INT – DAY – Tajemnica Bridge
The usual suspects are in their places. Stenson stands in the doorway.
Helton: I’m just the captain. YOU two are the flying geniuses. What do YOU want to do to put her through her paces?
Stenson: Time dilation tests. Speed tests. Acceleration tests. Grav-well depth tests. Transition tests. Deep tests. Sensor tests. Conventional accelacomp tests. Interference tests. Verify field-strength readings, which I’m STILL not sure I believe.
Quiritis: And that’s just with what we have now. Run ‘em all again if we get two drives on a single core working, then again with multiple resonance cores in various combinations. We have ZERO data, and only the sketchy outline of a theory on how things will actually handle under those conditions. We NEED empirical data to refine theory.
Stenson: We’re in the instrumented test-pilot realm here, with EVERYTHING.
Helton: So, what are you waiting for? I failed my flight test, so I only kind’a follow half the details you two throw out there. Set it up, work out the schedule with Taj, tell me what you need, set it in motion.
Quiritis: Really? That’s all you want to know?
Helton: You three are smart. Since the war’s pretty much over on NewOz, we can’t really go back, so while Lag and I figure out where we should go, we’ve got nothing better to do. Make it happen. Tell me ahead of time if you think we are all about to die so I can get a goodbye kiss.
Allonia: Only if I can go find Dorek at the same time!
Helton: Deal. We also need to figure out the best permanent solution to the legal situation.
Bipasha: Emirate allows multiple wives, you know.
Helton: NO, thanks. I’m quite sure just one is fine. Either one-
Allonia: (feigning a dramatic let-down) Married a week and he’s ALREADY rejecting me. Just one of EITHER!
Helton: Kaminski complicates things, you know.
Quiritis: And I don’t?
Helton: No, you’re pretty uncomplicated, actually. I think. Maybe. Or am I putting my foot deep in my mouth? Seriously, though, we SHOULD find a long-term solution that fills both the legal AND social demands. I like simple, uncomplicated things.
Quiritis: (teasing) Now you’re calling me SIMPLE?!
Helton: No, I – oh, hell, you know what I mean. Go figure out the test flight plan… So I can talk to Bipasha about what HER wedding plans are, so when we-
Helton ducks an empty coffee-cup thrown at him by grinning Bipasha.
INT – DAY – The garden
Allonia is humming along, pruning some of the plants on the many over-flowing racks around her in the brightly lit room. Things are obvious growing well, and there are bushes, herbs, and all sorts of different shades of greens about, even some flowers. A VERY green, happy, place. Helton walks in, just as the background noises take another change in note.
Helton: Kwon needs some sage.
Allonia points to a bush at the end of the rack she’s working on. He heads over to it, test-smelling several different things along the way, then starts carefully picking some of the sage.
Allonia: How’s the testing going?
Helton: Pretty good.
Allonia: Every time they talk it makes my head hurt. It’s another language.
Helton: It is. But the basic ideas are pretty simple.
Allonia: Fill me in?
Helton: Sure. Harmon and Sokolov drives do basically the same thing, push on the fabric of the space-time-multi-verse, but they do it differently. Synchronizing more than 3 drives is very difficult. Using even four is rare – only in racers, really. You CAN fly on one drive, but most use two because it’s more efficient, AND you have redundancy. Bigger ships can afford too support three, for redundancy and speed, but usually have the same or slightly lower efficiency. VERY few ships use both Harmon AND Sokolov drives- expensive, take up twice the room, and most ships are optimized for one sort. Harmon drives create an intense field, and allow transition deeper in the well, and they work better near planets. They are also faster for short hops between stars. Sokolov drives spread a wide field, so they can grab a lot of space, and allow greater acceleration. They work better in deep space, and because they allow better acceleration in subspace, generally faster for long hauls. Stenson figured out how that weird analogue gizmo in engineering helps sync the drives, and how the twist might allow us to use both at once on a single core. The hope is that together they can spread the field intense AND wide, possibly having better time dilation control, be faster in universal time, and maybe even wade into the turbulent subspace of The Deep.
Allonia: So, bigger-faster-stronger-better, basically.
Helton: Pretty much. Gotta get this to Kwon. See you later, dear.
Helton heads for the door, leaving Allonia happily trimming her plants.
INT – DAY – Engineering
Stenson and his team are looking over readouts, generally looking tired but happy. Helton and Quiritis stand next to him looking over the readouts and data.
Stenson: There is SOMETHING about the combination of mass, density, mass and drive distribution, power density, power flow… Same mass but much larger, can’t do it. Same general dimensions, lose the armor, can’t do it. Same mass, but just a load of ore in the middle, can’t do it. Lower flux density, can’t do it. Same density, missile size, no can do. Taj is right at a sweet spot. We can transition deeper in the gravity well than anything else I’ve ever seen, even if we get a full load. We have MUCH tighter control over time flow and dilation-
Helton: How much?
Quiritis: Normal trip in the current swirl to Eridani might be two to five days subjective depending on route, and a week universal. We could do it in about 3 days universal, and anywhere from a day to nearly six weeks subjective.
Helton: That’s quite a range. Not likely to need to take THAT long anywhere.
Quiritis: But the fuel usage on the long course is almost zero. Nearly coasting along a subspace field line. REALLY slick. All SORTS of interesting sub-space curves to surf, depending on what you need to do.
Stenson: We can cut a lot of corners planning trips. Not sure how far into The Deep we can go, but places that are on just past the edge for any other ship should be do-able, at least.
Quiritis: And we can SKIP like you wouldn’t believe. Transition in, get a fast look, disappear from this universe in a heartbeat.
Stenson: And we can open a transition field, then EXTEND it a ways into other fields. Not just pulse the drive field like we did with the interceptors, but I think we can do all kinds of things, including hitch a ride on another ship when it’s trying to leave. Need another ship to really test it fully, but we THINK the possibilities are VERY interesting.
