned answers."
"Because you are the reason we came here. You're the special fuck wit of the universe that is supposed to be lucky. Didn't they tell you anything yet?"
"No, we didn't have a chance" replied the woman that had met Elaine when she came out of the tent inside of the spaceship.
"Well tell her. She needs to know, I don't know. Maybe that's how her streak starts. I'm not a fucking mathematician. How long to clear the belt?"
"Four minutes" came the reply.
"You've got four minutes to explain it to her" said the commander.
Four minutes later Elaine McGee was standing in a room full of people who were staring at her. Her mouth was open and the look on her face was a combination of confusion and 'you've got to be shitting me'.
"Bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. Impossible. Impossible and incredibly stupid. Your mathematicians are idiots" Elaine McGee spoke with an exasperated tone of voice.
"But they're not" said a very young man standing near obelisk one. "I've read the report. Don't think you're special. The universe doesn't think so and neither do we. In fact if you were special you probably wouldn't be an improbable. But you're normal and that is a great sense of it. And know this, you don't have to believe. The universe doesn't care. But you do have to act."
Elaine looked at the young man. Handsome, except for the nose. She wanted to hum the Marseilles.
“Improbable” thundered the diminutive commander, “what do we do? We can outrun them but they are playing a zone defense and we can’t outrun that.”
“I don’t know” she answered desperately. “If we can’t run, then we need a place to hide. And you’re all fucking delusional if you think I’m your best bet.”
“Someone smarter than me says you are and today that’s good enough for me. It’s all I’ve got.”
“Commander” said the women who the commander yelled at previously, “commander, there is the Kuiper Belt.”
“So what? Ice and Snow”
“And a place to hide” said the woman.
“Loud and Fast Bueller. Loud and Fast” yelled the commander.
“Big ice ball, cut our way into it with our front lasers, use the rear lasers to close it up behind us. Temps so cold they will shield us from their thermal sensors.”
“The landing” said the woman. “When we land we’re going to knock it off course. Can’t be helped. Just need to hit it soft so nobody notices. It will be assumed to be drift from an asteroid hitting it.”
“Improbable, you got a name?” demanded the commander.
“Elaine McGee” she replied.
“McGee, your idea had better work or we’re dead” said the commander.
The interior of Pluto is cold. How cold? Cold enough to cause the scanners to freeze and stop working. Yes, the ship had no way of telling if the other ships had given up the search for them. It started happening when melting liquids started to refreeze. When they did, the liquid that was covering the scanner transmitters expanded and squeezed the scanners physically, causing them to shut down. It started a couple of hours after they had come to a rest deep inside of Pluto. They could be fixed or replaced but not while buried deep in the ice.
With momentary safety the commander finally spoke in a normal voice. Still it was a little raspy.
"You know McGee, I had my doubts. Shit you’d be a fool not to think his idea is complete bullshit. But it's not. And I'm getting used to it. You should to. But even if you don't, time is gonna march on."
"It wasn't me. It was Bueller. It's all Bueller. It's always been Bueller. And I don't care what you think the universe thinks. Stop personifying it, that is romanticism and you're just trying to put it in a box instead of accepting that its something that you don't understand."
"Well shit. Looks like we've got an improbable with a brain. Imagine that. You know the rumors about you people? You are dull. Average. So average that as a group you can't be averaged because you're all the same. Except you. Last on the list from what I heard. Good. I prefer smart people to stupid" said the commander.
"Cmdr. I've got an idea about scanners. But hear me out, it sounds crazy." It was Bueller again, the attractive young woman with the massive nostrils and clearly visible red nose hair.
"Bueller I get exhausted by your preamble. Have you ever said anything without trying to lower expectations before you said it?" The commander shook her head from side to side.
"Okay, here we go" she said with excitement of a child. "We have a ice tunnel between our ship and the surface. We launch two escape pods into the tunnel with their brakes at the maximum. We get to the end of the tunnel. We use personal lasers cut through the last few feet. Was run out onto the surface and set up scanners and return to the ship." Bueller smiled as if she was certain her idea was a good one.
