© The author reserves all rights to this work.
This story is of an adult nature. It is not intended for minors nor for those whose law in their land forbids them to read this material.
This story is entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual people is purely coincidental and unintentional.
NB: Words found between asterisks (*) refer to words exchanged in psychic or telepathic communication.
Date: 25 October 2674, Sunday
The small yacht was moving in the dark inter-space passageway. Jorg and the professor had moved through several relays. Jorg had used his fuel store to charge up each relay instead of using energy from the relays. They were on their final relay journey before reaching their actual destination.
“Captain Brown, it’s one thing to get the station commandant to ignore our little expedition and it’s another to make use of the relay without authorisation. Could you tell me how you managed to pull off doing that with the amount of energy unaccounted for?” Frank asked.
“Originally, the plan was to false start the relays …” began Jorg.
“Uh?” uttered Frank with a quizzical face.
“Relays are not manned. When a relay starts, it creates a small gap through space and it will transport whatever vehicle uses the gap to the other end.” Jorg explained.
Frank nodded. “Yes, I know all that.”
“Well,” continued Jorg, “the amount of energy depends on the size of the ship, right?”
“Yes,” replied Frank.
“If the ship just touches the shield, the energy is released. If the ship stays still or moves back after touching the shield, what happens?” asked Jorg with his head slightly at an angle.
“Well, theoretically,” said Frank thoughtfully, “the relay transports nothing to its destination.”
Jorg nodded. “If the bigger ship touches the relay and then goes backward but a smaller vessel, like this yacht, goes through, then …” he asked.
“Oh, I get it!” said Frank as he straightened up a little. Then he frowned, “Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Well, we didn’t use that way,” explained Jorg. “Theoretically, I calculated the energy needed to move the ship and this yacht. Hitching a ride on a false start could bring us to the second relay after Pluto. The relays are refuelled every ten days so that their lasers won’t stop functioning. So, my original plan was to pack a high density capacitor at the back of the yacht. I was going to charge it before going through the relay to power our way back as well.”
“I didn’t notice any capacitor,” commented Frank.
“Well, the fiasco with the false general has given my crew some more time and opportunities to be creative. There was some damage in one of the fuel storage areas. So, I’ve helped myself to some of the missing silicate fuels. I didn’t have to use the capacitor.”
“That’s stealing?!” exclaimed Frank.
“It was considered missing and struck off the inventory,” said Jorg. “We took the silicate after it was struck off. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s no one’s silicate, and I'm not stealing.”
“What about the energy usage at the relays?” queried Frank.
“Well, the impounding of the ship had put the station engineers in a dilemma …” and Jorg proceeded to explain how Iris managed to get the use of the relays.
“So, the object that went through the relay eventually was not a waste collection bin but us,” concluded Frank.
“Yes,” laughed Jorg. “I must commend Iris for putting up a fine performance. Of course it helped that she was dressed in a low cut blouse.”
That last remark caused the two men to laugh. As they were calming down, the yacht’s computer announced that they had reached their destination. The sequence of moving out of the relay was similar to that of entering the relay. The shutters came down and the contact between the yacht and the shield produced a large burst of light energy.
“You know, Captain,” Frank began, “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching this conversion of excess energy into light by the relays.”
“I know what you mean,” agreed Jorg. “However, I do think it’s a real waste of energy. If we could find some way to either reduce the energy usage or siphon the excess energy to a charger or something …”
“You may have hit on something,” said Frank thoughtfully. “If we could just use a …”
“Professor,” Jorg stopped Frank. “Sorry to interrupt. Just to let you know, we’ll need about an hour to reach the approximate site and then we’ll have exactly ninety minutes to make all the recordings you need. You’ll have about an hour to come to some initial solutions for the idea you were having just now.”
Frank smiled. “Of course! I do get carried away. Thanks for reminding me. If the idea gets off, I’m going to give you some of the credit. If you didn’t voice the regret over the wastage of energy, I wouldn’t have even thought of the idea.”
