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An example of the type of thought experiment or ‘Blue Sky’ thinking encouraged by Janus is Holonomy faster-than-light communication. Originally just a musing idea but one based on emerging technological knowledge and experience it has slowly evolved over many years into a working hypothesis.  

 It may be an unachievable goal but the concept is worth exploring in the hope that future technology will eventually enable a breakthrough in interstellar travel. Besides there is the raw excitement of pushing our thoughts and methodologies into impossible realms to achieve discoveries in all fields of science we can’t begin to imagine or anticipate. To quote physicist Jeff Kimble:-"If you know what you're doing, don't do it!"

     

HOLONOMY

 

Holonomy is a geometric effect that occurs as a result of a trace-out circuit over the surface of a sphere. This effect is not limited to tangible objects but can occur in abstract formats in the quantum realm.

 By analogy, the surface of a sphere can be said to represent a ‘DOMAIN’ within which quantum effects may be regarded as waves whose characteristics are determined by parameters, or physical quantities, that can affect the construct of the ‘DOMAIN’. In the case of a photon such a parameter might be its polarisation (i.e. the direction of its propagated field). Holonomy quantum systems can exhibit different ‘phases’ in their initial and final waveforms even though their systems begin and end with the same parameter values. As a result, when these systems return to their starting point they are ‘out of phase’. If radio signals emitted by the spin of aligned atomic nuclei are subjected to magnetic pulses the nuclei oscillate between spin states and emit ‘phase-shifted’ signals.

 The same behaviour might be said to occur if modulated radio signals initiated in a nothing-faster-than-light DOMAIN ‘A’ could be phase shifted into a nothing-slower-than-light DOMAIN ‘B’ via a special Parallel Inductor. This induction would generate a Holonomy phase-shifted faster-than-light signal that would tunnel with oscillating oriented projection from DOMAIN ‘A’ to DOMAIN ‘B’.

 Parallel Induction is said to occur when parallel signals in DOMAIN ‘A’ are anti-parallel to signals in DOMAIN ‘B’. ( A violation of the exclusion principal in DOMAIN ‘A’ is conserved in DOMAIN ‘B’ )

   

  HOLONOMY MODEL

A tunnelling Holonomy phase-shifted faster-than-light signal is analogous to electron tunnelling in a Quantum Effect Transistor Device as differences in applied voltages (i.e. switching) can be closely controlled. Resonance switching between peak amplitude and valley produces incoherent modulated signals in DOMAIN ‘A’ that are propagated on coherent faster-than-light carrier waves in DOMAIN ‘B’. Switched resonance polarised propagation in DOMAIN ‘B’ at peak amplitude permits signal tunnelling. At valley no tunnelling or resonance occurs. When a signal approaches the boundary between two DOMAINS it experiences a change in it’s propagation velocity. When it enters the nothing-slower-than-light DOMAIN ‘B’ it experiences an attractive force and the signal speeds up. When it enters a nothing- faster-than-light DOMAIN ‘A’ it meets a repelling force and slows down because the energies encountered from nothing-slower-than-light DOMAIN ‘B’ to nothing-faster-than-light DOMAIN ‘A’ are higher than vice versa. This means that in a signal crossing the boundary from one DOMAIN to another the change in signal strength is equal and opposite to the difference in energy levels of the DOMAINS. Orientated projection allows the signal to be directed from point-to-point over vast distances as the same orientated point represents the initial and final DOMAINS. As the faster-than-light signal propagates in DOMAIN ‘B’ where nothing can slow down to the speed of light (a ‘Tachyon’ Domain) no violation of physical laws in DOMAIN ‘A’ can occur. Each DOMAIN encompasses the signal as ‘real time’ propagation within its own space-time continuum. Thus almost instantaneous communication might be achieved over light-year distances throughout the Cosmos without violating the principal of causality and time evolution.

 

 

Research on Holonomy superluminal signalling has entered the 'Proof of Concept' stage by investigating the possibility of utilising the quantum properties of Solitons in switched resonance Holonomy phased shifted faster-than-light signals as Soliton phase-shifts are constant over time, distance or frequency; thus propagation diffusion is not a problem.  (continuing..... 03.03.2017)

 

THE ROLE OF SCIENCE FICTION

Speculative science fiction writing, whether pure fantasy or extrapolation of existing or near future technology, has played an important role in advancing the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Many examples come to mind including recent work by Heath Rezabek, founder of 'Project Astrolabe' on long term archival strategies and future technologies. Other projects in this vein include 'Black Sky Thinking' and 'Vessel' archives. The late Arthur C Clarke's contribution to the genre is acknowledged as seminal in encouraging scientific and public awareness of future possibilities leading to engagement in all fields of technological experiment and exploration of ideas, hypothesises and opinions.

Many areas of human ingenuity and speculation are covered by authors of science fiction including possible interspecies communication, information theory, artificial and /or astrobiology intelligence, superluminal velocity and communication, time travel and so on... it's a long list of talented imaginations.

The short story hosted on this site has no pretensions to literary merit or evolving character profiles but examines a range of future technological possibilities; ''Star Dreaming' or just 'Day Dreaming' !  Enjoy..............

 

 

 

A SWITCH IN TIME

 

(A SCIENCE FICTION STORY)

 

BY

 

ROBERT ANDREWS

 

 

 

The mid 26th Century. 300 years of Inter-Stellar space exploration from earth has failed to locate signs of other intelligent civilizations. The Academy’s spaceship Stellar 111 has disappeared into a ‘Black Hole’. A search and rescue mission is planned using a sister ship, Stellar IV. Academician Darin and his assistant, Geril, who is also his wife, join Commander Karlon and his crew on board the spaceship. They find themselves warped into an alternative Universe and soon discover some interesting and amazing facets of existence on the other side of time.

 

 

Copyright. (1989). & (2008)

All rights reserved in all countries.

 

The Author, Robert Andrews, asserts the moral right to

be identified as the author of this work.

 

 

  AUTHORS NOTE. 

 

This story was compiled from an old manuscript found in a junk shop. Very little is known about the original author, Robert Neverdidmuch, except he is believed to have written the original in 1789 whilst serving time in the stocks at Aldbury, Hertfordshire, for having avowed in public that there were Fairies living at the bottom of his garden.

 

R.A.

 

 

The only way to find the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.

 

 

ARTHUR C. CLARKE

 


 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

—1—

 

Commander Karlon was confidently relaxed. Experience had taught him the art of interpreting and swiftly assimilating incoming data. Everything was looking good.

 

Beside him on the Bridge, Merik listened intently to audio signals coming from deep inside the spaceship. Older than his Captain by a decade Lieutenant Commander Merik’s dark complexion indicated a man born and raised in the artificial environment of I0 1, largest of the Academy’s orbiting satellites. The magnificent vessel they commanded was the result of five hundred years continuous improvement in design and capability and a far cry from those clumsy rocket propelled space capsules that wallowed from Earth to the Moon and back in the middle of the 20th Century.

 

Merik smiled to himself; he knew his Grandfather would be watching their departure for the Tamis beacon. The old fellow had commanded the first prototype Stellar spaceship sixty years previously and lived to tell the tale. Trouble was he never stopped telling it!

 

“Cryogenic computers engaged.”

 

Karlon’s voice interrupted his thoughts. Glancing at the visual display on his consoles, he noted the numeric readings and the automatic sequence counts.

 

“Navigation symmetry systems coordinated.” continued Karlon, “Master over—ride to external control”.

 

“Tachyonic communicators locked, targets engaged”, replied Merik.

 

The master computer’s disembodied voice echoed in their ears. “Sixty seconds and counting, good luck Stellar IV”.

 

Sounds flat, thought Karlon; computer voices were all the same; articulate, uninteresting and, some said, plain boring!

 

Coloured laser-ranging rings glowed; red - amber - green – blue - violet; directional stability indicators flashed; the low hum of electronic and Tachyonic activity filled the ship.

 

“Undocking sequence completed; - five seconds - four - three -two - one - zero”, droned the controller.

 

Stellar IV vanished from the base station screens. Its trajectory illuminated for a brief second by a kaleidoscope of Newtonian rings..........

 

   

—2—

 

A massive range of Ice Mountains reared across the horizon like rugged junks of sharks’ teeth, luminescent against a background of starlit blackness. Tamis could hardly be described as beautiful, but a certain kind of grandeur infused its landscape. Having two small orbiting moons enlivened the vista from time to time. The Planet was of strategic importance to the Federation and the Academy had spared no expense in equipping the colony with every conceivable facility, including laboratories that were considered the finest in this sector of the Galaxy.

 

Darin had risen early. An important conference between heads of departments had been convened for this morning and it was essential that he allow himself time to revise his recommendations to include the latest updated Tachyonic co-ordinates.

 

Tachyons! That word brought back memories of Darin’s student days. In Ancient Greek Mythology, Tachyon was the God of Flight - Fleet of Foot — Lord of Inter—Stellar Space. 20th Century scientists had used the word to describe a particle attributed with the ability of travelling faster than light.

 

Hurrying from the accommodation level Darin summoned a transporter and was carried swiftly towards the administration dome. He always enjoyed this journey even though it only occupied a few minutes. The bionic gardens were dazzling at this time of day. Flooded with high intensity light, the lush colours of the fruit and vegetable plantations always pleased him. He smiled to himself as he watched the small cultivator robots scurrying to and fro. These busybodies always amused his wife, Geril. She was his laboratory assistant and took a professional interest in the gardens. One day when he had time to spare he was going to suggest modifications to the robots’ programming. They were inclined to be possessive and resented assignments to other duties!

 

Darin looked through the glass wall at the bleak Tamian landscape. No doubt there was a lot to be said for artificial environments. People born in them seemed to prefer the conditions and tended to avoid planetary atmospheres; during his career Darin had served on several satellites but he still preferred the atmosphere on earth. Planetary engineering had made the climate on the home planet very pleasant and somehow fresh air always seemed more invigorating.

 

Arriving in his laboratory Darin began work on the latest data received overnight from the central computer complex. It was on his recommendation that Tamis had been selected as the navigation location point for Stellar IV’s journey and he was acutely aware of his responsibility to provide the spaceship with precise Tachyonic co-ordinates.

 

As he worked he reflected on the difficulties of travelling and communicating across vast distances of inter-stellar space; a problem that had always intrigued the human mind. It was amusing to read in the history books of 20th Century scientists sending radio signals to their space probes on arriving in their offices in the morning and receiving replies eight hours later, just as they were finishing the day’s work; and this from only as far out in the Solar System as the planet Pluto!

 

Gradually the underlying principles of Tachyonic Science had been discovered and developed, enabling almost instantaneous communication between Galaxies. There had been setbacks during the long experimental period. Scientists had blundered up many blind alleys before the breakthrough in thought and application was achieved. Momentous discoveries had been made from simple propositions. It had been suggested by some obscure student, working alone, that ‘Black Holes’, (those mysterious places in the Universe where it appeared that the volume of a crushed star had been reduced to zero while its mass remained unchanged) were, in essence, the beacons of progress.

 

This same unidentified student of long ago had proposed that as well as large Black Holes, whose gravitational fields were so strong that even light was unable to escape, there were ‘worm holes’ with negative mass entrances that might point the way to inter-stellar voyages of short duration.

 

 A feature of ‘holes’, large or small, was the existence at the centre of their structure of a ‘pointed’ infinity, arising from the compressing of matter to an infinitesimal compactness. This resulted in a balancing of forces and a re-distribution of matter towards an inverted periphery, thus forming a different polarity at the point of equilibrium. At this periphery was a vacuum cavity zone providing a ‘window’ or ‘skip’ where space ships might traverse vast distances across the universe.

 

These ideas led to research into Tachyonic propulsion systems but the technical difficulties were formidable. New metals and manufacturing techniques were evolved, culminating in the design and construction of the Stellar class of spaceship, with Tachyonic propulsion systems employing powerful super­conductive lasers compressing highly charged particles on pulsed Tachyonic carrier waves with directional spin and linear stability. This Tachyonic engineering accelerated the vessel through inter-galactic space at phenomenal speeds.

 

One previously insurmountable problem was the knowledge that at speeds approaching light velocity the life span of occupants in spaceships would slow down relative to their colleagues left at base stations. Voyages of many centuries would seem quickly accomplished to those on board. Unfortunately on their return to base they would discover that thousands of years had passed and their colleagues and loved ones would have vanished.

 

Tachyonic flight solved this problem. Journeys could now be undertaken throughout the galaxy and beyond with the knowledge that a return to the ‘present’ would be a certainty. Navigation was simplified by contraction and orientated projection. Galactic space charts were produced which automatically compensated for any uncertainties.

