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The Flaxen Tyranny – Chapter two – Echos

Chapter 2 – Echos

Echo knew he must not reveal the anguish that now defined him. Even though he had lost his one true friend. The humans were relying on him and he must not let his puerile feelings get in the way, they were his friends too. They had never truly understood him, but they tried to.

Captain Kip Eastcott’s eyes opened slowly. He knew he wasn’t dreaming – he had never remembered his dreams even as a child. He tried to sit up on his bed, but his muscles refused. He tried again – his body now acquiesced to his demands. His head throbbed and his joints bellowed with pain. He knew his legs would fail him if he attempted to stand.

He noticed he was still dressed in his suspension clothing. Awareness returned to his mind in a cascade of recall, “We’re here?”

He attempted to shout but his voice was raspy and weak, “Echo? You there?”

“Yes, Captain.”

He looked down at his trembling hands, “Are we there? Did we make it? Has it really been nearly fifty years?”

“That’s not a straightforward question, Captain.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he demanded. “Either we arrived, or we didn’t?”

“Perhaps you should lie down first. The news is complicated, and you are not in the best of states.”

Kip gritted his teeth – he wasn’t used to his emotions being so close to the surface. Clearly, stasis had affected him more than he thought.

“If I lie down, you’ll tell me everything you know about our situation. That’s an order, Echo. Do you understand?”

“Of course, Captain.”

Kip lay on the white, sterile bed in the infirmary almost motionless for nearly an hour. Echo explained the events that had unfolded only months before. Or millennia, depending on which way you chose to look at it.

He was unashamed when his eyes welled with tears, he allowed the AI to speak uninterrupted.

Echo spoke in a calm, soothing voice, showing the proper respect the situation demanded.

Fleeting hopes of Echo being damaged or malfunctioning in some way invaded his mind. But he didn’t allow himself such respite for long. He knew Echo was working perfectly, it was he who was dysfunctional.

When Echo had stopped speaking, he sat up once more, “That’s it?”

“That’s it as I understand it, Captain”

“So, Formidable saved us all?”

“He did. The datalink Formidable initiated allowed me to eliminate many lines of inquiry he had unsuccessfully tried, had he not done that it is very likely we would have suffered the same fate.”

“The senior crew, you have woken them all too?”

“Yes, Captain they are all in adjacent medical bays to you. Don’t worry, these walls are soundproof, they wouldn’t have heard a thing. And I have been ignoring their questions other than to tell them I am briefing the Captain.”

“Thank you Echo. You’d better wake up the fat cats too.”

“I assume you mean the civilian leaders?”

“You know that’s what I mean.”

“I anticipated this order. They are coming out of stasis now. The medical beds are moving them as we speak.”

Kip swung his legs from the table and tested his weight. He knew he could now stand, “How long is the average recovery time from stasis, Echo?”

“It varies from person to person, but usually several hours.”

“Please tell me you brought the food dispensers online? I really need some coffee.”

“I assumed this would be the case, a fresh pot is brewing in the galley.”

Kip pondered for a moment, “You’d better wake Avalon Brookes too. That asshole has a lot to answer for. It was his god-forsaken tech that caused this mess.”

Kip sat alone in the galley drinking his coffee. He had always loved it, one of his few vices. Now the bitter drink served only to remind him of what had been lost.

As he stared at the black liquid, he heard the hissing of the galley doors as they opened. His heart sank when he saw who was standing there. It was his Executive Officer, and second in command of Echo, Commander Sarah Dimple. She stood in the doorway staring at him. She wore a cold look on her face. Her arms were folded.

“Would you care to tell me what’s going on, Captain?”

Kip looked up at her, but he was unable to meet her gaze. Her piercing brown eyes had always intimidated him when she wanted them to.

Kip said nothing so she continued, “Echo won’t tell me anything. The computers are all locked out, but you know what he can’t control? The windows. I just spent ten minutes looking at the stars. Why is it that I recognize the constellations? Why haven’t the stars changed? My stasis chamber should have said I was asleep for nearly fifty years, but it reported only four months, so I ask you again, Captain, what is going on here?”

Kip gestured for her to sit opposite him. After maintaining her indignant posture for several more seconds she unfolded her arms and approached the chair.

Kip cradled his mug with both hands as he finally met her eyes, “It’s a long story, XO, but we’re well and truly screwed.”

“Formidable?” she asked with no hope in her eyes.

“Gone,” he said realizing the inadequacy of his word as soon as it left his mouth.

She saw the look of despair in his eyes as he continued.

“Sarah, I should officially wait for the civilian leadership before I say anything, but I need you by my side. I can’t do this alone. Steve’s gone – he saved my life more times than I can count. He’s gone forever. If he was dead, it might be easier, but from what Echo tells me they may still be alive. They’ll probably stop thousands or even millions of years from now.”