“I don’t think I can accept that, Professor,” replied Jorg. “You’ll be the one to do all the work. I’d just voiced out an observation, that’s all!”
“Granted, Captain, but I’ll give credit where it’s due. Even if it’s just an initial idea, it needs to be acknowledged.” The professor smiled and propped down on a chair to begin his calculations on Jorg’s idea. Jorg just shook his head and went back to his navigational controls.
When they eventually reached the site, Frank took over the operation of getting the information from the vast emptiness of space around them. Jorg was not totally inactive. He closed his eyes and started scanning the space psychically for anything strange. He sensed an artificial man-made object about ten hours journey from where they were. It was close enough for magus transport but Jorg could not very well disappear from Frank. He got up asked Frank if the sensors picked up anything around the area that he had picked up the object. The sensors showed nothing. Jorg’s interest piqued. He excused himself, telling Frank that he would be at the back taking a nap. He hoped that Frank would be too occupied in his work to notice his disappearance. Employing the same technique as when he visited the island of Celebes, Jorg created a shell of himself out of the silicates that were in the fuel store. Then he got into a space suit and willed himself to the object.
Traveling in space like that was a first for any magus. Jorg immediately realised how dangerous it was. Fortunately for him, the silence of space helped him to concentrate. Without concentration, he could end up somewhere else and be totally lost in its huge expanse.
After about twenty minutes, Jorg returned to the ship. He was pale and visibly shaken. Fortunately for him, the professor had not finished his readings. It was a good twenty minutes later that the professor went to the back to wake Jorg up. Jorg pretended to rouse from sleep and thanked the professor. He had had the time to recover from what he had seen.
§ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ §
Date: 1 November 2674, Sunday
“So how are you, Aaron?” asked Frank. Frank was visiting Aaron Evers in his home in New York. Since the adventure in space, the Pellegrine had been slated for another test. The military had been very embarrassed by the event concerning the kidnap of the general that they agreed to pay for the Pellegrine’s test. “I’ve heard the official report but I’d like to hear your version. How did you get kidnapped?”
“That’s the strange thing. I don’t remember,” said the general. “What I do remember was waking up in a strange room, a prisoner for many days. I had a food dispenser, water and all the amenities. There was no contact with anyone until the secret service agent came to rescue me. Now I hear that that agent has disappeared as well. The Secret Service denies any involvement with the rescue. Of course, they’re the Secret Service, right?”
“To tell you the truth, when you showed up at the ship after the excitement, I thought they’d invented some slimming ray capable of reducing weight,” remarked Frank.
General Aaron Evers smiled. “I didn’t eat or sleep well. I was alone and anxious. I ate and trained to keep up my strength but the stress of being a prisoner, even one who is well treated, is terrible. I guess the stress must have cause me to look haggard.”
“How long were you imprisoned?”
“For at least two years. At first I didn’t count the days. There’ll be times when I’d wake up in a different place and at night. It was as if they were drugging the air and changing my accommodations. Once I woke up in a hut next to a beach. The sun was heavenly. It must have been on the Pacific. The island was a small one. I finished exploring the island in two hours. I decided not to go back to the hut to force my captors to confront me. I kept awake for more than forty-eight hours but was overcome by sleep as I hid in a small cave. I woke up in a room again. I was imprisoned again. I decided there and then to keep an account of days. I made small marks on my identification tags. One mark every five days. Here take a look at them.”
Frank looked at the tags, they were covered with markings that seemed to be in the shape of a small hut.
“Every small hut you see is about a month,” Evers explained. “As you can see, I’ve made at least twenty of those huts. Take the few months that I didn’t count the days, I must have been imprisoned for at least two years.”
“How could you have survived all that time alone? I salute you, Aaron. You’re a true soldier.”