 

It was generally assumed by scientists at the Academy’s research centre that  large galactic black holes were boundaries between opposing universes. At such a boundary there was a mutual field membrane composed of naturally generated high energy tachyons that appeared to run backwards in time depending in which universe (A or B) the observer inhabited. Thus in a Universe ‘B’ negative to the observer the ‘interface’ would occur at the apex of a protruding black hole. While the view from universe ‘A’ would be exactly the opposite - i.e. from point  at the end of the vortex.

 

The historic journey about to be undertaken by Stellar IV and her crew had been the dream of the Academy for as long as anyone could remember. Although extended voyages around the Galaxy had been accomplished and new colonies founded, no evidence had been found of any intelligent societies. Even journeys to nearby galaxies had failed to find other civilisations, although many different types of biological and plant life had been discovered. It was mystifying, baffling and unexpected. Then, suddenly, the spaceship Stellar 111 had disappeared while returning from a routine deep space mission.

 

Darin remembered the incident well. It had happened one afternoon a couple of years previously. He had been on duty in the communication centre monitoring Stellar 111’s trajectory across a nearby space quadrant. Everything had been completely normal.  No Stellar spaceship had ever been lost — or was ever likely to be lost! Suddenly the vessel disappeared. Half a million earth tons of spacecraft and its entire complement of 400 hands had vanished!

 

All the elaborate plans to deal with just such an emergency were put into operation but no trace of the ship or her crew had ever been discovered. A full-scale enquiry had been held with the President himself taking the chair. Every member of the Galactic Federation was represented throughout the months of investigation that followed the disaster. No conclusion as to the fate of the spaceship had been reached other than a supposition that Stellar 111 must have suffered a catastrophic malfunction of her propulsion and navigation systems.

 

A few months after the enquiry had ended an unmanned sub-light freighter had been specially adapted for Tachyonic flight and sent to the space coordinates occupied by the spaceship at the time of its disappearance. This craft conducted a thorough sensory investigation of the region returning with a large amount of data. Darin and Geril had been evaluating this information for some weeks using a computer model of the disaster area. It was painstaking work. One afternoon after a particularly difficult session, they were checking the results of further mathematical analysis when they noticed a small abnormality had appeared in the background resonance calculations. Darin recalled that a similar abnormality had been detected in the space quadrant occupied by L.M.C.X.3. This was a well-known Black Hole clearly marked on all the space charts. It had been discovered hundreds of years ago in the large Magellanic Cloud, the nearest Galaxy to the Milky Way, and some 180,000 light years away from Earth. During his student days Darin had been a member of an expedition that had spent some months surveying this Black Hole. He remembered the trip as an interesting one but very little new knowledge had been obtained as to its structure or composition. For one thing it was very dangerous to approach too close and unmanned probes were used to map the surrounding vortex. He looked up his notes made at the time and using some of them Geril re-wrote the parameters of the computer model they were using to investigate the disappearance of Stellar 111.

 

After further study they were convinced that a very unusual incident might have occurred in the region of space where Stellar 111 had vanished. This situation was known in scientific terms as a ‘Fold’. It had been theoretically predicted by the Academy’s space research section and was very difficult to explain in simple language. The best analogy was to imagine the surface of a poo1 of still water being disturbed by a small whirlwind, which suddenly evolved above it and then disappeared. This momentary disturbance would cause a ‘fold’ in the surface tension of the water. This ‘fold’ would immediately close up and vanish as the whirlwind subsided and disintegrated. An insect on the surface of the water at this exact spot would be trapped in the ‘fold’ and sucked under. If space were substituted for the surface of the water and Stellar 111 for the insect then the disappearance of the spaceship might be explained.

 

Darin and Geril produced a joint report of their hypothesis and presented it at a full meeting of the Council. The subsequent debate attracted a great deal of attention in the media. If they had correctly diagnosed the fate of Stellar 111 then a major breakthrough in scientific knowledge as to the structure of the Universe would have been achieved. The possibility that Stellar 111 had been warped into some other dimension of space and time became more plausible as investigations into the mystery continued. Vast computer power was made available to the researchers culminating in a comprehensive report to the Council signed by all Academicians.

 

 The conclusions reached in this document were revolutionary. All predictions indicated that Stellar 111 could have suffered a dimensional warp as suggested. If the ship was still intact Commander Jaret and his crew might still be alive. This last conclusion provided the incentive for a momentous decision. The Council decreed that a search and rescue operation should be attempted. All the resources of the Academy would be made available to mount such a formidable undertaking and the Board of Admiralty was instructed to carry out the mission.

 

Stellar 1V was the latest addition to the Federation’s Fleet and had successfully completed several deep space explorations. Commander Karlon and his crew were the most experienced mission specialists available. The Admiralty had confidence in their abilities and in the performance of the spaceship and was unanimous in commissioning the vessel to undertake the venture. Commander Karlon was an outstanding officer. Although junior in rank to many Captains in the fleet he had spent fifteen of his thirty-five years voyaging in space and had gained a reputation as a resourceful and successful leader. Of medium build with dark brown hair and fresh complexion he was intelligent and agile. His voice was soft and his general demeanour relaxed but those who served under him were aware of how resolute and demanding he could be in any difficult or dangerous situation

 

To prepare the spaceship for any eventuality modifications to the external guidance systems were developed and installed. Hundreds of computers worked day and night re-calibrating the on-board navigation symmetry systems. Tachyonic propulsion and retard power was doubled and all-important locking channels increased by a factor of ten.

 

After eighteen months of hectic preparation Stellar 1V was ready to begin her journey. During this mornings conference Darin would receive permission to release the final co­ordinates of the target ‘Black Hole’ to Commander Karlon. Seconds later the spaceship and crew should be transported into another time and space.

 

Yes! - It was a very important and historic day................

 

 

—3—

 

 

On board Stellar 1V Karlon relinquished command of the Bridge to Merik. He was about to visit several important section commanders. As he rose from his position he heard a communication from base.

 

“Stellar 1V this is Central Control”.

 

Merik glanced at Karlon who had remained standing alongside his command couch. The Captain nodded to Merik who replied to Control.

 

 “Go ahead Central”.

 

“Academicians Darin and Geril have been assigned to accompany your mission. They are leaving Tamis by Ferry at 11.00”.

 

“Roger Central Control, understood”.

 

Merik glanced at the digital display on his console; the couple should be aboard within three hours.

 

Karlon was pleased with this news. It was obviously a last minute decision by the Council to include Darin and his wife on the mission. They were personal friends of his and would enhance the expertise available to him on board ship. He would have plenty of time to complete his rounds before they arrived.

 

Although all sections of the ship were easily accessible by visual links Karlon knew that a personal visit by the Captain was appreciated. For this mission the crew had been reduced to two hundred and fifty souls, much to the chagrin of those crewmembers that had to stand down. Karlon had agreed to this reduction, it was a sensible precaution and would not impair the efficiency of the ship.

 

The Chief Yeoman, Lieutenant Freyer, met him at the entrance to the Communication Levels. She was one of many female members of the crew and Karlon knew she was highly qualified for the rank and position. This would be the third voyage they had made together. Freyer respected her Commander. Looking at him this morning it was difficult to detect what was going on behind his smile. She thought it would be hard to pick him out in a crowd but she realised he possessed the authoritarian attitudes of a man who knew his own mind and was used to being obeyed. For all that he had an attractive personality and she understood why the Council trusted his judgement.

 

“Are your new toys behaving themselves Yeoman?” asked Karlon, returning her salute.

 

Freyer relaxed and smiled. “I’ve no complaints so far captain”.

 

They entered the operations room, a world of quiet capability. Karlon looked at the neat racks of consoles. No matter how many times he came to this section he was always surprised at the lack of noise or visual activity although he knew it required a good deal of skill on the part of Freyer and her team to keep the communication systems at peak efficiency in spite of the sophisticated equipment.

 

Freyer led him to her command desk. The ship’s information and navigation control computers, internal and external logs and Cryogenic computer controls were monitored from this position.

 

The main and ancillary solitonic radio transmitters were operated from adjacent consoles as well as the directional locking channels where billions of co-ordinates were evaluated and synchronized every trillionth of a second to maintain the spaceship’s stability. The induced gravity field was displayed on magnetic gyro graphs while laser ranging rings and polarity indicators flashed across the sequence counters. Life support and bionic condition monitors scanned every part of the ship with minute precision. All these functions were entirely automatic but selection could be a matter of human judgement and on this mission with its unknown and unpredictable hazards vital decisions might have to be made by Freyer with speed and professional expertise.

 

“I see you’ve brought your mascot along”, laughed Karlon, picking up a small doll with pigtails and a spotted dress he saw lying on the desk.

 

“She’s a stowaway, Sir. If she gives me any trouble I’ll lock her in the brig!”

 

Karlon smiled. It was nice to hear old nautical terms still being used in the fleet. Nurtured over the centuries they created the right atmosphere on board and were good for morale although he doubted if he could have found a ‘brig’ on his ship!

 

They inspected some new search and ranging monitors that had been installed during the past few weeks. Karlon asked about the capabilities of this equipment and Freyer answered his questions. If Stellar 111 was still intact this apparatus had the ability to locate and lock on to the missing spaceship. Finishing his inspection Karlon was satisfied that Freyer and her team would perform their duties to the best of their abilities; obviously everything was shipshape in this section, including the Lieutenant, who always looked smart and efficient in her uniform. Karlon remembered dancing with her at the paying off ball after the last voyage when she looked stunning in her mess gown. After wishing her and her staff good luck he left to inspect the lower levels.

 

The propulsion deck was some distance from the main part of the spaceship and was almost a separate world. Karlon felt at home there. He had begun his career as a junior engineering officer on board the Space-Cruiser, Tarus 11. The Tarus classes of cruisers were the workhorses of the fleet. Twelve of them were in commission and were used on a wide variety of duties; from ferrying important politicians, diplomats and scientific personnel, to delivering urgent supplies to remote colonies of the Federation. It was while acting as first officer on Tarus VI that he was introduced to Darin and Geril. They were passengers on the space-cruiser and were returning to Earth after a sojourn on Stanos, an artificial planet in sector Seven. He had been deputed by his Captain to show them over the ship and it was the beginning of a lasting friendship.

 

The propulsion section of Stellar 1V was under the command of Engineering Ensign Ledra. He was a warrant officer of experience and distinction and was due for retirement in a couple of years. Karlon had especially requested his appointment for the mission. No other officer in the fleet possessed his knowledge of Tachyonic engineering.

 

Karlon entered the flying bridge of the section and returned Ledra’s salute.

 

“Not much longer Mr. Ledra, everything to your satisfaction?” he enquired.

 

“Aye Aye Sir,” replied Ledra. We have replaced a deylon counter in one of the pulse stabilizers otherwise everything is working normally.

 

“Do you have the revised pulse settings?” he asked, glancing towards the visual display consoles.

 

“They’re coming through now Sir”, replied Ledra. “The deflector shields may have to be re-calibrated, the automatic scan is being updated continually, and I’ve plenty of power to call on.”

 

“Very well Mr. Ledra”, replied Karlon. “I have just received news that Professor Darin and his wife are to join us”, he continued. “I was hoping they would be allowed to come but the Council were obviously in two minds about authorising their presence on the mission; still I’m pleased we shall have them on board.”

 

“That’s good news Sir”, replied Ledra. “It’s some months since I last saw them, will they have the final co-ordinates?”

 

“Yes, I suspect that’s why they are coming; it’s imperative the calculations are correct and I know Darin wanted to be personally responsible for implementing the final countdown

 

Whilst talking they had walked onto the viewing gantry overlooking the power bay. Karlon was impressed by the sheer size of the particle generators. Encased in super-conductive cores the huge lasers with their fan shaped directional thrusters reminded him of scallop shells. Banked in fluted tiers like some grotesque cathedral organ, a low hum belied their awesome power. Trillions of Tachyonic pulses streaming from these thrusters gave Stellar IV colossal acceleration enabling the spaceship to travel through inter-stellar space hundreds of times faster than the speed of light. Ensign Ledra had been involved in re­designing the pulse generators and other modifications completed prior to this flight had doubled power output. Trials of the updated thrusters had proved satisfactory and he was confident that maximum performance would be maintained under any exceptional space conditions Stellar IV might encounter.

