Professor Chu spoke in a very soft tone of voice. Kassman slipped her hand into his as they stood in front of the video camera floating in front of them.
“I failed. I’m sorry. The results indicate only a discernible pattern for those outside of the Goodness controlled regions. And I have no way of explaining it.”
“Don’t be so swift to declare failure,” said Prof Souf. She was wearing her red robe. Chu had taken his off and donned his regular clothes in preparation for dismissal.
“Is it possible that we picked up the wrong people? Some sort of identification mistake?” questioned Kassman.
“It’s possible but not probable. We violated the medical records of the Goodness in order to identify and locate the Improbables. It would have been a colossal screwup. Or worse.” replied Souf.
“What’s or worse?” asked Kassman.
“A traitor in the Council,” replied Souf. There were a few moments of silence after her words. A traitor. Chu couldn’t understand what would make someone a traitor. But then Chu had never read a spy novel. He didn’t even know what they were. He wasn’t a fan of fiction and probably wouldn’t have even read this story, where he is a central character if he had thought it was fiction. He was much more comfortable with a history book or a textbook on advanced set theory.
“There seems little point in continuing,” said Chu.
“Professor Chu,” said Souf, in a very stern tone of voice. “You are forbidden from abandoning your work until the Council agrees with your assessment. You have insufficient results to draw a conclusion.” Then softening to a motherly tone, “Lawrence I know your history. It’s been hard for you. But continue, you must continue your work.”
Depression. Lawrence Chu was embarrassed that Souf knew that he had been treated for depression not long ago after failing to receive a promotion. Good old Kassman felt him squeeze her hand tight at the mention of it. She needed to change the topic quickly.
“Why are we only speaking to you?” Kassman asked. “Protocol?”
“No. It’s not protocol. It’s the nature of our discussion and the group dynamics of the Council. There are still those who are skeptics about your work. They went along to humor me, and in case they were wrong. And then there are the polite. The skeptics would welcome your resignation as validation of their opinion. The polite would assume that since you are close to the results, then your assessment must be given priority. Between the two groups, you would be headed back home within hours.”
“Why aren’t you wearing your robe?” Souf asked him.
“Thought you would want it back after this conversation. Don’t believe I deserve it” said Chu.
“You’re a Master Mathematician. That is a lifetime designation and not something that can be rescinded,” replied Souf. “So I’d appreciate it if you would wear the robes of your designation in the future.”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” was his sad response.
“Cheer up Chu. You’ve hit a snag in your work. Don’t self-destruct over it. Investigate. Nothing is inexplicable, only unexplained so far. Find the explanation, Chu!”
And at that moment, clues of the explanation happened. There was a loud roar, and the ship shuddered and vibrated and rocked from an explosion.
“What was that?” asked Kassman.
A moment later the battle stations alarm sounded.
“Let’s end it here,” said Souf. “Continue the work. Stay safe my friends.”
Sand. It isn’t quite water yet when a spaceship is buried underground in a sandy environment it acts like water in a submarine when the hull of the vessel is torn open. Chu and Kassman ran towards the sound of the explosion. The halls were filling with people rushing in every direction. The closer they got to their destination the more they began to see the injured and in some cases the dead. A man lay against the wall of the corridor, a large piece of metal sticking from his chest. He had died with his eyes open, his face contorted by pain.
It didn’t take long before they reached the emergency closure where the doors had sealed off the damaged section of the spacecraft like it was a Leper colony and contagious.
“We need to get in there,” said Chu.
“Sorry. Not going to happen,” said a man with a scar on his neck. If there had been time and if circumstances had been less urgent they would have learned that Luman Cold was an escaped slave and the scar on his neck had happened when his slave owner had cut his throat and left him for dead after he was falsely accused of theft by another slave.
“But we’ve got people in a conference room in there. We’ve got to save them,” yelled Kassman.
“It’s too late for them,” came the bland response from Luman Cold.
“You two. I want to speak with you two,” came a loud voice behind them. They turned to find a tall, muscular woman standing behind them with her arms folded. She pointed at them.
“I’ve got a detonation in your meeting room — dead and wounded. A hole in my ship and I want to know what in the name of Hydrogen you were up to!” said the woman. Kassman looked at Chu. He was staring at a human arm not less than a body length from them lying on the floor. He was hypnotized by it.
“And you are?” asked Kassman.
“Doyle. Head of security. And you’re coming with me. Get moving!” she said. Then she put her hand on the weapon at her side as a reminder of alternatives. She pointed back behind them. Kassman reached out and grabbed Chu by his shirt sleeve and pulled him hard. The interruption was just what he needed to break him from the spell caused by the detached arm. He moved like someone startled from a dream.
“Start with what you two were doing in there?” said Doyle. Her walk was more of a stomp Kassman noticed. She also noticed the ankle weights. Microgravitationals set at 5. There were also two on her arms.
“We’re not allowed to discuss our work,” said Kassman as they walked down a corridor where desperate people were receiving the first moments of medical treatment.
“I don’t give a shit what you think the rules are, during a battle, field command overrules any damned thing you think is important. So give me the high-level, and we’ll work our way down in details.”
“We’re under threat of death if we speak about our work,” said Kassman. She looked at Chu. He nodded his agreement.
“And you’re under threat of immediate death this very fucking moment if you don’t tell me what is going on,” said Doyle and she removed her gun and pointed it at Kassman.
“Wait,” yelled Chu. “Let’s go into a room away from everyone else, and we’ll get you answers. I swear to the Periodic Table of Elements and on my mother’s online consciousness.”
“What are you two doing?” Doyle said as they continued to walk down the corridor as others rushed past them. “Doyle got them,” one man said as he ran past. “Good on ya, Doyle,” a woman yelled as she ran past with a small piece of medical equipment under her arm. “Well done,” said a young girl as she ran past them on her way away from the blast area.
“Start or you die. Simple proposition. And it starts now,” said Doyle. “5, “4.” Then Doyle did the thing that she always did. It worked over sixty percent of the time. She bent her neck a little and trued her aim. It was a slight movement but one that was not slight in its message.
“OK, OK. I’m a Master Mathematician,” said Chu.
“A Master Mathematician. Listen can we please get to a quiet place to talk about this.”
“3,” Doyle replied.
“Wait. OK…OK. I made a discovery. It may be one of the most important discoveries ever,” Chu blurted out the words that he had always been very afraid of saying or even admitting to himself. “Please, can we go in that room right there. I can’t tell you this in a hallway in front of other people.”
“Fuck,” said Kassman as she turned around and faced the weapon pointed now at her face.
“I’ve made a discovery that may win the war,” Chu blurted out. And six people now turned to look at him.
“Well, why didn’t you say so. That’s what I need to hear,” she lowered her gun. She grinned because it had worked one more time. She pointed her weapon at the room across the hallway.