"And how do we get them back to the ship before they freeze to death" countered the commander.
"Now that's where this idea goes from good to brilliant" said Bueller. She grinned. "They get back to the escape pods because we use the tractor beam to bring them back into the ship. We're perfectly oriented because we came in headfirst."
"Risk?" Asked the commander.
"Two. Number one, I botched my calculation of the stopping distance of an escape pod with the break turned on fully. Possible fiery death or a longer walk. Number two, we not only bring back the escape pods but also tons of snow and ice into the cargo bay. What do you think?" she said.
"And you really think this is a good idea?" Asked the commander.
"The word good is subjective" replied Bueller. "But I'd be willing to ride in one of the pods if you want to measure of how confident I am of the idea."
"And if I went in the other pod?" Asked the commander. And to this the confident façade of Bueller was shaken, cracked and broken.
"But commander, that would be putting the highest decision-making authority upon this vessel at risk. I would caution against the idea" said Bueller.
"But you would put yourself at risk" counter the commander.
"Really I don't think it's that large a risk. I calculated that with the brakes on fully, the escape pod should stop well short of the surface. A few minutes of walking at the end to the impacted ice. But the reason I’d go is for the ride getting there. An escape pod shot out of a stationary ship of this size into an ice tunnel. I don't know that anyone will ever do it again or even get the chance to do it. I calculate that it is survivable and suspect it will be a very exhilarating ride. And if I'm wrong and I splat? Botto will replace me. But if you go splat, we lose more than a second rate navigator who suffers from periodic delusions of brilliance" she said and then smiled.
Despite having a very convincing argument, an hour later Bueller and the commander were getting into the escape pods. Two technicians made sure they were well strapped in and there were no leaks in the life support zone. They closed the hatches and set the atomic clocks. As they looked inside of the pods one last time both Bueller and the commander were smiling, grinning in fact.
"This will be the most fun I've had since I was a young girl" said the commander.
"Me too" replied Bueller. Elaine stood on the bridge and watched the front wall display of the Cargo Bay and watched them open the chutes and turn on the propulsion systems. And again that weird strange bass sound happened as soon as the escape pods reached the end of the escape chute. Then they were catapulted forward at Mach 1 and quickly disappeared from sight. But not from sound.
"This is incredible" yelled the commander over the comms channel.
"Shit. Shit. Something’s wrong" said Bueller. "We're going two and a half times the velocity that I calculated. Shit."
"Are you sure" asked the handsome man from obelisk four.
"Yes. Shit. We must've changed the chemical composition as we burned our way in. It's different ice now" she said as she hugged the handholds inside of the escape pod and watched the ice and snow rushing past the observation portal directly in front of her face.
"What are the options Bueller? McGee?" The commander yelled.
"Going to hit the ice, can’t avoid that, so have to survive that. So we have to break the ice or melt the ice" said Elaine McGee talking really fast. She started picking her heels up and down nervously as she walked in place.
"Shit 30 seconds" said Bueller. "Okay. New crazy idea. We knock out the observation portal's and user personal layers to blast through the ice before we hit it. It's the best I've got. Upper right corner bottom left corner push hard. Dominant hand hangs on other hand fires weapon. What you think commander?"
Bueller saw the commander's observation portal fly off the escape pod then pushed her own out. First thing she noticed was the roar of the escape pod on the ice. It was loud and it had a terrible scraping component to the noise of it.
They began blasting the ice six seconds before impact. As they approached it looked like they failed and at the last second they both pulled their arms back into the escape pod. But what they had done was turn the ice into slush and as their escape pods plowed through it now without the observation portal they filled up with the icy slush and snow until they were impacted worse than a tooth. Their escape pods popped out from the slush and the other end and with such a velocity that they continued going away from the planet sometime until gravity exhausted what was less than escape velocity.
While both women sat in their icy coffins and what awaited the eventual crash landing, all still, all peaceful, looking at the stars, back in the spaceship bridge it was a little more hectic.