 

Karlon was aware that excellent judgement and practical experience had given the Ensign an unrivalled prestige throughout the Fleet yet he remained a disciplined and uncomplicated man. For his part Ledra had never felt at home in the Wardroom, preferring to concentrate on his Tachyonic engineering skills instead of climbing up the promotion ladder. He had great respect for Karlon’s rank and position as Captain and he knew that Karlon reciprocated professional respect.

 

“Well Mr. Ledra, she’s a fine ship”. Karlon spoke the words with feeling as he addressed the Ensign with a confident smile.

 

“Aye Sir, she is” replied Ledra who was proud of Stellar IV and his mess deck. This mission would make a fitting finale to his service career.

 

“You’ll stay for Lunch Sir?”

 

Karlon was pleased at this invitation. It would provide a short period of relaxation for both of them.

 

“Thank you Mr. Ledra, I should like that. I’ll finish my rounds and be with you in half an hour, my compliments to your staff”.

 

They exchanged salutes and Karlon made his way across the ship by internal transporter capsule to the Medical Section. Although many diseases that afflicted the human race had been eradicated there were still unknown medical dangers in space. This section was responsible for maintaining a constant internal and external search for any unknown pathogens or signs of distress among the crew.

 

In charge of this section was Professor Wayne who was Head of Research at the Academy’s Space Pathogen Laboratory. The Council had made his appointment to Stellar IV. Karlon was not acquainted with the Professor but he raised no objection to the decision to include him in the ship’s company although it meant leaving the spaceship’s own medical officer ashore. Some compromises had to be made on the manning levels for this mission.

 

Professor Wayne came to greet him and Karlon was soon at ease with this unusual individual. At 28, Wayne was very young for an academic professor. Small, rotund, florid and animated, with one of the most original medical minds the Council had ever come across, he was a walking encyclopaedia and very excited at the prospect of a voyage into unknown medical territory. Karlon spent some time inspecting the Professor’s experimental equipment for identifying any new pathogens but confessed to himself afterwards that Wayne’s explanations and descriptions sounded intelligent and interesting but needed a fellow medic, not the Captain of a spaceship for a listener!

 

Karlon’s last call was on the Armoury. Although no weapon had been fired in anger for almost two centuries Stellar IV had several sophisticated offensive devices, including a disintegrator beam for long-range engagements. Lieutenant Adel was in charge of this section. His duties were mainly supervisory. The armament systems being fully automatic were under the direct control of the Captain. Karlon and Adel checked the operational status of the weapons. Since there was no way of predicting what might happen during this mission Karlon authorised a practice firing which proved to his satisfaction that Stellar IV could defend herself if necessary.

 

He returned to the propulsion section and sat down to lunch with Ensign Ledra and his team. It was an informal affair with a lot of good humour and banter about ‘little green men’ and such like. No one present was under any illusion as to the underlying seriousness of their quest. In the whole of recorded history no other human enterprise had attracted so much talent, expertise and breathtaking audacity. Ledra listened while Karlon explained to eager young faces his complete confidence in the Council’s decision to accept the advice of the finest scientific brains in the Federation that a successful warp through a ‘Black Hole’ could be achieved with safety. There was a high probability that Stellar 111 had remained intact, and, hopefully, was still operational. He pointed out that no debris had been found at the time of her disappearance, which should have been the case if the ship had disintegrated.

 

This pleasant interlude was interrupted by Merik’s voice over Karlon’s communicator.

 

“Tamis Ferry is approaching the docking bay Captain

 

“Very well”, replied Karlon. “I’ll stand by to receive them”.

 

He rose from his seat and look leave of his hosts.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen I have enjoyed your hospitality, I know I can count on you and wish you all the best of luck”.

 

“Same to you Sir”, was Ledra’s reply quickly endorsed by the rest of his team. He escorted his young commander to the transporter shaft. Then, with mixed feelings of excitement and tension, it was back to duty.

 

Karlon entered the docking bay. The Ferry was visible on the viewing screen, its hull a silver shadow lit up intermittently by prismatic colours as retro- manoeuvring beams were fired to control the approach and decent trajectory. A few minutes later the vessel glided smoothly alongside, latched onto the airlock retaining clamps and was drawn through the docking tunnel, coming to rest by the disembarkation ramp. Karlon walked forward as the cabin door slid silently open and Darin and Geril stepped smiling from the interior of the Ferry.

 

Geril looked stunning, as usual, thought Karlon. Tall, with blonde hair, blue eyes and wearing a close fitting brown frock, its square neckline and short sleeves showing her figure to best advantage, she was a perfect example of her Nordic ancestry; beside her Darin looked equally distinguished. He was tall like his wife, with jet-black wavy hair, greying at the sides and had the reputation of being a smart, intelligent and positive individual. He and his wife made a good team, domestically and professionally.

 

“Hello!” exclaimed Darin. Nice to see you

 

“And you”, replied Karlon, shaking hands.

 

A crewman stepped forward to relieve them of their hand luggage and they all made their way forward to the bridge. “You’ve caused some excitement Darin”, said Karlon, “I never expected the Council to agree to your request to come with us”.

 

“Neither did I”, replied Darin, “But in the end I convinced them that Geril and I would be of more value to you here than stuck on Tamis”.

 

“And no way was I going to be left behind!” laughed Geril.

 

They reached the bridge and Merik rose to greet the scientists. He thought that Darin and Geril had both put on a bit of weight, all that soft living on Tamis!

 

“Take over Mister", said Karlon, addressing the duty officer. “And ask Yeoman Freyer and Ensign Ledra to join us in my quarters”.

 

“Aye Aye Sir”.

 

Relaxing in the Captains s lounge Darin produced the final Target co-ordinates. All present were assured by him that the proposed warp had been carefully re-evaluated that morning. He was convinced it was entirely feasible and would be successful. Stellar IV would be locked into the ‘eye’ of the target ‘Black Hole’. Using the automatic on-board laser rangers and symmetry systems the polarity of the ship would be reversed the instant she crossed the central interface membrane. This was an ingenious and daring concept and everyone present understood the risks involved. After half an hour of further discussion the meeting broke up but not before Karlon had ordered Merik to the cocktail cabinet.

 

“Break open some fruit juice number one, I think a toast is in order

 

“Aye Aye Sir, I’ll go along with that”, smiled Merik.

 

The hum of conversation ceased a few moments later as Karlon raised his glass; “Ladies and Gentlemen, to a successful voyage and a safe return”.

The company repeated his words and downed the toast, it was time for action and the waiting was over.

 

At 18.00, with the crew closed up, the spaceship was poised at alert status. Console indicators showed Karlon that all sections were ready and waiting for his signal. He was about to give the most important command he was ever likely to make. He was ready, the ship was ready and all systems indicated GO. He nodded at Merik.

 

“Order the automatic countdown to begin”, He commanded.

 

Merik spoke to the voice activated sequence control computer.

 

“This is Merik. You are commanded to GO on Stellar IV warp Alpha”.

 

“Acknowledged; GO on Stellar IV warp Alpha”, responded the computer.

 

Darin glanced sideways from his couch at Geril. She smiled at him reassuringly. This was the moment they had worked, planned and waited for. In front of them Karlon and Merik watched the numeric counter pass the abort threshold. In the communication section Freyer made a last minute adjustment to her retaining harness. On her lap she held the small doll in pigtails.

 

“Ten seconds and counting” droned the control computer.

 

All systems were green. The countdown continued.......

 

Nine - eight - locking channel co-ordinates were confirmed – seven - six. -  Gravity gyroscopes came to maximum balance - five - propulsion came on line - four - three - navigation symmetry systems and calibration units focussed on target – two – one - zero.

 

They were GO on warp Alpha!!


 

CHAPTER TWO

 

—1—

 

Ensign Ledra looked at the directional stability counters; they were indicating a retard factor approaching the Gamma scale; he had never experienced a read-out of such dramatic proportions. The particle accelerators had shut down automatically as Stellar 1V crossed the interface membrane of the ‘Black Hole’. There was no sign of any abnormal stress on the spaceship’s structure; power consumption of the deflector shields remained constant. The deylon counters immediately corrected an overload warning on the pulse stabilizer. Ranging lasers glowed violet. Instant comprehension told Ledra the vessel’s polarity had been reversed, as predicted. Tandem instrumentation on the Bridge would show identical information to the Commander. Ledra could see Karlon and the others on the visual screen. They were motionless on their couches.

 

Seven seconds had passed since Zero and retardation was still increasing, it was now well into the Gamma range. A sudden overloading of the deflector shields brought the automatic circuit repair units on line, the power drain was enormous and for a split second Ledra thought Stellar 1V was in danger of disintegrating.

 

Then, in an instant, the spaceship returned to normal operation. The particle accelerators came back on line and power banks quickly returned to maximum capacity.

 

In the communication section Freyer noticed the Tachyonic telemetry system had ceased transmitting, severing contact with Central Control. As this had been forecast it did not alarm her. Navigation symmetry systems and internal communications were functioning normally. She initiated a wide frequency search; might as well find out if anyone was listening!!

 

On the Bridge and throughout the spaceship, Karlon, Darin and the rest of the crew realised that the warp had been successful and congratulations came over the intercom, especially for Darin and Geril. The scientists were surprised at the length of time it had taken Stellar 1V to retard through the inverted vortex. Calculations had predicted five seconds, in the event it had taken eight, obviously the magnitude of the ‘Black Hole’ had been misjudged.

 

Karlon activated the external scanners but the view on the screens proved disappointing. It looked very familiar, with the usual background of starlit blackness. He had just turned to speak to Darin when Freyer’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

 

“Captain - Freyer”.

 

Karlon detected a note of puzzlement in her voice, or was it excitement?

 

“Yes Lieutenant”.

 

“I’ve an Audio contact on 112.4 tachs. That’s the beacon frequency of Tamis”.

 

Karlon glanced at Darin and Geril; they looked startled at this report.

 

“Are you certain?” asked Karlon.

 

“Positive” came the reply.

 

“Patch it through”, he ordered.

 

The sound came over, loud and clear. There was no doubt about it; they were listening to the Tamis Tachyonic Beacon, the starting point of their mission a minute or two previously.

 

“Perhaps its some sort of delayed echo?” suggested Geril. Karlon passed the suggestion to Freyer.

 

“No Sir”, she replied. “I’ve carefully checked all parameters, it’s the beacon alright”.

 

Darin studied the visual scanning screens and realised why the view looked familiar; it was familiar!! He turned and spoke to Karlon.

 

“It’s the view from the Tamis beacon!” he gasped.

 

Going to the main computer terminal he demanded a re-appraisal of the visual screens.

 

They watched the image dissolve and re-appeared. A printout confirmed the visual sequence. There was no error; they were definitely looking at a space panorama that could only have been projected from the location position of the Tamis beacon.

 

Karlon spoke to Freyer.

 

“Contact Central Control, ask them to triangulate their plot and confirm our position

 

“I’ve been trying to do just that Captain”, replied Freyer. “I can’t get through on any frequency although I’m receiving normally on all channels.

 

Karlon turned to Darin and Geril.

 

“What do you make of it?” he enquired.

 

Darin shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “I don’t quite know Karlon, there’s something amiss somewhere!”

 

Geril meantime was busy at the main computer terminal. She wasn’t quite sure what she expected to find out but a re-run of the Telemetry Transmissions prior to polarity reversal might be useful. She was surprised to find there was no record of them in the memory banks. She ran the request again, with the same result. Negative! The records had somehow been erased which meant they had no information on the ship’s behaviour during the warp. She told the others.

 

“I’ll check the internal logs”, said Karlon.

 

He commanded the computer to produce the log printouts. Negative! - Nothing! — Only the last few minutes had been recorded. He spoke to propulsion.

 

“Is everything normal in your section Mr. Ledra? He enquired.

 

“Aye Aye Sir although I had a fright when the shields overloaded” replied the Ensign.

 

“Yes so did we” said Karlon. “It seems all the logging information has been obliterated. You’re quite sure there’s nothing abnormal or unusual in the Deylon counters?”

 

“Quite sure Sir”, replied Ledra. “Everything is indicating Normal operation”.

 

“Thank you Mr. Ledra, stand by”. Karlon spoke again to Freyer.

 

“Is there any sign or sound of Stellar 111 Yeoman?

 

“Negative Sir”, replied Freyer, “And I’m still not getting any response from Tamis Tower or Central Control”.

 

“And you’re satisfied all the equipment is OK?”

 

“Yes Sir absolutely”

 

 “Very well, stand by Yeoman

 

Karlon was thoughtful. A careful assessment of the spaceship had revealed nothing abnormal, all systems were working correctly. He looked at Darin and Geril; it was reassuring to have two of the best brains in the Academy on board. If he could have read Darin and Geril’s thoughts right then perhaps he would have taken a different view. They were both baffled!!