“Well,” started Evers with a sigh. “I just came back from the psychologists. I was just informed that there’s evidence of psychological conditioning during my imprisonment. They detected some chemical in my brain that indicates that my captors tried to condition me. For whatever cause, they don’t know. I’ve been relieved of duty and given an extended leave of absence. They say it’s for treatment. I know that I’m a liability to the military right now. Who knows what secrets I’ve given away during the time. Because of this, I was never truly alone all the time. The psychologists say that my captors have somehow kept me sane with human contact without me ever being conscious of it. This is really scary.”
“Well, at least, you’re safe," said Frank. “Now you’d probably not be targeted because you’re no longer in any high level confidences.”
“Yes, but they’ll still screen all visitors,” replied the old soldier.
“True, but I’m glad that they’ve ascertained that it was the impostor who claimed that I had sabotaged the Aurelia,” said Frank.
“What do you mean?” asked the general. He had not heard of this before.
“Somehow,” Frank explained, “when I tendered my resignation, it never reached its destination. You were probably kidnapped very soon after I tendered in my resignation.”
“You resigned? When? …” asked Evers. He scratched his head. “Yes! I remember. I went to your place. We discussed the possibility of sabotage … and decided that you could better do investigations at the Academy. At least the saboteur wouldn’t suspect that you were on to him and investigating anything. We decided … decided to give the excuse that you’ve decided to resign and go back into the academic world because you wanted to be with your family. … We even wanted to pretend that I’d tried to encourage you to stay on but your mind was made up. Come to think of it, that’s what I said when I met your wife. You even suggested that that Latino guy, uh … uh …”
“Yeah him. I remember now. Now, if I can only remember what happened after that …” said Evers with a frown.
“Don’t fret yourself over this, Aaron. Look at us, we’re in our fifties. We’ve got quite a number of years left on us still and so we shouldn’t hurry the process. Let’s take our time. Anyway, the space project has been abandoned, I heard.”
Evers sat up in surprise. “What?”
“Yes,” replied Frank. “I called Hernandez, thinking that he was still the project leader. He told me that the project was cancelled early this year because they found that the area they were moving into was full of asteroids. The second probe built three more relays before it was destroyed. Two more probes were sent but they never made past two months after the last relay. Asteroids destroyed all. I wonder what the military would be using the relays for?”
“Why did you call up Hernandez?” asked Evers.
“I wanted to share some insights with him,” Frank replied.
However, the general still looked puzzled. He had not understood Frank’s answer. Frank took out a small device. He mouthed the words “frequency jammer”. Frank pointed to one part of it and mouthed “no power”. Aaron then understood that the sensors did not recognise what it was and because it was not powered, the guards let him in.
“Oh,” Aaron realised that the room was probably bugged. He got up and said, “Do you want another beer?”
Aaron took the empty can from Frank. Together with his own empty can, he moved to the kitchen.
As Aaron went into the kitchen, Frank did a brief survey of the room. Using the limited knowledge he had on acoustics, he discovered where the bugs would probably be. The apartment was large, more suited for a couple with two children than for a single person. Aaron was one of the few Generals who had not married but the military could not justify assigning him a smaller unit that was meant for lower ranked officers.
From where he was sitting, Frank could make out the small hallway that led to the bedrooms and bathrooms. To his left, there was the door to a balconey. To his right, at the far end, was the entrance of the apartment through which he had entered just minutes before.
In the meantime, Aaron had taken the empty cans and walked into the kitchen. He used his free hand to open one of the kitchen drawers close to the refrigerator. Then he dumped the two empty cans into the drawer. Next, he opened the refrigerator and took out two new cans of beer. He was about to walk out of the kitchen when he gave a shout. That brought Frank into the kitchen.
“Sorry for startling you,” said Aaron.
“Why did you shout? You gave me quite a scare.”
“See what I just did, I took the two empty cans, intending to put them into the recycling processor but I stuck them into a drawer instead. The psychological stuff they did to me must be making me forgetful,” Aaron said with an obvious grin.
“Let me throw away the cans,” Frank offered.
