Flammis map longer

Model of potential landing sites on Flammis.

Dead worldEdit

Leone tried to stop thinking about history and the possible existence of Egypt and stay focused on the boring task at hand... searching a dead planet for signs of life. As his spaceship continued its orbital swing, the 3D model of the planet's surface became nearly complete. There were about a dozen anomalous surface features that the spaceship's artificial intelligence had scanned and flagged and which showed with red highlights in the model that was now being projected into Leone's brain. Leone asked, "Why are most of these surface features red but one is blue?"

The Thot artificial intelligence replied, "All these features appear to be human settlements that were destroyed by man-made explosive devices. The red sites were destroyed many decades ago and appear to have been human bases located on the surface of the planet. The blue site was recently destroyed and appears to have been an underground base."

Leone's heart began to beat very fast. "What do you mean by 'recently destroyed'?"

The machine explained, "The crater is still cooling. The underground base was destroyed within the past few days."

"How deep was the base? Is there any chance of survivors?"

Thot was slow in answering. "The scanners on this ship are designed for use in space. I cannot penetrate the depths of the shattered rock at that site. I believe that antimatter bombs were used and some exploded at great depth. I doubt if anyone could have survived."

Leone muttered, "Too late. We arrive too late." But who could have arrived here just a day or two earlier and obliterated the inhabitants of this little-known planet? And why was the planet attacked twice, once long ago? If this had indeed been a hiding place for members of the Haldus Order, who was their enemy? Why did the Haldus Order have enemies who would pursue them to the death across space and across time?

Leone's spaceship was now completing its first orbit of the planet. Still, there was about fifteen percent of the surface that they had not yet been able to scan, so theoretically there might be some small human base down there that had escaped destruction. Maybe the Masters had used a trick and offered their enemies a false target... maybe the Masters remained hidden at another site, some secondary base deep below the surface. Now that Leone understood the nature of the potential landing sites and that they were all sites of destroyed bases, he had no immediate interest in attempting a landing. He instructed his spaceship to let its orbit stabilize over the location of the recently destroyed base.

The zero g conditions temporarily ended while the Thot spaceship was swinging them into a geostationary orbit above the planet where they could wait for the “Masters” to send them a signal. Assuming that there might be scattered survivors, Leone was now interested in the idea of sending a signal to the planet and asking for permission to land. Leone was about to start transmitting when the spaceship trembled.

Leone and Aristark felt the odd motion of the spaceship and alarms began to sound. They both had imagined that either the planet was dead or the "Masters" were cautiously waiting before revealing this strange event surprised them completely. Although Leone was a veteran of a thousand trips through space, he had never been in an actual space battle. For the past hundred years the galaxy had been peaceful except for a few small single-planet skirmishes and the never ending acts of piracy near the outer borders of colonized space. Leone prided himself on being a great space traveler, but he was not ready for battle. The movement of the spaceship felt like being in the epicenter of an earthquake, but since they were in space they had nowhere to run to. Leone had grown up near geologically active mountains on Sakkara and had been trained from an early age to run out of buildings during an earthquake. But now he was in a spaceship and surrounded by the interstellar void. After a moment of shock, his long past years of emergency training began to guide his actions.

Under attackEdit

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

“What is it?” asked Leone, expecting no reply.

“I have no idea,” answered Aristark, notably scared.

Leone reasoned that if this world had recently been attacked then those attackers might still be nearby. Alternatively, the Masters might still have means of self-protection and they might be attacking out of fear that Leone's ship was here to attack their Order. Leone said to Aristark, “Well, we are under attack, there is no other explanation.” Leone ordered Thot to take evasive action, but the artificial intelligence of the spaceship did not know what to try to evade. Leone started making random bursts of acceleration in a zig-zag pattern away from the planet.

Leone was frustrated by the limited scanning equipment of the spaceship, equipment that was adequate for routine space travel but which was useless for detecting particle beams and other weapons. “But where is the attack coming from? Radar does not show any spaceships around us. Thot has logged some damage to our spaceship, but there are no traces of the aggressor." Leone noticed that their defenses had not activated. "Thot, activate the force field.”

