01/14/2018 at 10:18 •
Cern sat down at the tiny desk the ISD had assigned to him and began sifting through the various files on Kip Heren that he had loaded from the population database. There wasn't much there besides a brief bio, port records, ship registration and a couple of short data clips from security sensors, not to mention the two reports he had written on previous failed arrest attempts. Nothing he hadn't seen before. He scanned the bio once more. Name: Kip Heren, Place of origin: Seruylin-44, Time of origin: N/A, etc. A completely unremarkable bio, hardly different from billions of others. In the corner there was a small photo, probably taken from a security monitor, showing the typical dark gray face of an outer-system man, quite different from Cern's central-system reddish hue. For a moment he gazed at the time of origin section.
"How old is he, I wonder." he muttered to himself. It wasn't unusual for the centralized population database to be missing a few bits of information, or even whole people. With populated planets scattered around the galaxy holding countless numbers of people, keeping track of everyone becomes a futile effort. But surely there must be a time listed on something. He scanned through the records and ship registration, but nothing showed up. His curiosity now growing, Cern again logged into the database, but this time he went to the Seruylin-44 local registry. There, in the inhabitant data section, he found a strange note: Colony abandoned as of N214.6.714. No currently registered inhabitants.
See archives for past records.
“Well, yet another mistake for central pop.” he sighed. But something didn't seem right. N214.06.714 was over 400 standard years in the past. How could that kind of mistake even get into the database? He figured it must have been altered intentionally, but it would take someone pretty high up to change central population. It wasn't a particularly important point. All Cern had to do was catch the guy. But now he was starting to get interested in this chase.
“Who the hell are you, Kip Heren?”
The planet Purple-82 was a brilliant, sharp crescent of violet as Kip approached from the night side. The system's relatively small star gave off a red light which had led the local flora to evolve a unique kind of photosynthesis based on a bright purple chemical.
It was just minutes before sunrise at the city he was heading to. A small mining settlement that wasn't even big enough to have a spaceport, and thus wasn't likely to have much of an ISD presence. Exactly the kind of place he was looking for. There wasn't even so much as an I.D. request as he made his approach. “Well, thanks for the welcome.” he chuckled to himself. “I hope there are still people living on this rock.” The first wisps of atmosphere began buffeting the hull. Kip set the auto landing system, leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
01/07/2018 at 08:11 •
After several silent minutes, a feeling of cold isolation began to saturate the tiny cockpit of the ship. Despite the temperature being precisely regulated by the environment control system, Kip wrapped his arms around his body and shivered slightly. To his front and sides, large transparent panels displayed penetrating black, dotted with countless specks of light.
He crawled out of the seat and walked back into the cramped corridor between walls of machinery. Pushing a few boxes of tools and spare parts out of the way, he stretched out on the cool metal floor. Somehow he felt warmed by the surrounding metal walls shining with reflections of various indicators and terminal lights. His eyelids briefly closed. He suddenly forced them open and reluctantly got to his feet. As peaceful as deep space seemed, it was a perilous place to spend much time. Although it felt like he was sitting still, relative to the small bits and chunks of ancient dead star systems floating through the void he may have been going half the speed of light. He needed to get back into the relative shelter of a planetary system.
His hands hovered over the navigation controls for a moment as he pondered his next destination, no, his next hiding spot. Even with almost instantaneous travel, there were only a handful of inhabitable planets yet discovered, and only a short list of those were “friendly”. He eventually set his finger down over a name on the screen. The computer began calculating a trajectory to the planet. A sparsely populated fringe planet graced with the uninspired name, Purple-82, a name derived from the brilliant purple algae which filled its water oceans. After several seconds the calculations were complete and he hit the jump switch.
Meanwhile, many light years away, a bulky, highly modified transport ship slowly set its landing supports down on the vast landing field of the Hirthe-31 Interstellar Security and Defense base. The pilot, Lt. Cern Ruten, quickly secured the flight systems and released the hatch seals. He leaned back in his seat and sighed, gazing out at the large ISD insignia painted on the wall in front of the ship.
“I'm gonna get a lecture for this.” he said to himself. He didn't mind so much that he had once again failed to capture the allegedly dangerous Kip Heren, but he was growing tired of being reprimanded.
“And don't forget the paperwork.” a voice came from behind. Ricky, the navigator, spun his seat around. “Come on. Let's get it over with.” he said standing up and stretching.
Minutes later Cern was sitting in a large office across from the pudgy, self-important Commander Wense. Her dark, polished desk was almost completely bare but for a little name plate and pen stand.
“I don't particularly want to hear your excuses, but for the sake of procedure I must ask. Why did you come back empty handed this time?” she asked coldly, her expression as blank as the desk before her.
“Kip is a skilled pilot, and I can't match him in that huge-”
“Is there a problem with the ship I provided?” she interrupted. “Or perhaps it is your skill that is insufficient.” She glared silently at him for a moment. “And since when are you on a first name basis with this criminal?”
“Sir, I di-” he began, but was promptly cut off.
