Heliosphere 2265 - Volume 2: Between Worlds (Science Fiction) - Andreas Suchanek - ebook

Heliosphere 2265 - Volume 2: Between Worlds (Science Fiction) ebook

Andreas Suchanek

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At a newly established research station on Mars, technicians from the science academy have begun to examine the mysterious fractal. Catastrophe strikes when the artifact reveals its powers during an inspection by Admiral Skolberg and Captain Cross. Meanwhile on board the HYPERION Commander Ishida is faced with a conspiracy by Michalev's allies to undermine her position. A conspiracy that could cost her everything ... 2013, 2014 and 2015 nominated for the German Phantastic Award in the Category "Best Series"

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Mars, 26 December 2265, 07:00 hours
Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, 26 December 2265, 07:30 hours
Mars, 26 December 2265, 08:00 hours
Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, 27 December 2265, 09:00 hours
Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, 03 January 2266, 19:00 hours
Space station SOL-22, 13 January 2266, 21:00 hours
The President’s Office, London, 13 January 2266, 23:05 hours
Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, 13 January 2266, 23:55 hours
Alorasul (Capital of Narl IV), 15 January 2266, 11:30 hours
Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, 16 January 2266, 12:00 hours
Kuiper Belt, 17 January 2266, 00:10 hours
Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, 19 January 2266, 08:30 hours
Heliosphere 2265 monthly
Heliosphere 2265
Volume 2
„Between Worlds“
by Andreas Suchanek

Mars, No Man’s Land – Sector 2, Science Council Research Station, 26 December 2265, 07:00 hours

The mobile scanning unit came to a halt with a whirr. Its blue, red and green beams flickered briefly and then vanished. With an audible hiss, the door slide aside. Jayden stepped cautiously through the opening into the station’s primary research lab. Descending three steps into the chamber, he almost stumbled at the sight of the bustling crowds contained within.

White-coated technicians scuttled about like worker bees swarming around their queen. Engineers from the Science Council stood in groups at various consoles about the chamber, pointing occasionally to their data pads as they discussed their work. Jayden’s arrival was not remarked upon; a fact that he found quite agreeable.

Behind him, the bulkhead hissed as it opened again.

“Here we are then”, said Admiral Skolberg. Straightening his uniform jacket as he did so, the admiral joined Jayden on the steps. “It’s an impressive sight, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is, Sir. And they put this together in just a few days?”

Skolberg smiled. Letting his eyes wander across the room, he stroked his beard with his right hand as if lost in thought. It was a habit that Jayden had often witnessed. “The administration is good for a surprise every now and again. You just have to hold a loaded gun to the right heads.”

Jayden laughed. The admiral, who had appointed Jayden to the command of the HYPERION, had a keen sense of humor.

The new interlink cruiser had been attacked by Parlid vessels on its first tour. Not only had Jayden and his crew won the battle, they had also captured an extremely dangerous artifact. And that was what brought him here today. “Where is it?”

“Follow me.” Skolberg grew serious again.

Together they cut a path through the swarming technicians. The circular chamber was crammed with display screens, consoles, scanning stations and holotanks. Five go-pods connected the chamber with labs on the lower levels. The walls were lined with maps of Mars that were now positively ancient. A glance at the border markings showed that some dated back to the Freeman Dictatorship. Jayden flinched to find himself treading the same ground as Freeman’s murderers some two hundred years ago.

Skolberg stopped at one of the go-pods. A blue beam issued from the lens set in the door, scanning Jayden and the admiral in turn. With a ping the doors slid aside, allowing them to step inside. 

The admiral tapped the icon for the lowest level. “As you know this complex contains more than just one research station from the Freeman era. The evaluation of the data has long since been completed, but the government chose to preserve No Man’s Land as a memorial. The bio-domes have not been repaired and nothing has been built here since.”

He paused for a moment.

“The old research stations”, the admiral’s tone revealed his repugnance, “also remained intact. And while I may have my reservations, their occupation and use by the Navy was the only plausible option. Their close proximity to the Science Council’s primary research facilities also means that we have access to some of the best minds in their respective fields.”

“I guess the end does justify the means occasionally”, said Jayden. Setting aside the dark memory of its history, the station really was nothing more than another abandoned complex. So why not make use of it? “What has happened to the PROTECTOR?” Jayden shuddered at the memory of the ghostly vessel – a drifting grave for all but one of its crew. The hapless Lieutenant Larik. Jayden had used the light cruiser to transport the artifact back to the Solar Union.

“It is undergoing maintenance as we speak. A new crew will be assigned to the ship in a couple of months and it will return to active duty. I read in your report that the repairs to the HYPERION are complete. Your new ship certainly took the Parlid torpedo barrages in its stride.”

Jayden nodded. “It was a close thing though. Too close for my taste.