It was a room devoted to thoughts and relaxation. There was very soft music. It had the sound of birds. The walls were displaying a rain forest environment. Running water could be heard ever so faintly. They were not alone. There was a woman sitting on a comfort cushion chair. They are not visible and always seem slightly startling when you first see one in use.
“Heard you caught them already,” the woman said to Doyle. “Don’t fuck with Doyle,” she said with a smile.
“Don’t fuck with Doyle,” Doyle repeated. “Listen Cualli; I need to interrogate these two real quick before time works against me. Can I have the room? You really don’t want to be in here if it gets rough.”
Cuali jumped to her feet. “Sure thing Doyle.” As she walked past Kassman she punched her in the gut. “That’s from those who can’t pay you back.” Kassman folded over like a hot pretzel and then fell to the floor. She rolled onto her side. Chu knelt down beside her.
“We’re not the ones that did this?” Chu yelled at the woman leaving the room.
“Fuck you,” she said without looking back. “Get ‘em, Doyle.”
“Got ‘em,” Doyle yelled in response as the door closed.
Kassman had never been punched before. Even as a kid she had never been in a fight. Maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it wasn’t. But she knew she didn’t like the feeling, even if she cherished the experience. She tried to sit up.
“I’ll be OK,” she said as she let her legs extend full out on the floor.
Doyle pulled out her gun again and this time pointed it at Chu.
“1,” she said in a loud voice.
“Wait, wait. OK. It’s a weapon” he yelled.
“Better,” she said and lowered her gun. “What kind of weapon. Is it an anti-matter device or a beam device? Or is it atomics?”
Chu helped Kassman get to her feet.
“No, it’s a mathematical tendency found in large numbers,” Chu said.
“What the fuck? Do you want to die? Is this how you commit suicide where you’re from?” She raised the gun again and pointed it at Kassman who was now standing beside Chu.
“It’s not mega-shit. It looks like alchemy, but it isn’t. I swear on the red robes of a Master Mathematician that I am telling the truth. Let’s get Professor Souf in the conference. She can explain it all to you. She’ll kill me if I tell you. Come on. Please, please,” Chu begged. Kassman pointed her fingers at her interface and quickly called Professor Souf.
An hour later they were back in Doyle’s quarters. The walls were projecting a subtle striped pattern, and the furniture had the sleek look of stacked thermal cushioning on shiny mirrored metal frames. Security got excellent quarters on Doyle’s ship.
They stood in a substantial open area, across from the long striped wall. Doyle had four interfaces up and running. In one of them was the pleasant face of Professor Souf and Professor Bhatti in their video conference.
“Can you see this?” Doyle asked. It was the video of the events in the conference room preceding the explosion.
“Yes,” replied Bhatti. “I don’t think she knows what he’s about to do.”
“I agree,” said Doyle.
“But look at all of these people, over there. They know. See, they’re trying to get out of their seats and run away. They know what he’s doing. But look at these people. They don’t have a clue. See that one? He thinks it’s all funny. No idea what’s about to happen.”
Then the video showed the explosion. There wasn’t much to see. Splatter went everywhere, and a significant amount hit the camera and blotted out about sixty percent of the lens. The sound overwhelmed the microphone and came across as white noise. A moment after the blast, a voice could be heard. It wasn’t a word. It said ‘ung’ three times before falling silent.
Doyle fingered the interface and replayed the moments before the blast.
“What are we looking for,” asked Kassman.
“Anything,” said Doyle. “Everything. Let’s start by identifying all the people in the room. Let’s start with the ones who know what is going on.”
It was a tedious process as the first obstacle was that the ship’s records of who was onboard had missing intervals. Fortunately, Kassman had a welcoming file she had created with the pic of each person in attendance. After an interface to interface, the faces were matched to those in the room. Their names floating above them in the video from the room.
“Wait a minute. They aren’t all there. There’s two of them missing” said an excited Kassman. “Look, I’ve still got McGee and the Twins unassigned in the image.”
“She has the highest central tendency,” said Souf.
Despite the explanation from Souf that Doyle didn’t understand, it finally clicked for her. “She is your weapon?”
“We hope so,” said Professor Souf. “We were hoping she would be one of many.”
“What the fuck?” said Chu. “It’s identical to our result sets. Look.” He pointed his fingers at the interface displayed in front of them. “See? Gray, Brown, Brown, Brown, Gray, Gray.” He was circling the people who were trying to run away and was calling out the color of their clothing.”
As a licensed historian, I have to mention this although I suspect you already know it. Gray, brown and black have been a central tendency for clothing in authoritarian regimes throughout history. No one can explain it, but there are countless theories and people who will tell you that they know why, especially if you pay them for the knowledge. But no one can really say why. In the case of those living under Goodness, brown was the lowest class color, next was gray, and finally black for those in charge. If you ever see an authoritarian wearing bright colors, you can be confident they are on holiday.
“They all come from areas controlled by Goodness,” said Professor Chu.
“You’re right,” said Professor Bhatti.
“What about him?” asked Doyle. He circled the image of a fleeing Professor Toure.
The door opened to Doyle’s quarters. Two armed guard shoved Elaine McGee and Nambur and Akala into the room.
“Get your murderous asses in there” said one of the guards as he pushed Elaine again. She was bleeding from a busted lip and the guards uniform was torn at the chest pocket and collar.
“Doyle’s got your ass now. You’re gonna wish you’d died in the blast” said the guard that shoved Nambur and Akala into the room.
“This is them” said the guard with a blaster pointed at McGee’s back. “They were wandering the halls trying to find a way to get to the blast site. Probably left some evidence behind. Figured you might need to Bistock them.”
Kolin Bistock was a lowly security analyst second class that had filed abuse charges against Doyle. Doyle had recently been cleared of the charges when Bistock withdrew the charges. This only after a private discussion with two of Doyle’s lieutenants who described the art of skin removal while keeping someone alive and conscious throughout the procedure.
“Thank, Coffey” said Doyle. “You can leave them with me and return to your post” said Doyle as she removed her blaster from the holster at her side.
“Watch out for this one” said the man with the torn collar, “mid-sentence.”
For those of you who are unaware of a mid-sentence its simply a battle tactics of starting the attack mid-sentence while speaking to your opponent in a comforting tone. It provides an element of surprise that will either work and you win, won’t work and get you killed, or only work for a couple of moments before your opponent recovers and knocks the snot out of you. In Elaine’s case it was the latter. She went down to a right jab that hit her squarely in the mouth.
“Appreciate the warning” said Doyle as she raised her gun and aimed it at McGee.
“Wait, wait, wait a minute. It can’t be her. She had nothing to do with it” said Chu.
“Primeshit” Doyle replied. “These two conveniently miss the boat. No I don’t play coincidence.”
“There are three of us, asshole” said Akala. “Or maybe you can’t count.”
Doyle walked over to Nambur and Akala. Then in a flash she holstered her weapon then punched them in the stomachs, the upper stomachs forcing the wind out of them and making it hard to breath. She used both of her fists. They went down to their knees. A moment later Doyle had her gun pointed at McGee’s head.
