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Stardust story thread

Stardust Stories Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Freedom

“We will not be contained
We’re breaking out tonight
Fear is not our master anymore
Run with me, escape
We’re breaking out tonight!”
   Escape -Fireflight

Two weeks of terror were past. Allison had made it all the way to the edge of the Frontier before they caught her. After that, two weeks of harsh training, enforced conditioning, and abuse by anyone that cared to take time to do so, followed. In two weeks, she learned the very basics of survival, weapons training, and first aid. It wasn’t that the Confederacy wanted the prisoners to do well, they just wanted a good show.

Ratings were paramount, and a longer Games session meant viewers could pick favorites and cheer them on. This also provided 24/7 entertainment as well as a constant reminder of the consequences of sedition. The initial slaughter was horrific, but the Confederacy broadcast it in high definition detail, 48 fps and made a spectacle of replaying the most violent deaths. 50 “Patriots” were released from their cages at the same time. Immediately they ran for the weapons and supplies stationed strategically where the ground level cameras would get the best action. Hover cameras mounted on surveillance drones captured the rest.

27 were killed in less than ten minutes of fighting. Many others, including Allison, fled.

As she carefully made her way farther towards the north edge of the arena, she had encountered a few traps. Already she was burned on her arm and shoulder as well as had a dozen needles in her leg from them. It took her quite a lot of time to get most of the needles out, losing blood and time as hunter packs formed. Her luck changed though, she stumbled upon a few Patriots she had befriended during training, who also were in no mood to kill each other.

Julius Kalver, a former engineer from some Northern Alliance base that was overrun, was now using a wooden set of tweezers he had fashioned from twigs, to remove the last of the needles, while another girl named Stormy was fashioning a leather sling from fresh hide. Julius smiled at the wounded Patriot. She was damn tough. The burns looked okay but he didn’t doubt they hurt badly. He had found some mint leaves and had put them on her burns to at least soak up some of the heat and help with the discomfort, but the pain she was enduring from his removing the needles had to be powerful. He tried his best to look sympathetic, knowing how it feels to be in pain. When they captured him, they had beaten him till he collapsed. After that he was pressed to join their military, refusing them, and wound up here.

He didn’t lose hope though. The Alliance had purchased the first shipment of British Tigerhawk aerospace superiority fighters.The Tigerhawks were the RAF replacement for the now obsolete EuroFighter Typhoon. While the Typhoon still had its place as a training jet, the Tigerhawk was designed to counter the brand new Chinese Chen H-7 fighter as well as the Russian SU-45. It also was superior to the Confederacies aging F-35. In the first few sorties, the Tigerhawks had proven to be untouchable, downing 11 F-35’s and forcing three more to land and be captured. The design of the Tigerhawk was truly modern, made mostly of composite ceramics, advanced alloys and carbide. It was capable of a phenomenal Mach 3.8 as well as attaining orbit under its own power.

The secret was its engines. The VTOL craft had two massive outboard engines mounted atop its delta wings. They used a RAM-HYDE design similar to a scramjet. This meant the faster it went, the more efficient it worked. That allowed it to advance upon slower aircraft at any altitude it chose, close with, and using its agility to out perform and out maneuver anything in the sky. Shooting down the F-35 was so easy, the Alliance immediately ordered as many as the RAF would ship.

Julius had been tasked with redesigning the launch control systems for the Alliance carriers, which was to take place in the winter, when sea warfare was less intense. However, before he could finish the designs, the base was overrun by a Confederacy surge which also captured a fair portion of Southern Virginia temporarily. However, the surge was spent and fell back using scorched earth tactics as they left.He had burned his research so that the Confederacy couldn’t use it, but until he was able to escape, he had to remain alive and unharmed.

Which is why he was currently with these two. They were headed in the right direction, and at least Stormy knew to keep moving. He had shared his secret with her.The plan seemed simple enough, at least she felt so. Julius had an insider. Apparently an Alliance spy was going to help them. He needed a second set of eyes though. Survival in the arena depended upon knowing the terrain and seeing what wasn’t right.

Stormy had grown up here. Virginia was home to her. It was as familiar to her as the back of her hand. He was told to stay with her by his contact, but she didn’t know that.She also had help. Her crime was using old telephone lines to connect to the “free net” and had been involved with a boy she knew in London. They had originally intended for her to slip away and he would find her as she sailed off the coast in a small boat, but a Confederacy patrol boat intercepted her.

Her boyfriend watched in horror as she was on television, paraded out with the rest of the Patriots. The announcers rated her odds of survival extremely low. Stormy wasn’t a big girl, her small size, however, hid her true strength. She kept that a secret, playing far weaker than she was. However, she was quite tough, trained in gymnastics and easily stronger than many people larger than her.She had been lucky enough to stumble upon a trap early the first day. It was quite well hidden, but not to her. She avoided it and led another Patriot, hunting her and Julius, into it. That presented them with the supplies he had taken.