“Do you think I've never piloted a class IV armored transport? Surely I don't expect you to catch up to him and shake hands, but any rookie could at least get within weapons range.” Anger was beginning to break through her cold, blank exterior.
“Sir...” he began again tentatively, expecting another interruption. “I don't remember a report of any crime warranting the death penalty.” To be honest, he had heard no real report on any criminal offense, but he knew enough not to question it further.
“And what about the hostage?” she continued, ignoring his comment.
“Hostage, sir?” Cern's eyebrows raised.
“Lt. Ruten!” she shouted, pounding her fist on the desk. She took a deep breath and tried to return to her emotionless facade. “Do I have to explain everything to you? The farmer. The man our officer at Falsem port saw him abduct. Surely you didn't just miss that part.”
Cern opened his mouth as if to reply, but stopped himself. So this was their story. They would fabricate crimes at every turn to build their case against this guy. What Kip Heren had done to piss off the ISD he couldn't guess, but apparently it had now earned him a death warrant.
“I expect a full report by tomorrow. Dismissed.” she said, waving him off like an insect. Cern got up silently and walked out the door.
01/07/2018 at 01:10 •
A sharp ray of sunlight, shining from a notch between two close peaks, sliced across the valley as the sun swiftly climbed. Along its path it illuminated the little campsite where the two travelers were already up and returning to their work. The fresh night air and flat ground had been a pleasant change from the pilot's seat of his little ship. Kip had fallen asleep before the old man could get to the interesting part in his tale of the planet's agricultural history, but he wasn't exactly eager to hear the rest. It was almost midday before they finally got everything packed up. The on-planet thrusters, which had been severely bent out of shape in the previous day's accident, sputtered to life. Kip tensely pulled up the throttle until the craft gently lifted from its landing legs. There was still some question as to the structural integrity of the high-pressure cylinders, but they seemed to be holding together well enough. Then with a hesitant nod to his passenger, they were off.
The little rock jumper was a relatively tiny, but highly capable, interstellar ship. Its small mass gave it great maneuverability off-planet, but it was notorious for poor on-planet travel. It did not provide for a very comfortable or quiet ride over the desolate, rocky landscape which stretched on for hours until they came to the sudden brink of a towering cliff. It was the edge of a high plateau which made up a significant portion of the planet's surface. From the base of the cliff to as far as they could see, the landscape was dark green with lush vegetation. A completely different world from the dry, empty waste behind them.
“Hold on.” Kip said grinning slightly as they neared the edge of the cliff. His hands gripped the control levers tightly. The old man glanced over at him wide eyed as he clutched his safety restraints.
“Are you sure this is a good...” His last word choked off as his stomach lurched. The little ship plummeted like a chunk of wood drifting over the edge of a waterfall. After a couple of dizzying seconds Kip switched the ship from ground tracking mode to free flight mode. The thrusters gradually roared to life as he brought their reckless fall to a stable, soaring flight. He could feel his heart pounding under his tight restraints. For the rest of the trip nobody said a word.
They set down just as the sun was coming to the horizon. They were in front of a small, wooden building in the middle of vast, green fields filled with a crop Kip didn't recognize. “You want to stay for a while? Have a decent meal?” The old man said getting out of his seat. “I'm sure we could find a place for you to sleep, if you'd like.”
Kip thought about the offer for a moment. There was something about his place that just seemed like home, and the thought of a fresh meal of unprocessed food made his mouth water. But eventually he politely refused and bid the man farewell. He had just lifted the landing legs off the ground and was preparing for the nearly vertical ascent out of the atmosphere when the little ship was pounded by a deafening thud. The shock wave could be seen speeding across the rippling fields. Kip instantly recognized it as the distinct thunder of a ship jumping into the low atmosphere. The almost instantaneous displacement of air caused a pressure wave which could blast a weaker ship to pieces along with anything in the vicinity. Only a truly reckless or suicidal pilot would attempt such a jump. That or someone flying a heavily armored ship which could withstand the shock. Kip didn't have to think about it long to realize it was the latter.
He clenched his teeth as he swung the ship around, scanning the sky above him. There it was, almost directly above the farm, the bulky shape of a highly modified transport ship thundering down toward him. He clenched the control levers and the rock jumper shot off horizontally. As he sped over the blurred green he suddenly thought about the old farmer. In a frantic spin he twisted the ship around. The huge ship still falling toward the planet had noticed him and turned in pursuit, leaving the little farm house shaking in the turbulence of its oversized thrusters. He swung the ship back around and twisted one on the control levers. The thinly padded seat pressed painfully into him as he sharply curved upward toward space. The massive ship behind him could not come close to matching his maneuverability, despite it's extensive modifications, but it wouldn't need to if it could get him within range of its weapons. A rapidly falling number on his navigation console showed the distance to the approximate edge of the atmosphere, the point at which it would be safe to jump out of there. As dangerous as it was to jump into the atmosphere, a jump out was not even an option. A temporal relaxor functioning in an atmosphere above a critical density would include the surrounding air in the relaxation field, and the air around that, and so on until it either overloaded catastrophically or jumped the entire planet to a new location. Of course, no temporal relaxor was powerful enough to pull that off. For a few tense seconds he shot straight up into the rapidly dispersing sky. The larger ship behind was surely gaining on him, but he couldn't afford to spin the ship to look. His heart pounded and his sweaty hands gripped the controls tightly. Gradually, the roar of air over the hull faded away, but the computer would not yet give him clearance to jump. The ticking of the numbers seemed painfully slow. He was starting to wonder why the pursuing ship had not opened fire. Surely it was within range. If they could just hold off a few moments longer.