 

“If we are where we are and not where we should be, or thought we might be, then where the heck are we?” said Geril, expressing her thoughts out loud.

 

Merik thought her utterance was very apt and precisely summed up the events of the past few minutes. After twenty years in the Service he wasn't easily moved by drama on the Bridge or anywhere else, perhaps he was getting old! He felt uneasy, but it was an amused uneasiness. It was difficult to analyse his feelings exactly.

 

Darin re-appraised the events experienced during the warp. It was guesswork without the records that should have been recorded during the vital seconds of the journey and it was difficult to come to any firm conclusions. The spaceship may have been repelled in the attempt to penetrate the ‘Black Hole’. The resulting stress and abnormal resonance forces might have produced a ‘Tachyonic Halo’; this could have damaged the Cryogenic memory banks and prevented transmission. Then there was the problem of the polarity reversal. This had apparently occurred as predicted. He checked the background resonance; at three degrees above absolute zero it was normal. External probes examined minute dust particles; at 1000 Angstroms they were normal in size and weight. He spoke to Professor Wayne who had nothing unusual to report. A feeling of disappointment rose within him and was suppressed. After a lifetime spent investigating and experimenting he had become master over a whole range of technical disciplines. Speculation was one thing; actuality another he must start thinking in positive terms. He turned to Karlon.

 

“Commander; if Miss Freyer is unable to make contact with Central Control perhaps Geril and I should return to Tamis and make a personal report? I am not sure that we can make any other decision under the circumstances

 

It was difficult to hide his exasperation. No scientist liked his calculations and assumptions being called into question and he could imagine the critical comments of his colleagues at the Academy on his return.

 

Karlon had been thinking on the same lines. Something was amiss and the sooner they were enlightened the better.

 

“I agree with you Darin”, he said, “The situation is confusing to say the least”. He turned to Merik. “Prepare to swing out the starboard Launch Mister, I will return to Tamis with our Guests. Ask Yeoman Freyer to join us in the departure bay in twenty minutes and put up a visual of Tamis on the screens.”

 

“Aye Aye Sir”, replied Merik.

 

Darin, Geril and Karlon studied the visual picture of Tamis very carefully. At maximum resolution the planet was clearly visible. It had no atmosphere to obscure their view and Darin checked its angular momentum and position coordinates. Nothing wrong with them! He and the others could hear transmissions on several frequencies emanating from Central Control and Tamis Tower. Freyer’s equipment was still working at full power, but with no response. It was obvious they were not getting through.

 

While Merik supervised the preparation of the Launch Karlon returned to his quarters and changed into travelling rig. Action stimulated him and he wasn’t feeling quite so piqued as his friends. Unusual occurrences were a fact of life in deep space travel. He had learnt to expect the unexpected a cliché that was very familiar to him after many strange experiences over the years.

 

He returned to the Bridge where Darin and Geril were still at work on the spaceship’s computers.

 

“Well we’ve checked every source code and programming parameter we can", said Darin, "And we’re still in the dark”.

 

Karlon nodded.

 

“OK, you can’t do more now”, he said. “Has the Launch been swung out?”

 

“Aye Aye Sir”, replied Merik. “Final checks being run now.

 

 “Good, let’s get going”, said Karlon.

 

They made their way to the departure bay where Freyer was waiting. The Launch hung motionless from its Davits. This small but sophisticated craft belied its old fashioned name. It had a range of capabilities and performance that made some old fleet spaceships still in service look positively cranky!

 

On board the vessel Karlon explained the interior control and communication layout to Darin and Geril. He then initiated the automatic countdown and after a few minutes the Launch slid forward through the air lock; the outer shield doors swung open and the craft disengaged; accelerating away from Stellar 1V on course for Tamis.

 

2

 

Looking back through a porthole window Geril saw the impressive profile of Stellar 1V recede. For the second time in one day she found herself travelling through space. Closeted in research work with Darin she rarely travelled anywhere except during vacations. Freyer came and sat beside her and she began to relax. She was used to conversing with Service personnel although she doubted whether she would have made a good officer herself. The discipline and long tours of duty imposed on the crews of Federation Spaceships was alien to her concepts of a happy domestic environment.

 

Karlon sat at the command console with Darin. After checking the status indicators he selected manual operation. It was good to feel the Launch respond under his hand as he took over control. Being the Captain of a spaceship he was used to commanding a large and prestigious vessel but here was a different world; smaller, compact and less intimidating than his usual lofty status. From time to time he tried to contact Tamis control but without success. The journey was uneventful and after nearly three hours they were approaching their destination. He turned to Darin.

 

“Tamis is only a few hundred kilometres below; I’m preparing to descend we shall soon find out what’s happening down there”.

 

 Darin had been silent during the greater part of the journey and merely nodded his head in response to Karlon. He was as anxious as the rest of them to land back on Tamis but instinct warned him that something untoward might result. There was no reason as far as he could make out why signals from the Launch had been ignored by the planet, especially as they were receiving transmissions normally on board. He reasoned that any Tachyonic or Electronic ‘Halo’, which might have affected Stellar 1V during the attempted warp, should have cleared by now.

 

Karlon spoke to his spaceship.

 

“Merik this is Karlon, do you copy?”

 

“Loud and clear Captain”

 

“We are approaching Tamis, everything is looking normal but there has been no response to my transmissions asking for permission to dock, see if you can raise them”.

 

“I have been trying constantly since you left Sir, but I can’t get through”.

 

“OK Understood, I’m making a manual descent at caution status, will contact you again after touch down stand by”.

 

 “Roger Captain, standing by”, replied Merik.

 

Karlon made a careful descent. Surely control must have detected them by now? The Launch slid smoothly into the docking bay, latched onto a track way and through the air lock coming to rest alongside a disembarkation ramp. Karlon reported their safe arrival to Merik who acknowledged the message.

 

With a rising sense of bewilderment the four travellers stepped from the Launch. The usual busy scene met their gaze. People were coming and going about their duties and appeared to be acting normally in every sense of the word. Darin caught sight of Anton, one of the supervisors, walking towards him. Now perhaps they could get some answers?

 

“Hello Anton”, cried Darin, waving his arms.

 

Anton showed no sign of having seen or heard the greeting. He came straight on and disappeared. Darin spun round and saw him walking away.

 

“Hi there!” “Anton!” yelled Darin. There was still no response.

 

Geril watched in disbelief. Anton had simply walked right through Darin!!

 

“We must be invisible, no body can see or hear us!” she gasped. It was Incredible!!

 

Darin chased after Anton and tried to grab him by the arm, only to see his own hand travel right through the man’s body.

 

Freyer was speechless they must be hallucinating. She turned to Karlon who was crossing the apron. “Karlon wait, don’t leave me”, she cried and dashed after him. Karlon reached a door and grabbed the handle it felt solid enough. He entered a room and addressed a uniformed controller.

 

“Commander Karlon of the spaceship Stellar 1V where is the officer in charge?” he demanded.

 

No one took any notice.  One fellow came on, walked right through him and out of the door. Freyer was terrified; she and her companions were ghosts! She took Karlon by the hand. “I’m scared stiff Sir”, she said.

 

A thought crossed Karlon’s mind; perhaps this was a dream? Or worse, they had all been killed and were dead! Rational thinking asserted itself, he was in no dream world, and this was for real!

 

He looked at Freyer. “I’m not feeling exactly safe myself”, he said.

 

He had no idea what was happening but he had to report to Merik right away in case contact was lost. He pressed his communicator.

 

“Merik, this is Karlon, do you read me?”

 

“Loud and clear Captain” was Merik’s calm reply.

 

“Something very peculiar is going on down here”, continued Karlon. We seem to be invisible, nobody, repeat, nobody, can see, hear or touch us, although we can see and hear them. We also seem able to touch inanimate objects but we can make no contact whatsoever with living minds. What time have you got?”

 

Merik was nonplussed. The Captain did say Invisible? “Er 22 42.” He replied.

 

Karlon glanced at his watch and then to the clock on the control room wall.

 

“It’s the same down here Merik. Keep the channel open and listen out”.

 

“Aye Aye Sir” Replied Merik, glad that his Captain could not see his expression!

 

Darin and Geril came up; they were obviously shaken. Darin was the first to speak.

 

“The warp must have been successful; we seem to be in another dimension of space and time. Let’s see if we can do anything to announce our presence.

 

He started to yell. He moved every object he could see lying around. The others did likewise. Again no one took any notice. They left the building and made their way to the administration levels. Everywhere they went they met the same phenomena. It was an eerie experience and reminded Darin of a Holographic Pavilion he had once visited. He addressed a videophone and tried to contact the base commander’s office, but nothing happened. He tried again, with the same result. He went to a computer terminal and tried to operate it. Although he could feel the keys and was able to depress them, the system would not respond. There seemed no way that contact between the ‘real’ world (If that was the correct way to describe the situation?) and themselves could be achieved.

 

“We seem to be on the same clock time anyway", said Geril. “Perhaps a visit to our home would help?” She glanced at Darin who was staring at the clock, tapping his wristwatch and communicator. Lost in thought he did not hear her remark. She put her arm round his shoulder, “Darling, I said, let’s go to our home, it might help.

Darin turned and smiled. “I think we should all return to the spaceship. I want to talk with Wayne and we must not over expose ourselves to this type of paranormal experience

 

“I agree”, said Karlon. Taking hold of Fryer’s hand he moved off towards the docking bay. Darin and Geril followed them in silence.

 

Back on board the Launch Karlon selected automatic control and the craft was soon in space orbit two hundred kilometres above Tamis. Contact with Merik assured them that everything was still normal on board Stellar 1V. Switching over to manual control Karlon set course for his ship. Freyer went to the galley and served drinks all round. Fruit juice was out. Mintol was in. They needed a boost!

 

Geril closed her eyes. It had been the most baffling and frightening day of her life. She could hear the others talking in subdued tones, they were trying to make some sense of what had taken place on Tamis. Geril was half listening to their conversation. She heard Darin say; “I felt like a scuba-diver trying to talk to the fishes down there”.

 

“Talk to the fishes”. - That sentence brought back happy memories. She remembered as a child, watching her father conversing with Dolphins at the Oceanic University Dolphinarium. As principal Professor at the University he had spent a lifetime studying these wonderful creatures. She remembered him instructing her how to use the sophisticated electronic interpretation equipment that enabled humans to converse with Dolphins. The apparatus would receive whistles and shrieks from these mammals and would access their meaning from a large memory bank, built up over many decades. A print out on a visual display worn on the wrist or an audio output would give understanding. The reverse procedure with an audio output enabled the Dolphins to receive and understand human speech. Both species had benefited from this meeting of minds.

 

After the space war and holocaust had ended the barbarian states at the beginning of the 21st Century, the destruction of wild life and habitat had ceased. In recent decades Genetic Science had been able to restore many lost species. Geril remembered the pleasure she and Darin had experienced on Belos. They had been members of a survey team evaluating the terrain of this earth atmosphere planet in Sector nine, which had been designated as a planetary National Park for the new herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Elephants and other animals the Federation, were breeding.

 

As a young student at the Academy, Geril’s holidays were spent visiting her family and friends on the Oceanic University Campus. It was exciting to wear artificial gills and wander around the submarine gardens owned by the University. These beautiful underwater landscapes were places of pure delight, a scene of quivering rainbow colours and movement as shoals of tropical fish swam amidst the rock formations and artificial pavilions. Andy, her favourite Dolphin, usually accompanied her. He was gentle and playful. They used to swap stories and she hoped he understood her; he always indicated he did.

 

She had met Darin during an expedition to Stanos, where the Academy had one of its principal galactic charting stations. He was studying Tachyonic physics prior to taking up a post graduate research appointment at the Academy and she was studying Halonic patterns associated with abnormal phenomena observed in some nebula spectrums. They had been attracted to each other by mutual interests and had married shortly after returning to Earth. Karlon had been one of their wedding guests. That was twelve years ago and as yet they had no children. A situation Geril regretted but Academicians were expected to delay having families whilst employed on important Federation projects.

 

“Geril, wake up! We shall soon be docking with Stellar IV”. It was Darin’s voice.

 

She opened her eyes.

 

“I’m sorry I must have dozed off”, she said.

 

“Freyer and I have had a bit of a snooze as well”, said Darin, “Karlon has been at the controls keeping us on course.

 

Karlon had stayed on manual control, he wanted to keep occupied and besides it was good practice. The time for de-briefing would be better left until they were back on board the spaceship.