Thot obeyed instantly and activated the protective field. In the next few seconds, the attack continued; it seemed that wild dodging movements could not shake off the attack, but the shields limited the effects of the bombardment. Leone manipulated the available scanning instruments as fast as he could, but he was still unable to detect the source of the aggression. With nothing showing on the scanners Leone was forced to wonder if true “ghost ships”, invisible to normal spaceships, might be in use by the Haldus Order right now... against them. They were continuously being struck by some form of destructive energy and the attack went on and on. The worst thing for Leone was that he could not counterattack; the instruments showed nothing. Leone's spaceship was not entirely defenseless. Sometimes pirate ships dared to attack spaceships, so they were always equipped with ways to use the power of their matter-antimatter engines for both defense and for offense. In his academy days, Leone had been trained in how to fight pirates, but he had never needed that training... until now. The scanners still detected no other spaceship or asteroid weapons platform or projectiles in the surrounding space. Shots hit them instantly, as if they came out of nowhere.

“It cannot be! Thot does not detect anything, it is as if they were confus...”

At that very moment, Leone understood it all. In the beginning, he had thought Sybil was a naive priestess, but what had happened now was confirming her beliefs. It was true that the Thot's sensors were confused... They showed no signal of the source of the attack. And Leone remembered now when Sybil had mentioned that sensors could be confused... by “mental powers”, in her own words. So, that was the warm welcome by Kalid. War!

“What?” Aristark asked, because he did not understand it yet.

“This is the nonsense Sybil said!” Leone shouted. “She was telling us the truth. They are attacking us, but since they possess that 'mental technology' to hide themselves, our sensors cannot detect the projectiles before they are making contact with our defensive shield. Every projectile they fire is protected with some mental shield or whatever it is. They could destroy our entire spaceship and the damn sensors would not see anything at all! Not even Thot's fast response time is of any use for shifting our shield strength to the location of each new impact!" The apparent mystery of the attack was that easy to explain... Leone just had to shift his thinking to include the idea that Sybil had told the truth about "mental powers"...

“Do you need something, Captain? I cannot understand the order” said Thot, in its neutral voice.

“No, Thot. I just mentioned you in third person.”

“Then, are we forced to believe in those 'powers' this way?” Aristark asked. “But, why?”

“Why are we forced?”

“No. Why are they attacking us? We have Sybil's equipment 'on', so they should recognize us...”

“Maybe that is the reason why they are attacking. I feel inclined to think that this is all a trap set for Sybil and me by Kalid. For whatever reason, Kalid wanted to destroy us. Now, everything is very clear to me, we will have to counterattack!”

“What? Counterattack? It is like killing a ghost. Besides, we would be one single ship against an entire planet. We do not even know if they are attacking us from land or space! We do not know the locations of their remaining bases. Any attempt to fight would be a suicidal mission, we are blind and helpless. We will have to flee, that is our only choice.”

“Let's attack first and try to buy some time so that we can think,” As ship's captain, Leone pronounced his decision in a solemn manner, as if he had said the most wise thing in the universe.

And, in spite of Aristark's doubts, they both prepared to make a counterattack. Nevertheless, Aristark thought their counterattack would not last very long; soon enough they would have to flee because the shield created by Thot's force field was weakening, already down to 40% of peak strength after only a few minutes of use! So, they had to act very fast. Each of them made use of a Thot interface in the main control room and they both shot indiscriminately towards the planet using the spaceship's energy weapons. They had no target, but Leone had read about ancient wars on Earth in which "anti-aircraft fire" was blindly used to good effect against unseen bombers over cities. Leone even shot several times "with his eyes closed", without using the targeting system... there was no difference when doing that since there was no target.

Aristark had never bothered to look at the targeting system, he just watched the display of the shield's power level and integrity. As soon as the shield's energy was down to 15%, Aristark got up from his chair, convinced that it was useless to fight and that it was time to flee.

Aristark shouted at Leone, “You are completely insane! I am sorry to say that, but we have no option but to stop the counterattack and flee. It is not like I am a coward; the graviton-damned shield is below 15% and we do not have enough time to repair the generators. I won't help any more in this suicide mission. I am going to escape, right now, in one of the lifeboats. I prefer to die trying to escape than being here, locked in a death grip with an invisible enemy and striking out at empty space like an idiot."

“Go back to your place, Aristark!” Leone shouted, now enraged even more by Aristark than the relentless attack. “Cursed graviton! Now half of the crew has rebelled. If I were alone, I would fight until I had 1% shield's energy!”