“Try it bitch. I’ll splatter you like a Tsui Tamona painting” Doyle said.
“It’s not them” said Kassman.
“You people have told me a lot of stories that don’t add up” said Doyle. “So I’m going to make it nice and easy. This bitch is going to die right now if I don’t get a confession.”
“5” said Doyle.
The head nod and aim adjustment.
“Wait, wait…I can prove it! This is Elaine McGee. She is an Improbable. They were trying to kill all of them but they missed these two. Now if you kill them then they will have succeeded and you might as well put the gun to your head and pull the trigger because we won’t stand a chance without them.”
“Whats the proof?” asked Doyle.
“OK. Have you ever played Rock, Paper, Scissors?”
“I’m not fucking kidding. We can prove who she is by the game.”
Then Chu did something no one expected. He stepped in front of Elaine McGee, between her and the gun.
“Please Doyle. Try it. If I’m wrong. Then shoot me before you shoot her. But you’ve got to try it. Please, the future of everyone you know, everyone you love depends on it.”
Ten games they played. Doyle kept her gun pointed at McGee throughout. Elaine won every one of them. Doyle was not buying it so they played ten more. Same outcome.
“Maybe she’s a skillful player” said Doyle.
“Twenty games, Doyle. And if you do twenty more it will be the same” said Kassman.
“Show me” said Doyle. So they did twenty more games in rapid fashion. At the end of it, McGee had won all forty.
“You’re a fucking freak!” said Doyle after the last game. But her gun was still aimed at McGee.
“But now you know they couldn’t be involved in the explosion” said Kassman.
“No. All I know is that she is lucky” replied Doyle. Then she put her finger to her ear. “O’Farrell, get Doc Nahan. I need him to do a security scan.” On the other end of the comms O’Farrell yelled ‘yes, boss’ but no one else in the room heard it.
A few minutes later a man entered the room accompanied by two rather large muscular women with guns pointed forward.
“What the hell are you doing Doyle? I’ve got people dying out there because I’m not helping them. I’m going to file a grievance” said the little man with the black hair, olive skin and big nose.
“File your grievance. I need to make sure neither of these two are going to blow the fuck up” she replied as she still pointed her blaster at Elaine.
“Give them guns and they take command” said the diminutive doctor in a very sarcastic tone as he removed a small handheld device the size of one of your phones from his pocket. “You know there was a sub-commander dying when your thugs interrupted me.” He began to move the device up and down Nambur and Akala.
“I don’t care” replied Doyle. “Sub commanders are full of themselves.”
“You’re a sub commander” replied Nahan sarcastically.
“That’s how I know” Doyle replied in a serious tone.
“They are clean” said Nahan as he moved over to Elaine and began his scan. After a few moments, “she’s clean too” came from his mouth.
With those words Doyle stopped aiming his gun at Elaine. Instead he aimed it at Prof Kassman.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Lawrence in an angry voice.
“Scan them both” Doyle said to the doctor. “I’m doing my job, making sure. That’s what I’m doing.”
A couple of moments later Nahan provided a “clean” diagnosis. Finally Doyle lowered her gun.
“Can I leave now?” said Nahan in an annoyed tone.
“Get the fuck out” said Doyle. “But I’ll send for you if I need you again.”
“Yeah, sure” said Nahan and he walked quickly to the door and then was gone.
It was a few minutes later. Doyle, Chu, Kassman, Elaine, and the twins were standing around a holographic replay from the cameras in the conference room right before the explosion. Connected in comms were Prof. Souf and Bhatti and they too reviewed the replay.
“So if you’re from their part of the universe you’re familiar with suicide bombers? Is that the assumption we’re supposed to make here?” Asked Prof. Chu.
“Exactly” replied Doyle. “That’s what I’m wondering about too. It’s an ancient tactic that’s fallen out of use. Yet here are genpop Goodness aware within moments, almost instantly. That doesn’t make sense. ”
“Why?” Asked Akala. Doyle didn’t even bother to answer him.
“Social isn’t she” Akala replied sarcastically.
“But there’s a wrinkle in our theory” said Doyle.
Then at the bottom of the holographic image a blue bar appeared and a picture of the person calling.
“Pause playback” said Doyle. “Accept” she said in the hologram changed into the image of the person calling, an older harsh looking man with a scar in his cheek despite medical technology that could easily eliminate it.
“I just got a call from Gen. Leary. Yeah I’m not shitting you, that Gen. Leary. Seems you got a hell of a mess going on down there and I know you want to get to the bottom of it. But I’m changing your prime directive, Doyle. As of now, your directive is the protection of professors Chu and Kassman, Elaine McGee, and the conjoined. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir, Crystal” Doyle replied.
“However, should you come across the people responsible for this attack, you have my authorization to use level C interrogation techniques. Adjust your mission Doyle. Goodbye.” Then the image stopped and was replaced by the previous playback just prior to the explosion.
“What’s level C?” Asked Elaine.
“Torture followed by death” replied Doyle.
“Why C?” asked Professor Chu.
“A is follow the rules, no ones favorite option. B is torture them but don’t kill them” replied Doyle.
“Is that sort of thing allowed? Do we have rules that prevent us from being barbaric?” Asked Elaine. And again Doyle didn’t bother to answer the question.
“I’d like an answer” said Elaine when it became apparent Doyle wasn’t going to answer.
“My job is to keep you alive, not explain shit.”
Elaine turned to Prof. Chu and Kassman.
“I don’t know the rules of warfare” replied Kassman. “Neither do I” added Chu.
“We’re mathematicians, not soldiers” said Prof. Souf sitting beside Prof. Bhatti who was nodding agreement. “We’re at war against a foe that is barbaric beyond belief.”
“For example?” Asked Elaine.
“They take slaves from the planets they conquer” said Prof. Souf.
“Six generations ago, my family were slaves” replied Elaine.
“We didn’t know that. No one researched that far back in your history” replied Prof. Chu.
“It’s not open for debate” said Doyle. “Let’s get back to work. But we need to take care of a couple of things first.”
Doyle walked over to a cabinet built into the wall. He touched a spot on it with his finger, illuminated in the cabinet opened up. Inside were weapons, lots of weapons. There were also two crates made of shiny silver metal. Doyle opened one of the crates and removed blasters from it. She closed the crate. She closed the cabinet. In turn she picked up each blaster with her right hand. Then she said words like an incantation.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” Then she handed the weapon to Prof. Chu.
“I don’t want this” complained Chu.
“You have no choice.” Then she picked up the next gun.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” Then she handed the weapon to Prof. Kassman. Kassman did not complain.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” Then she handed the weapon to Elaine. McGee checked the balance, the weight, and the aiming of the weapon. Then Doyle sighed heavily.
“Open use. Stun only. Block me.” She handed the weapon to the twins.
“Nobody better fuck with me now” said Nambur. “Don’t be so dramatic” replied Akala. “And you will not discharge this weapon without my permission,” Akala added.