Have you heard anything more about the Parlid that we retrieved?” During their mission, the HYPERION’s crew had discovered a live Parlid in a stasis tank on board the PROTECTOR. Despite waging a long and costly war, followed by extensive diplomatic talks, humankind knew next to nothing about the Parlids. The discovery represented a unique opportunity to learn more about this alien species.

“I moved fast enough to ensure that the investigation of the artifact falls within my jurisdiction. But as for the Parlid ... well, someone beat me to it.”

“Michalev.” Jayden spat the admiral’s name with unconcealed contempt.

Skolberg nodded.

The go-pod slowed to a halt and its doors opened to reveal a smaller version of the main chamber, similarly crowded with technicians and research equipment.

 Jayden barely noticed the scientists at their consoles. The entire wall facing the go-pod was forged from transparent steel. Behind it, the fractal floated, held in place by some invisible force.

Tess Kensington, the HYPERION’s tracking officer, had identified the object as a fourth level Menger sponge; a cube comprised of 160 smaller cubes and riddled with a multitude of quadratic hollow spaces. Its surface was formed from a material similar to onyx.

Jayden let his eyes wander across the surface of the object. A chill ran through his body and he felt as though he was falling into a dark abyss. “There is something very uncanny about that thing. How have they neutralized the radiation?” He was deeply uncomfortable with the decision to examine the fractal on Mars. It had already proved itself capable of depopulating an entire planet.

“Our scientists have wired an array of shields in series, but you know that from the report that I forwarded to you of course. From what I gather, the trick was – in a nutshell – to refract the radiation waves.”

“I hope that no-one was killed figuring that out?”

“No.” The admiral shook his head. “It’s hard to believe that a cube measuring 30 meters on each side could annihilate the entire population of a planet. Not to mention the crews of the Parlid vessel and the PROTECTOR.”

“Whatever that thing is, it poses a huge threat.” Jayden turned his back on the fractal. “Some of my officers recommended that we destroy it. I’m not sure that bringing it here was such a good idea.”

“We have it under control. That’s all that matters”, a voice called out. A thickset man of ample girth pushed his way towards Jayden through the crowded lab space. His belly was a rare sight in an age of genetic sculpturing and nano enhancements. “You have sacrificed a lot in the name of science, don’t let your base instincts – and fear is a base instinct – lead you astray. You made the right decision, Captain Cross.” The man’s tousled snow-white hair was ruffled every which way, lending him the appearance of a mad genius.

“And you are...?” asked Jayden.

“May I introduce”, Skolberg gestured to the scientist, “Doctor von Ardenne. He is the director of the fractal project.”

Jayden shook the man’s hand. “I’m pleased to meet you, Doctor. Hopefully you will be able to unlock some of the fractal’s secrets. Preferably without the need for any more sacrifices at the altar of science.”

Jayden’s provocative comment caused the doctor to frown, but he refused to be drawn into a debate. “We are doing everything necessary to protect the Solar Union from harm. There will always be a price to pay when it comes to the riskier end of science. But I assure you, Captain Cross, we know what we are doing.”

“I have no doubt about that.” Jayden shot a piercing glance at Admiral Skolberg. Diplomatically, he chose to keep his opinion of the doctor to himself. “After all, you are toying with a power that we haven’t even begun to comprehend.”

“What are your latest findings, Doctor?” The admiral cleared his throat. “I think we’ve covered the key issues for now.”

“Actually, we have discovered something that gives us cause for concern.” Von Ardenne led them to the holotank in the middle of the room and called up an image of the cube. “Two sides of the fractal appear to function as contact points. We’ve been able to identify a host of variations across two radiation spectra in these areas. These areas also feature microscopic faults – hairline fractures if you like.”

“Do you think that fragments of the artifact have been removed at those sites?”

“Well, it is just a hypothesis”, von Ardenne was quick to assure them. “But it does seem likely. We have to consider the possibility...”

“Doctor!” One of the laboratory assistants rushed to his side. “The radiation levels are spiking!”

“What?!” Von Ardenne wheeled about and hastened to one of the consoles. “That’s impossible!”

“What’s happening?” asked Admiral Skolberg. “Von Ardenne, give me a status report at once!”

Jayden cursed under his breath when the scientist failed to react. Putting civilians in a military facility was always a recipe for disaster.

After what felt like an age, von Ardenne eventually responded. “The level of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the fractal is climbing. The object is heating up – its ultraviolet radiation emissions have doubled and continue to rise. If my interpretation is correct ... That’s inconceivable!”

“Von Ardenne!” Skolberg was ready to grab the scientist by the collar and shake some sense into him.

“Phase radiation!” The scientist looked up from his console. “It’s... it’s transmitting data on the lowest phase frequency.”