“You are very conscious of the fact that you could not escape with only 1% left. I never thought that you, a rationalist and my best friend, had such self-destructive tendencies. Your rage and desire to fight makes no sense. I am not going to continue this useless discussion, bye captain, I leave you to die with your ship”. Aristark made a military salute at this moment and fled from the control room, running down the passageway towards the lifeboats.

Leone did not care to answer, as angry as he was, but Aristark's words finally penetrated to the rational part of his mind. He now noticed that his hands were trembling from the effects of adrenalin in his blood and fear in his mind. He felt as if too much of his blood was in his head and he felt on his face a very strange heat and rolling drops of sweat. Still, it was hard to back down from this fight... if they both had continued firing, maybe they... But, what was he doing? After all, Aristark was right, in some sense. It was something a psychopath might do: just keep on fighting until 1% shield. It was obvious he would not wait until that moment. Leone guessed that the shield should still be near 15%. He moved his attention away from the complex offensive targeting controls and glanced at the defensive shield display: it was down to 8%. Well, he could not take any more risks now, he knew exactly what he had to do in that moment. Since his training in the academy, Leone had an emergency flight program for escape from danger... He approached Thot and loaded the software from his fingerprints. The program was inside his fingers and Thot scanned it like an ancient bar code. Thot loaded it and executed it. Leone also placed an emergency lock on all the lifeboat gates of the ship, to prevent Aristark from escaping. It was not that Leone wanted Aristark to die, but Aristark was, in Leone's eyes, a subordinate who could not disobey him or abandon the the ship without orders, under any circumstances.

In spite of everything, Aristark was completely right, maybe he had saved them both their lives... If it was not for Aristark's insubordination, Leone might have failed to look at the shield's power level before it was too late. And now Leone realized that there was a programming error in the systems of this new type of force field: the shield had not activated automatically and there were not enough pre-programmed set points for Thot to provide alerts to Leone if the shield power dropped. Aristark had performed that vital function and saved the ship.

Leone relaxed into the softness of his chair. Now that the emergency routine was activated they would escape in less than a minute. A shout of fury was heard from down the hall and Leone listened to it with pleasure. It was Aristark, when he discovered that he was locked and forbidden from exiting the ship. Aristark's miniship was completely disabled and he was now stuck in the emergency lifeboat room, helpless. Now a final warning sounded for the impending hyperspace jump. After a few more seconds, they would observe the approach of the intense black of hyperspace, something never fully seen by human eyes....they lost consciousness as the hyperspace jump was initiated. Such loss of consciousness was the usual thing when spaceships made a quick exit to hyperspace from a position too near a planet. The last thing Leone saw in his mind before losing consciousness was the readout for the strength of the shield, he observed: 1%. After that, the entire spaceship transferred its matter to hyperspace, disappearing from the normal space-time fabric.

Back from hyperspaceEdit

The emergency jump through hyperspace involved a serious risk: it was possible that the spaceship might exit hyperspace at a point inside a star and immediately be destroyed. However, after many hours, the matter and energy of Leone's spaceship condensed at a safe location in the universe. In normal practice, interstellar travel involves an initial period of slow conventional travel towards interstellar space, safely distancing the spaceship from any planets or stars. Only then can a long distance hyperspace jump be safely initiated in order to move the spaceship over interstellar distances.

Having entered hyperspace from a position so close to a planet, Leone and Aristark were lucky that all the information about themselves and their spaceship managed to come back from hyperspace. They were doubly lucky not to find themselves inside a massive object like a black hole. Finally, the spaceship's hyperspatial drive itself rematerialized and closed the hole that had allowed communication between hyperspace and the universe of normal space that is familiar to human senses. Moments later, Leone and Aristark woke up, confused and oblivious to the world.

Leone, a veteran of hundreds of jumps through hyperspace, recovered rapidly and felt his thought patterns stabilize. He remembered the battle and his argument with Aristark. He noted that that the spaceship's nanite-based self-repair system was active, but only limited damage was indicated. There were some minor stress cracks in the structure of the hull and few electromechanical systems faults were being reported....all of which could be repaired.

Leone unlocked every door in the ship and waited for Aristark's return to the control room. Leone admitted to himself that he had put the ship at risk. Leone knew Aristark well and he expected a potent burst of complaints and criticism that would make clear exactly how Aristark felt.

Aristark soon entered the main control room, where Leone was waiting for a report from the spaceship's artificial intelligence about their new location. "Cursed you will be," Aristark said, in a low voice. Then much louder: "You are completely INSANE; I can imagine you waited until we had just 1% of shield or even less... Know that this is my last mission with you. I do not want to die yet and I will not follow you on any more suicide missions."