“Try not to shoot each other” said Doyle.
“Why doesn’t he like us?” Nambur asked Akala.
“I don’t know.”
Doyle stood in front of the twins with her legs wide apart and her shoulder square.
“I’ll tell you why. In a battle you will get me killed, if you don’t get yourselves killed first.”
“No we won’t” replied Akala as if his personal honor it been challenged.
“Listen I’ve seen it before. That’s why conjoins never make it in security or the military. It’s not that you’re bad people. It’s that you argue about what to do during the first minute of battle and that gets you killed and it gets other people killed. A battle is the wrong place and the wrong time for workplace democracy.”
“But he should let me make the decision” said Nambur. “I’m the one who has the stomach to do the needful. He’ll just puke or something.”
“Don’t start” replied Akala in anger. “Don’t you start this. You’ve always been violence prone. Remember the fight with Tommy? That was all you. I let you be in charge and look what happened” replied Akala.
“I was 12 years old. He tried to steal your girlfriend. He made do you cry. What was I supposed to do? I was tired of your whimpering.”
“I hate you” said Akala.
“Not nearly as much as I hate you.”
“Not nearly as much as I hate listening to the two of you” said Doyle. “Now shut up and let’s get back to work.”
“Where were we?” Asked Prof. Souf.
“Him. I want to know about him. He doesn’t fit.” Doyle was pointing at a man running away. A man wearing the red robes of a master mathematician. It was Prof. Toure.
At the bottom of the hologram a blue message with white lettering began to flash. A soft male voice came out of micro speakers in Elaine McGee’s ear canals.
“Return to your ship. Departure imminent. Return to your ship. Departure imminent.”
“We’ll have to postpone this for a while” said Doyle. “I need to get you secured on our ship.”
“You’re to come to Kath” said Professor Souf.
“Why?” asked Professor Chu.
“Propulsion. There’s been a breakthrough. Its in final testing. They will be doing a briefing this afternoon. But the word is that it will change significantly our strategy. We will be able to attack instead of run” said Professor Souf.
Amelia got out of bed and put on a long white robe over her naked body.
“If you love me, you’ll do it” she said.
“I can’t. I need her father. Without him, my district becomes less secure” said Malu as he too got out of bed. He put on a pair of deep blue trousers.
“Then set me free. If you won’t take me as your wife and if you truly love me like you say you do, then set me free. It is the simple command of love that love cannot be commanded. If it is not given freely then it is not given at all.”
Malu walked up behind Amelia put his arms around her.
“Oh my precious, my heart, you are the air in my lungs. I would die for you.”
“But you don’t love me enough to do the one thing that would prove it” Amelia responded.
“We’ve been over this before” replied Malu.
“And will go over it again. And again. We’ll keep going over this until you show courage and your trust in me.”
“Perhaps you have forgotten who is the master?” He hugged her a little tighter. She responded by pushing away from him.
“It is in my final testament that you are to be freed. Other than becoming my wife, something which you cannot do, that is the only other way you can become free.”
“Kill her” said Amelia angrily.
“I can’t” he replied forcefully.
“There are poisons. Discrete poisons.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“I can give you a house full of children. Made from us, from our love.”
She moved over to a sofa beside a table. She sat down and took a piece of fruit from the bowl. She bit into it and the juices ran down her chin.
“Then give me Delsh. Bring my brother into our house.”
“You know I can’t do that” Malu replied.
Amelia took another bite from the fruit before responding.
“For someone so powerful, you have a lot you can’t” she replied.
“I know” he said in a soft tone. “I know.”
Doyle in Charge
Prof. Chu walked around the apartment opening doors to bedrooms.
“It was my idea” said Bueller. It’s how I keep my quarters. The walls, floor and ceiling had projections from the ships exterior cameras. This made the room look like it was floating in deep space.
“What is that smell?” asked Akala.
“Bacterium” said Bueller. “Tiny little nano-particles that eat pollution.”
“I don’t see why this is necessary. We’ve done nothing wrong. You’re supposed to protect those two” said Lawrence Chu pointing at Elaine and the conjoined twins.
“Three, asshole” replied Akala.
“Two, three it doesn’t matter” replied Chu. “Kassman and I do not deserve to be held in prisoner accommodation.” He finished looking at all the rooms, came back and stood a good safe distance in front of Doyle.
“It’s not open for discussion. Relax, get comfortable, you might be here awhile” said Doyle. She walked over to the sofa and unhooked her boots, removed them and lay down, pulling a cushion under her head. “Like this” she said with a snear.
“You have no right to hold us against our will” said Kassman.
Doyle sat up for a moment, “that’s where you’re wrong. Under hostile action the rules are different, more my kind of rules. Those two might be something special and you might be the smart motherfuckers who figured out how to find them. The way I see it, that son of a bitch Chiro would be happier with all of you dead. Under those circumstances and depending on the level of pain you are willing to endure in order to disagree with me, the matter is settled.”
“Not even close to settled” said Kassman. “I want to talk to your commanding officer.”
“Go ahead. I’ll even make it easy for you” Doyle said and got up from the sofa. She tapped on the interface in front of her and the image of the commander appeared.
“How’s it coming Doyle?” Said the image projected in front of Doyle and visible to all.
“We’ve got a lot of dead and injured commander so I won’t waste your time. I’ve got the improbables, Prof. Chu and Kassman in the prison quarters for safety. Nobody in, nobody out. And they don’t like it. What you think?” Doyle adjusted her head, like she did when she would about to execute someone, smiled and waited for the commander’s response.
“I don’t care if they don’t like it, for now it’s the way things are. You are wasting valuable time with your bellyaching. Doyle put you there and I trust her.”
The commander’s image disappeared when she reached out and disconnected the comms through her interface. Her image had been gone less than a couple of seconds before it appeared again.
“Almost forgot, improbables, there is a significant number of the patrols between us and Kath. I need your route plan to avoid them. And I need it soon. One hour.”
It was a very argumentative hour. Elaine and Nambur disagree on the path past the Colossus, the massive black hole near the center of KRS One. Nambur suggested a path that took them through the asteroid belt with fewer enemy ships. Elaine suggested an end around the other side of the Colossus, a route that would take longer. And at the end of the hour they could not report an agreed route. As you can imagine the commander’s response was loud.
“For a secret weapon, the two of you are not a very good weapon. Not very secret either.”
“Then how about we flip a coin” said Bueller.
“What the hell are you doing down there? Why aren’t you at your station?” The commander yelled.
“Because I’m needed here.”
“If there’s something going wrong I can always count on you being close by.”
“Offering ideas, commander. Offering ideas” replied Bueller with a smile.
“Offer them some ideas on how they can agree on a route. Because were coming to a halt in about 10 minutes. Now it’s time for one of your good ideas for a change.” Again the commander disconnected and her image disappeared.
“Is she always such an asshole?” Asked Prof. Kassman.