They made the most of the food, the small knife and the backpack with camping equipment. She had been able to lure a wild dog in and they ate well. The hide was now becoming a sling for some small stones she planned to use should they encounter someone better armed. Having grown up knowing her illegal phone line could likely end her in this exact place, she was almost prepared for it.Still, they had to keep moving. They could see the dust kicked up by a large pack of hunters to their South as well as a fire burning towards them from the West.

As they flew, Cassidy kept looking back at the pilot. She trusted Lieutenant Thrace, but didn’t understand why they had packed a secondary generator on the Pawnee. It had a primary generator as well as the backup. A third generator seemed unusual, but if Lieutenant Thrace said pack one, Cassidy wasn’t going to question why.

Later, Kara tossed a thermite grenade out as they flew over part of the forest. It started a fire and that caught the attention of the Games Master, who ordered Kara to fly over the fire and try to see what caused it.They set down saying Lieutenant Thrace saw someone there and was going to investigate. The ghetto birds were blinded by the smoke as it was dusk and they were between normal day optics and their night vision. So Kara landed them outside the fire but under a veil of smoke.

Quickly she tore at the wires supplying power to the transponder and on-board weapons control. When Cassidy asked, she was told to shut up or start walking if she wanted to stay in the CAF. Cassidy didn’t hesitate to help rip out the Confederacy ability to track the Pawnee. Kara had a plan and it meant freedom. That was all Cassidy needed to know.Later when they lifted off, Cassidy used the assault rifle from her survival pack, to take out two ghetto birds that Kara had flown alongside.

Within minutes, they had found the three Patriots, landed, and were now airborne, headed towards Alliance airspace.Confederacy fighters were scrambling, but already Alliance Tigerhawks were closing to escort them to safety. The escape of Patriots from the arena would be broadcast around the world by the BBC. It was a first, and a very public shaming of the Theocratic Confederacy.In high circles within the RAF, as well  as the BSA, plans were being formed. These brave survivors had pulled off a stunt that was unthinkable. The courage to try, the resourcefulness to pull it off, and the boldness to do it so publicly was exactly the kind of person they needed for a crew on the new ship.

Now all they had to do was talk them into giving up everything they knew, fly off into space on an untested ship, possibly encountering murderous killing machines, aliens, and keeping it all secret, and they might have a crew. The Alliance definitely was far enough from anyone’s radar to find enough to crew it without anyone figuring it out, but would they find that many people willing to leave the entire planet behind?If word got out about all the things they faced, it could cause another religious war, and that was liable to destroy the fragile society that was left from the global depression. They had to do it right, and they had to do it in secrecy. Most of all, they had to do it soon!

Stardust Stories, Chapter 5

 

Chapter 5

Fantasia

“I took a walk in spaceBoy, I really felt blue
Well, I peeked through the crack
And I looked way back
The stardust trail
Leading back to you
What did I do
What could I do
What did I do…”
I took a trip on a Gemini spacecraft – David Bowie

Hamilton reclined slightly in his chair. The risk was worth it, though if he fell over it would cause quite a ruckus. The massive screens at BSA Mission Control dominated the East wall. Below them was what Hamilton called “the bee hive” because of how the specialists assigned to each desk flitted around at various tasks.

In the middle of the room was the table that held most of the interesting models of items that were currently streaming live on the screens. As tempting as it was to play with the models, he was satisfied to sit above it all, in his office, looking down at it all in his chair.

 

The Mars Explorer Craft, now renamed Icarus, after the first attempt of man to reach the stars, had arrived just about an hour and a half ago. They were only now receiving the first images of the alien craft, directed back by the robots aboard Icarus. Being very advanced in the autonomy programming, they were already maneuvering their way past some of Saturn’s 40 moons. Though most were too small to really be considered much more than humungous rocks, they were hazardous, none the less. The ultimate goal of the robots programming was to attach the Icarus to the alien craft and use the incredibly powerful solid fuel rockets to yank it out of its icy tomb and bring it into a path back to Earth.

Another craft was nearly completed, which would capture both ships and bring them into a parking orbit around the moon. The BSA rightfully concluded that there was already far too much junk and debris in Earth’s orbit. Not knowing the condition of the alien craft, they were unsure if it might come apart and destroy the fragile satellite rings of Earth’s last few nations. Also, the BSA had only recently fully staffed Luna 1.