Leone did not want to admit to Aristark that he was right about how close the spaceship had come to being destroyed- that they had reached the point where the ship's shields were down to 1%. Leone simply said, "You are right."

Aristark was a bit surprised at that reply. A dramatic change had come over Leone and Aristark could see no more signs of the enraged warrior who had emerged when the ship came under attack.

Leone continued, "Our best option would have been to have fled instantly upon being attacked at..." Leone paused. He felt the need for a name that could be used to refer to the Green planet where they had been attacked. Its official designation in the astrogation database was just h.1263522.2, so Leone invented a whimsical name: "Plato", short for "PLAnet TwO of star system 1263522". Plato was one of Leone's favorite historical figures from ancient Earth.

Leone continued, "For convenience, I propose we call that planet Sybil sent us to 'Plato'. So, we should have quickly fled from Plato. A single small spaceship like this one, designed only to carry a few passengers, cannot fight a battle against a whole planet. And I now believe it was not even an ordinary battle. It seems that Sybil was telling the truth: there are strange powers at Plato under the control of the Haldus Order...they are using some kind of mental technology or whatever they call it. About my decision to fight...I do not even understand exactly why I did it, I am a bit obstinate, but never have previously taken things that is almost like something took control of me and tried to push me towards my own destruction...."

Aristark suspected that there was nothing magical about the attack on their ship and that the methods used had nothing to do with "mental technology". Aristark thought it was just that Leone did not know what was going on and so he was inventing crazy speculations, including fantastic imagined excuses for his aggressive behavior in fighting back against the attackers. Aristark tried to deflect Leone from his wild speculations, "Maybe you just trusted too much in Thot or the power of our shield." Aristark connected to the spaceship's artificial intelligence and scanned the status of the automated repairs that were now under way.

Leone nodded. He thought: maybe everyone in the galaxy has grown soft and complacent. A hundred years of peace could make people forget the grim realities of war. Upon reflection, Leone realized he had acted like some actor in a space drama. "It is true. I think I must apologize for what happened. I foolishly put our lives at risk."

Aristark tried to put their narrow escape from death out of his thoughts. There was work to be done. "All right. What will we do now? Or, better said, what will YOU do?"


"I have no idea."

Leone finally got the report on their position. The spaceship had been flung up and out of the spiral arm of the Galaxy that held the worlds colonized by humans. The ship's instruments indicated that they were now uncomfortably close to a neutron star, but in no immediate danger. Still, they were now too deep in the gravity well of the neutron star for a safe jump through hyperspace. Leone ordered the Thot ship to proceed at standard acceleration up and away from the nearby star, which was actually a binary system with a powerful x-ray emitting pulsar. Standard acceleration would supply the passenger deck with a force equivalent to standard gravity, although the ship would actually move as if pushed by about 3g of acceleration.

Leone returned his attention to Aristark's question. Leone's first impulse was to contact Sybil and demand an explanation for the "welcome" they had received at Plato, but was that wise? "I am not even sure if we should contact Sybil right now. The attack against us from Plato could have been some kind of trap." But he did not want to believe that Sybil would have knowingly sent him into danger.

Aristark commented, "Well, you can forget about calling Sybil...the hyperspatial communicator is damaged and under repair. It looks like one of the weapons used against us at Plato was an energy beam that specifically ablated the com system's signal generation array at the surface of the ship."

From Leone's training, he knew that was a standard trick used by pirates to prevent distress signals from being sent by spaceships that they attacked. Hyperspatial communication was achieved by ablating a small amount of material from strips of hassium on the surface of spaceships and using the jump engine to selectively shunt the vaporized hassium into hyperspace....that provided a simple and efficient way to send signals to receivers in any of the major inhabited star systems. He asked, "How long will it take to rebuild the hassium array?"

Aristark replied, "It is a low priority repair...about a day, unless we move it up the list."

Leone shrugged, "No, the hull repairs are most important. We need hull structural integrity for a jump."