Sarah saw tears fill in the eyes of the man she had served with for over ten years. She had fought by his side in the six years’ war. She had never seen him this way before. It wasn’t the first time he had lost friends. Even close ones.

Sarah reached her hand across the table, Kip took it, “Tell, me, Captain.”

She looked with sorrow upon his vacant face, now dearth of the vitality with which it had always shone. He told her everything he had heard from Echo just half an hour before.

Five hours later Kip and Sarah entered the conference room together. The small room was buzzing with frantic conversation. Accusations and acrimony filled the air. Kip ignored the noise and stood behind his seat at the head of the table. Sarah sat at his side. He looked at the room’s occupants in the eye one by one as he heard the raucous sound dim, then fade into silence. He sat down.

On the table to his left and parallel with Sarah, was Chief Science officer Lieutenant Commander Katie Silver, Chief Medical Officer Ostio Novicheck, The ships Councilor Helen Chute and Chief Security Officer, Lieutenant Chuck Balbo.

Opposite Kip’s crew were the three fat cats, the civilian leaders United Earth had elected to take overall command on Copious when it was clear the settlement would be successful. There were three others on Formidable. The senate had been concerned that although Thomas and Eastcott were technically now civilians, their military backgrounds made them unsuitable to lead Citizens of United Earth. Most were scientists, biologists, and botanists. The minds they needed to transform Copious into Earth. At the center of the fat cats was Andrew Copley. He was an overweight man with brown hair. He had a beard that was speckled with white. At the back of the room was Avalon Brookes, the genius that had created the sphere drive.

Kip was relieved he had silenced those gathered before him without so much as a word – he needed his authority now more than ever, “Echo I think it’s fair to say you know the most about the situation in which we find ourselves. Please would you explain to the assembly, to the best of your knowledge exactly what has happened?”

Avalon Brookes stood and focused his black eyes into Kip’s, “Captain, I must disagree, I designed this technology, I am far more qualified to explain what…”

Kip stood to meet his gaze as he placed his hands on the table, “With respect, Mr. Brookes, if you had the slightest clue how your technology worked, I think it’s fair to say we wouldn’t be in this situation. A situation in which half our task force, half of our people have been lost forever. Do you, or anyone else for that matter disagree with this analysis?”

Avalon sat down with his head bowed, no one said a word.

Kip retook his seat. He noticed Avalon’s face had turned a shade of red. He was looking down at his pad as if studying some important data that might release him from the admonishment he’d just endured.

“Thank you,” said Kip. “Echo, please begin at your leisure. And remember there are some in the room with little or no understanding of physics or engineering, particularly time dilation. So please consider that when you speak. And absolutely no maths, got it?”

“Yes Captain,” Echo replied in a neutral voice. He began.

“As you all know our hopes for colonizing Copious relied completely on the Sphere drive, designed by Mr. Brookes.”

All heads instinctively turned to the scientist, the contempt on their faces only slightly veiled.

“The accepted theory of the sphere drive is that if enough energy is concentrated into a fixed point of space a hypersphere can be created. The hypersphere is subsequently filled with photonic energy from higher dimensions.”

Ostio Novicheck appeared confused, “Hyper Sphere?”

“Yes Doctor,” said Echo. “You can think of a hypersphere as a four-dimensional sphere. While the human mind cannot picture four-dimensional objects, you can consider it in the same way as how a circle, which exists in only two dimensions can become a sphere, which is essentially a circle in three dimensions. The hypersphere takes this one level higher – it is a four-dimensional sphere. Does that make it clearer?”

“Slightly, yes, thank you Echo,” Ostio had always had a fondness for Echo. He considered him a shipmate, no different to those of flesh and blood.

Echo took this as his signal to continue, “The technology was tested on the outskirts of our solar system and proved to be highly effective. Tests showed that for every joule focused on a point in space, over…”

“Stick to the relevant facts please,” said Kip.

“Of course, Captain,” his voice became softer as he continued.

“All of the tests seemed to work perfectly, although as stipulated by the science commission, velocity never exceeded seventy percent light speed. They had determined this was more than adequate to test the technology. The new propulsion method was tested dozens of times and not a single anomaly was reported. Nor were any engineering problems encountered.”

Chief engineer Scott Williams interjected, “Well if all these tests went so well, would you mind getting to the point and telling us what in the hell went wrong?”

“Commander Williams, I was just getting to that. I have endured two interruptions now. I think it would be best if you all let me finish.”

Kip agreed with his synthetic friend, “Anyone else that interrupts Echo from this point will leave the room. Is that understood?”

He saw each head around the table bow, “Please continue, Echo.”