Originally the BSA wanted a manned station on the surface of the moon, but that was impractical and would be cost ineffective. Instead they disguised the creation of Luna 1, a permanent orbital station orbiting the moon, as a series of harmless space probes. Even the Chinese were fooled into believing the British were wasting money looking at nothing.

Over two years the BSA steadily launched the pieces, one after the other, then made noise about fake, computer generated images, pretending they were fascinated with a series of craters. Instead the station components were assembled by autonomous robots, bolting and sealing the pieces, like a giant Lego creation. In the end, it took sixty three missions to fully build and staff the orbital station, which now fed parts and personnel to a makeshift ground base.

The ground base, named Luna 2, was responsible for the production of the BSA’s space craft. Moving things was far easier in the relatively weak gravity, and the amount of Helium3 they sent back made it economical. Since 2033, Britain had been energy independent.

The Icarus 2 was easy to build since it was never intended to hold a human crew, now was it ever to be used again, so there was no need to try to make it useful for any other missions.

Senior Colonel Chen was aware of the BSA plans. He had been reading over the few intercepted messages from Luna 1 to BSA Command. His own staff was quite excited for the Brits, and they all wished them success. After all, they couldn’t attempt to steal the alien craft, if it wasn’t brought back to Earth.

As Hamilton watched imagery on the screen, he was delighted at the efficiency of the automatons. They quickly scanned the alien craft. It was almost precisely the size Cassini estimated it to be. That was as encouraging as the fact that the makeshift FTL engine actually worked. That in itself was a scientific breakthrough. Still, the exact process was only fully made possible by the discovery of a smaller alien craft a decade ago. That one, however, was so rotted and useless, it only was useful for giving them ideas about how to make the FTL engine actually stay attached to the rest of the ship, and not go flying off… to wherever it was the first few trial drives flew off to.

He chewed on a thumb nail, accidentally ripping it a bit down to the quick. Damn it, that will hurt. The automatons were working now to attach the tug lines of Icarus’ massive solid fuel thrusters. Each of them were capable of upwards of 3.6 millions pounds of thrust, and the Icarus was attaching ten. Not all would fire, a few were for course correction and to induce even more thrust as the ships would slingshot around Jupiter, speeding up delivery. If all went well, Icarus and the alien craft would arrive in just under two years. Normally a trip that far could take between three to seven, but the use of the massive solid thrusters would strip a huge amount of time away, giving the two craft one hell of a boost. Later, when they completed a couple orbits around Saturn, they would be traveling at a little over 11 kilometers per second. But after a quick slingshot they would be at at amazing 56 kilometers per second.

It was an amazing feat, to be sure, and Hamilton had a ring side seat to the greatest show in the galaxy.

TWO YEARS LATER, Lunar orbit, Luna 1.

It was a brilliantly conceived plan. Russian Space Agency also bluffed that they were replacing sections of their space station. In secrecy, they were massing hundreds of Chinese soldiers. The reason Russia declined to use their own soldiers was the lethal radiation they were taking while crammed into the thinly shielded storage extensions. Normally robots would be stored, repairs, external inspection, docking assistance, whatever function needed.

Then when the alien ship was tethered to Luna 1, the Soviets launched them towards the station, figuring that out of the three hundred soldiers, at least fifty would survive the trip and successfully overpower the ten to twenty science team members on the small orbital.

The simplicity of it was brilliant. It was undetectable. The pods were unpowered so no heat signature was visible and because the Chinese had millions of troops, if it failed, they could try again and again as long as it took.

However, they had not counted on Luna 2, nor did they count on the alien shop giving up secrets so quickly.

The moon base had a staff of thirty, mostly science workers, but a few military intelligence soldiers were stationed on it to give the British MI-6 a really powerful means to monitor satellite communications. This led to flaw number two. The moon base was using a simple mass cannon to launch its Helium3 canisters to the orbital station for transport back to Earth. That cannon was easily used to target the capsules headed towards the alien ship. Crude, but effective, the majority never got anywhere near the ship and the few that did manage to make it were met with armed robots. The bloodbath was fairly grim, though the crew of Luna 1 did take enough casualties to make the attack costly. But in the end, British Space retained control of the alien craft and China was humiliated.

Senior Colonel Chen was given the option of execution or suicide. He chose execution. After a few hours of slow painful torture, suicide seemed preferable.

Brigadier General Hamilton was especially pleased with the results. He enjoyed knowing that the Chinese and Russians had taken such an interest. It was a point of British pride, to have actually accomplished something successfully for a change. As proudly English as he was, he was aware of the long and rather disheartening history of failures that the grand Kingdom could look back on. In this, however, English pride was both satisfied and not so much so. Yes they retained control of the alien ship, but they lost most of the staff of their stations as well as secrecy of Luna 2. Still, the public was completely unaware of the alien craft.