Aristark tried to focus his thoughts on how best to accomplish the secret orders he had received from Ketar. The trip to "Plato" had not only been a dangerous fiasco, but worse, they had learned nothing about Kalid. Given the remaining mysteries about Kalid in particular and the Haldus Order in general, both Sybil and Kalid might still be of use to the Antiquist Party. So, Leone had to be carefully manipulated so as to satisfy the wishes and orders of Ketar...orders that had been given directly to Aristark and which Leone was unaware of. "A trap set by Sybil? I do not personally think so. I do not trust Sybil, but if we think about it a bit, we must conclude that Sybil could not have betrayed us that way. There was always the possibility that we could escape...just as we ultimately did. I don't think Sybil would risk us escaping and being in position to take revenge on her or her people. If it was a trap set by Sybil it was a very poor trap, indeed."

Leone knew that Aristark had presented a logical argument, but Leone was still worried about "mental powers" and he could not entirely dismiss from his thought the irrational fear that some force had tried to take control of his mind and caused him to put up suicidal resistance against the attack. "That would be the very reason why it would be possible..." Leone added, enigmatically. "However, I think this time you are right; Sybil would not betray us using such an obvious approach. Too many people on Sakkara know that we went to Sybil for help...if we had been killed at Plato and never returned to Sakkara, all attention would have turned to Sybil and her Order. Traitors do not act in daylight, do they? They need to make their mischief in secret, where none can discover them, I guess."

Leone contemplated the available options. The original plan had been to find Kalid on Plato and take him to a meeting with Ketar so that a strategy for fighting Set could be developed and agreed upon. Even though Kalid had not been found, it still made sense for Leone and Aristark to meet with Ketar. Maybe Ketar could rally support from the Galactic Antiquist Party to protect Sakkara from Set. "We do not have time to waste on Sybil and the Haldus Order. I would not want to continue our misguided search for Kalid without a war fleet to back us up. Let's go and meet with Ketar, he will know what to do next. But... what is this? Are you hurt?"

"No, it's just me...a game I like to play," Aristark replied sarcastically. "I like to make holes in my skin just for the pleasure of seeing my blood flow, it gives a meaning to life. Obviously, I am hurt. But, what else did you expect? I got locked inside the lifeboat exit room in the same moment the shield was penetrated..there is damage in that of the lifeboat launch platforms exploded and the debris wounded me. There are cracks in that quadrant of the hull. I'd feel safer if you closed the emergency bulkhead between us and that room. The damage sounded more severe than the self-diagnostics indicate... a crack might grow and be penetrated by interstellar space before the repair nanites get to it."

"Right." Leone ordered the spaceship to clamp into place the emergency bulkhead for that quadrant of the spaceship. Leone then examined Aristark's wounds. It looked like hot fragments of shattered plastic had burned their way into Aristark's arm. Leone could see a fog of emergency medical nanites repairing the damaged tissue, but scars were being left on the surface of his skin and he could not tell what damage existed internally. The medical equipment on the spaceship was limited and full treatment of these wounds would require the resources of a planet or a space station. "Then we will have two missions at Azur, to meet with Ketar and for you to be cured of these wounds."

Now Leone was depressed. He could see Aristark trying to ignore the pain without complaining. Aristark was hurt due to Leone's irrational behavior at Plato, there was no doubt about that. However, Leone did not feel that he was entirely to blame. Kalid was the prime suspect, but Leone could not explain to himself why Kalid would attack. Was it just a mistake? And back to the "mental technology"... maybe it was just conventional technology and agents of the Haldus Order only spoke of mental powers in order to surround it with mysticism... a trick that seemed to be working to baffle and confuse Leone...he was now willing to image that he had lost control of his own mind!

Neither Leone nor Aristark wanted to blame Sybil for the attack. Nevertheless, Leone could not entirely dismiss that possibility. Sybil could have betrayed them... she had only suggested that Kalid might be found on Plato and she had not sounded at all certain or convincing when saying that to Leone. Now Leone could not help wondering if maybe Plato was just a death trap where Sybil could send enemies to meet their death and never be heard from again. Maybe only a miracle had saved them from the trap. No! Hard as he tried, Leone could not imagine Sybil being evil.

The mysterious Kalid was the unknown factor and all doubts should fall upon Kalid. So, if it was his planet, then what motivation would Kalid have for the attack? And the appearance of destruction on Plato...the still hot crater, was that just an illusion created by Kalid in order to draw Leone's ship close enough to attack or was it real? Images of the sickly green clouds of Plato swirled in his mind and Leone felt like he was still trapped in a cloud of unknowns and doubt. To escape this mental quagmire, he tried to open his thoughts and imagination to unseen possibilities.

