Ares, Part 1

“Transition to normal space in three… two… one.”

The prismatic spectrum of the Flashpoint tunnel slipped from view. Inky darkness of normal space flowed into its wake as they glided beyond the wormhole’s event horizon. T’bia nodded to herself, prodding the navigation controls. “Transition complete. Flashpoint generator powered down. Welcome back to the border of Sol’s no-fly-zone.”

“I doubt we’ll be shot down. Even so…” Jadyn’s legs slipped off the copilot console as he stretched to make contact with the cloaking controls. “They can’t shoot at what they can’t see. Cloak protocols active.”

“Blind squirrel factor,” she retorted as main lighting faded away. “We’re three light-years out from Sol. I’m adjusting the interior day-night cycle to correspond with Terran GMT… it’s now 19:32. Suppertime!”

“Blind squirrel factor?” he asked.

“Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. “

“Mm-hm…” Jadyn shook his head. “Bump that adjustment to GMT minus… seven, I think. Montana time.”

“Right, right… Makes it noon-thirty… Crud. My supper menu won’t work for lunch. Engaging FTL Displacement.”

“Gives you more time to prepare the meal, though.”

“Who said I was doing the cooking? I don’t eat, therefore, I don’t cook.”

“You bake cakes.”

“That’s different! Cakes are art, not food. Stable at one-quarter Displacement. Twelve hours to Terran orbit. Now… Let’s see about getting you a library card.”

“Still don’t see how they’ve never discovered the transceiver on Luna. That Selene base of theirs isn’t more than half a kilometer away.” Jadyn kicked his feet back over the copilot console and tapped at his datapad. “As long as you’re already plugged into the network, let’s have a look at today’s headlines…”

“That’s my bandwidth, bucko. Get your own.”

“Whine, whine. October 31, 2047… Hospitals alerted for ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’ Pope John Paul III remembered… I thought he died a half century ago?”

“If memory serves me correct, and the parity check says it does - that was John Paul the second. This was number three.”

“Ah. New York helicopter crash injures four… Halloween: harmless holiday or celebration of evil? Er… Bee?”

“Evil, for sure. It’s supposed to be grandma’s job to sugar up the kids and send them home all buzzed to mommy and daddy, yes?”

“Har. You feeding me false headlines?”

“Real ones tend to be far more entertaining than anything I could come up with.”

“Then I take it you didn’t see this yet?”

“Hm?” T’bia stole the pad out of his hands and read the next headline on the screen. “‘Ares II mission in jeopardy.’ They’re not only sending more monkeys to Mars, they’re trying to kill them in the process?”

“So much for a quiet day,” Jadyn grumbled. “Find out what’s going on?”

“Already pulling the transceiver’s data log from the past week… Okay. Two days ago, some sort of explosion knocked out all communications with Ares II. It also pushed the vehicle out of stable orbit. According to what’s been released, it’ll crash sometime within the next four to eight hours. There’s been no radio contact since the explosion and the ISA et al believe the entire crew is already dead. Even if they happen to be alive and just have no working comms, there’s no way for Terra to mount a rescue operation before they burn up in the Martian atmosphere. The permanent Ares base also has no present way to address the situation.”

“Damn it.” Jadyn rubbed the side of his muzzle, looking at the blackness before them. “Maximum Displacement. Alter course for Mars orbit.”

“Which are we, the squirrel, or the nut?” she questioned, adjusting their trajectory. “Three and a half hours.”

“Today, I feel like a little of both. Wake Casi up.”

The ann’kattan fem stepped into the cockpit a quarter of an hour later, nursing a cup of tea as she unceremoniously poured herself into a chair. “Two hours of sleep and you want me to make life or death decisions on a pre-contact society…”

“Decisions?” Jadyn queried. “You’d honestly consider letting them die an option?”

“One, we don’t know if they are dead or alive at this moment. Two, were we not here, that’s exactly what would happen. And before you start yelling,” she cut him off, just as he tried to interrupt, “I have to look at this from the stance of the Commonwealth. You know that.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“On that we agree.” Casi sighed. “Now, as a private citizen, I don’t want to see any deaths that we can prevent. Let’s operate on the assumption that they are alive until we can prove otherwise. We have four hours to formulate a plan?”

“Three and a quarter until orbit,” T’bia corrected. “Uncertain how long we’ll have after that.”

“Then let’s get as much information as we can before we arrive at a course of action.” Casi squeezed Jadyn’s shoulder. “Okay?”

Jadyn exhaled, nodding his agreement. “All right. Bee, fetch all you can about the Ares II mission. We especially need vehicle schematics. And, just in case…”

“Make sure we’re prepped for towing through an atmosphere. Already making adjustments to the tether array.”

“Good. Casi… Are we going to need the Contact Committee’s approval to help? I’m fairly certain someone will notice a blue-green and black ship looming in front of their craft.”

“If you can find a way to assist them without showing our presence, the TFCC1 won’t even have to be involved. I’d need a damn good reason to go over their heads and authorize an early FC myself. Since this is technically an internal Terran matter, we shouldn’t be interfering at all.”