“Well, Major, what a lovely bit of kit this is.” the newly promoted Brigadier said to the also promoted Major Stanley. “Any ideas where we look for people crazy enough to try flying something full of whatever we find aboard that derelict? The PM demanded we build some kind of ship, else whatever did this to the alien ship might come back and do this to us. Now that we have one nearly completed, we will need volunteers willing to leave Earth for whatever’s out there…”

“Crazy, no sir, brave and desperate enough, yes sir… AND it would be easy to keep this secret from the rest of the Kingdom.” he said grinning.

“Ok, what do you have in mind?”

“The Alliance sir. They have plenty of DP’s and many of them are soldiers.” Major Stanley said referring to the camps of Displaced Persons. Basically refugee camps where those who escaped or survived the Patriot Games were camped, trying to scratch out a life while waiting for immigration Visas to any country willing to accept them.

“Excellent idea. I want the ship to be staffed by Gentlemen, the crew, they can come from the Alliance.” the Brigadier decided, using the euphemism Gentlemen to mean British Officers.

“I’m on it sir. I believe the BSA has been working on something for the last couple years, every since we laid claim to the ship. Those automatons were scouring the derelict, accessing everything they could. We broke the code on the data storage center already. Most of its translated and they are convinced that they can use some pieces of the aliens technology as well as possibly its FTL design. Apparently now that we understand the language, we found a vast supply of what they use for fuel at Lagrange points around Jupiter’s asteroid belt.”

“Good. For two years we have been building a large ship in the dark side of the moons orbit. Now its time we started building the crew. See to it personally.”

“Aye sir. Very good. Will be nice to offer something to those poor buggers after what they go through in that sick Patriot Games.”

Stardust Stories, Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Convergence

“If only you could see me yesterday
Who I used to be before the change
You’d see a broken heart
You’d see the battle scars
It’s funny how words can’t explain
How good it feels to finally break the chains
I’m not what I have done
I’m what I’ve overcome”
What I’ve Overcome – Fireflight

As a child, Cassidy knew she was destined for greatness. Unfortunately, she was also born a minority. Being black, she was considered less than human by the Theocratic Confederacy. Being female made her even less of a person. Added together, Cassidy was likely to end up as a servant girl or if she was very lucky, a waitress or cook. But in the deepest heart of the Confederacy, a woman had few career opportunities and a black woman had fewer still.

Still, she felt a calling. Something in her heart just screamed to her that she could reach the stars. Cassidy came by that naturally though, through her father. He had been one of the last black crop dusters until pilot licenses were denied to minorities and women.

The day he landed the old crop duster for the last time, she felt like the world stopped turning. Her father looked like he aged half again in the months after. She had been up in it several times as a little girl. It was like a dream and she would play in the cramped cockpit for hours at any opportunity.

It seemed, therefore, like Gods will when she heard the news announcement offering the chance for women pilots to try our for courier service. The regular skirmishes between the Confederacy and the Northern Alliance were tying up the male pilots, so the Army was looking into using women as courier pilots, to ferry aircraft as well as cargo and troop transport pilots.

As she folded the sheets in her laundry pile, Cassidy tried to keep her smile to herself, but she had a hard time. Her father was very light skinned, her mother not quite so much. At times he was mistaken as Caucasian, and Cassidy was fortunate to inherit that. Her smile reddened her cheeks, spreading like a rose petal from cheek to cheek.

In a week, she would be leaving Shreveport Louisiana to join the Army’s Air Corps. as a Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilot, or WASP. The idea of the WASP’s was tried successfully in World War II. Cassidy was a bit amused at how much life today seemed like life then. Aside from some technological and religious details, life was very similar to life then for a black woman.

Louisville Kentucky: WASP training facility

The bus rumbled to a halt on a dusty stretch of road near some large round roofed buildings. They looked like some giant had buried several soda cans halfway in the ground. These cans however were huge. Standing three stories high and forty feet across, they dwarfed everything on the horizon, which really was not difficult, as there was little nearby that was at all large. A CH-7 Pawnee transport was landing with a plume of dust from its exhaust nozzles kicking up dirt from the recently cleared landing pad.

The Pawnee looked familiar to the assembled passengers, they had been the primary transport of the Confederacy every since British Aerospace bought the aircraft plant from the Alliance just after the end of the war. Of course, since hostilities continue, it was often argued that the war didn’t end so much as wind down into a meat grinder of a stalemate. The British had taken the side of the Alliance only after the tumultuous loss of life from the initial fighting. To say that the Alliance was really a Nation State would be generous, its little more than a few large pockets of resistance that are armed well enough to prevent the Confederacy from ultimately claiming whats left of habitable North America.