Was there an alternative way to look at what had happened at Plato, some as yet unimagined interpretation of events that would actually make sense? Maybe there was just some crazy astrogation error and they had visited the wrong planet. After all, how could Sybil have failed to mention that she was sending them to a Green planet? But, no, that was not very likely....the technicians who had installed the Haldus Order equipment on the spaceship had seemed competent and had assured Leone that he would safely reach his destination. Still, Leone had not been comfortable giving up his duties as ship's Captain to a machine....but he had no choice in that matter. The Haldus Order technicians had insisted that they could not tell Leone the secret astrogation coordinates of his destination and that he would have to trust the Haldus Order equipment to initiate the hyperspatial jump.

Leone tried to relax and think clearly. He had to put order to his own ideas and get ready to make a coherent report to Ketar. There would be no way to secure help from Ketar and the Galactic Antiquist Party if he reported crazy stories about "mental powers"....after all, there was no objective evidence for such powers, just Leone's own fears and doubts.

Leone turned his thoughts to astrogation. Due to the fact that they had taken an emergency hyperspace exit, they had been unable to calculate or control the destination of that jump. The term "jump" was used to refer to the mysterious discontinuity when a spaceship entered hyperspace and then re-entered the universe at another distant place...without actually having to travel through the intervening light years of ordinary space. The term had been taken from ancient science fiction novels from the beginnings of that far 20th century, Leone had learned. The word had since been translated to the standard language that was now common through the galaxy, of course. The full name of the process was "hyperspatial jump". Leone thought it was very curious and intriguing that some writers from 500 years previously, before the space age, could have predicted how the jump would actually work. Hyperspace travel was not much different from what could be read about in the ancient novels of speculative literature.

Leone had even collected some of those classic science fiction novels, in original format, something the ancients had called a book. It was something small, portable, made from plant fiber and it could include several hundred pages of text inside... although not as much as the information you could store on a single memory chip, even back in the times of the early computer age. Leone's thoughts drifted to the first time he had held a paper book. Sybil, as a historian, had a small personal collection of books that had been printed on Earth. One day she had handed Leone her copy of Reflections on the Revolution in France, a copy that had been printed in 1982.

Leone fondly remembered the day Sybil had taken him to two shops that sold antiquities, including books. These days, very few people actually possessed books since everyone could read content using small flexible screens which could store entire libraries in their molecular memory units. Screens had search commands and quick-links to chapters, making them very useful and portable, too. The advantage of the more modern medium was that it was not consumed by age, heat or humidity, as often happened with paper books. In spite of the problems with paper, Leone enjoyed having a collection of those old books.

Leone tried to stop fretting about Sybil. All his memories of her were warm and pleasant, and he simply could not accept the possibility that she had sent him to a secret world in order to make possible a sneak attack on his spaceship. As pleasant as it was to think about Sybil and their old times together, Leone forced himself to concentrate on his duties as Captain.

Leone proceeded to make use of Thot's virtual reality interface to begin preparing the ship for hyperspace travel, this time towards Ketar's planet. First, he observed its location, now 1200 parsecs distant. When someone made an emergency exit to hyperspace, the spaceship could re-enter the universe at a random point, most often in a 2000 parsecs radius, although that was just an average value that was related to typical densities of matter within the boundaries of the spiral arm of the galaxy where humans had spread between the stars. Distance did not matter for the duration of travel through hyperspace, if it could really even be called "travel". Zero time elapsed between entering and exiting hyperspace. The unavoidable delay that was associated with the jump was caused when all the matter and energy of the spaceship had to materialize again. Only information could enter hyperspace, there was never any conventional energy or matter in that domain. When the information that coded for a spaceship re-entered the universe, the universe had to restructure the position of each particle for them to be in the same state of quantum uncertainty they were before the jump. Since there was a huge amount of particles the process could take a long time, or, in the worse case, an infinite amount of time if the original information was scrambled and could no longer be correctly re-assembled.

When hyperspatial travel was a new field of science, early experimenters saw entire spaceships come back from hyperspace with many structural errors and humans seldom survived the trip. The first hyperspace travelers who did survive only lived a short time with symptoms of several mental illnesses including epilepsy and other abnormalities like panic attacks. Those neurological changes were usually irreversible since the structure of their brains had not been rematerialized accurately. As jump drives improved, the remaining problems of the jump process affected only molecular level details such as the structure DNA, with the side effects being multiple chronic illnesses such as cancer.