“I was afraid of that. There’s not much we can do while cloaked. Someone is going to see us when we fire up the tether.”

“I’ll call together an emergency conference of the committee and inform them of the situation. They may look at this as a way to make a solid first show of goodwill with the people of Terra.”

“It’s Thursday, the thirty-first of October, day three of the Ares crisis. In the last half hour, the International Space Administration has confirmed that radio contact with the Ares II crew has been reestablished. Most systems are reported as dark as a result of the damage sustained in the accident. No other official reports on the vehicle’s status are yet available -“

Tari shook her head and muted the television. News coverage had continued to draw her attention while Lenard occupied himself on his computer. When he wasn’t doing classwork, he’d scoured the ‘Net for every kitsune-related story, legend, myth, and rumor he could find. He hadn’t asked much since their dinner three nights prior, though he’d shown her some of what he’d found. Some of the tales had even been new to her.

She found herself enjoying the freedom to lounge around in nonhuman forms in his presence, mostly keeping to her normal kitsune appearance when no one else was about. He still wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with her natural form but he’d have to adapt sooner or later.

Besides, shedding gratuitously on a couch wasn’t a practical possibility as a human.

The DTV suddenly cut to a new view as the anchor silently rambled on, a cropped and enlarged photo of the Ares II vehicle splayed across the screen. The damage had been circled on the image, not that there was any possibility of missing the gaping tunnel through the hull. It was a wonder that the ship hadn’t been wholly destroyed.

“Where’s a miracle when you need it,” she muttered.

“Miracles of an interplanetary scale aren’t your department?” Lenard stood up from his computer desk, walking over and looking at the headlines scrolling across the bottom of the channel.

“We’re not all powerful, Len. We’ve our own limits, regardless of how much bravado some of us spew.” Tari grimaced, pointing at the TV. “This whole thing is depressing me more and more, but I just can’t stop watching. Television is truly the penultimate man-made narcotic.”

“A century of television and there’s still nothing good to watch.”

“I’m convinced the government created it as a form of birth control. There’d be a lot more evening romps if this wasn’t around as a distraction.”

“Maybe so. Any idea how long they’ve got left?” he asked, as a picture of the crew appeared during the anchor’s muted narrative.

“The networks haven’t said anything absolute since the crew was reported alive. I’d guess they don’t want to be fear mongering more than they have already. Still… They’ve said there’s nothing but minimal life support battery power and a ham radio linkup with Ares Base. No flight controls. It’s hard to say they’d even survive atmospheric entry if they had the ability to maneuver.”

“Weren’t there some sort of lifeboats?”

“Damaged in the accident, I think they said.” Tari fidgeted with her bracelet, finally reaching into her jacket and ‘drawing out’ the fake PDA.

“I still don’t see why you carry that around. It’s got to be fifty years old.”

“It is. Some friends gave me this back around the turn of the century… It’s really the only reminder of them I’ve got left.”

Lenard nodded solemnly. “I didn’t realize…”

“Oh, they’re not dead. I doubt they are, at least. They’re just out wandering, doing their own thing.”

“They’ve been gone a while?”

“Mm-hm. They’re quite a pair. Hope I can introduce you someday. I think they’d blow your mind. More than I did, even.”

“That’d take some doing. What’s more mind blowing than finding out my girlfriend is absolutely beautiful, even when she’s shedding on my furniture?”

“There’s a lot. Trust me.” Tari glanced down at the screen, eyeing the row of icons across the top. The standard layout greeted her: the green battery, blue raindrop, green radio tower, and darkened satellites. The full moon still rested beside the satellites, showing a positive link to the transceiver left on the surface. To each side of it was a new indicator - little radio waves showing activity of some sort.

“You know, I’ve never really looked at this thing.” Lenard peered over her shoulder at the PDA. “That’s not a standard OS from when that was made.”

“They write their own software.”

“Your friends?”

Tari nodded. “It’s actually quite advanced for as old as it looks. I really don’t need anything newer for what I need it to do. I’m probably not even using a quarter of its potential.”

“Well, I’m not going to be much help pushing the envelope… Can’t read Japanese - if that’s what that stuff is. What do you call those symbols?”

“Hiragana and katakana glyphs. I had to learn English. One way or another, you’re going to learn some Japanese. All in good time.” She tucked the PDA in a pocket. “I need to get away from the TV. Can I borrow you car, or would you care to chauffeur?”

“I’ll drive. Where to?”

“There’s a little store I need to swing by for some personal supplies.”

“Those bureaucratic asshats! I cannot believe they actually voted to let the crew die!” Casi stormed up and down the hall just outside the cockpit, venting her frustration. “How in the Creator’s name do they sleep at night?!”

“I’m not following those orders.” Jadyn watched the shuttle’s trajectory on sensors, the decreasing time standing forefront on his mind. They’d overheard the radio chatter between Ares and Terra via their lunar relay; the presumption of survivors was now fact. There were injuries, but no one had died in the explosion. “You can have me thrown in a correctional facility when we get back, you can have my commission revoked, whatever you need to do to disconnect yourself. I am not going to let these people die just because they don’t know there’s someone nearby that they can ask for help.”