A look of bewilderment crossed Jayden’s face. With the exception of the HYPERION, all of the Solar Union’s space craft - and all known alien races for that matter - used phase space for faster than light travel. The Union also operated a phase-coms relay chain within its territory, which was used for interplanetary communication.

“What kind of data?” Admiral Skolberg’s voice was concerned.

“That’s an excellent question and I wish that I could answer it”, replied von Ardenne. “It’s transmitting small data packets, but the data itself doesn’t make any sense. I presume that it’s encrypted.”

A flickering light behind him caused Jayden to turn about. Inside its chamber, blue arcs of electricity flared from the surface of the fractal as it interacted with the shields enclosing it. Cracks began to appear.

“We have to evacuate now!” Doctor von Ardenne was all but screaming now. The doctor clearly had no intention of sacrificing his life in the pursuit of knowledge.

Jayden shook his head. It is too late.

The fractal’s glowing form dazzled his eyes. A wave of black light flooded the room, gripping Jayden like a steel claw and blotting out all trace of reality.

*

Space Port Mars III, Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, Commander Noriko Ishida’s Personal Quarters, 26 December 2265, 07:30 hours

Noriko stood – her body relaxed – in the middle of the room. She had deactivated the lighting. The only source of light in the room was the glow of the space port’s navigation lights, which filtered into the room through a porthole. The HYPERION was still at its berth. Captain Cross would probably receive their new orders during his meeting with Admiral Skolberg.

Letting her mind wander, Noriko danced gracefully through her t’ai chi form as one movement flowed into the next. The ancient Chinese martial art was a practice that strengthened the body and the soul.

Noriko paused for a moment to study her emotions. Her soul was like a raging sea whipped up by a storm. She couldn’t let go, couldn’t relax.

Again and again her thoughts drifted back to Admiral Michalev. She had told Captain Cross about the events that had led to her assignment to the HYPERION. The about the web of corruption that the admiral had woven and which she had revealed several years ago. Michalev had somehow survived the scandal unscathed and had hounded her ever since. Sometime later he arranged for her assignment to the INCEPTION, where his henchmen did everything they could to make her life hell. In the end, a tragic mistake by the ship’s captain resulted in the death of numerous officers. But the crew stood by their captain and the bloody debacle was pinned on Noriko.

Admiral Skolberg was her only remaining ally; it was he who had ordered her transfer to the HYPERION. But Noriko was under no illusions. Michalev was a force to be reckoned with. Even now he would be plotting to bring her down. Rumors about the loss of the INCEPTION and her role in its destruction were already rife on board her new ship. There was nothing she could do about it.

But at least Cross knew the score. He wouldn’t be caught off guard when the time came. Like anyone who stood between Michalev and Noriko, he too would have to weather the admiral’s fury.

She fought again to calm her nerves – and lost. She shook her head with a sigh and gave up. Her watch didn’t begin for another hour. But what could she do to distract herself in the meantime? She decided to head to the command bridge early. Instead of brooding over the past, she could attend to the reports and queries stacking up in her personal memory cluster.

“Alpha 365 to Commander Ishida”, the emotionless voice of the first security officer sounded on the intercom.

“Ishida here.”

“Commander, a physical altercation occurred on board about half an hour ago. I am holding the antagonists in my office.”

“I’m on my way.”

A physical altercation? Such a quaint euphemism for a brawl. The few fights that occurred on board were usually on the recreation deck and were invariably swept under the carpet.

Putting her training robe aside, Ishida slipped into her uniform. A go-pod delivered her to the office of the ship’s genetically engineered head of security within minutes.

“Commander”, the broad-shouldered officer with dark blond hair greeted her. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“It’s not every day that a fight breaks out on board a Space Navy vessel.” At least not among crew members on active duty. “What happened exactly?”

Alpha motioned to a bench where a young marine – in his early twenties she guessed – and a bridge officer were seated. 

Noriko gasped in surprise. “Lieutenant Walker!” Noriko stared at Bruce Walker in disbelief. Walker’s outstanding abilities had earned him a place at the secondary tactical station on the bridge, where he managed the flow of data to Lieutenant Commander Akoskin’s console. “Gentlemen, would you care to offer an explanation?”

Walker pressed his lips together grimly. The marine – identified as Private Burg in the report that Alpha 365 handed her – offered her an awkward look before joining Lieutenant Walker in silence.

“They have both refused to reveal any details”, said Alpha 365. “According to witnesses, Lieutenant Walker made a number of insulting remarks about senior officers of this vessel, to which Private Burg took offense and assaulted him.”

Noriko caught the meaningful look in Alpha’s eyes and understood the inference. So that was why he had called her rather than the officer of the watch. Lieutenant Walker had made a remark about her and Private Burg had sought to defend her honor.