The Confederacy captured many of the Pawnee transports and began producing them without license from British Aerospace. The transport itself resembled a Hind-D military transport made famous, or infamous depending upon who you ask, in Afghanistan decades ago. The shape was what most people noticed was so similar. The Pilot/Gunner configuration was strikingly similar, though to be accurate, that configuration could trace its roots back to Vietnam era on the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. Yet still further back, that configuration was used in early world war one bi-planes.

Further back on the rather ugly aircraft was the passenger compartment, which was rather unimaginative and simply an extension of the fuselage from the front. Two powerful thruster engines with vectoring trust perched atop the compartment. This arrangement made it possible to enter and egress the compartment without stepping on or around the engines, which tended to become rather hot during hover mode. Under the pilot, in the nose of the craft was a counter-thruster, which wasn’t as responsible for lifting the aircraft, as it was to balance the lift, preventing the ugly armored transport from simply nosing over and killing its passengers.

Behind, at a bit of a distance, on the end of the transports “tail” was the control surfaces as well as vernier thrusters. This gave the overall image of a helicopter without rotors, which was what most people considered the Pawnee. However, that was far from accurate. The Pawnee only resembled one, but under the hood, so to speak, it was as far from one as a Model T from a Ferrari.

As the passengers assembled, watching it land, a blond woman stepped in front of them. She was no taller than Cassidy, perhaps five foot three, no more than a hundred twenty pounds, but she looked powerful in her “Thumper Jumper” as the flight suit was known.

The name Thumper Jumper came from the history of the flight suit having been used primarily by rescue helicopter pilots.

“Ladies, we’re behind schedule, get in line on the edge of the road…Now!” she yelled as two equally rugged looking women, dressed in green fatigues stepped up along side her.

They yelled, shoved and eventually organized the thirty passengers into a line from smallest to tallest. Cassidy was one of the shorter girls and ended up very near the woman with short blond hair.

“Ladies, my names Lieutenant Kara Thrace and I will be your flight instructor. You may call me God.” she said with a slight smirk. “While you are with us, you will obey any and all directions given to you by anyone who is not one of you!” she continued. And thus started the flight training that Cassidy was so eagerly looking forward to.

Stardust Stories, Chapter 3

 

Like Jackals…

“Catch the feeling, it’s going around.
Yeah the streets are jamming,
the clock is ticking down.
Feel the chills, on your skin
the fight’s about to begin.”

The Fights About To Begin – Hinder

The official designation of the LH-93R is the Beholder, but to the average citizen of the Theocracy, its merely called a “ghetto bird”.

The Capitol, Vicksburg, employed, at last count, over two hundred thousand of the drones. Before the autonomy software development of 2027, that would have required at least as many human pilots, but not anymore. Since Spring of 2028, the ghetto birds flew on their own.

The software was all housed in a massive complex stationed outside Jackson Mississippi, the central command element for the Morality and Public Propriety Ministry.

The drones were merely the tendrils of the cyber mind that observed the human population. Minister Graham controlled the public face of the PP but the cyber mind ran the actual surveillance aspect. Key phrases as well as cranial/facial anthropometry were stored in the cyber mind and when a citizen spoke key words or phrases, or matched the facial features of a known “terrorist” were picked up, they could be tracked or terminated as required. That fact was kept from the public, who were under the impression that it was all under human oversight.

Armed ghetto birds flew slightly higher than the unarmed observers. The citizens might catch a glimpse of the highly visible observers, but they were unaware of the armed drones above.

After a powerful storm the pollution would be thin enough to see the drones, but on those days, they simply flew higher. If anyone was discovered discussing them, they were collected by a “friendly” PP patrol, for a “friendly discussion” on the moral priority of ignoring them. After all, “if you are not doing anything wrong, what do you have to fear?”

Originally the Theocratic Confederacy had extremely lax gun laws. “God, Guns, Greed” was their motto, but after a few threats of civil unrest, gun possession was legislated a class 1 felony, punished by immediate execution. This was a problem for Allison. The PP had access to any weapon they felt was required for the mission. Allison was a morality offender, a class 3 felony. Gays, perverts, atheists, and any religious follower other than State Approved Christianity, which truthfully was as close to true Christianity as radical Islam is to the commonly practiced variety, were routinely hunted down and used for the Patriot Games. More dangerous offenders like smugglers or actual rebels were terminated quickly.

Allison needed something to defend herself. Already she had eluded the PP by changing her hair and using makeup to camouflage her facial features. Lipstick made her mouth seem larger, she used eye liner to make her eyes seem larger. Eye shadow exaggerated her nose shading to make it appear wider. While none of that would look normal, or be effective up close, it was good enough to prevent the ghetto birds from recognizing her in a quick scan.