She stuck her head back in the room. “Are you sure you want that on your record?”

“It’s better than the alternative on my hands. Besides. After this little tour? I quit. Bee. Make a note in whatever ship’s log that you file with the Fleet. I am officially disregarding the Speaker’s direct order to not interfere in the course of Terran history, in regards to the Ares II shuttle failure.”

“Tentatively noted.”


“I just had a brilliant idea.” T’bia pulled up the First Contact document he’d been reading hours earlier. He’d gone looking for loopholes in policy, trying to find any legal way to help the crew. “The last page you looked through before you tried to stab your eyes out states that - in not so few words - that we can intercede if a Terran asks for our assistance.”

“Right, but they don’t know we’re out here. They can’t ask -” Jadyn blinked, the stress of her words becoming clear. “Spirits… You, my friend, are a genius.”

“Yes, I know. You may lavish me with further praise at this time.”

“Hm?” Casi voiced.

“It doesn’t have to be a member of the crew in distress or the government,” T’bia explained. “It can be any Terran.”

“But they still don’t know they can request help.”

“Tari,” Jadyn stated simply. “She already knows about us. And although she’s not human, she still is a resident of Terra.”

“And a registered Commonwealth citizen,” T’bia added.

“That… would still be sticky. You’d have to explain her involvement and how she already knew in far more detail than what is already on her record - which, as I recall, states she is Val’Traxan, not Terran. Doctor Lanhart would work, if we could get in touch with her in time.” Casi tapped her nose. “Let me see that section again.”

“Here,” T’bia offered, handing her a datapad. “You think there’s an alternative loophole?”

“Perhaps… It’s all a matter of interpretation.” The feline peered at the text. “Mmm… The next section. A distress beacon can be interpreted as an open request for assistance. Of course, communication mistakes happen when there’s no official channels between cultures. Perhaps their running lights are blinking a distress code from somewhere in known space.”

“We’ll know shortly. Fifteen seconds until sublight.” T’bia plopped down at the pilot controls; Jadyn took the opposite chair. “Ten. Preparing for deceleration.”

“Short-range sensors online. Ready, Bee.”

“Five seconds…” The stars outside stabilized as the planet appeared before them. “Sublight. Cloak is stable. Ninety seconds to intercept Ares II. You should be able to start scans in about… Now, I think.”

“Knock knock, folks… Confirmed, twenty-five lifesigns on the vessel. All look generally stable.” Jadyn focused on the structure of the Terran ship, running several tractoring simulations. “And… That’s not good at all.”


“If we try to tow them, we’ll rip the ship apart.” Jadyn grimaced, trying alternative towing methods. “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t…”

“Well… What if we extend shields for the tow? How’s that come out?” T’bia glanced over his shoulder, watching the simulation run. “Still not great, but survivable.”

“For their cargo, maybe. They’ll be venting atmosphere from the crew compartments.”

“Well, keep trying. There’s got to be some way to keep them intact. I’m going to make wild speculations about what took a bite of their ship. Stealing a few sensor feeds from you.”

“Have at them.”

T’bia whistled a quiet tune, bringing up in-depth displays of the structure surrounding the hole in the ship. “Okay… What might have created damage of this extent… Casi, any input on any of this? I keep forgetting you’re along. So quiet…”

“I’m waging my own war over here. We might still change their minds. The vote was close…”

“Sure thing. Hum… Couldn’t have made a cleaner hole if I’d tried… Seriously, it looks like someone used a laser saw to carve out a perfect circle. Here’s something - Jay, there’s stress fractures in the material surrounding the hole indicative of extreme gravitational pressures. If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone opened up a micro-singularity in the middle of their ship.”

“Singularity…?” Jadyn whispered, slowly looking over to T’bia’s detailed analysis. “Goddess, I hope I’m wrong, but… Bee, I need to know exactly where and when they got hit so we can trace a projectile back to source.”

“It’ll take a little while to extrapolate their point of impact. What origin -“


“Mmm,” she hummed, looking over trajectory data and tracing the ship’s course backwards. “I see what you’re thinking. The damage is similar.”

“Clue me in.” Casi looked from skunk to fox and back. “I decommissioned that weapons test range on my first day, for being too close to Sol’s no-fly zone. What could have come out of there?”

“A prototype was in testing just before the closure.” Jadyn drew up the technical specifications on the main viewer. “They called it ‘Slingshot.’”

“Sounds harmless enough. What was it?”

“A ship-mountable quantum singularity projector. It was designed to fling miniature black holes at an enemy target. They’re supposed to dissipate fairly quickly, a few hundred kilometers at best.”

“Oh, do let me guess. They didn’t dissipate.”

“Half of them did. Bee and I assisted on cleanup detail at the testing range to take care of the rest. We’d been told all the rogues had been accounted for. If they were wrong, and one or more escaped detection… Ares II may have paid the price for their mistake.”

“And Palondora really isn’t all that far from here…” Casi paced slowly as she thought. “Can you get me the data to back up your theory?”

T’bia nodded. “It shouldn’t take too long to do the calculations.”

“As soon as possible, please.”


1. Terran First Contact Committee


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