 

Twenty minutes later he brought the Launch smoothly into the docking bay. Outside he could see Merik, Ledra and the robust figure of Professor Wayne eagerly waiting for his report. As he closed down the systems lassitude enveloped him for a short while. Like a spectator at a drawn game of chess, cheated of inspiration at the inability of the master players to force victory or defeat, he felt the chess pieces had won and refused to bestow battle honours on the vanquished. Not for the first time in his career difficult questions rose in his mind. How to explain the last few hours in rational terms to intelligent and enquiring minds? Had they travelled beyond their comprehension?

 

Was conscious mind the only window on reality? Could science and scientists unravel universal mysteries in space and time? Although there were still a number of religious faiths practiced throughout the Galactic Federation. Karlon was not a particular adherent to any of them, but experiences such as he and his companions had undergone this day certainly posed some meta-physical or spiritual questions. ‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform’, said the Sages. Well, — Karlon had no quarrel with that sentence right now!

 

He followed Darin, Geril and Freyer as they left the Launch. Everyone started to talk at once.

 

“We don’t know”. He heard Darin’ s voice, harassed at an avalanche of questions, “We think so, - and yes the warp - no we will have to wait---

 

“Stand to; quiet everybody”. He heard himself shout the order.

 

The noise subsided as he looks into puzzled countenances.

 

“We cannot answer any questions until some answers have been worked out”, he continued. “We are in another time dimension that is all we are sure of”.

 

“Yes, give us time”, repeated Darin.

 

Merik could see that Karlon and his party were suffering from considerable stress. He took control and quietly but firmly dismissed officers and crewmen, who were crowding around, back to their stations. It was going to take cool heads and rested brains to evaluate their present circumstances. Professor Wayne also insisted they had a good rest before attempting any de­briefing and personally saw them to their quarters.

 

Merik returned to the bridge. (“Invisible” the Captain had said. Bloody Hell! Thought Merik.)


 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

—1—

 

 

Darin was relaxing in a comfortable armchair in Professor Wayne’s quarters. Forty-eight hours had past since he and his companions had returned from Tamis. With a glass of cordial in his hand he was watching the Professor enthusiastically conducting an imaginary orchestra while they listened to a radionic symphony. The electronic harmonies were soothing and complementary to the background of operational noise inside Stellar IV

 

At a meeting of senior officers that morning Darin had explained the latest computer model of their position. He and Geril had checked all known parameters and had reached the conclusion that a successful warp could be made back into their own ‘real ‘universe. The reasoning behind this suggestion was sound and logical. The primary purpose of the mission was to search for, and if possible, rescue Stellar 111. It was now thought impossible to pinpoint where exactly, in the whole of this alien universe, the missing spaceship was likely to be found. It had been assumed that the ship’s location would be in that area of space closest to the reciprocal bearing at the time of her disappearance. There was insufficient computer power on Stellar 1V to make new predictions; therefore the two scientists recommended a return to base. If a new model of Stellar 111’s position could be worked out the Academy might recommend another rescue mission.

 

Karlon was not one hundred per cent happy with their conclusions. If there were the slightest chance of finding Stellar 111 under present conditions he would rather take it than ignore it. However the decision to return was ultimately his, and his alone, and he wanted to be absolutely sure of the facts before making up his mind.

 

“What you are telling the meeting Darin, is, that under present conditions it would be virtually impossible to find Stellar 111 within a reasonable time limit, if at all!”

 

“Yes Commander. If it was just a matter of a year or so I would say go ahead and search, but it would take a lifetime to investigate this universe thoroughly unless we get some idea where the missing spaceship is located beforehand. I can only draw up a search plan after I have had time to assimilate all the events that have taken place during this mission and the facilities on board are insufficient to produce an updated model. That undertaking will need most of the Academy’s computing power.

 

Geril spoke up. “I agree with Darin. We know Stellar 1V was able to make a successful warp. What has been accomplished once can be done again”.

 

Karlon nodded and turned to Professor Wayne “Your thoughts on the subject?”

 

“Well Sir, from an entirely medical point of view I see no reason to suppose another warp would prove dangerous to health, perhaps a return to reality would be advantageous.

 

Karlon turned to Freyer. It was her assessment he was most interested in. Could they find Stellar 111? “How do you evaluate our chance of finding Stellar 111?” he asked her.

 

Freyer chose her words carefully. “As far as the search and ranging equipment is concerned Sir, it is fully operational and gives excellent results but a lot depends on our being able to receive a signal from Stellar 111 as well as our making ranging contact. If the ship is within one million par-secs of us then I think the chances of finding her would be good. Further out in space the quadrants become enormous without Tachyonic transponder signals to home on to. If she were indeed trapped in a ‘Black Hole’ in this universe then I wouldn’t expect to receive any transponder signals. We would have to rely entirely on search and ranging at close range. I have maintained constant search and ranging signals since the warp and so far there is no sign of Stellar 111”.

 

Karlon understood what Freyer was intimating. He knew a par-sec was equal to 3.26 light years; a heck of a distance. He addressed Merik.

 

“Your thoughts number one?”

 

“I don’t’ like the idea of aborting the mission but arguments for a return sound persuasive Sir”, said Merik.

 

Well that was a diplomatic reply, thought Karlon. His number one was equal to most occasions!

 

He turned to Ensign Ledra.

 

“Well Mr. Ledra what does propulsion say?”

 

“Whatever you decide Sir. I don’t like to give up the search either but if this ship can safely warp backwards and forwards in space-time I see no reason why we shouldn’t return to Central Control for further consultations if it means increasing our chances of ultimately finding Stellar 111.”

 

“Thank you Mr. Ledra.” replied Karlon.” Well ladies and gentlemen”, he continued, “there seems to be a consensus for returning. Yeoman Freyer will continue to search at full power for another forty-eight hours. If at the end of that period there is still no sign of Stellar 111 I will abort the mission and attempt a return to base by another warp through the target ‘hole’ we came through. In the meantime Darin perhaps you and Geril will carefully check the co-ordinates for the return and let me have your final assessment”.

 

He rose from his seat, the meeting was over. It had not been an easy decision for Karlon but everyone present thought he’d made the right one, although they kept their thoughts to themselves. Professor Wayne invited Darin and Geril to his quarters but Geril wanted to consult with Freyer so Darin had accepted and soon found the professor’s company very agreeable. Apart from his medical knowledge he had an exceptional command of old languages, some of them so ancient that Darin had never heard of the cultures or countries of their origin. Another hobby of this extraordinary young man was palaeography, the study of ancient writing and inscriptions, arising from his interest in languages. Palaeontology also fascinated him. There was common ground between them on that subject. Darin was interested in extinct animals and plants and a lively conversation ensued. They were engrossed in a spirited argument as to whether Archaeopteryx, a reptilian ancestor of the bird, was a ‘glider’ or a ‘flapper’ when they were interrupted by Geril’s voice over the intercom asking Darin to return to the Bridge. He left reluctantly. The past couple of hours or so had been relaxing and enjoyable.

 

Back on the bridge he found Karlon, Ensign Ledra and his wife studying a computer graphic of the spaceship’s propulsion section.

 

“It seems we have had a problem on the propulsion deck”, said Karlon. “Mr. Ledra informs me the Delyon counters had an unidentified fault in the synchronization circuits. As a result the particle registers were malfunctioning. Automatic repair circuitry has corrected the fault. If this problem occurred again during the warp would it interfere or possibly jeopardize our return journey?”

 

“Well I can’t say for sure Karlon,” replied Darin. “According to our calculations the warp must be exactly eight seconds to enable us to arrive back on the same co-ordinates we started from. Any deviation would put us way out in another part of our universe and prolong the trip back home.”

 

“Well Mr. Ledra, it seems eight seconds will put us back exactly where we want to be. If there is any further trouble with the Delyon counters it will put us off course, but that’s not serious apart from the extra time involved. Let me know when you‘re satisfied everything in your section is fully operational. We will start the countdown at Threshold Zero minus twenty-six hours. That will give us plenty of time for accurate assessment and operational procedures”.

 

“Aye Aye Sir”, replied Ledra. He was relieved to hear that the fault, if it occurred again, would not seriously affect the warp, except to extend the cruising time to base.

 

—2—

 

Forty-Eight hours later with no contact established with Stellar 111 Threshold Zero was set and all preparations made to return to base through the target ‘Black Hole’. Karlon spent some time during the countdown interval in compiling his personal log and report for the Board of Admiralty. He was satisfied he had made the right decision. It was disappointing but a new frontier had been crossed. Science had taken another turn in its long history of experiment and application. Sitting alone in his quarters with familiar objects all around him in a spaceship he was proud to command and a crew he trusted like friends and to realise they were isolated in some alien universe where time was a moving target and reality might just be dissolving images in the mind, was a sobering experience. Once, in his college days, he had read the journal of an ancient navigator named Captain Cook and wondered how the commander of important missions thought and reflected during the moments when he was alone with his pen in his hand trying to describe new sights and experiences. He had complied many logs and reports in the past but language might prove to be a poor tool in recounting this present mission.

 

“T.Z. minus 30 minutes and counting, Captain" Merik’s voice disturbed his concentration.

 

“Thanks No 1 I’ll be with you directly”.

 

Karlon signed his log and placed it in his desk. It was an ancient tradition to write logs in original handwriting; this one would go down in history if he were able to return it safely to his superior Admiral! He arrived back on the bridge to find Merik relaxed and in conversation with Geril.

 

“I’ll take the ‘con number one”. He said briskly taking his command position.

 

“Aye Aye Sir”, replied Merik, moving to his own position and adjusting his retaining harness. Although there was little physical feeling of acceleration during the warp it was standard procedure and habitual reflexes came automatically. Karlon glanced at his control console; the final checks were almost completed. He looked at Darin and Geril.

 

“All set?” he enquired.

 

“All ready Captain”, replied Darin.

 

“OK”, said Karlon”, “Stand by for automatic countdown”.

 

Merik watched the green indicators continue to race across his control panel. The sequence ended he turned to his commander.

 

“We are GO Sir”, he said.

 

Karlon nodded and addressed the control computer.

 

“This is Karlon. You are commanded to GO on Stellar 1V Warp Alpha”.

 

“Acknowledged GO on Stellar 1V Warp Alpha”, came the reply.

 

The countdown was perfect. Stellar 1V responded with equal merit and 12 seconds later they had successfully completed their second warp through space.

 

Darin was immediately alerted. The duration time for the warp had been 12 seconds. This was 4 seconds longer than had been predicted. He checked his equations and calculations and Geril did likewise. Karlon had also noticed the difference and was speaking to Ledra.

 

“We have taken four seconds longer than predicted, was there anything unusual or any problem during the warp?”

 

Ensign Ledra was aware of the four-second discrepancy. There had been no visible sign of any malfunction, but once again the log records and memory banks had ceased functioning during the warp, although they were back on line now. He had watched the polarity change, and an overload on the pulse stabilizers had been instantly corrected by the Delyon counters as had happened before. Otherwise the ship had behaved as predicted.

 

“No Sir, except the Delyon counters had to correct some overloading on the pulse stabilizers as before, otherwise all went well”.

 

Darin interrupted.

 

“Mr. Ledra was the Delyon correction instantaneous?” He asked.

 

“As far as I can tell”, replied Ledra. “The log memory didn’t function during the warp so there’s no way of telling exactly”.

 

Karlon ordered a visual scan; at the same time Freyer’s voice came over the intercom.

 

“Captain, there is no response from Central Control; in fact there’s total silence on all frequencies!”

 

As Freyer’s equipment could scan millions of frequencies every second this was odd. Darin commanded a navigation fix; those extra few seconds may have put them anywhere within the home galaxy or beyond.

 

The fix was startling. According to the co-ordinates they were exactly back from where they had started. At the Tamis beacon!! Looking at the visual screens the scene that met their gaze was familiar. Higher resolution showed the planet Tamis in its correct location together with its attendant Moons and Sun. Other celestial bodies were also located in their proper positions.

 

Freyer came through again.

 

“There is no evidence of life on Tamis Sir. My readings are negative for Bionic or structural indications.”

 

Karlon snapped into action. “Move to standard orbit around Tamis”, he ordered Merik. “Go to maximum speed.”

 

Darin and Geril began work to find answers for the extended warp. It must be a fault in the Delyon counters preventing the correct timing sequence in firing the particle generators after Threshold Zero close down. Ledra ran all the checks he could think of but there were unusual and exceptional circumstances to take into account and he wasn’t sure what to look for.