“She’s okay. She’s got a lot of responsibility” said Bueller. “I wouldn’t want the job.”
“Me either” said Akala.
“It’s just command” said Doyle. “You train for it, you practice it, you get used to it.”
“So you could be a commander and not yell, is that what you’re saying?” Asked Prof. Kassman. This caused Lawrence Chu to frown.
“That’s right, no yelling. But a few of you motherfuckers might gets slapped around every now and then.”
“Great” replied Kassman.
“Kassman” said Doyle, “give me a reason and I will hurt you, without hesitation.”
“You can’t threaten us” said Chu.
“I didn’t. I threatened her and it’s a threat I will keep. I wanted her to know that so she can respond accordingly. I don’t really see you academics doing well in combat.”
“That’s outrageous. You are a bully. That’s what you are” said Chu.
“And you are now on the list as well.”
“What list?” Asked Chu.
“The list of people whose ass I’m going to kick first chance I get.”
“You’re an idiot” said Chu.
Doyle walked over and stood in front of Chu. They were roughly the same height. Chu’s stance became unsteady as he shifted weight from one foot to another. Doyle didn’t say anything. She just stood a forearms length in front of him and smiled. Chu’s right foot started to step backwards but then he changed his mind and stood his ground. Sometimes it is the slightest motions. He didn’t remember anything after that. He didn’t remembers Doyle’s fist as it connected with the right side of his face and was immediately followed by a harder blow to the left side. He didn’t even remember his unconscious body falling to the floor. He regained consciousness a minute later laying on the sofa were Doyle and been laying previously. His head hurt that it was hard to focus.
“What if this decision isn’t part of it?” Asked Bueller.
“What do you mean?” Asked Doyle.
Bueller played with her personal interface as she spoke. “What if improbability doesn’t pertain too all choices?”
“It doesn’t work like that” said Prof. Kassman as she performed a cranial massage on Chu. “We had to work along several axis with binary opposites. We could have pursued localized choices but the calculations were exceedingly tedious and we had no guarantee that we can ever test them successfully. The alternative was to look for ALL. The improbable who crosses all areas with their choices. That is why they were only 31 of them in the universe.”
“Cool” said Bueller. “So you looked at the macro level because it was easier, correct?”
“Exactly” said Chu who was beginning to respond to the cranial massage and the pain suppressant vapor he had just inhaled. Chu looked at Doyle and made a rude gesture with his hand that fortunately was localized to his planet and meant nothing to Doyle. However Elaine noticed it and smiled. Alien middle finger.
“So they must agree” said Bueller.
“There is always the possibility that there are more than one correct answer to the problem. After all you can sum two numbers to reach ten several different ways” said Chu. “I’ll explain it to the commander.
Doyle moved her fingers in front of her and answered a comms request. She kept it private so only she could hear it.
“What have you got O’Rourke?” Doyle asked.
“Okay. The egghead Toure. There was a disturbance at the eggs home a few nights ago.”
“That’s all you got?” Asked Doyle.
“No, it gets better. The professors wife’s had to be sedated. She kept screaming about someone coming to kill them. And now her husband is dead.”
“That’s more like it.” Doyle squinted her eyes a little.
“Not done yet” said O’Rourke. “One Prof. Alastair Shad, who just happens to have been one of the persons who suggested Toure hasn’t been seen in two days.”
“Good work” Doyle said.
“Doyle, give me a moment, I’m doing the data request. Checking something you asked about. Hold on it’s coming right now. Well shit, how the fuck did you know? Every one of them. They all had their records updated recently. In fact they were all done within the same hour. How in the fuck did you know to look for that?”
“I’ve been doing this for a while. You would’ve figured it out if you had seen the recording right before the blast. Some people ran, some people had no fucking clue what was happening. You just confirmed that the ones that ran may not have been who we thought they were. So tell me, were all of their images updated too?”
“Doyle, you’re on fire. Every one of them was updated as part of the profile update.”
“Here’s what I want next, O’Rourke. I want a deep background check on central command structure, starting from the top. Keep it very quiet.”
“You smell what I’m smelling?” Asked O’Rourke.
“Yeah. Send me the profiles to read.”
“Stop it,” said Kassman; then she pushed away Chu. “Why do you always have to be so touchy-feely all the time?”
“Because you’re soft because you’re warm because I love you.”
“You need to respect me as a person. It’s like there’s no time you wouldn’t rather be having sex with me.”
“That’s not true,” said Chu. He walked out of a bedroom of the new faculty building.
“Tell me one time when you don’t want to – just one.”
Lawrence Chu smiled at her and replied, “Right after we’ve had sex. There, your supposition is incorrect.” Chu folded his arms over his chest. He tapped the interface in front of him and walked over to the beverage panel to retrieve a strong cup of coffee.
“Always sleep that tiny bit better on the planet. It makes no sense, but there it is, the illogical improbable.” He took a sip, nodded his head, then walked back into the bedroom. He was wearing his fluffiest red robe, the collar standing up in the back as if he has spent hours forming it and spraying it with hairspray to keep it standing.
“Did you hear about the ambush?”
“Around the Keldon blackhole?”
“Yeah,” said Kassman. Kassman wore a colorful swirling robe. In contrast to Chu’s red Imperial robe, hers presented a rather wild psychedelic flair.
“You’re really going to wear that today,” asked Chu, but it wasn’t really a question.
“Of course. Look at yourself, the red plumes of the scarlet beaker, that’s what you’re wearing.”
“So, what happened at Keldon?”
“They got a transfer fleet and the support ships,” replied Kassman.
“All of them?” Chu took a sip of his coffee.
“Yes. Got the support ships too.”
“I thought they changed their route to Oregon every time.”
“They do,” replied Kassman.
“Oh,” said Chu solemnly. It was further evidence that Doyle may be correct in her suspicion of spies.
Oregon is a planet not far from Triolo where the structures of their space fleets were assembled. Triolo is not a friendly planet. It’s mostly sand dunes and mountain ranges. There is little freshwater, so it is extracted from the atmosphere for the inhabitants. It has no naturally occurring sentient life forms, the most advanced species you would consider to be insects and reptiles. But what it does have is U37, a mineral that was sent to a foundry and brought to a hard concentrate which forms the structure of the space fleet. Think of it as an advanced, very advanced, type of steel. It takes ten units of U37 to produce one usable unit of product. Because of this, the structures were assembled on Oregon and moved many at a time, lashed together, to Triolo. There the propulsion was fitted along with the rest of the systems. Since Oregon and Triolo are nearby, transit time does not take an extended length of time. This strengthened Doyle’s proposition about spies.
“I still wish we could tell them.” Lawrence Chu frowned.
“I know,” said Kassman, “we’ve got to stand like idiots in front of the Council in order to help Doyle. I hope she’s quick.”
“I just wish she’d stop calling us eggheads,” said Chu.
“Get over it. So, what if she knocked the crap out of you. It’s what she does. She trains for it, so she’s going to be good at it. We have trained for other things, and we’re good at them.”
