Miss the last thrilling chapter? Don’t worry, you can catch up Here. Radley shot awake. It was dark. He pulled the long tube out of his mouth and coughed until he was sure his lungs
Miss the last thrilling chapter? Don’t worry, you can catch up Here.
Radley shot awake. It was dark. He pulled the long tube out of his mouth and coughed until he was sure his lungs were working on their own.
He sat up on the cold table. His side still hurt. It was obviously a medical ward, the question was: who’s?
Had the Chryl caught up with them after all?
A bright light lit up the space.
Radley jumped up, raised his fists, and squinted, trying to make out the figure that entered.
“Easy there, Weller, it’s just me.”
The older man came into focus. “The one and only. Now get yourself back on that bed before you make things worse.”
Radley relaxed as he lay down. “How long was I out?”
He winced as the captain peeled back one of the compression pads on his ribs.
“About a week. Looks like you got into quite the scrape.” Gadwall peeled the rest of the bandage back, revealing an ugly yellow bruise.
“Yeah, but I don’t remember that one.”
“You can thank your new friend for that. When we got there she was desperately trying to keep your liver pumping.”
“Apparently something got lost in translation. At least she meant well.” The captain replaced the pad. “Fill me in on what happened after we dropped out of the system.”
“What do you already know?”
“What Hicklepeck told me.”
“Right.” Radley told Captain Gadwall about their encounter with the Chryl gunships, the fight to get free from the troopers, and their escape in the Voyagers’ ship.
While he listened, Gadwall continued to check Radley’s vitals.
“But the worst of it was, after all that, when I woke up, I had the ugliest nurse.”
Gadwall chuckled. “I could get Sweqs up here if you prefer.”
“I take it back, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Well, looks to me like you’ll be all right. Just don’t go picking anymore fights for a while, got it?”
“That’s not really up to me now is it, Captain?”
“I’ll talk to the guy in charge, see if he can keep us out of trouble for a few days.”
“Knowing him, I doubt it.” With a groan, Radley sat up. “Now I think it’s your turn to fill me in.”
“Fair enough.” Gadwall sat on the stool across from him. “Those first Chryl ships chased us for a while, but we lost them in the Molnis Sector.”
“Molnis? That’s pretty populated, you run into any trouble from Manodor’s goons?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle. We took the opportunity to fuel up on the Filtonian’s credit stick, but keep that to yourself, I haven’t told him yet.”
Radley laughed. “Find that lost planet of his and he won’t care.”
“That’s what I’m counting on. Anyway, once we were fueled up, we dropped back into deep space, around the edge of the Halmeenan system, and watched for any signal from you before we tried our daring rescue. Imagine my surprise when we picked up graviton readings the likes of which I haven’t seen since….”
“Trust me, it was a lot worse from the inside.”
“Might not have been if you hadn’t gone and gotten your suit ruined. Those aren’t cheap you know.”
“Why do you think I was still wearing the one I was discharged with?”
Gadwall chuckled. “We’ll deal with that later. Anyway, we got to you within an hour of your signal popping up outside of Chryl space.”
“And the Chryl?”
“Well, some of them got there first. We found two gunships that had been compressed into asteroids and enough wreckage to make a third.”
“There were four when we left.”
“The last one must have been smart enough not to drop into a double gravity-well. Even your ship barely survived the trip. You should’ve heard Hicklepeck whine about that one.”
“I’m sure I still will.”
“Depends on how his research is going. He, Pellina, and Sweqs have been trying to piece together a location for the Voyagers’ planet with the data Hicklepeck was able to recover. They’ve been going practically non-stop since they got onboard.”
“I didn’t know Sweqs cared about the Voyagers.”
“I don’t think they do. But they do like puzzles.”
“So where are we now?”
“Back in deep space. I’ve got Crowe keeping an eye out for any Chryl activity, but so far everything’s quiet.”
“That’s why you’re stuck on medic duty?”
“That, and no one else has a good grasp of human anatomy. Yourself included.”
“Captain?” Crowe’s voice came over the intercom. “You’d better get up here.”
Hicklepeck’s voice was barely audible in the background, which meant he must have been screaming on the bridge.
“Duty calls.” Gadwall turned to leave, but stopped when Radley rose to follow him. “Easy, Weller. Get some rest.”
“Sounds to me like you’ve got a mad Filtonian scholar on your hands. You’re going to need all the help you can get.”
Hicklepeck’s incomprehensible shouting reached them well before they reached the bridge.
By the sound, Radley expected at least one of the puzzlers had resorted to blows. But when they arrived, only Hicklepeck was leaping and waving his arms about. Sweqs stood, impassive as ever, by one of the displays and Pellina had perched on the side of Crowe’s navigational ring.
Crowe pointed a pale gray finger at the Filtonian. “Anyone know how to turn that off?”
“Don’t look at me.” Pellina shifted her wings out of Hicklepeck’s path.