 

 

—2—

 

 

“Standard orbit established Sir”, reported Merik. He looked at the time. An hour had passed since the warp, it seemed only minutes.

 

The surface of Tamis resolved on the screens. The planet was a scene of naked desolation; no human foot could ever have trodden on its barbaric surface. It looked bleak. An uninviting silver sanded wasteland. “My God!” exclaimed Darin. “We must have gone backwards in time! There’s no other explanation. Those extra four seconds must have rotated our directional stability and accelerated the spaceship past its point of re-entry”. He reached for his light pad and began to search for equations, the others crowded around him while he worked. After some minutes he threw down his pencil.

 

“I think I’ve got the answer”, he said. “The directional stability is dependent on the pulse stabilizers maintaining enough thrust in a 360 degree arc to enable the ship to use the vacuum cavity of the ‘hole’ to achieve a successful reciprocal warp of 180 degrees. If stability is unbalanced, even for a split second, the ship will spin off course and find itself at a different point of equilibrium where a ‘skip’ would cause a tangent directional change and the vessel would warp into another space-time. At least that’s how I read the equations on this model.”

 

“It’s essential to find out where we are in time," said Geril. “The best place for us to locate our position is on planet Earth. I don’t think there’s any point in landing on Tamis again.”

 

Karlon agreed with this logic. “Make for Earth orbit, Merik” he commanded “Full speed. Inform the crew; then stand down to normal routine”.

 

“Aye Aye Sir”

 

Merik felt somewhat perplexed. Was he on some sort of mental trampoline, he wondered? The smooth running of the spaceship was his prime responsibility and wherever he had travelled in the galaxy or in outer space he had been sure of his professional expertise and confident in the technological environment of the service. Recent events were distorting his perceptions. Not about the ship or its crew, but about the very nature of existence and his place in the reality of space and time.

 

Stationary in Earth orbit, 600 kilometres beyond the atmosphere, and Stellar IV held position over the spot where Central Control should have been located but wasn’t! Thirty hours had passed since Merik had sat musing over his console. All sensors showed human life forms in scattered settlements far below but no contact could be made on any communication channel. Karlon called a meeting to organize a landing party. After some discussion it was decided that Karlon, Geril and Professor Wayne would make the descent with a back-up party standing by on board. Darin would have preferred to be included in the party but it was reasoned that he would be more useful on the spaceship with Merik in case of emergencies.

 

The launch was swung out and Karlon made a manually controlled decent into an unfamiliar natural landscape. Choosing a wooded region alongside a river in an open valley he carefully landed the vessel so that it was concealed under a canopy of green leaves. After checking the outside atmospheric conditions, which were humid but otherwise satisfactory, he gave the order to move out. Dressed in standard combat uniforms made of a light tough fabric giving freedom of movement with good environmental protection and which blended well with the ground colours they made their way towards the riverbank where a small group of people were milling about. From a distance of five hundred meters they scanned these individuals with their monitors. Geril was the first to speak.

 

“I can hear them talking!”

 

Wayne interrupted her: “They’re speaking a very old language. If I remember correctly it comes from the region of Muisca in ancient Colombia. From their dress and weapons I would say around 900 to 1100 AD!”

 

Karlon spoke to the spaceship. “Did you get that, Darin?”

 

“Yes,” replied Darin. “But I need to know the exact date, at least to within 50 years or so.”

 

The landing party faced a dilemma. Would it be safe or even desirable to make contact with these people? They could see that some of the men were armed with bows and arrows or spears and Karlon was anxious not to alarm or harm them in any way. Loud voices from behind made them turn round and they saw to their dismay that a group of people were standing around the Launch, shouting and gesticulating.

 

“Now what?” asked Geril?

 

So far the landing party had not been discovered. Karlon swept his visual scanner over the scene and those on board Stellar IV could see the problem. It was still early morning and although it was unlikely the Launch would be damaged they might have to wait until nightfall to get back to it.

 

“We’ll stay quiet and hidden for now, then...

 

“There’s no chance of that”. Geril’s voice stopped Karlon short. “They’ve seen us!”

 

The chattering and gesticulations ceased as the group of natives stared in disbelief at the three strangers who had appeared from nowhere. This was more than a collision of cultures. It was an incomprehensible impossibility as far as both sides was concerned, saving the fact that the visitors were slightly less embarrassed by reason of their advanced technical civilisation.

 

Karlon turned to Wayne. “It’s up to you Wayne, see what you can do, speak to them if you can”. He spoke to Merik. “Get Adel to aim a blank electron bolt on the hill behind us and stand by for my order to fire. If there’s a problem the noise will frighten them and we’ll make a dash for the Launch.”

 

“Right Sir” replied Merik, turning to Adel who was already at his firing position checking the co-ordinates of the aiming point.

 

Wayne’s thoughts were racing. This was an exciting and dramatic situation for him. Years of study, purely for pleasure, was about to be put to the test in a way which somehow seemed quite innocuous but which could have catastrophic results if he got it wrong. He removed his belt and side arm (he hated wearing it anyway but Karlon had insisted). Raising his arms he waved and smiled taking a few paces forward as he did so. No body moved. Geril also disarmed herself and stepped forwards alongside Wayne. Their weapons would signify nothing to the onlookers unless they used them and with Karlon and Stellar IV watching their every move it was unlikely they would face an ugly situation.

 

Karlon wasn’t so sure.

 

“Careful Geril”, he said, “Those men are carrying some nasty looking spears”.

 

They could see the weapons being carried by the men were not bows and arrows as they had originally thought but spear-throwers with sharp javelin heads serrated down one side. Others were holding polished wooden clubs with thin sharp edges. Several of the men were wearing embossed helmets raised from sheet tumbaga and strapped under their chins. Some wore painted cloth mantles, richly decorated with warpfloat patterns of geometric designs, the women also wore fine cotton garments, well woven and painted. Most of them carried large pottery jars. Everyone, including the children, wore necklaces and nose ornaments of intricate designs made from polished stones and shells. Some of the jewellery was obviously made of gold.

 

Waving his arm vaguely behind him Wayne spoke up. “We greet you in friendship from a far valley.

 

The result was electrifying. Several women shrieked and ran, dropping their jars. Others fell to the ground. Some of the men who were not warriors backed away. There was no doubt about it Wayne and his companions could be seen and heard this time! Most of the armed men stood still. One fellow, tall, bronzed and elaborately dressed, raised his spear. “Guane, Guane, Guane,” he shouted.

 

Wayne recognised the shout as a proper name and suspected that it must be the name of a tribe or neighbourhood. He was convinced these individuals were Muisca people.

 

“We are friends”, he continued. “Let us talk, we have no weapons.” He was advancing as he spoke with Geril by his side and Karlon just behind to the right, holding the two extra belts in his left hand, while his right hovered over his laser gun. He had never fired the weapon in anger, nor was ever likely to under normal circumstances.

 

It was not so for the Muisca people, they were constantly fighting their neighbours and sometimes themselves. The warriors, though frightened, felt threatened. One hurled his javelin as a warning. It wasn’t deliberately aimed. Karlon didn’t realise that fact or misread the man’s intentions. “Fire”, he ordered, at the same time drawing his own weapon and aiming it at a tree close to the group. There was a gigantic crash behind him as the electron bolt exploded in the hills like a hundred thunder claps. He squeezed the trigger of his gun and the laser smashed several branches of the target tree in flame and smoke. Pandemonium broke out all around them. The Muisca group fled this way and that. A few threw their spears in the direction of the space travellers.

 

“Run for the Launch”, shouted Karlon, dashing towards the craft, still some distance away. Adel fired another electron bolt slightly closer this time and the concussion rang in their ears.

 

Wayne and Geril needed no second biding. There was no sense in trying to reason with anybody at this stage. Karlon reached the Launch and pointed his command key at the door, which slid open.

 

He paused for an instant but Wayne shouted at him. “Go on!”

 

Realising the others were right behind him Karlon leapt inside the Launch and made for the controls. Wayne clambered on board and turned to help Geril. To his amazement she wasn’t with him. His gaze swept round the area. People were screaming, shouting and throwing missiles. One spear struck him a glancing blow on his neck causing an ugly gash.

 

“Are you in?” shouted Karlon, without looking round.

 

Wayne’s words were drowned as Karlon, believing them all safely aboard gunned the thrusters and the Launch rose into the air and sped upwards.

 

It was one thing to come across an unfamiliar object on the ground; to see it rise effortlessly into the atmosphere was another? The Muisca group were terrified and threw themselves on the ground. Some averted their eyes and began wailing or were paralysed with fear. As the Launch disappeared from view they got to their feet and ran away.

 

The Launch was at ten thousand meters before Karlon realised anything was amiss. Turning to talk to Wayne he saw the professor sitting on the floor with blood all over his face. Selecting automatic control Karlon left the console to assist his companion.

 

“Where’s Geril? he asked as he helped Wayne to a couch.

 

“I don’t know,” gasped Wayne. “The last time I saw her was just before I was hit, she was right behind me. I went aboard first and turned to help her and she just disappeared!”

 

As he applied a dressing to Wayne’s neck Karlon spoke to Stellar IV. “Did you see anything Merik?” he enquired.” We’ve lost Geril”.

 

“Aye Captain we’re scanning the area now”, replied Merik.

 

Everyone on the bridge of the spaceship had watched with apprehension as events on the ground got out of hand. Darin was worried; in the confusion he had lost sight of Geril and supposed she was safely on board the Launch. He looked at the visual screen. It was on maximum resolution but the electron bolt had caused a lot of electronic haze and Karlon’s shot had set several trees alight and there was a swirl of smoke over the scene. After a while it cleared but he could see no sign of Geril or the Muisca people. Merik was trying to track Geril. He did not realise her transponder beacon had been discarded with her belt. As the Launch came alongside Darin rushed to the docking bay; events had taken a dramatic and unhappy turn.

 

-3—

 

Geril was running as fast as she could just behind Wayne; a few more steps and he would be able to haul her safely aboard the Launch. Suddenly she felt a blow on her head, her legs doubled beneath her and she felt herself falling. Blackness overcame her and she collapsed unconscious. The ground was uneven and her body rolled sideways with the exhausted momentum of her run and lay sprawled beside a boulder. Several minutes passed before she began to recover consciousness and was able to comprehend her surroundings. Pushing herself into a sitting position with her back resting against the boulder she became aware of a stinging sensation on the left side of her head. Gingerly she felt the spot with her hand and found it swollen and sore. Nearby lay a wood-shafted stone axe. It was this missile that had struck her a glancing blow. She tried to get up and succeeded at the second attempt. Her watch and communicator were back on the Launch with Karlon and she had no idea how long she had been lying on the ground.

 

Geril looked around. The landscape was not unattractive. Behind her large boulders with cactus and other shrubs growing between them led upwards towards a range of low hills. Before her lay a fertile valley bisected by a shallow river running through thickets of wood and brush towards another ridge of low hills. The air was hot and humid but not particularly oppressive. There was no sign of the Muisca people. They had fled soon after the launch lifted off and had no idea that Geril had been hit and left behind. She realised Darin and the others would come back quickly to search for her but without her belt and transponder she might be difficult to locate. The river was invitingly close, perhaps she could find some sweet water to bathe her head and obtain a much-needed drink. She was sure she would be able to see the Launch when it arrived.

 

Stepping carefully over some loose rocks she made her way down to the river. The water was cool and refreshing as she splashed her face and took a few sips from her cupped hands. Hearing voices she looked up and saw a large dugout canoe sweep round the bend to her right. The occupants saw her at the same time as she saw them. The canoe altered course towards the bank and Geril. She stood still it was pointless running away. The craft grounded on the gravel bottom and several men jumped overboard and steadied it against the current while four of their companions clambered over the side and waded ashore. These men came to within a few paces of Geril and one-stepped forward from his fellows. He was about the same height as Geril, well built with aquiline features and dark eyes. His torso was uncovered. Over his shoulders he wore a lose cloak of woven cloth, painted with red and brown colours. His arms were encased in spiral snake-like gold armlets and round his waist was a gold embossed copper belt with cloth pouches. Wearing a gold crescent shaped head-dress he stood erect before her holding in his right hand a palm wood pointed spear thrower and javelin whilst his left hand grasped a shield made of crocodile skin. His companions were dressed in similar garb. The man came close to Geril and knelt down, placing his weapons alongside him. Stretching out his arms he placed his forehead on her boots. Geril stood quite still, scared but fascinated at the spectacle. The man got up and retreated a few meters. One by one his friends knelt in front of her. These natives spoke no words as Geril pointed towards the river and said, “Off you go, I don’t know who you are but come on Darin where are you?”