"Back the ship up. Get it to the surface. We've got to go get them" said Elaine to Vice Commander Thu who responded with a nod to the woman at the helm. VC Thu was a short man with a very large eyes, very thin lips and of course a huge probosis. It quickly became apparent that while there is virtually no sound out in space there is however a very nasty sound when you try to back a spaceship of that size out of planetary ice. In fact the sound made Elaine's teeth feel on edge. Fortunately it only lasted a few seconds before the mammoth ship popped up to the surface.
“There they are Commander” said a man standing at the third obelisk.
“Pull them in” Thu replied.
There was nothing to see but if it will make you imagine it better imagine wavy invisible lines like the display of a oscilloscope going out to the two escape pods, lassoing them like a cowboy and pulling them back towards the ship. I’ve watched your planet’s media, especially the westerns and king fu movies.
“We’re visible and our thermal signature is exposed” said a woman standing in front of obelisk one.
“Let’s go back into the tunnel a little. Tighten the focus on the tractor” Thu said.
“Down to One Pi” said the man at the third obelisk.
“Tighter” said Thu.
The nice thing about a tractor beam is that it controls the object. Velocity is reduced to survivable limits. So as the ship moved further back under the surface of Pluto, the escape pods traveled smoothly towards it like fish on ice. Unfortunately a moment after the pods crossed the opening of the tunnel a large block of ice and snow weighing several tons broke off from the ceiling of the tunnel opening. It fell down which seems a normal thing to do, even on Pluto. However when it encountered the tractor beam, well it hitched a ride. Following the two pods were several tons of ice and snow, everything moving at a nice controlled velocity. And about a minute later the pods arrived in the cargo bay and seconds after that they became buried under snow and ice.
“Whew. Now that was a ride” said the commander as she waited for the crew to dig her out of the snow. “Bueller, that was the most fun I’ve ever had. Thank you. But your dangerous and I’m considering putting you on administrative review.”
“But commander. It was a good plan. It almost worked. And I’ve a decent plan B. We shoot two escape pods out there with extra chutes attached, put the scanner inside, and presto Ricado is your cousin.”
“Did you have plan B all along?” asked the commander.
“And you didn’t mention it?”
“No. No need. Plan A was a splendid idea.”
“Somebody confirm if Bueller’s Plan B is feasible” yelled the commander. She was at max volume again.
They pulled both of them from the pods and stood them up. They began to remove their spacesuits.
“Commander” said Bueller with a knowing smile, “I’d like to talk to you about how we get past the blockade.”
Driving Miss Pluto
“Have you lost your mind?” yelled the commander. She looked at Vice Commander Thu. “What do you think?” Thu shrugged his shoulders. Finally she looked at Elaine. “What do you think?”
"Well in so far as ideas go, it is one. But there are a lot of practical considerations to think of. After all, you're talking about driving Pluto out of the solar system."
"And for over 1000 ships not to notice this minor astronomical event" the commander added. Bueller had a big grin on her face as she spoke.
"Listen I looked it up while we were being rescued. They all have the KGT111A scanners. They're not only surveillance scanners they are also mapping scanners. And as mapping scanners they send sub-light messaging back to central mapping systems at a set frequency. Every 42 minutes they submit new mapping profiles.”
“So what?” yelled the commander. “Relevance, Bueller?”
“Why do we care?” said an animated Bueller. “Because for a few seconds while they're loading the mapping into memory to transmit they are waiting for confirmation of loading before starting the fail-over scanners. Every 42 minutes we have six seconds to move undetected. And they all do it at the same time. It's one of the benefits of a poor design. The newer models don't come with this feature."
“How did you know to look for this?”
“We were using the old scanners when you put me in charge of the mapping systems after I ruined the cucumber harvest on Trimalo. Interesting that you thought of it as a punishment. I found it fascinating. Did you know that there is still 11 percent of the universe that isn’t mapped yet, despite comms contact with the inhabitants.”