Still, she travelled at dusk and dawn when the light and shadows were constantly shifting and changing. It allowed her to get all the way from NOLA up to Charleston, but she had also left a definite trail. Stolen food, clothing, even transaction key fobs were tracked by the PP. It led them along a fairly direct path right to her.

The typical PP agent had all the advantages. Armor, night vision, surveillance drones, wireless communication, and weaponry gave them a one hundred percent apprehension reputation. The truth however, was somewhat closer to seventy eight percent. A few, resourceful ones to be sure, escaped the Confederacy. But the Church required the books to reflect that nobody escaped justice. If the people ever got the idea that the Church was not in absolute control, they might lose control.

Thus was created the Patriot Games. Created to control the population, they were mandatory viewing, but the PP didn’t need to use much force to convince the average citizen to watch the games.

All children between the ages of 10 and 14 were forced to watch the Games during their Faith and Reflection period at school. By the time the girls were at the age of marriage, and the boys were of age to begin militia training, they were fully aware of what would happen to them should they become offenders. Fear, instituted early in age, kept them in line.

Allison knew what awaited her if caught, and she knew, fight to the death being apprehended, or fight to the death in the Games, it made no difference. So she was perfectly ready to use a gun, if she could find one and figure out how to use it. Women, by law, were not allowed to handle guns. Nor could they vote or decide their medical treatment. That was decreed by the Church in the 2023 Status of Female Citizens Act. After the age of 14, a girl was at the discretion of her parents as to who she would be married to. Allison had been married to a man forty six years her senior, but he died after just three months, leaving her to survive as best as she could. She found ways. She became an accomplished thief.

However, once she crossed into the DMZ and into the Frontier, she would have nothing to help her. No gun to hunt, no skills or survival equipment, not even a destination or map to get there. Canada was somewhere North, but Theocracy Education forbade any discussion of it. To Allison, it was just some mythical castle in a far away land. But wherever it was, whatever it was, she knew that it was her only chance at a future.

Meanwhile, the Mars Expedition Ship was being loaded and a course set to rendezvous with the alien ship. The BSA was confidant that the FTL drive would work. Ironically enough, the PRC Intelligence Ministry also was fairly confidant the theoretical drive could work, but they were far from building one. Stealing a ship, however, was not beyond their means. However, that would require help from the Kremlin. That was the part that Chen had yet to figure out.

In the orbit of Saturn’s moon Tethys, Cassini was gleaning more information about the alien ship…

Stardust Stories, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Capture the wind

“Take me out in to the black, tell ‘em I ain’t coming back…”
Ballad of Serenity – Joss Whedon

The mission to Mars was dashed. BSA astronauts were more than upset at the last minute changes to the mission profile. Instead of the crew of five humans going to the Mars colony, it would be ten highly advanced robots going to the mystery ship. Lost in a hundred fifty thousand years was the irony of the mission. The ship that was lost and forgotten by humans, found by robots.

BSA laboratories had been advancing their space propulsion systems all through the last 50 years. The early NASA designs for a theoretical FTL drive, based upon space field warping principals developed upon Einsteins theory of general relativity, were upscaled and tested on small probes. However this was the first time a truly large vehicle would test it.

The Mars Explorer, designed to house five humans, food, water, medical and other essentials, for a nearly year long trip, was gutted. Instead it was filled with the large multi-task robots and fuel containers for the worlds first test of a space warping drive. In fact, that was the cover story for why the mission was scrapped. The BSA claimed, instead, to be testing the drive. But in truth, they were trying to keep their knowledge of the alien ship from the publics knowledge. The fear of what would happen, should religious hysteria break out, made the decision paramount. Though religious belief was far less common than a mere forty years ago, it was still a powerful social and political tool.

Thornton Abercrombie was not a religious man. In fact, he was a man of science. Still, he found himself questioning all he believed in, realizing that not only did aliens exist, they had visited Earth, or at least appear to have. Of course, it never occurred to him that he was part alien.

As he finished checking the autonomy programming of the last of the robots, he assessed the overall likelihood that this was all for nothing. But a space race was underway. Russia had nothing that could actually leave orbit, but they did have control of what once was the International Space Station. It was now their primary space base. China had nothing that could carry a meaningful load, but did have the financial power to fund Russia’s development of a ship. Already they announced their intention to build a large ship, capable of traveling to Mars, or beyond. However, they would be depending on nuclear ion drives. Slow, weak and next to useless for short trips to a nearby planet, BSA scientists realized they were intending to try to get to the alien ship first, claiming it, and its technology. To prevent this, they threw all their technological might into a mission to not only secure the alien technology, but to prove that British Space was superior to anything else. Or, it would go down as the greatest flop of all time.