 

The first man motioned her towards the canoe. That was the last place she wanted to go but a refusal might cause problems so she allowed them to escort her to the craft. She was encouraged by signs to step on board and beckoned to a seat amidships. With some apprehension Geril sat down while the canoe was pushed into midstream and gathered speed under paddle and current.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

-1-

 

Imbaya sat impassive, his back to the bow of the canoe looking at Geril. She was determined to show no sign of fear and returned his gaze with a slight smile. A thought occurred to her. These people, it seemed, were not totally surprised to see her!

 

Early that same morning Imbaya and his retinue had continued their journey from the high plateau. This was the first time he had represented the Guane - who were northern neighbours of the Muisca - as Knight Counsellor at the great Festival of El Dorado that was to take place on the lagoon of Guatavita the next day. From childhood, his father, who was High Priest of the Temple at Guane, had instructed Imbaya in the rituals and duties of the high office he would eventually hold. Was it not written in the ancient hieroglyphic texts carved on the sacred boulders that one-day the Sun God’s Consort would come down to earth to sanctify El Dorado? No mortal man knew the day or time but everyone must be for ever ready to receive this accolade of the God, who gave light to the Earth and sustenance to men’s souls. The entrails of the fowl they had sacrificed at dawn had predicted this would be a memorable day. The Sun-God was pleased and looked favourably on the new Ruler of Muisca who had been keeping his vigil deep inside a dark cavern for many days, out of the sight of men and deprived of his concubines, salt and chilli peppers; a custom as ancient as the El Dorado ceremony itself.

 

Imbaya had been looking at the morning sky when he saw a strange silver disk descending from the heavens. His companions had been frightened at the apparition but he had instantly recognised the Chariot of the Immortal Sun God. It was exactly as described to him countless of times by the priests. He had heard a thunderous voice announcing the arrival of the Sun ­God’s Consort and had seen fire and darkness as the Chariot rose into the sky with great speed to vanish from his sight. Gesticulations and beckoning of Musicas on the riverbank and in the fields confirmed his opinion. Soon he would be in the presence of Omnipotence. Sweeping around a bend in the river he had seen Geril standing alone. He had altered course towards the bank side and cautioned his companions to remain absolutely silent.

 

On Imbaya, son of Tolima, had been bestowed the sacred and unprecedented privilege of escorting the Sun God’s Consort to the ceremony of El Dorado.

 

 

 

—2—

 

 

The canoe sped on. The river became narrow and ran for some way over stony bedrock causing small rapids and shifting, swirling currents. The craft, skilfully manoeuvred to avoid obstacles, was never in any danger of capsizing and Geril was surprised at the speed they were maintaining. After travelling some dozen or so kilometres the men began to use their paddles for propulsion instead of guidance, as the river grew wider and its momentum became appreciably slower. Ahead she could see a large settlement of wood-and-thatch huts surrounded by a high palisade of earth and wood. They turned towards the bank and came to rest on sand and gravel. The men leapt out and dragged the craft upright out of the water. Geril hung on while they steadied the canoe. People came running from the huts to meet Imbaya and his companions. Excited conversations took place between them as Imbaya proudly explained how he had found the Sun God’s Consort by the riverbank.

 

News of the canoe’s arrival with its important passenger spread quickly and a large crowd of people gathered round about them. Geril was escorted from the bank side as several Priests arrived and prostrated themselves before her. Somewhat amused by all this adulation and feeling that co-operation was the best course of action she followed Imbaya into a large square formed by communal multi-family huts, smaller buildings surrounded each one, which served for servant’s quarters, stores and  in one corner of this square stood a wooden Temple. Geril was led to the entrance of this shrine and was invited by gestures to sit on a decorated litter carried by six men in flowing woven robes and wearing head dresses of shimmering gold and silver. She seated herself down on cushions filled with cotton and feathers and allowed herself to be carried into the Temple where she was amazed to see twenty-four huge wooden idols, covered with sheet gold. These images were arranged in pairs, each pair supporting a hammock filled with gold offerings. As the procession passed through the Temple and out into the sunlight Geril saw many burial mounds alongside the building and a tree whose branches were hung with golden bells topping each mound.

 

 She was carried to a large hut situated several meters above any other building with a veranda running along its front wall. The litter was placed gently on the ground and she was invited to enter the hut. As she rose to her feet she saw in the distance the corduroy pattern of artificial ridges, providing well-drained enclosed fields for the cultivation of maize and root crops. These people seemed to be well organised and governed she mused to herself. As she entered the dwelling Imbaya began making a long, agitated speech to the assembled crowd while two young women stepped forward and accompanied Geril inside. They wore fine linen mantles and had long braided hair covered in small gold ornaments. There was a raised Dias at one end of the room where a low-slung hammock swung invitingly. Geril was beginning to feel tied. Her head was still aching from the axe blow and she was thirsty. She lay down on the hammock and motioned for a drink. She was offered some liquid in a pottery gourd; it tasted sweet and refreshing so she took a few sips. Feeling it was safe to drink she drained the rest and layback to collect her thoughts.

 

Outside the room voices began to chant. The sound became quite hypnotic and she began to feel light headed and relaxed. After a while she felt herself being undressed by the two maidens who had accompanied her into the hut. Half awake and half asleep she was co-operative and did not feel afraid or apprehensive. As time passed she became more conscious of her surroundings and realised that her clothing had been discarded. She was now dressed in a soft white linen mantle with tassels of woven plaits. She was given some more of the sweet liquid which relaxed her and she fell asleep to the sound of more chanting outside the room.

 

 

 

When she awoke it was dawn. Her two attendant’s re- appeared and helped her to wash with perfumed water. Two Priests entered, bowing low and often, carrying a tray of burnished wood on which lay several different ornaments of gold and coloured stones. One of the young women selected several bracelets of gold and showed them to Geril. Obviously they were asking her to choose something. She pointed to a bracelet made of small blue spacer beads and anchor shaped ornaments and the girl placed it round Geril’s right wrist. She also chose several gold hairpins made in the shape of various insects and flowers and these attractive decorations were inserted carefully into her hair. Lastly, without being given a choice, a magnificent gold necklace of pyramid shaped elements was placed around her neck. The pyramids were separated by beads of green stones and threaded on thin gold wire. Each of the gold pyramids was about two centimetres high and the necklace felt quite heavy to wear. Geril saw that it was an exquisite and delicate work of superlative craftsmanship.

 

Some corn and maize bread was served to her and she ate a little of it. Afterwards she was handed another large cup of the sweet drink. By now she began to realise that the drink was probably some form of mild narcotic and she was reluctant to drink any. Several times since being brought to the hut she had started to speak but instantly she did everyone present fell to the ground, so she had given up trying to make any sort of verbal contact with them. Surely by now Darin, Karlon and the others would be searching for her? The drink was pressed on her again; it was difficult to refuse so she swallowed a little. Afterwards she was aware of feeling relaxed and unworried, which was more than could be said for Wayne who was crouched five hundred meters away from the house, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

 

—3—

 

Hours beforehand on board Stellar 1V Karlon had organised the search party. Wayne had recovered from the effects of his wound and although a bit groggy he insisted on returning; he was after all the only person able to understand the language of the natives. The landing party was small. Darin had insisted on going and Karlon would not order him to stand down. Ledra made up the other member. He was to pilot the launch and remain at the controls and tracking monitors. Fixing the same co­ordinates as they had used previously Karlon ordered the Launch earthwards and timed their arrival just as darkness was falling over the land. As the Launch came to rest Karlon, Darin and Wayne jumped from the craft. They would not deploy the ramp in case of emergency take off.

 

They searched around for a few minutes but could find no trace of Geril. Sensors indicated the presence of humans about two kilometres eastwards so they walked in that direction and saw a small group of people seated around a campfire. Karlon turned to Wayne.

 

“Get as close as you can without being seen and listen to their conversation, we might pick up something”.

 

Wayne nodded and made his way slowly and silently to a spot where he could hear their voices. After a while he spoke softly into his communicator. “They seem to be heading for some important festival; they’ve only stopped for food and are going to continue down river by moonlight.”

 

“Is there any mention of Geril?” Darin’s voice was agitated.

 

Wayne did not reply but became deeply engrossed in what he was hearing. After an hour or so the group of natives broke camp, dowsed their fire and made off towards the river. Karlon and Darin joined Wayne.

 

“Geril is alive and apparently safe”, said Wayne.

 

“Thank goodness, what’s happened to her?” Darin was trying to keep calm.

 

“I’m not sure”, replied Wayne. “But from what I could make out she seems to have been mistaken for the Consort of the Sun-God these people worship.”

 

Darin was stunned. “What in the name! .....“He gasped.

 

Wayne continued, “Tomorrow there is a great festival called El Dorado and I happen to remember something of this ancient ceremony from my studies. If I’m correct this festival takes place on the sacred lagoon or lake of Guatavita which I think is only a few kilometres from where we are standing.”

 

“Then we’ve got until dawn to sort something out”, said Karlon. “See if you can disguise yourself Wayne, there’s some bits of clothing laying around near the Launch maybe you can get near enough to find out what exactly is happening. We’ll take the Launch as close as we can to this lake you mention and drop you off; from there we play it by ear!”

 

Some hours later, Wayne, feeling like a black polar bear on an ice cap, had managed to hide himself amongst the throng of people who were gathering around the house where Geril was being prepared for her role in the festival. He had stained his torso, face and hair as best he could from some ingredients he had found in the Launch’s galley but there was so much excitement around him nobody was paying any attention to a rotund make-believe native! Karlon and Darin lay hidden some way off listening to Wayne describing (as best he could through his wrist communicator) what was happening all around him. --Yes! It must be Geril they were talking about. She had come from the sky in a silver chariot and was to be returned to the Sun God by being cast into the lake, wearing the finest jewels, as an offering to her master from his servants on earth.

 

Then Wayne saw Geril step out from the house, she look somewhat bemused but otherwise alright. He kept up his commentary as Geril, escorted by a phalanx of priests and maidens, was led towards the square and into the great Temple. After a period of chanting and incantations she re-appeared and was carried in a litter towards the shore of the huge lake of Guatavita. A great procession of people followed including Wayne. As they walked large braziers of fire were lit round the lake, the smoke almost hiding the light of day. At the lakeside the new ruler, a fine young man, was standing naked on a raft made of reeds and rushes while priests anointed him with a sticky substance on which they sprinkled gold dust until he was completely covered. Round his feet they placed piles of gold and emeralds. These he would throw into the water during the ceremony as an offering to the Sun God.

 

As Geril and her escort approached the lake everyone prostrated himself or herself while she was placed on another reed and rush raft alongside the royal party. Her raft was embellished with fine linen. Four small-lighted braziers containing incense burners wafted a pungent smell over the scene while men and women dressed in fine plumes, crowded round the rafts, chanting and singing. On the raft of the ruler stood four principal subject Priests and other Knights. They too were naked and each one carried an offering of gold and precious stones. Imbaya stood proudly beside Geril carrying his weapons that he was to cast into the lake. As the rafts made ready to leave the shore trumpets sounded and the chanting and singing reached a crescendo.

 

Wayne pushed his way through the crowd until he was a few meters away from the rafts and water edge. He hoped that Ledra and Stellar 1V had got the precise co-ordinates of his position as he threw caution to the wind.

 

“NOW!” he shouted.

 

Everything happened at once.

 

Adel fired three electron bolts simultaneously. The effect was shattering. Firing their laser guns at everything except people, Karlon and Darin raced towards the scene. Wayne, firing his weapon into the air, leapt aboard the raft and pushed Geril back onto the bank. The noise of the bolts stunned the crowd, smoke from braziers and laser guns covered the atmosphere and made it almost impossible for anyone to see what precisely was happening. Adel continued firing bolts and the hills and valleys resounded with crashing and booming. Ledra swept overhead in the Launch and landed as near as he could to the lakeside. Stumbling and running Wayne guided Geril towards the Launch. She was aware of what was going on and became more mentally alert with each passing second. As they scrambled forward they could hear Karlon and Darin firing and shouting behind them. This time there was no mistake as Wayne pushed Geril aboard the Launch. He turned in the doorway firing his laser all over the place but taking care not to harm anyone. Darin and Karlon ran up and leapt aboard in that order.

 

“OK Ledra GO!” shouted Karlon as the door closed.

 

Ledra rammed the thrusters forward and the Launch rose into the air and swept upwards to vanish from the sight of the Muisca people forever.