“When all of this is over, I’ll make sure she pays for her crime,” said Chu. He took another sip of coffee went over to a table and sat down. His fingers began to move on the interface.
“What crimes? Crimes against your dignity don’t count.” Kassman sat down at the table across from Chu. “Would you like me to keep your food at an optimal serving temperature?” asked the table to Kassman.
“No,” she replied. She had no food; obviously, the table was malfunctioning.
“She’s violent, she’s dangerous, and she’s not that smart,” said Chu.
“Yes, maybe, and I disagree. In that order.”
“You have got to be kidding me. You really think there’s a significant brain underneath her instincts? All I see is intimidate, smash, kill.”
“Yes, and she was pretty damn quick to figure out that they have spies selling us out.”
“Yes, and she is forcing me to do the most humiliating act of my professional career. We have to stand in front of the Council of Numeracy and tell them we have no idea how to explain our results when we have a pretty damn good idea what happened. I swear, if Doyle costs me this red robe, no amount of training will protect her from the beating I’ll give her.”
“You need to keep it together. It’s going to be hard, and we’re going to be humiliated. There’s no avoiding that. Accept it.” Kassman’s voice was very soft and soothing. Chu finished his cup of coffee, made a few taps on the interface, and got up to retrieve yet another cup.
“It’s about to be the worst day of my life, I’m under guard all day and all night, which makes me a prisoner, and the woman I love requested separate quarters when we arrived. So, asking me to keep it together and put on a happy face might be asking a little too much today.” Chu took the coffee and returned to the table.
“Is that what this is about?” asked Kassman. “You’re still upset because I wanted my own room?”
“A little,” replied Chu.
“Perhaps a lot,” said Kassman. “I don’t know the customs on this planet or the behavioral expectations. But I do know that the highest professional group in our field is located here, so I intend to behave with as much dignity and respect as I can. And if that means I’m not your little fuck toy for a little while, then I’m sorry I’m just trying to avoid screwing this up.”
“They don’t observe us constantly,” said Chu.
“You don’t know that, do you?”
“You’re right, I don’t.”
“Then let’s both behave as best we can for right now.”
“Okay” replied Chu with a long, forlorn sigh.
“Good. We were getting a little too much like Bueller,” said Kassman.
“What’s wrong with Bueller?”
Kassman smiled and brushed the hair from her face. “Bueller’s part of a subspecies that comes with a very high libido. They have sex with multiple partners, hundreds of them over time. But then they find the right one, don’t asked me how that works. Once that happens, they become completely monogamous. And the two lovers spend the rest of their lives fucking each other’s brains out.”
“I had no idea,” said Chu. “She looks like such a young innocent kid.”
“Well that young innocent kid is infatuated with Doyle” replied Kassman.
“You’re kidding!” said Chu with wide, gossip-filled eyes.
“No, not at all.”
“But Doyle, what a terrible choice. Surely she could do better than that.”
“I don’t know. The muscles, that tough demeanor, and look how long her nose is. I’ve got to admit Doyle is a good-looking woman. Not my type but I can understand why Bueller is attracted to her.”
Chu did not reply, except with tight lips and a slight rise in his shoulders. He tapped the interface in front of him.
“Oh great. It’s almost time. I’d better tell our prison guards,” he said sarcastically, referring to the team assigned to guard them. He went out the main door of their suite, only to return a few seconds later. “They already knew,” he said while walking back through the door.
“I think we should rerun the program,” said Kassman.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing. If we consider all possible outcomes there is the possibility there will be new Improbables.”
“Exactly!” replied Kassman. “It’s something we can offer the Council.”
“If I were them I would be interested.”
“It’s all we’ve got to offer. You got a better idea?”
“No,” said Chu as his shoulders slumped. “It’ll take time to run, so we should have the results for them tomorrow. I’ll be lucky to keep the red robe.”
“The Improbables, at what rate will they be replaced? Instantly? Will it take some time? We need to know. They could be important answers,” said Kassman.
“Don’t start with your computer simulation theories again. You have no evidence, nothing but speculation. I don’t want to hear about it until you have some evidence” said Prof. Chu.
“What if they were placed instantly? Would you say that is evidence of our existence being a computer simulation?”
“Evidence of your confirmation bias maybe,” replied Chu. He tapped at the interface in front of him. “We still have a priority one status, so I’m going to stop all other jobs in progress.”
Kassman tapped the interface in front of her. “Launching AI interface and sequencing.”
“But who says they have to be replaced at all. Maybe two Improbables is enough. It’s the minimum viable number to meet the condition of multiple Improbables. Maybe that’s all that is necessary. Maybe we’re wrong for even thinking that multiple Improbables is a condition that must exist. As far as we know only one needs to exist to meet the infinity condition. All of our work has been on central tendencies and finding circumstances of excessive regression. What you’re talking about is beyond our expertise. Actually, I can’t think of anyone who is an expert on this sort of thing.”
Kassman finished tapping the interface. “Let me know when everything is ready.”
“Initiating,” said Prof. Chu.
“And the dogs are off,” said Kassman as she theatrically tapped the interface one last time.
Kassman held her hand out for Chu’s hand. They walked towards the Council meeting hand-in-hand, like a condemned couple towards the executioner.
LZ120169 is a tiny and insignificant galaxy. It contains less than 100 stars and only 14 inhabited planets. Unknown to Kassman and Chu the moment their program began to run LZ120169 ceased to exist.
Professors Chu and Kassman stood before the Council chambers next to the guards. The guards were dressed from head to toe in black uniforms. Their helmets had face shields so you could not see them. Chu thought it looked terrifying. Kassman believed it looked polished.
“Nice robe,” a female voice said from one of the helmets.
“Thank you,” said Prof. Kassman and twirled her wildly colorful robe.
“We appreciate the variety around here,” came the reply from the woman behind the visor. The door opened, and Prof. Souf came out to receive them.
“We’re so glad to see you. We were worried about you.” Then Prof. Souf did something that was very un-professorial, she hugged Prof. Chu. Then she hugged Prof. Kassman. Kassman hugged her back. Chu, however, stood there uncomfortably, arms by his side. As they entered the Council chambers, all counselors stood as a show respect. Prof. Souf led them to the Council table where they sat, one on each side of her, at the head of the table.
“The times have become dangerous,” said Prof. Souf. “Prof. Shad is still missing. All but two of the Improbables have been killed. Prof. Toure is dead. We have lost 62 hulls and 14 transport ships at Kelso. I don’t need a graph to know that our trendline is down. What we need to know is how to reverse the trend.” Prof. Souf stopped talking and looked around the table.
“If I might suggest,” began Kassman, “with 31 Improbables, we were planning to use them to assist in planning battle strategy. Now there are only two. They both show tendencies towards correct decisions. It’s less than ideal, but we proceed as planned.”
“Prof. Chu, do you concur?” asked Souf.