“Yes, I remember the scanners and why I put you in charge of them. Another of your ‘great ideas’ you promised. Wait a minute, are you telling me that while we were being rescued you were already working on your next insane idea?" Asked the commander.
"Yes, of course. And I don’t think its that crazy. Maybe a little, but not much. Not as much as riding escape pods in an ice tunnel. Now that was insane."
"Me, I was worried about dying at the time. But you weren't" said the commander shaking her head from side to side in disbelief.
"But I knew I would survive" said Buehler.
"Why?" asked an exasperated commander.
Bueller pointed at Elaine. "Because of her. I mean I wasn't certain, but almost. With her around everything would be OK."
Elaine shook her head from side to side.
"McGee, what you think?" The commander yelled.
"I don't know. I still think you are all crazy for thinking I’m some sort of weapon."
"Well, until you have an opinion, we're not going anywhere."
And that is how they escaped. Six seconds at a time. Five point one seconds of acceleration then 0.9 seconds of reverse thrust in order to appear normal when the scanners came back on. After a few hours of questions from Elaine and everyone on the bridge, McGee finally came around to the idea. Still, it took them several of your days to clear the blockade. With each jump Pluto got just a little smaller. By the time they cleared the last ship there wasn’t much left covering them. They were covered by less than a few hundred meters of ice. When they saw the final ship of the blockade in their rear view scanners they accelerated and the last bits of Pluto fell away. Elaine watched as the large chunks departed the massive ship. There were three main icebergs left floating in space. One made a form, a shape she thought looked like a fist holding up a middle finger. Pluto’s final salute to an arch nemesis. Elaine McGee chuckled and thought about Neil deGrasse Tyson and hoped he would see it.
Food in the canteen tasted like anything you wanted it to taste like and would look like anything you wanted it to look like. But the texture was all the same, roughly between chocolate pudding and an ice cream on a stick. Elaine had a hot dog with onions, mustard and relish and the machine nailed the taste perfectly. The mushy almost solid substance that was engineered for optimal nutrition was warm as she bit through the mushy nearly solid bread to get to the mushy nearly solid hot dog as the mushy nearly solid onions and relish enhanced the flavors.
“Food grown in a lab” Bueller told Elaine at dinner.
“They have every thing perfect except the texture” Elaine replied.
“You should have seen the first models. Any taste you want in the entire universe…in a bowl of soup. It almost doomed the group that made it. Nobody wanted cake flavored …soup.”
They sat at a table that said "hello" and "goodbye" upon the arrival or departure of anyone sitting at it. It also asked, ‘would you like me to keep your food at optimal serving temperature for you?” No one ever answered, except Elaine. She replied ‘yes’ and then followed up with a ‘thank you’. Elaine noted that the voice of the table seemed uncertain when it spoke, as if hello and goodbye might not be appropriate. She didn't like the food because of texture but she liked mealtimes. It was one of the few times when she could ask questions without the urgency of an important decision hanging like a sword over her head. Bueller gave her a small piece of glass that folded like paper yet presented an electronic image. Then she gave McGee a small disc that resembled that tiny Italian coin made obsolete by the euro, the one of so little value that to bend over and pick one up off the ground was not worth the risk of hurting your back. The glass folding paper was what you would call the reader, the tiny little coin a data store containing several million books. And best of all she could switch between visual words and spoken words piped straight into those tiny little black dots inside of her ear canals.
When they reached Relos Elaine watched the front wall of the bridge as it displayed the planet below. It was not what she expected. Most of the planet was desert except at the poles where it was lush and green. It orbited a giant red sun at a distance much farther than Earth. Across the desert area there were large weather systems, spirals of dust formed like hurricanes. They moved in an almost continuous line around the planet, those above the equator in one direction, those below the equator in the opposite direction.
“We’re going to the polar region, right?” asked Elaine.
“Wrong” replied the commander. “Take us in helmsman.”
“Yes commander” said a man standing at obelisk two.
And again the gyro and gravity stabilizers made an extreme maneuver feel like nothing as the large ship plummeted towards the planet.
