Chapter 1: Rendezvous with Destiny
As we are returning to Hellene, Edvard delivers a message to our
Commander Cantrel is sitting behind his desk, and announces "FROM CANTREL. TIME TO LEARN OF A NEW CLASSIFIED SYSTEM, USED ON THE >crackle< JACK B. >crackle< GO TO CO-ORDINATES >crackle<735.2, 6928.1, 330.3, 2546.21. >crackle< BE NEITHER EARLY NOR LATE. THE MUNCH IS COMPUTED TO BE JUST CAPABLE OF ARRIVING ON TIME. DO NOT TAKE ACTION UNTIL THE ATTACK OCCURS."
Dafnord can tell the name and co-ordinates of the ship have been patched into the message, but it's clear that it was done by Cantrell, and at about the same time as the rest of the message. Edvard confirms the validity of the message, and that it was sent using the new encryption. He ascertains that it will take us 70.5 hours to reach the specified location. Thoughtfully, Dafnord sends a message to Tom, to be relayed to him via the ranch: "We have been diverted by Cantrel. Get timespace coordinates from him."
Dafnord calls us together and shows us the message. We all glance at the closed door of Licconeten and Bethalto's room. The Munch does time travel; we'll drop the lovers off at the ranch before heading for "the attack."
As we continue on towards Hellene, we consider what we know. The coordinates point to an empty and unimpressive area of space, near the edge of the Ecumen, out in the direction of the Diaspora where the Philippean Empire is. We decide that we should arrive with all our cloaking mechanisms active, even psilence. We look uneasily at Robbie, and decide to give him a psi-opener. It is doubtful that anyone can spot a single djinnish eidolon in the vastness of space (although it would undoubtedly bother anyone who did spot him).
We ask Edvard to arrange our travel so as to arrive in Hellene about Now, and to temporally adjust the next leg of our journey so that we arrive one day out from the rendezvous when the rendezvous is one day in the future. Edvard assures us that he can do this by using seventeen percent over maximum emergency power. Dafnord pauses, and has Edvard check all his systems. Everything is nominal, so Dafnord instructs Edvard to proceed.
Gannar brings up an excellent question: How was Cantrel able to time the sending of this message to us. After much discussion, we decide that, in the future, we must have told him ourselves. We decide that that is good news. Daphne goes and tells Romeo and Juliet their good news.
An hour into our discussions, Edvard delivers a message to our Captain, Dafnord. Commander Cantrel is sitting behind his desk, and announces "FROM CANTREL. TIME TO LEARN OF A NEW CLASSIFIED SYSTEM, USED ON THE O" It's the same message, but it was sent at a different time.
The lightning visit to Hellene goes without a hitch. Dafnord calls the ranch, tells it to prepare for visitors, and asks for messages. He has only a deleted message. He asks Edvard to retrieve it from the house system, if possible. We drop the Blenari at the ranch, explain to them how their new IDs will arrive, give them the number of their bank account (It has a nice balance, our wedding gift.), and instructions on how to get to Pericles when they are ready to start their new lives.
As we return skyward, the pixie asks, "Are we going shopping on Hellene?"
Five voices reply in unison, "No!"
Back on the Munch, Robbie asks Edvard to display the reconstructed message. Commander Cantrel is sitting behind his desk, and announces "FROM CANTREL. TIME TO LEARN OF A NEW CLASSIFIED SYSTEM, USED ON THE O" It's the same message.
We have three days to reach the rendezvous point, which we spend in our usual activities. The pixie exercises her intellectual capacity by learning the complete chemical description of chocolate fruit, so that she can specify it the next time she is stuck in a restaurant like Shawasha's in Requembel.
After a day and a half, a message comes in. Commander Cantrel is sitting behind his desk, and announces "FROM CANTREL. TIME TO LEARN OF A NEW CLASSIFIED SYSTEM, USED ON THE >crackle< JOHNNY B. >crackle< GO TO CO-ORDINATES 894.3, >crackle< 1022.9, 367.3, 2546.41 >crackle<. BE NEITHER EARLY NOR LATE. THE MUNCH IS COMPUTED TO BE JUST CAPABLE OF ARRIVING ON TIME. DO NOT TAKE ACTION UNTIL THE ATTACK OCCURS."