Chu nodded his head, “Yes, obviously, it’s an optimization strategy. Kassman and I’ve started rerunning the program. We want to see if Improbables are replaced and how soon. Is there a rate at which they are replaced? Is it predictable?”
“Excuse me,” said a very small man at the other end of the table. Prof. Chu noticed the man had an uncommonly small nose, closer to the size of Elaine McGee’s than anyone else. He raised his hand slightly before he spoke, “What are your expected results and how would you evaluate the various outcomes?” Then he smiled at Prof. Chu in a friendly manner.
Prof. Kassman spoke up quickly, “I think we should keep the operational separate from the strategic. To continue an optimization strategy, as we identify more Improbables, if there are any more, I suggest we go get them.”
“Yes, I know, I was asking the larger question,” replied the little man. “What if there are 29 new names, or 100 or none at all? Have you considered the significance of the various outcomes?”
His career on the line, his life in danger, and this was a moment in time when Prof. Lawrence Chu started laughing. Everyone else at the long table looked at him curiously.
The little man far down the table asked, “What’s so funny?”
“It’s the same argument I just had Prof. Kassman. She thinks this might all be a computer simulation. Everything, our existence, the entire thing … a computer simulation.”
“And you don’t see that is a possibility?” asked the man.
“Not only do I see it as an incredible improbability, I would consider it to be a waste of computer resources,” replied Prof. Chu.
“It does seem extravagant doesn’t it?” replied the man.
“I don’t know that I’m smart enough to know the implications of the various outcomes.” Prof. Lawrence Chu responded and then felt a great weight lift from him as he said those words. One of the more significant fears of his life, was a motivating fear, the fear that he wasn’t smart enough. His admission was met with smiles from the counselors.
“I know how you feel,” said the little man with the little nose. “None of us are always smart enough, we exceed when we can.” Prof. Chu wondered where the little man was from.
These were very learned man and women. Perhaps some of the smartest of our species. Still, the next day they were unprepared for the results set they received from the program. The list of Improbables was empty. Even Nambur and Elaine’s names were now gone.
Chiro stood on the observation bridge of the first minister’s star cruiser. Beside him was the high minister for defense, George Hall. Malu occupied the other side of the defense minister.
“We will be using nuclear-tipped missiles with antigravity accelerators. They are the most powerful weapons in our arsenal,” said Minister Hall.
“It’s the most powerful weapon in their arsenal that concerns me,” said Chiro blandly.
“We believe ours is as good, if not better than theirs.”
“Of course you do. Your job depends on you believing that at this moment,” replied Chiro sarcastically.
“But it’s true, First Minister,” complained Minister Hall.
“I know, I know it’s all true. Until you need more funding. Then it’s all about how far we’re falling behind and how it’s going to cost so much more to catch up, but still a lot less than if we put it off. In my years as First Minister, this part has been more predictable than any other.”
Far off in the distance, a squadron of 14 attack spacecraft approached a medium-sized defense cruiser, the kind used along the borders. Each of the 14 fired two missiles then rolled to the starboard side away from the target and accelerated.
“I’ve heard it’s quite the light show,” said Malu.
“Just wait,” said Minister Hall with a smile.
When the first missile hit, a definitive outline of a bubble could be seen around the ship. Instantly, and moving away from the ship was a wave that was going through every particle it could find. Upon finding a particle, it gave it extra energy. Particles receiving extra energy will sometimes illuminate. So, for what they thought was a safe distance, they watched as particles went from invisible to visible briefly and the wave of energy redistribution seen throughout space was beautiful. It was symmetrical in all directions. Imagine billions or even trillions of lightning strikes happening at the same time, all generated from the same point, the craggy and harsh patterns of tributaries as they move away at the speed of light. The effect of the test was as if someone had turned a light on in your entire solar system, every bit of it illuminating for a brief time and flowing outward until, like most things, it eventually ran out millions of miles later.
“Praise be the prophets, it is so beautiful. The most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen,” said Malu, with eyes wide in wonder.
“And there is no way to overcome field dispersal?” asked Chiro.
“None that we’ve found. If multiple weapons require field dispersal simultaneously, it just results in a larger dispersal area.” Minister Hall set his chin and nodded slightly.
Chiro smiled. “Malu, I need you to reward Von Klack. Send agents to go get his wife and family. Discreet extraction. And come up with a reward for everyone who has worked on field dispersal.”
“Yes, First Minister,” replied Malu. His fingers tapped quickly at the unseen interface in front of him. He set a reminder for later in the day.
“Minister Hall. You may now have the means to finally end the war. Don’t waste it.”
“I won’t,” replied Hall. “If we can call this test successful, I would like to immediately begin fitting field dispersal technology on all of our ships.”
“How long will that take?” asked Chiro.
“A hell of a lot longer than I’d hoped.”
“Why?” asked Malu.
“It’s the excited-molecule coating. We have to coat the exterior of the ships, let it cure, then install the dispersal projectors on the exterior hull. The coating takes 40 hours to cure.”
“How many can we do simultaneously?” queried Malu.
“Currently, we have the facility to outfit three ships at a time on Jarillo, and we’re starting up another line on Biljo Three. We wanted to ensure successful testing before converting more facilities. It’s the coating that’s a pain in the ass.”
“Minister Hall,” said Chiro with the bored tone of impatience, “how long will it take to upgrade the entire fleet? Don’t make me ask a third time?”
Minister Hall stepped back slightly. “3 1/2 years, Atomic Standard.”
“How long before the next ships are upgraded?” asked Malu.
“One week for the next three.”
“You’ve done well Minister Hall. Your son’s proposal for low-cost housing in the Pearson Imperial galaxy will be approved. I hope that will be to your liking,” said Chiro.
“Definitely,” said a smiling George Hall.
Ministers are prohibited from owning anything beyond clothing and other personal items. Much is made of this. Across 80% of the universe, there is a continuous campaign reminding people that their representatives adhere to a vow of poverty because serving the needs of all is their greater calling. It appears on signs at all of the public transportation centers. Every few days there was a news story showing the tireless representative going about their job bringing goodness to the broader population. Now, the more astute of you would consider this a propaganda campaign. You would be correct. While each minister maintained a net worth of zero, the accumulation of wealth across the rest of their families was considerable. The 500 ministers formed the nucleus, out from which spread the wealth to over 10,000 others.
Chiro’s wealth was spread across the 62 members of his family. Most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of his wife, a woman he visited twice every week. It was never a social visit.
“DO NOT ERASE” was handwritten on the holographic white board just inside the door to Professor Souf’s office. There was nothing else on the board. Souf’s office was tidy, excessively so. Even at her desk things were arranged in line with the edges of the glass top. The walls were lined with thousands of slabs of reader plastic, each containing a single book.
Prof. Souf sat at the table at the opposite end of the large room, away from the desk. With him were Professors Chu, Kassman, Indo, Ovuss, and Razmara. Nearby was another hologram white board containing formulas. Two of them were marked ‘DO NOT ERASE.’