“Who else has arrived?” the commander asked with almost a growl.
“We’re the last ones to arrive, commander” replied a woman at obelisk one.
“Good. Then I won’t have to wait on anyone. I hate waiting for the last idiot to arrive” said the Commander. Bueller started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“In this instance, we’re the last idiots to arrive” replied Bueller before moving from obelisk two to three.
“Bueller, I suffer you only for that 10 percent of your ideas that are good” said the commander, now back in yelling mode. This made Bueller smile.
“Surely I’m doing better than 10 percent commander.”
“You had sex with the ambassador from Dono, ruined the cucumber harvest on Trimalo, blew up the clock in Londre, and threw up at the welcoming ceremony for the Hoy representatives. Would you like me to continue? The list is long.” Her voice was full on now.
“With respect commander, the Dono did agree to forgo their neutrality and join us” replied Bueller.
“And the ambassador’s wife vowed to never speak to her again. And you know their culture, they won’t separate. It will be a lifetime of silence between them. They are a prideful people. You ruined their marriage.”
“As for the cucumber harvest on Trimalo, yes, that was my fault. There was a mistake in the atmospheric data I collected for the planet. The waste pod was supposed to burn up in the atmosphere. I did destroy it before it reached a population center. Cucumber lives or sentient lives? I had to go for our side, commander.”
“You have a real flair for excuses. But not much of one for success because you don’t get enough of those.” The commander poked her finger in the air in front of her at the interface visible to only her. Across the room a panel in the wall opened and a steaming cup of coffee was waiting for her. She walked over to get it.
“Excuse me commander, have you taken your booster yet today? A booster after coffee always upsets your stomach” said Bueller.
“I don’t need a mother, Bueller. I didn’t like mine…bossy bitch.” Then the commander poked the air again and another panel opened in the wall. In it was a small little container with a green fluid in it. In Earth Five terms it would be like the cup of cough medicine filled with a scary green liquid that glowed slightly. It was the glowing that made it so strange, which was in fact just excited little particles that were having a party to celebrate finally get an upgraded room with a view. So long bottle. Sucker. Little did they know.
“And sir, we were able to establish a wider range of food alternatives for the planet. It’s helping them finally become vegetarians. Remember, we had to reprovision our seed bank? The clock in Londr. Definitely my mistake. But commander, it was inaccurate. I was upgrading it. You pulled me out before I was finished. And it was a micro explosion.”
“With a Class 6 laser.”
“But we discussed it in advance. I only needed a few more minutes.”
“Coming up on the landing site” said a woman at obelisk 3.
“Put us down nice and easy” yelled the commander.
And the ship touched down on the desert like a feather floating to the ground. Off in the distance was an approaching storm. A wall of orange and brown came towards them like Huns charging in Central Asia centuries before you were born.
“Hook us up” said the commander in a close to normal voice.
“Yes, commander” said a very shy woman at obelisk one. Her voice barely made a sound.
“I can’t hear you” yelled the commander.
“Yes, commander” the girl screamed at the top of her voice.
“You do not, I repeat DO NOT, have permission to yell. Do you understand?”
“Yes commander” she said again in a more reasonable and almost soft voice. Then she began poking the air in front of her very rapidly. And a moment later the front wall showed that the ship was sinking into the sand. And the scary storm faded slowly as they went below the surface and the visuals changed to golden sand with occasional rocks, some of which were very shiny and could have been diamonds. I should probably mention that out among the stars there is no diamond cartel that keep the prices artificially inflated for their own benefit. No, they are still considered valuable but at 1/100 of what you pay for anything that has passed through the hands of a collection of thieves known as DeBeers.
And after a few minutes of slowly sinking, the ship stopped. Then there was a thud, then another, followed by a third.
“Connected” said the shy woman in a barely audible voice again.
“All crew. We’re now connected with the other ships. Power down and enjoy some social time” said the commander.
“Sir…have you ever wondered what it would be like to shoot an escape pod into this sandy mess? 100 percent survivability, I promise.”