Frank opened the drawer to take out the cans. When he removed the cans, he discovered some power packs in the drawer. Aaron was not being forgetful. He was being resourceful. Frank reached in and took out a power pack. That would be used for powering the jammer. Then he disposed of the cans and walked back to the living room with a huge grin.
“Let’s go out to the balcony. I like the feel of the wind,” said Aaron.
The both of them got into the balcony and they sat down. It was really windy outside. Aaron made hand signals to Frank to adjust his seat. As Aaron opened their beers, Frank powered up his jammer. The audio static that the jammer caused would probably be blamed on the wind. The visual flickers that the jammer caused would make it hard for anyone to read lips.
“How did you get this through security?” asked Aaron.
“I just told them it was Chiara’s attempt at art and that I was supposed to bring it as a gift to you from her.”
“They should have picked out the electrical parts …” Aaron started.
Frank grinned. “I made this without the modern parts. I used a quartz crystal and what it does is it creates a very …”
“Don’t explain it to me! You know I was never the type to fiddle around with gadgets. Don’t tell me that you’re going to leave this incriminating thing in my home?”
“If you really want them to think that you’re going to break a little girl’s heart by rejecting her art?”
“All right! All right!” laughed Aaron. “You’re sure that they won’t know that it’s what you say it is.”
“I’ll remove two simple pieces and it would be a just a piece of junk that’s pretending to be art,” said Frank with a laugh.
“Right, Frank, now tell me what you really wanted to ask Hernandez,” asked Aaron.
Frank laughed. “You know me too well, Aaron Evers.”
“I know that you may not approve of my methods, but I managed to get to where the Aurelia was destroyed.”
The old soldier waved his hands. “I’m not going to ask you how you did it because what I don’t know, I can’t reveal.”
“I found out that the area was very much cleaned up after the explosion. I also knew beforehand that all of the parts of the Aurelia would have been salvaged for analysis. Both of us knew that the contents salvaged were not from the real Aurelia. We’d included two gold rings but they did not show up at the initial data. What I found interesting was the fact that there was very little magnetic material at the site.”
“We did theorise that the lack of magnetic metal may have been caused by the conversion of the metal into other compounds caused by the explosion,” said Aaron remembering parts of the conversation they had in Frank’s house just before he was kidnapped.
“Yes,” said Frank. “I tried to compensate for that. At the site, I scanned for all the possible compounds that could have been formed by the explosion. I even scanned for transmutated metals, which is almost impossible to obtain from an explosion in the scale of the Aurelia. I collated the data and I asked Hernandez for a copy of their analysis.”
“He gave it to you?” asked Aaron.
“Of course not the actual thing. I explained to him that I was teaching a course on magnetic asteroids and wanted to use the example of the Aurelia. He gave me the figures for the compounds I wanted. He was quite surprised that I even considered transmutated metals. Of course he gave me the figures of the asteroid and not the Aurelia. I don’t think he breached any confidences. You know what I found out? We still have a mystery on our hands. The amount of material found at the crash site would not have been equal to two asteroids attracted to the Aurelia’s electromagnetic systems. Perhaps for one but not two.”
“What a bummer!” said Aaron. “Wait a minute! This means that ...”
“Yes, the collision couldn’t have destroyed the Aurelia.”
“Then the data we had?”
“The information doesn’t tally up. I don’t think the military really knows what happened,” said Frank.
“Something’s not right here, Frank. If I could get a copy of the actual data of the other probes that were destroyed, we might be able to discover some kind of pattern … some kind of clue …” muttered Aaron going into deep thought.
“Hello! Aaron! Stop it already. We are no longer in the project. The project has been abandoned. Stop trying to get to the bottom of something that we would never have any hope of reaching. If you haven’t noticed, we are considered security risks …”
General Aaron Evers sighed. “You’re right about not being able to reach a satisfactory answer. However, I’m considered the risk. You’ve been exonerated. But yes, we have no hope of solving this mystery. We’ll never know what happened to the Aurelia !”