At the beginning, during the initial rush to send humans through hyperspace, there had been pressure for quick results from companies, governments and famous politicians. However, the more subtle dangers from using hyperspatial jump technology resisted quick fixes and politicians formed committees of investigation and special councils and finally voted to forbid hyperspace experimentation involving human beings until certain safety guarantees could be met. For a period of time, human volunteers were turned away and scientists were ordered to stop human experimentation and so for many years they had to use only laboratory animals due to public concern over the matter. After years of hard and long work, the technology for hyperspatial jumps was finally perfected and safe enough for human use.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that this new field of science had finally produced a technology that was safe to use, hyperspace had never been understood thoroughly. Some theoreticians argued that our entire universe could function as a big quantum computer. They went on with this analogy by saying that the matter and energy of a spaceship, which was an analogue to a data structure or software object with all of its computational processes and internal objects, was transferred to hyperspace... but it was not actually the matter and energy which was transferred; it was only the information about them. When the information traveled through hyperspace and got to its destination, the universal computer moved that information, similar to copying or moving a file on a computer network. So, the computer transferred the information of the spaceship to their new position and, therefore, it had to place every particle in such a way that it would reflect their original uncertainty in position, forces and energies surrounding them.

Hyperspatial travel was a vastly complex extension the old quantum process of transferring matter, quantum teleportation. The first task scientists faced initially was finding a way to detect the position and energies of every particle of a spaceship in order to make a copy of them. But, as had been demonstrated long before, particles and their states cannot be just copied using some kind of a matter replicator because when measuring the position or momentum of a particle in order to copy it, the particle's information was altered or even destroyed. The trick was to perform a transformation that shifted the structure of a spaceship into a new form that existed only in hyperspace. Most of the scientific work involved in making hyperspatial travel possible turned out to be mathematical. Scientists kept on doing research on those topics until a new field of mathematics was born... the one they needed to solve the equations of hyperspace and in that way the science of interstellar travel was finally born.

A 1200 parsec jump to Azur would have been a remarkably long jump under normal conditions. Travel over that kind of distance typically required two or three jumps, one after the other. Most trips between inhabited worlds took place within the high star density of the galactic disk. But Leone's ship had been thrown clear of most stars and up to the edge of the spiral arm that was home to humanity, up where star density was much lower.

Leone saw that the stellar patterns would allow a journey of a single jump to Azur, as long as they could get far enough away from the nearby neutron star before initiating the jump. Leone and Thot worked at the calculations and finally a stable solution started to emerge. Almost a dozen more hours of standard one g acceleration would be required to get clear of the disruptive gravitational influence of the nearby star. Leone made the best of that delay for eating and getting some sleep.

The next day, Leone spent some time modifying the autodefense program. He debugged the routine for automated shield activation and he added some pre-programmed set points for warnings about decreases in shield strength. He had been a fool not to check on those systems after the last upgrade to Thot. Well, perhaps "fool" was too harsh...decades of not needing weapons systems naturally led to sloppy procedures. The new shield warning alarm sounded immediately upon being put online, so he had to manually over-ride it. The shields had not yet been regenerated. He could do that here in space, but it would mean further delay. Since they were heading towards the safety of Akara, at the heart of the colonized worlds, Leone decided to not worry about the shields and pirates. Regenerating shields could be accomplished most efficiently in a planetary facility like Ketar's spaceship docks on Azur.

Leone added one more routine to the autodefense sequence; an evasive action program. Leone never again wanted to find himself just sitting in a geostationary orbit taking fire like a sitting duck.

When the spaceship finally reached a comfortable distance from the neutron star, Leone finished the calculations, helped by Thot, and then he ordered the artificial intelligence to start the hyperspatial travel sequence that would shift their position in space towards Azur... all 1200 parsecs in a single jump. Leone activated the restraint system of his chair. Even though this was a carefully calculated jump, there were always some uncertainties in travel through little known regions of space. Some nearby unidentified object could, in a random way, generate some extra inertia for objects inside of the spaceship. If items, and particularly people, were not tightly tied down, an unexpected speed difference between ship and ship contents could sometimes be so large that when re-entering the universe a person would be killed. In every room of a Thot spaceship there were restraint chairs, so Aristark, still in his cabin, did the same when Thot announced the coming hyperspace jump. For a few seconds they both sat waiting for Thot to start the jump. They tried to relax, felt a sudden acceleration and fear and they winked out...


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