None of that mattered to Allison Keller. Space, rockets, aliens… none of it interested her in the least. She was only concerned with the Purity Officer that was following her.

It was a foolish gesture, just a momentary squeeze of the hand, with her “friend” Katerina. She was sure nobody saw it, and it could be easily explained as just an innocent gesture of friendly adoration. Surely the PP could understand that. But she knew it was far more. They had been lovers for seven months now. Unless the PP had caught them on in-house monitoring, since it was law that all places of human occupation be randomly monitored for impurity, they couldnt know different. Allison had been careful to place lamps and large plants in positions to partially obscure the most likely camera angles. It was illegal to fully block them, but there was some leeway allowed for accidental vision obfuscation.

She turned a corner, quickly backpedaling into a walk down apartment door. There she turned her back as if she was inspecting the flower box near the door of the old brownstone.

The PP officer turned the corner, quickly walking past her. Allison stepped up and onto the sidewalk, going back around the corner as the PP scanned the crowd ahead of her, looking for Allison farther down the street.

As she disappeared around the corner, she was already ringing Katerina, to warn her about the PP.

Meanwhile, the PP officer began to hurry into a crowd of citizens, angry at being ditched, and determined to capture a suspected morality offender, she pushed and shoved her way through, but she couldnt find the short, dark haired girl. At least, not this time.

Katerina, meanwhile, had already been visited, and had panicked, giving the PP a quick story about how Allison had come on to her, but she had been morally outraged and scorned her. Allison was now a wanted fugitive.

The call was monitored, and Katerina played the role of victim well enough to entrap Allison. After only a minute and some odd replies, Allison realized what was going on and hung up. Time was running out. She was now a state criminal, from this moment, she had no friends.

Knowing that if caught, she would be forced to fight in the Patriot Games, she left behind all she owned. To return to her flat would be suicide. The PP would be waiting there.

She had only one chance, the Rainbow Express. An underground group that was known for smuggling fugitives to Canada. If she could just escape the Theocracy, she might live to see her 19th birthday in six weeks.

Damn Katerina, that back stabbing bitch. She was angry at her, but reason reminded her that when the PP knock, its wise to give up anyone or anything they ask. They had no oversight, no laws bound them. They could do anything they chose to, in the name of morality enforcement.

She ducked under an awning, catching her breath. Where would she find the Rainbow Express? She looked up, wondering if the God the theocracy espoused was so hateful and hostile towards anyone impure, really existed. Maybe the only thing up there were stars. For the first time in her young life, Allison wondered what was out there, in the black…

Stardust Stories, Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Stardust
“Wherever you are, I wont stop searching. I need to know…”
                                                          Memories – Within Temptation

His arms feel like lead. In his head he knows that his heart isn’t beating so loud that it will give away his hiding place, but he prays to any God that will help him. “Please, don’t let them find me…”

Through moving shadows, he can see the distinct forms of three people. They are armed. He has only a sharpened stick and a couple rocks that look like they could hurt someone.
As he lays his head back against the tree, he looks up at the stars. “We came from the stars.” he reminds himself. All the indoctrination sessions in the cognitive correction centers could not change his belief. All this, the Capital, the Labor Centers, even the Re-Education Facilities, it all came from stardust.

A camera zooms in, capturing his face. The audience catches a breath in their throats. This is it. This is why they watch the Patriot Games. The moments before the kill. Even as he draws his last breath, they feel a rush. Blasphemer! Denier of State Doctrine. How dare he think for himself! Now he will pay the price, along with those different people. The people with dark skin, the gays, the amoralists and the free thinkers! They all eventually get caught and sent to fight to the death in the Patriot Games. And now Travis was trapped. The three hunting him would soon turn on each other.

The commentator speaks quietly, as if he can be heard by the combatants.  “Yes, this is the moment. The three in this pack are definitely going to deal justice out to the political terrorist. Then, we shall see if the gay couple will turn on each other, or will the impure thinking whore take one or both out?”

In a moment its over. Travis closes his eyes as the blade slashes at his neck. He opens them a moment later, his empty gaze taking in the vastness of space. Jupiter is visible near Mars. He briefly wonders if he will be able to fly in his next life.

“Now things get interesting.” the commentator says, almost with glee. The four hundred and twenty seventh Patriot Games is drawing to a close. In a matter of hours it will be over and the Capital will begin selection and training of the next batch of dissidents. The public must be entertained.

Meanwhile: One point two billion kilometers away, Saturn is reaching its perihelion and Earth is but a far distant speck of light in its gaseous sky. The old space craft, Cassini, is dying. Its solar panels barely function. It was decades ago that it was forgotten. Its mission ended in late 2017. The probe went dormant, its sensors passive for anything outside what its programming considered “normal” space junk. The batteries spark to life as it senses something that ought not be here. A large mass, metallic, symetrical and apparently, not of naturally occurring materials was detected.