Helton: So, anyplace in particular you’d like to go to test more?
Quiritis: Well, we-
Ship AI: (OC, brisk male voice) Yes. There is.
The thee raise eyebrows slightly in surprise.
Ship AI: (OC, brisk male voice) Tau Piper II.
The three show expressions of either non-recognition or puzzlement.
Ship AI: (OC, brisk male voice) It does not have any known human habitation. A failed terraforming operation, near the edge of The Dark near here. It DOES have something I would like to investigate, however. It is only about a day’s subjective flight under current conditions, half that universal.
Helton: Close. What’s there?
Ship AI: (OC, brisk male voice) The second planet was a promising world in the water zone. There are several potentially interesting items there. I’d like to keep the specifics a surprise, if I may.
Quiritis: You want to surprise us?
Ship AI: (OC) Yes. Don’t you like surprises?
Helton: Most of the surprises we’ve had are NOT the kind I normally want.
Ship AI: (OC) Perhaps so. Nonetheless.
Quiritis: Well, we can certainly RUN faster if it turns out to be unpleasant.
Helton: OK, then. Lay in a course.
INT – NIGHT – Bridge
The lights are dim and reddish. Helton, Quiritis, Allonia, Kaushik, Bipasha are at stations. Lag and Kwon stand in the doorways. On the screens, a graphic of the local system is displayed, showing the star and a half-dozen planets. Their position is shown approaching the second planet, which as the diagram zooms in shows a couple of larger moons, and several smaller ones. The approach close, a bit outside the most distant moon.
Helton: So, let’s see what the big surprise is.
Quiritis: Here we go. Ready to skip. Re-entering the universe in three, two, one-
EXT – NIGHT – Space, not to far from a moon of Tau Piper II.
The planet, a nice-looking marble covered in a swirl of green and tan land, many small seas, and scattered clouds lies in the distance. Several small moons are also in orbit. Space shimmers and glows, and Tajemnica fades into view in the middle of the glowing patch, to hang motionless in space, with a moon that has suspiciously regular circular patterns on its surface clearly visible in the distance.
Helton: Nice view. Planet looks pretty good-
Quiritis: I thought it was a terraforming failure?
Kaushik: Holy!- A whole line of ships detected. Gas Transports.
Allonia: Looks like a lot of water. Clouds are always a good sign.
On the speaker, a mechanical voice calls.
Tau Piper II Robo-Moon: (OC, on cabin speaker) Challenge germanium Alister cheese tendinitis.
Quiritis: Skipping in 3!
Ship AI: (OC, similar voice) Respond Alfred airport Cato gorgon tropical
Helton: Wait, WHAT?
Tau Piper II Robo-Moon: (OC, on cabin speaker) Challenge Crete Alcibiades Tacitus Gemistus.
Kaushik: Target locks, but no launches!
Ship AI: (OC, similar voice) Respond Themistocles Alexander aspis garden gander
Helton: Hold a sec! Wait!
Tau Piper II Robo-Moon: (OC) Send cladistic profiler for final.
Ship AI: (OC) Confirmed. As I thought. Thank you, Allonia.
Allonia: I- what? WHY?
Helton: Details, everyone!
Kaushik: No more target lock! Just normal dual-pole radar. No launches.
Allonia: Nothing but the line of GTSs on sensors!
Bipasha: Nothing more on com – just a couple of carrier signals, and a… landing beacon.
Quiritis: Ready to skip any moment if we have to.
Ship AI: (OC) No need. We passed.
Helton: Passed WHAT?
A Tajemnica avatar appears on-screen. A peaceful looking elderly monk. Dressed in dark robes similar to Brother Libra, he sits in a lotus position, quiet smile on his face. He’s in a nice garden with small hut and orchards in the background.
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) Please set a course for the landing beacon. We have been granted entry.
Helton: Are you SURE?
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) Yes. Please proceed promptly.
Helton nods to Quiritis to do so. She looks kind of skeptical, but works the controls, and the moon slowly starts growing larger on the screen.
Allonia: Why did you thank ME?
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) Our previous encounter at Emirate with a corp-war moon provided the clue. Allonia’s DNA had a number of sequences that didn’t match any known pattern. The problem of how to only let authorized people near is simply solved. The challenge uses words that start with letters corresponding to one of the unexplained DNA sequences, and the response is words that start with the subsequent DNA sequence. I would expect a cladistic profiler means a person they will take a DNA sample from to test and verify the sequence. Quite literally, you are the key to the moon base.
Helton: OK, that’s GREAT! Then what?
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) I do not know. That is YOUR job. I will help if I can.
Helton: Gee, thanks. Next time you want to surprise me, try to keep it something more along the lines of a birthday cake.
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) Noted.
Helton: So what if they want to test ALL of us?
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) That might get interesting.
Helton: Define “interesting.”
Ship AI: (Calm elderly voice) I’d rather not.
EXT – NIGHT – Space, not to far from a moon of Tau Piper II.
The space around Tajemnica glows a little bit, and the gently ship heads for the moon. As it gets closer, more details can be seen. The entire surface is covered with circular emplacements. In the middle of each armored circle with a blast-deflection wall is either a dome or a turret with a pair of long rail-gun barrels. There are thousands of them. As they get closer, a pair of massive access doors, obviously capable of admitting much larger ships, swing inward. As Tajemnica goes in through them, a large, long, well-lit passage lined with dozens of gun turrets can be seen ahead of them. As Tajemnica passes the doors, they close ponderously behind.
Fade to black
[I rewrote the previous episode for the published version so there are no conflicts with the techno-babble and tech limitations. If something here conflicts with something said earlier, this is correct]