This message has patches atthe same places and refers to a ship of a different name and at different coordinates. We think about it, and decide to continue to the point we are already headed for. Another copy of the "Jack B." message arrives, and we relax.
Finally, the time comes for us to prepare for our timely arrival at an attack. The ship cloaks, and enters psilence. Robbie turns on his psi-opener. The dragon rumbles his dissatisfaction, so Markel quickly turns on his own psi-opener. Meanwhile, Daphne is startled to discover that, despite frantic flapping of her wings, she sinks onto the deck. "Ow!"
She stalks over and joins Salimar and Robbie in the open psi.
Edvard reports that the pinhole generators are still in full working condition. Shortly before our arrival, he reports, "Ships in sensor range." Dafnord has the sensor range extended. Edvard reports, "There is one ship. It will reach the target position at the same time we will."
The ship is long and slender, a shape midway between that of a freighter and a speedster. Edvard reports, "It is transmitting two signatures, sir."
"Go ahead," responds Dafnord.
"One signature is in Jumping Jack's standard code, and one is in the new cipher. The latter is reporting that it is at 'incident minus fourteen minutes'."
Salimar reports three flashes of light in front of the ship.
Edvard reports five signatures, the two original ones, plus "Jot Alpha One", "Jot Alpha Two", and "Jot Alpha Three" in the new code.
Edvard relays a message from Jot Alpha One: "Stand-by. Incident minus thirteen point five minutes." He reports that the three Jot ships are now aft of the Jack B., and arcing away from it.
Ten minutes before the incident, Dafnord announces, "Battle stations." The rest of us look blank, then decide we can at least strap in, preferably in locations where we can watch the ship's monitors.
A new transmission tells us that the Jot ships are now called Nimble, Quick, and Flash. Edvard reports that they are moving exceptionally fast, and are now communicating by chirps, tiny transmission bursts that have the quality of stellar background noise. He says that Nimble is reporting that the Incident will occur in 7.5 minutes, and adds that we will arrive ten to fifteen seconds after that.
Another four minutes pass. Edvard reports that the three chirp-ships have arced around and are approaching the Jack B. He adds graphic images to the image on the screens. We see the Jack B.'s path in blue, ours in yellow, and the chirps as three red lines. He puts in three projected events: (1) time of Incident, (2) time of our arrival, and (3) time when Jots return and intersect the Jack B.'s course.
Tensely, we watch the lines converge. Salimar, aware that something else is about to happen, is already looking well in front of the freighter/speedster when Edvard puts up three green tags aft, and five green tags right where she is looking. Salimar zooms in on one, and reports, "It's a nasty manta shape." We are all instantly depressed; she has to be describing one of the large ships we saw attacking and pounding Destine. We do not change course.
The nearest green ship opens fire on the Jack B. It is Time 1. As it attacks, the Jack B. chirps out an SOS. "Edvard, raise shields. Power up weapons," instructs Dafnord. Two green ships peel off to head for us. The Jack B. takes significant laser damage, despite its substantial shields.
It is Time 2. "Fire at will." Edvard shoots the manta that had attacked the Jack B., doing some damage, then snaps into evasive maneuvers. Two plasma beams miss us. The three rear mantas veer in our direction.
Edvard informs his captain that the chirps are requesting identification. "Send our correct information, in the new protocol," instructs Dafnord. Edvard reports an acknowledgement.
"Nimble to Munch: Do you require assistance?"
The voice of Nimble is heard again. "Flash, Quick. Aft bogies."
As this occurs, the first manta again hits the Jack B., holing it this time. The Munch and Nimble both hit the first manta, and it explodes. Seven to go. The two forward bogies which had been hanging back now come under fire from Flash and Quick, using massive lasers. It is Time 3. We can see the chirps and mantas under extreme modification. The chirps are tiny; they must be one-man fighters. The two mantas are very damaged.
Salimar, still in the slightly dreamy state of an Anticipation, opens an equipment locker, and hands out breathing equipment to everyone. Markel gets two sets, one exceptionally large.
The Munch fires on the two nearer approaching bogies, but misses. They do not; we are holed, and start losing air. Dafnord sends out the repair drones. Robbie, still free of the need for air, joins the repair team of Drones 3 and 7.
Nimble dives up and away; Quick and Flash dive down and away.
"Who are you guys?" demands the voice of Jack B.
Dafnord has Edvard transmit our codes.