Cassini activates its sensors. Most of them long ago ceased functioning, but the few remaining capture distant images of something in the rings of Saturn. Before it loses sight of it, as both Cassini itself, and the object continue on their respective orbits, it takes telemetry, sending it to Earth. Sending it to ears that long ago stopped listening.

Beijing, China: Peoples Republic Space Ministry.

Senior Colonel Chen takes a deep breath. The coffee, as usual, tastes terrible. Unless its American coffee, it may as well be tea.

The daily reports are inconsequential as usual. By the time anything reaches his desk, his subbordinates have sanitised it to prevent his knowing of their failures. Did they truly believe he was naieve to believe that they were running the Peoples Liberation Army with a budget almost half of what it required? He knew that by the time each department head skimmed from the budget, that even that much was reduced. No, they didnt.. whats this? An American space probe? A coded signal from… Saturn

Chen can be seen grinning as he peers closer to the report. Yes, an American space probe. It isnt a typo. How long has it been since America existed in any meaningful way? Forty, fifty years now? Since the Revolution that destroyed their country, they have been little more than some third world shit hole. He always knew, having been raised in the State system, that religion was evil, if a concept such as good or evil could really be quantified or classified. In America, the religious extreemists formed an uprising and deployed dirty nuclear weapons, devaststing Northern cities.

Sure, a dirty nuke was next to useless in the grand scheme of things, but the terror they caused drove people out of the cities. The carnage of mass panic, the death tolls as people  murdered each other to get out of the cities, it was many times greater than the deaths from the radiation. The displaced population then swept through the farm belt, ravaging the crops in a failing attempt to find food. The Army was useless, many of the volunteer members simply went to what was considered “home” and the government fell apart quickly. The year of 2014 was the last time he could remember anything being broadcast from America for many years.

It was only when the Theocratic Confederacy began broadcasting their propaganda, that he realized that America was truly gone. In the end, it wasnt the Soviets or the Islamists or even his own country, that destroyed America. It was the paranoia of its radicals that killed the very country they swore to defend with their lives.

He was nearly laughing as he pushed the button that summoned his administrator. He would contact Moscow. If anyone could decode this message, it would be either he PRC Intelligence Ministry, or the KGB. He hoped it was the Ministry. The KGB was known for giving him only the intelligence they wished him to share. Even with the spies and the cyber viruses that stole data from the Kremlin, he knew he never had all of what they knew.

London, England 2047: MI6. Office 17b, East wing.

Leftenant Colonel Hamilton replaced his tea cup on the saucer that protected his elaborate mahogany desk. The antique piece had cost him nearly a months pay, all totaled. Still, it was a proper desk for a proper officer. Until he reachedthe rank of Brigadier, he was stuck in this rather smallish office. Still the view is rather pleasing, though a bit off.

He noticed the same thing that Chen, his counterpart in China would notice later. Knowing that the time delay from the old American Keyhole satellites was a little less than an hour, this due to their positioning and the lack of them still functioning, and the fact that Bejing had only managed to hijack a dozen, he figured that Bejing would know about this signal very soon. Moscow, on the other hand, was probably already working to decode it. Fortunately, he was reading it verbatum, as they had shared the encryption with the yanks before that terrible bit of business so long ago.

As he wipes his spectacles, he considers for a moment. The Russians have no means to exploit the information, assuming they can decrypt it in a reasonable time, say a week at most. Beijing would probably do it faster, but that assumes they would care.

He sips another bit of tea, wondering if its any better as a Brigadier. “Captain Stanley, could you ring the BSA, I wish to speak to a Leftenant General Morrison.” The game was afoot, as a Mr Holmes would say. The British Space Agency had been working on a manned mission to Mars. The robots had assembled a small base there, somewhere near the origional site of America’s Curiosity rover. If they could alter the plans, there was a better than not chance of reaching this object before the Chinese. Hell, they might very well have a real UFO.

The pictures are blurry, the images wouldn’t convince anyone, but a symmetrical object was really there. Nature doesn’t create objects that look perfectly, or as nearly perfectly symmetrical like this. Nature also doesn’t create them out of exotic alloys and poly-carbons similar to the top secret Chobham armor that the Kingdom still guarded closely. Further, nature did not create an object like this, of those materials, and make it hollow with a density that hinted at man made. The sensors of Cassini had determined, based upon the gravitational effect on the dust near it, that it was far heavier than it looked, which in his mind suggested armor. It was… a ship!

To be continued in Chapter 2