“Hey!” Radley grabbed the mad scholar’s shoulder. “What’s going on?”
The action broke Hicklepeck’s fit and he turned his bulging eyes toward Radley. “You’re awake. Perfect! We’ll be able to go at once.”
“Slow down.” Radley kept his hand firmly planted on the Filtonian’s iridescent blue scales. “You lost us somewhere in the middle of the shouting and the waving. What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying I’ve cracked the code. I know how to find Voyager Prime.”
Gadwall perked up. “Are you sure?”
“As certain as I can be without testing my theory.”
Pellina poked Crowe and the navigational controls. “Then what are we waiting for?”
The captain smiled at Hicklepeck. “You heard the lady, let’s have them.”
“Well, all this time we’ve been working on the assumption there is a direct one-to-one comparison—”
“The coordinates, Hicklepeck.” Radley sighed. “Save the details for your memoir.”
“Oh, right.” He rattled off the numbers and Crowe brought the Broc Mor around.
Other than Hicklepeck, they spent the hours in anxious silence. The Filtonian kept mumbling to himself as he checked and rechecked his display, as though that would make them arrive faster.
No one left the bridge.
Radley tensed when Crowe finally announced they were coming out of the drop.
Between Hicklepeck, Pellina, and Sweqs, there was barely enough room for Radley to see the displays, but based on Gadwall’s expression he didn’t miss much.
“There’s nothing here.”
Hicklepeck’s scales flushed lavender. “Of course, I’m sorry it was my mistake.”
“So you haven’t had a breakthrough and this trip was for nothing?” Gadwall shook his head.
“Not entirely. In my excitement, I forgot to factor in the celestial mechanics of the Voyagers’ system as well. This is where they launched their ship, a thousand cycles ago.”
“In which case, the system should be relatively close. Crowe, scan the nearest stars.”
“On it, Captain.”
Hicklepeck ran a series of complex calculations on his display. “If you just give me a little time I should be able to predict the modern coordinates off of this data.”
“A little time” ended up being another three hours. But at least it was a short drop to the edge of the system.
This time, Radley forced his way through to the display. “I think you got it wrong again, Hicklepeck. There’s still nothing here.”
“Not quite.” Pellina pointed out a massive graviton cluster at the center of the system.
Gadwall sighed. “Atlanta.”
Pellina’s antennae twitched. “What?”
Radley waved her off. “It’s an old Human legend: the lost city of Atlanta.”
“Oh, I know that one.” Hicklepeck beamed.
“The ancient city of Atlanta was a hub of technology, culture, and transportation until it was suddenly swallowed by the sea. Some of my colleagues believe it’s a primitive description of the Voyagers, though personally I never thought the timeline added up right.”
“Regardless,” Gadwall said, “the Voyagers suffered the same fate in the end. A whole civilization devoured by a black hole.”
They stood in silence for a moment.
“I don’t think they were.” Pellina looked up from the display. “See here, the graviton readings don’t match standard black hole configurations. And this fluctuation is almost…mechanical.”
Radley frowned. “We’ve seen what the Voyagers were trying to do with gravitons, maybe something went wrong.”
Gadwall nodded. “Either way, it deserves a closer look. Crowe, take us into the system.”
“Are you sure, Captian?” She twisted her neck around to glance at the displays. “If that is a black hole….”
“We can get a lot closer than this before there’s any danger.”
Everyone shifted as the ship eased closer to the graviton anomaly.
Hicklepeck broke the silence. “This must be why no one ever found the Voyagers’ homeworld. Even if they got this close, early interstellar craft wouldn’t have risked approaching such a dense cluster of gravitons.”
Radley glanced at Gadwall. “Yeah, that would be foolhardy.”
The captain ignored him.
“I’ve got something!” Pellina shouted. “It’s hard to get a fix on through all the interference, but there’s a planet out there.”
“Bring us closer.” Gadwall called to Crowe.
Radley studied the readout as the scanners struggled to pick up clear data. “It looks like the whole planet’s frozen over.”
“Of course, there’s no sun.”
“That’s it! This must be why the Voyagers were trying to create their own star.” Hicklepeck’s scales practically glowed. “I knew there had to be a good reason.”
“If so it didn’t help them.” Radley said.
Gadwall gasped. “Hicklepeck, how certain are you of these coordinates?”
“Well, it depends on a number of factors—”
The captain grabbed the Filtonian by the collar. “How. Certain?”
“As certain as I can be, until we investigate the planet.”
Radley shared a concerned look with Crowe. “What’s on your mind, Captain?”
Gadwall released Hicklepeck and went back to his own display. “There has to be some kind of mistake.”
“What are you trying to say?”
Gadwall flipped the display so Radley could see the data he was reviewing. “Don’t you recognize your own homeworld?”
“This is Human Prime?” Pellina asked.
Gadwall shuddered. “Earth. Its name is Earth.”
To Be Continued…