The last few digits on the display vanished and Kip's hand flew over to the jump controls. A few frantic button pushes and then he jammed the jump switch. Odd silence settled on the ship as the thrusters shut down. Then the light of the stars and the planet below blinked out and he felt the odd sensation of spinning to the left. He had always felt this way when jumping, although the ship was not actually spinning. Before he could even let out a sigh of relief the stars blinked back on as though someone had flicked a light switch. But they were in a slightly different arrangement. He had jumped out to an empty, remote region of space far from any star systems. It was a risky move, but much faster than calculating a jump to a neighboring system.
He sat silently for a moment, drifting aimlessly as his pounding heart relaxed and the adrenaline settled. He was safe for the moment, but who knows how long it would take them to find him again.
01/06/2018 at 15:59 •
"Hey, Kip. How do you suppose these things work?" A gruff voice called from somewhere among the heap of dismantled machinery that was once part of a rock jumper, a small, but fast ship that was now in pieces.
Kip Heren stopped poking at the array of tiny fasteners he had been struggling to remove and wiped a gritty streak of sweat onto his sleeve. "That's not what I want to hear from someone who's supposed to be repairing my jumper." he called back to the twisted mass of metal sitting awkwardly in a desolate, rocky valley encircled on all sides by the jagged teeth of an ancient volcanic caldera.
"No, I mean these things." the voice replied as a greasy arm stuck out from a precarious little crawl space. In his hand was a thick metal cylinder with a highly polished hemisphere at one end and a jumble of connectors at the other. Kip put down his probe and stretched his back, then stared at the little device as if in deep thought.
"I have no idea." he eventually replied and went back to work. "I asked a physicist about them once. Some guy I met on a transport. He got really excited trying to explain it to me, but I kinda stopped listening when he told me something like 'Any moment in time is actually every moment in time.'" The delicate black plate he had been struggling with finally popped free. "It doesn't really matter. All I know is that it gets me from here to there faster than I can even pretend to understand."
The item in question was a Baek temporal relaxor, the heart of the little rock jumper and pretty much any other inter-stellar ship. And Kip knew quite a bit more about it than he let on. To be honest, he probably understood them as well as anyone, but he wasn't about to reveal that to his current traveling companion. Knowing too much could be a dangerous thing in this part of the galaxy.
They continued on with the repairs as the sun quickly carved out a low arc in the sky, finally dipping below the peaks in the distance. Gradually the scattered bits and pieces were coming together, and when the last glow of sunlight faded somewhere far beyond the walls of the caldera, the ship was almost back to working order. Almost.
“I guess we'll be spending the night here.” Kip sighed, packing up the assortment of small tools he had been using. “I wonder if it's safe to sleep outdoors. The air feels unusually good on this rock and I can't remember the last time I slept in real open air.”
“I don't know.” his filthy companion replied jokingly. “This wind grass might attack you. That's about the only thing living in this region.” He pointed to the sparse patches of short green grass which dotted the otherwise empty ground. His hands were black with carbon powder and withered with great age. “But if you need sleep, you should get to it. Night cycle only lasts about 5-6 standard hours here, and I want to get this thing finished early in the day.”
Kip wasn't particularly sleepy, but the air really did feel good, and there was a slight breeze rolling across the valley. As for danger, Kip felt more uneasy about the unfamiliar old man who had approached him days earlier begging for a ride to his home planet. Apparently the old farmer's rig had malfunctioned and smashed down hard onto the landing field at Falsem port leaving it hopelessly crippled. An event which was oddly repeated just a few hours and a few systems later with Kip's own ship, but thankfully with less disastrous results. At least they had managed to make it to the old man's planet, but they were far from any populated area.
A few minutes later they were stretched out on the ground munching on some dry food blocks and gazing at the incredibly vast portrait of stars above them. For some reason space always looked much bigger from the ground. When he was flying through it in his little ship, he felt like he was immersed and drifting through the endless expanse, but looking up from the ground it was like an immense picture hanging above him. One that might at any time come crashing down and swallow him up in darkness.
“Tell me something about this planet.” Kip asked, nibbling slowly at the crumbly block.
“What do you want to know?” the man replied.
“I don't know, anything, something... What's the story of this place?” Kip motioned to the dark, jagged outline of the mountains around them and took a deep breath of the cool air. “It seems kind of... nostalgic. You know, like someplace I lived a long time ago.”
The old man raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Kip for a moment, then turned back at the slowly drifting stars. “Well, it's been a while since I told any bedtime stories. Let's see... Ah, I've got a good one for you.” He said with a satisfied grin. “You see...”