“Are you sure?” asked Prof. Indo.
“Absolutely” replied Prof. Chu. Chu liked Prof. Indo as the older man made a special effort to make Lawrence and Kassman feel welcome.
“We’ve run it several more times,” said Kassman as she straightened out a wrinkle on her colorful robe. “It’s always the same. No list, then the next time there is a list.”
“That’s not all. The two Improbables we previously identified are not on the new lists. And the names change every time we run it.” Prof. Chu’s voice easily betrayed his frustration.
Prof. Razmara leaned forward over the table and spoke, “Was there a history of oscillation when you came up with the original list?”
“No.” replied Chu and Kassman in chorus. “We ran the program 37 times, and the list was stable. But since the explosion, it’s begun to oscillate, and we don’t know why,” replied Prof. Chu. He began to wonder if it was already too late. Was the war already lost? How would he and Kassman survive? Could they stay hidden on the fringes of Goodness society? He realized that he needed to talk to Kassman about a contingency plan for them to flee.
Professor Ovuss spoke up in her soft voice, “It seems possible that probabilities oscillate in and out of existence in extreme circumstances.”
“Does this have anything to do with Joru 23?” asked Professor Indo.
“I don’t know,” replied Souf.
Joru 23 was a binary star system at the center of a solar system with inhabited sentient life. Joru 23 had disappeared, plunging the inhabitants of the nearby planets into panic. A few hours later Joru 23 reappeared, but this time it was significantly brighter than before, upsetting the ecosystems of the nearby planets.
“It did happen near the times we ran our program,” said Kassman. “But that could be coincidental.”
“There was a report of a spacecraft near Joru 23 that also disappeared and reappeared at the same time,” said Razmara.
“Did the crew survive?” asked Souf.
“Depends on how you define the term. A crew survived. But it was not the same crew as was on the ship when it disappeared. They claimed to be the same but were significantly different.”
“What do you mean? That’s impossible,” said Souf.
“Tell that to the survivors.”
“Very interesting,” said Professor Ovuss. “I was reading a news report right before our meeting. Some people have begun to disappear and reappear. And they aren’t the same when they come back, and this causes their descendants to change. The effect ripples out from the person changed to their family. It’s caused upheaval in the command structure for Goodness.”
“Serves them right. I hope Chiro disappears and doesn’t come back,” said Professor Indo.
Prof. Chu sighed heavily and spoke in a barely audible voice, “I would like permission to go home and visit my family.”
Prof. Endo nodded his head and smiled at Lawrence Chu. Then Chu felt Kassman’s hand pinch him on the leg, her method of asking him, “What the hell are you doing?”
Prof. Souf stood up. She moved over and stood behind Chu. She put her hands on his shoulders and spoke in a forceful tone. “Lawrence Chu, we need you to continue. Whether you have confidence in yourself or not, you must go on. If you are correct and all is lost, then I will die with my apology to you on my lips.”
Then a strange thing happened, Indo stood up. Next was Ovuss and then Razmara. Finally, Prof. Kassman stood.
“Lawrence, much depends on you,” said Souf.
Chu sighed. He felt like he was drowning.
“When is the propulsion test?” asked Kassman.
“Later today,” said Souf.
Chu and Kassman joined Elaine, Nambur, and Akala on the observation ship. Chu was surprised when the commander, Doyle and Bueller walked onto the observation deck.
“What is she doing here?” Chu asked when he saw Doyle.
“They will take command of the first FTL starship,” said their host, Eisenstadt Low, the tall man with a big nose, big green eyes, and a funny way of speaking where he always accented the first word in every sentence. Chu found it interesting, Elaine found it annoying.
“What is FTL? asked Akala. Nambur just sighed. “It means faster than light,” he replied to his brother.
Elaine recognized the shape of the spaceship. It was the same design that had abducted her. Even at a distance, it appeared significant.
“So, when does the fun begin?” asked Doyle.
“Any moment now,” replied Eisenstadt. “There’s really not much to see. You’ll see.”
And Eisenstadt wasn’t wrong. One end of the ship glowed orange for a moment then the ship vanished. It didn’t speed off into the distance, not in any way that can be seen by the human eye. One moment it was there, and an instant later it was gone, like a magic trick or like faster than light travel, which will look like magic to those unfamiliar with science.
“Very anti-climactic?” asked Akala in a sarcastic tone.
“You have no idea what you’ve just seen do you?” asked Nambur.
“Something that travels so fast we can’t see it. I failed to see the significance.”
“Don’t ever call me stupid again,” said Nambur.
“So we have a ship that goes really fast, big deal.” Akala nodded his head in definitive agreement with himself.
“That ship can attack anywhere, anytime and there is nothing they can do to stop it. If we know where the Goodness leadership is located, wherever the 500 gather, we can destroy them, and they can’t stop us. This changes everything,” said Nambur.
“Is that a recommendation for action?” Kassman wanted to know.
“I don’t know, what do you think?” was Nambur’s response as he looked at Elaine.
“Destroying their leadership in a swift, decisive blow could bring an end to the war quickly. Yes, I’m in favor of this,” said Elaine. She wasn’t thinking as an Improbable, but as a good chess player. “Are we going to have a test run before we go after their leadership? It would be good to know that everything works well in battle before we go for the largest prize of all.”
“Good one McGee,” said Doyle. “Makes sense to get the kinks out first. Then let’s blow the dick off Chiro.”
“How long before we can take command of the ship?” Bueller was eager to find out. The diminutive commander standing beside her shook her head in agreement.
“The vessel is yours as of now,” said Eisenstadt. Training starts tomorrow morning on board the vessel.”
Off in the distance, the ship reappeared again. It glowed at one end for a moment. Elaine looked at it and grinned, the galactic speed limit had finally been broken.
“How do they keep from going back in time?” She asked. Eisenstadt chuckled.
“Excellent question,” he replied. “It’s not my area of expertise, but I’ll try to explain the little bit I know. The most important part is to have a single event that is a fixed point in time and always maintain the same chronological distance from it despite the spatial coordinates.”
“How is that possible?” Elaine wanted to know.
“Very carefully. We lost our first 11 vessels. We lost them to time. Fortunately, they were unmanned. It wasn’t until the 17th attempt before we were able to establish a chronological constant, after that we could man the ships.”
“Spurlock’s the woman who heads up the team. She’ll be part of our training tomorrow,” explained the commander.
“Can I …” Elaine started to say and then looked at Nambur, “Sorry, can we, attend the training tomorrow?”
“It’s your training too,” said Eisenstadt.
“Commander,” Bueller started, “will the Improbables be on board with us?”
“I haven’t received those orders yet.”
“It would be better to have one of us on board and one of us back in the command center,” said Elaine.
“Volunteer for the command center,” said Akala as he turned to face Nambur close enough to lick him. Nambur started laughing. “He’s a courageous one,” Nambur said.
“I don’t mind,” said Elaine. “We’ve all got to die somewhere.”