"Not you, Munch," is the reply. "You other guys."
The voice of Nimble responds, "Capt. Gordon, I am Mueller. Go to Code 37B."
"What code 37B? Oh." The voice of Jack B. clicks off, then returns using the new codes.
The Munch fires again on the first mantas that attacked it. Both fire, but the first one then explodes. The Munch dodges, but it's not enough, and we're hit twice. Now the formerly laggard mantas at the bow fire on us. The first of them must have been more badly damaged than it knew; it blows up. Edvard nails both of the two remaining forward mantas. Three to go.
The aft mantas head for us. We take the last hits from the forward manta, and lose one of our engines. Dafnord checks; the pinholes are still fine. He broadcasts our own distress call, for the record, "We are under attack by manta ships. We are attempting to defend the Jack B." He attaches an image of the mantas.
"Quick here. Hang on, Eddie!"
Several alarms flare on the Munch. Dafnord announces, "The drive engines are locked. We have lost steering." Indeed, we appear to be starting our own arc. Robbie makes his way to Drive Control, where he finds a melted mass of fiber optics.
"Yee-haah!" transmits the voice of Quick. One of the aft bogies is no more. Quick hurtles past on its outward trajectory.
"Nimble to Munch. Your status?"
"We have no steering, and no lasers."
Flash also zips by, laying a pattern of plasma plumes that the second aft bogie cannot miss. It becomes a cinder. There is one manta left, but we cannot aim at it.
Nimble darts towards us, but instead of flashing by, it matches trajectories with us. "Uuuhhohh," says the voice of Nimble. We guess that the inertia-dampening was not quite perfect.
Robbie ascertains that, although the fiber optics are gone, the control cables are still functional. He opens the junction box and coils. Now he believes that he can control the starboard engine, so he fires it, and calls for Gannar. "Coming."
Edvard manages to fire on the last manta. There is return fire. The thrust from the starboard engine is just sufficient for us to dodge it. Now Nimble fires a pattern of four shots. Only two hit the manta, but it is sufficient to take out a drive engine.
The voice of Nimble orders, "Quick, Flash. Return." Nimble fires a fifth shot, and the last manta explodes.
"What for?" asks the voice of Flash in amused exasperation.
"Jack B. to Munch."
"Go ahead, Jack B."
"What the f--- are you doing?"
"Saving your ass."
"Who are you?!?!"
Dafnord transmits our identification, then asks, "Please report your status."
"I had a crew of 18; 3 are now dead. O I am informed I actually have a crew of 24. Who are you?"
"LeClercq here," says the voice of Quick, while Flash's voice introduces itself as "Rico."
So the Jack B. had some stowaways.
Capt. Gordon of the Jack B. continues. "I have good life support except for the holed cabin. O And there is a radiation leak in a cabin I don't have on this ship." He sounds quite resentful.
Down in Drive Control, Gannar and Robbie, joined telepathically, struggle to bring the Munch's engines under control. Gannar manages to shut them both down. Now Nimble is able to maneuver into our docking bay. As he unbuttons, Daphne comes up to greet him.
She immediately sees that he is injured, and that he tossed his cookies in that last course adjustment; therefore, she calls for a float-y thing. Instead of a float pallet, she gets Kate and Salimar, who gently TK him into the shower in sick bay, still in his flight suit.
As this is going on, Dafnord makes arrangements for the Jack B. to come within range of our projective teleport. Their captain gets a bit miffy about our requirement for an eight meter by eight meter space, but he has his people start clearing out a hold for it.
Clean but still wet, Mueller of Nimble limps out of the shower under his own power. He is grateful to be clean again. Salimar floats him to the bridge to meet Dafnord.
"Do you need aid?" Dafnord asks Capt. Gordon.
"Do you have a doctor?"
"No, we have an autodoc." Dafnord eyes Mueller, and decides that he can go in the little, sleeping bag autodoc. "It's a Grand Asclepius."
"Oh. That will be excellent. Thank you. The area is almost cleared."
Still dripping, our newest arrival salutes. "Johann Mueller here. Commander Dafnord, I've heard so much about you." Uneasily, we wonder if we should offer him a nice dry cracker. He assures us that neither the pilot of Flash or Quick was injured, and then says that even the Jack B.'s captain had not known that they and their ships were on board. We lead him off to be tucked into the autodoc.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.