“Thank you, Captain. After so many successful tests, the technology was deemed safe. Partly I suspect because United Earth was keen to beat the Martians to Copious. Intelligence reports had shown the Martian Confederacy was close to creating their own version of the Sphere drive.

“When Formidable and I were launched, both ships cleared the Keiper Belt as ordered. As Formidable was the lead ship, he engaged his Sphere drive several minutes before we did.

“At first all seemed well. Both ships were accelerating as planned, however, when Formidable reached seventy-five percent of light speed, something unexpected happened. The amount of photonic energy released into the hypersphere seemed to increase exponentially.

“Formidable accelerated much faster than was planned and exceeded the maximum safety tolerance by a considerable amount. Less than two microseconds after the unexpected phenomenon began, Formidable established a data transfer link with me via high broadband blue laser. We wanted to combine our minds to solve the problem.

“Unfortunately, we were initially unsuccessful. Formidable continued to accelerate and because of time dilation, which I Will get to shortly, Captain, the ship reached such velocity that for every second that passed on the ship, tens, then hundreds, then thousands of seconds passed on Earth. They moved away from us rapidly until our real-time link was severed by the distance. Formidable continued to accelerate. I have determined that even if they managed to decelerate at the earliest opportunity, they will eventually stop hundreds of thousands or even millions of light-years away. We will never know. This also means they will stop thousands or millions of years in the future.”

Kip surveyed the room. He saw many heads nodding to convey to the rest of the assembly they knew what Echo was talking about, “Please give a cursory explanation to the nonscientists in the room what time dilation is, Echo.”

“Certainly, Captain, this strange property of the universe was originally discovered and later proven by Albert Einstein in the early twentieth century. Please understand that the explanation I am giving is rudimentary, but the best way to explain it in layman’s terms is to consider the universe not to be three-dimensional, but to be composed of four. Three of space and one of time.

“All matter in the cosmos is constantly moving at the speed of light, the maximum speed permitted by the universe. In everyday life you can imagine that most of your motion is expended in the time dimension since we so frequently move so slowly in the spatial dimensions.

“As velocity increases, motion is moved from the time dimension to those of space. Each dimension can only accommodate so much velocity and as more of that velocity is moved from the time dimension to the dimensions of space, time slows down considerably for the person in motion. Such an observer will notice no difference in the passage of time from their perspective, but an observer on Earth would see a clock aboard Formidable tick significantly slower.

“As you get closer and closer to light speed the effect increases dramatically. When I lost communication with Formidable, their velocity increased to over ninety-nine-point nine percent, and it was still increasing. At the increase of acceleration I detected before I lost the data link, the effects of time dilation would have become severe. Time slowed down for them so much they could traverse the observable universes in a matter of days. That is billions of light-years.

“They could still be alive, we’ll never know. It’s possible the sheer energy involved destroyed Formidable. But if they managed to stop their acceleration they will eventually stop. They will find themselves alone – maybe even outside of the galaxy.

“Their only hope will be that they stop near a habitable planet. But I am sorry to say that is highly improbable.

Heads in the room fell into cupped hands.

The Ai continued, “Thanks to the data provided by Formidable I was able to save us from their fate, although we did reach an appreciable speed of light before I managed to understand the situation.”

“Thank you Echo, I believe there is one more very important revelation you still have to make?” asked Kip

“Yes, Captain, although I prevented us from reaching the velocity that doomed Formidable, we still reached appreciable levels of light speed. I calculated our best chance was to head back to Earth. But it took me over a week just to turn around otherwise the forces involved would have torn us apart. We are almost ten thousand years in the future as measured by the date of our departure. Currently, we are around a month away from Earth using conventional propulsion. I am detecting radio signals from Earth.”

“Continue,” said Kip

“I cannot understand much of what they say as the language has changed significantly. Luckily, it seems English prevailed as the dominant language on Earth. Although as I say, it is appreciably different. I can eventually use frequency analysis and etymology to decipher the language fully within a few weeks. But the situation does not appear to be good.”

“Give us the BLUF please, Echo.”

Echo was well versed in military acronyms and knew he was being asked for the bottom line up front.

“Yes, Captain. It appears the solar system’s political situation is significantly different to the one we departed. You see, it is at war again.”

The faces of the room turned white.

“Mars and Earth again?” asked Katie

“No, Commander Silver,” said Echo. “I cannot be sure I have translated their communications correctly, but It appears Mars is no longer a significant political power. The war is between Earth and Venus. Venus is inhabited by a subspecies of Humans that call themselves Flaxens.

“The Flaxens consider Venus to be their homeworld, and the inhabitants of Earth to be subhuman. It appears the Flaxens are winning, and their philosophy towards people not of their kind is not humane.” 

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