 

“Cease firing Merik, we are all safely on board the Launch and returning.” Karlon gave the order with more relief than he would have cared to admit. Darin held Geril in his arms she was dishevelled but unharmed. In all the commotion she had lost the jewels she had been wearing. She was safe and that was all that mattered.

 

 

-4-

 

 

After a few hours rest Geril felt more like her old self. Stellar IV was returning to Tamis and would remain in orbit while she and Darin tried to discover what had gone wrong during the spaceship’s last warp.

 

They were discussing these problems with Karlon, Merik, Professor Wayne and other senior staff at an informal meeting in the Captain’s lounge. Wayne was the hero of the hour and was trying to play down his part in Geril’s rescue; it would not do for a professor of his standing to be thought a swashbuckling, laser gun-toting bravado! He had surprised everyone, including himself, over his recent exertions and although he was unaware of it, Karlon had highly commended his conduct in the ship’s log.

 

Geril’s adventures on Earth had been alarming but not altogether unhelpful. By some careful de-briefing, Wayne had been able to establish the date of the ceremony on Lake Guatavita as midsummer’s day AD 960 plus or minus about 3Oyears. He had deduced this date from the name of the young Monarch that Geril had remembered as sounding like ‘Tumaca’, which concurred with Wayne’s recollection of what he had overheard; and from studying a book-disk of ancient hieroglyphic stone inscriptions from ancient Columbia he had in his library on board Stellar IV.

 

Based on this information Darin had concluded that every extra second spent in the warp had added, or subtracted, about 450 years of space-time from their original co-ordinates. Using the exact sequence as before another warp of 12 seconds should take them back into the reciprocal universe they had come from. There at least they were only one warp from ‘home’! Everyone was in agreement with this suggestion.

 

It was intriguing that in AD 960 in the universe they now found themselves part of they could see and hear everything normally and could converse with anyone, whilst in the reciprocal universe they had come from this was not possible. Darin voiced the opinion of himself and Geril that the universe they had found themselves in after the first warp was a ‘Mirror’ or ‘Negative' universe relative to their own ‘Real’ universe, whilst their present position was in an Alternatives universe. The anomaly might be explained by a ‘Split-beam’ effect at 180 degrees warp, somewhat similar in analogy to a laser holographic reproduction sequence. Without massive computing power they could not take this line of reasoning any further for the time being, it was enough to hope that they could get safely back into the reciprocal universe.

 

The meeting ended. Everyone returned to his or her Sections and the spaceship was made ready for its third warp through the target ‘hole’.

 

Once again the countdown was perfect and Stellar 1V passed through a 12 second warp without mishap. Karlon spoke to the ships s company over the internal communications system.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the main object of this mission was, and still is, to find Stellar 111. That endeavour is our first priority. As we seem to be all in one piece I am going to assume that Stellar 111 may have survived intact. With the exception of logging memories this ship is fully operational; therefore our two Academicians will have the resource of considerable computing power at their disposal. While they are working on new calculations we will commence a thorough search pattern, using all our sensors, imagination and any other thing we can think of!” Karlon felt better. He knew the crew would appreciate having something positive to occupy them.

 

Later that evening Darin explained to Karlon and his senior officers his own and Geril’s thoughts on the present situation. Still assuming that the Universe they were now in was a mirror of their ‘home’ Universe there should be an unmanned satellite planet called Tamplin close by in Sector 9. Darin suggested that Tamplin would make a good base for the mission.

 

From their brief experience on Tamis they should be able to utilise its facilities without being disturbed by people walking though them all the time! It was decided to accept the suggestion and twenty-four hours later Stellar 1V was in orbit 400 kilometres above the surface of the planet Tamplin.

 

Karlon organised a landing party consisting of Darin, Ledra and himself and ordered the Launch to be swung out. Life-support suits were donned as a precaution. With Karlon at the controls they studied the layout and plot of the docking site on Tamplin. A manual approach was selected as the best course of action as there was no beacon to guide them. With the visual screen on maximum resolution Ledra spoke to Karlon.

 

“It looks exactly like the layout plot Sir, nothing unusual on any sensors.”

 

“Right, let’s have a closer look,” Replied Karlon.

 

He took the Launch to within five kilometres of the surface and completed another visual search. Satisfied that a landing was possible he descended on low power. A few meters above the docking bay he gently eased the craft into the retaining clamps and latched on. The Launch slid through the air lock and stopped. There was no sign of life, human or otherwise.

 

Tamplin was a small asteroid world about 20 kilometres in diameter. In the ‘Home’ universe it was used as a control point and recreation centre by the Federation’s spaceships engaged on long galactic missions. Karlon ordered Ledra to examine the lower levels of the control complex, particularly the power level. As a precaution the Ensign was still wearing his space suit. Although all habitable parts of Tamplin were provided with a breathable atmosphere, which sensors showed as functioning normally, the landing party was taking no chances.

 

He was travelling in a swift transporter capsule when he noticed a similar capsule ahead of him containing a passenger! He increased speed to try and make a positive identification, as he did so the capsule ahead of him also increased speed. Down thirty levels he kept pace with the unidentified capsule. On reaching the power level his vehicle automatically stopped. The other capsule just disappeared. Perhaps it had been a hallucination? He checked his spacesuit; there was no malfunction of his air supply. He removed his helmet. There appeared to be no change in the atmosphere.

 

He reported the phenomenon to Karlon who revealed that he and Darin had just experienced a similar apparition while transporting to the control level. Darin thought they might be explainable in terms of velocity imagining; if they kept on occurring they would have to be lived with.

 

Ledra continued his inspection and reported that Tamplin was in perfect working order. On receiving this news Darin suggested that he and Geril set up a control base whilst Stellar 1V continued the search for Stellar 111. Karlon agreed to this idea but insisted that two members of the crew be included in the base party to be responsible for communications and maintenance. In addition a Launch would be assigned for their use in case of any emergency.

 

A couple of days were spent in organising the base and devising a search pattern for the spaceship to follow. Good communication links were established between the ship and Tamplin. During the evening before his departure Karlon had a private talk with Darin and Geril. What they told him was not exactly good news.

 

Without the vital information that had been erased from Stellar IV's memory banks it was almost impossible for the two scientists to prepare a guidance system to enable a safe return to their ‘Home’ universe. Using all the computer power available on Tamplin as well as the spaceship’s own computers it might just be possible to write a new system based on the best conjecture of parameters being evaluated but it would take a very long time and there was no guarantee of success.

 

“What are the chances of finding Stellar 111 intact?” Karlon asked his two friends.

 

“We’re optimistic”, replied Darin.

 

“Yes, we think there’s a good chance of the ship being operational, after all we have survived several warps without mishap.” Said Geril.

 

Karlon was thoughtful. If his friends were right in their assumption then it was his duty to cover every corner of space in the search pattern that had been worked out. It was agreed that in the event of Stellar 111 being found Karlon would return to Tamplin after making contact so that all data could be analysed before attempting a rescue. There was just a possibility that vital logging information might still be recorded in Stellar 111’s memories. He shook their hands and took his leave. The sooner he began the search the better.

 

Back on board Stellar 1V the Commander took his accustomed place on the bridge.

 

“Prepare to cast off Merik”, He ordered.

 

“Aye Aye Sir”.

 

The spaceship came alive with quiet efficiency. The countdown was immaculate. Stellar 1V disappeared into the blackness. Darin and Geril watched the departure on a visual screen. From now on only disembodied voices carried on Tachyonic carrier waves would span the empty space between them.

 

                                                             

                                                              

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

—1—

 

 

With Darin and Geril on Tamplin were Midshipman Engineer Errol, and Midshipman Yeoman Teong (his friends called him Tee). They were well-trained, pleasant young men, anxious to do all they could to assist their companions.

 

Darin and Geril knew they faced a daunting task. Darin was using the knowledge he had assimilated during his talks with Ledra to work out how to increase the output of the particle generators without jeopardizing the directional stability of Stellar IV. Hours were spent at the terminals but it was slow going even though they were using all the computer capacity available to them in their search for answers to difficult questions.

 

Daily messages from Karlon reported Stellar 1V’s position and gave details of the ship’s operational status. Systematic surveillance of every ‘Black Hole’ encountered was being achieved with maximum efficiency but no trace of Stellar 111 had yet been found. Weeks passed in this exacting role. Karlon would soon have to return to rest his crew.

 

One afternoon Darin and Geril took time off from their work to stroll along the promenade level. They paused to watch the robot cultivators at work in the bionic garden.

 

“Well they are better behaved than the ones back home”, laughed Darin, noting how the cultivators carefully tended their charges.

 

“There’s a frustrated gardener inside you”, smiled Geril. Then on a more thoughtful note. “Do you believe we will ever get home?”

 

Darin avoided a direct answer. “I’ve been talking to Errol and Tee. We could travel to ‘Earth’ in the launch, its well within range and we might pick up some useful information or ideas.”

 

Geril was pleased at this suggestion. A break would do them all good. Now they were used to apparitions appearing and dissolving round them it shouldn’t be too hard on the nerves! They could take some artificial gills with them and visit the submarine gardens. It would be lovely to see the Dolphins, especially Andy, even if he couldn’t see them and it would be a pleasant reminder of ‘Home’.

 

They returned to the laboratory and were just settling down to work when Errol’s voice came over the communication speaker.

 

“Karlon reports returning for rest and relaxation”, he said.

 

Darin looked at the digital position indicator. Stellar 1V was about 48 hours away. Six months had passed since the base on Tamplin had become operational. In that period of time Stellar 1V had surveyed vast sections of nearby space and its related ‘Black Holes’ in the search for Stellar 111. As they resumed their studies Darin and Geril were individually disappointed that no apparent progress was being made, either in finding the missing spaceship or arriving at a satisfactory explanation of their present predicament.

 

Forty-six hours later Stellar 1V arrived back and was docked in parking orbit. Karlon brought the crew down in rotation for rest and relaxation. It had been an exhausting patrol and everyone was tired. Ensign Ledra and his team in propulsion had had the most arduous task; operational conditions making it very difficult to hold the ship stationary at safe scanning distances while investigating ‘holes. He had spent many hours designing modifications to the onboard power controls and was anxious to consult Darin and Geril over the problems encountered.

 

While the two scientists were working on Ledra’s propulsion problems the ship’s crew relaxed by lounging around the swimming pool. Karlon was lying on a couch with Freyer beside him trailing her fingers in the water. It was pleasant in the recreational level with its cool pastel colours and warm atmosphere. Some of the younger members were enjoying themselves in the cascade; it was good to see their high spirits. They had all given of their best endeavours during the search for Stellar 111 and Karlon knew he could count on them.

 

Merik and Ledra sat close by their commander pitting their wits against a formidable computer Chess master. Interesting how senior crew often found their leisure in intellectual activities! Karlon preferred to swim, laze and look at video recordings, especially of sport. He glanced at Freyer. It was mainly due to her exceptional skill and attention to duty that no breakdowns whatsoever had occurred in the communication section during the past three months. Karlon realised he knew very little about Freyer from a personal view, except the usual information contained in her service record. She was some years younger than him. With dark complexion, auburn hair, small build (some might say plumpish!) she possessed a ready smile and wry sense of humour, derived no doubt from some Celtic ancestor from across the Irish Sea! He admitted to himself that he found her attractive. Although never short of lady escorts ashore he had no one special. His service career was important to him and long cruises in space tended to keep his personal life free and uncomplicated. He had come to know and admire his senior yeoman on this mission. If, and when, they made it back home he had an idea he might get to know her on more personal terms than was possible while she was under his command. Darin and Geril who joined them by the pool interrupted him in his thoughts. They were both looking strained and tired.

 

While Geril and Freyer swam, Karlon and Darin discussed the progress being made to solve difficult equations and other computer parameters that might ensure a safe return to their home universe. Darin was not optimistic. With the computer power he had available on Tamplin, coupled to the computers on board Stellar IV, it would take months just to achieve the outline of a program. He reminded Karlon that with all the Academy’s resources it had taken over a year to prepare the present mission and that put the problem into perspective.

 

 

Two weeks later Karlon took Stellar 1V on another long patrol. Daily reports kept those on Tamplin informed of events on board. All was routine, exacting and boring. Dozens of ‘Holes had been located and searched but still there was no sign of Stellar 111.

 

—2—

 

One afternoon, several months and two patrols later, Darin and Geril were sitting quietly at their desks when Errol’s voice came over the communication speakers, he sounded excited.

 

“Karlon reports he may have found Stellar 111!! “

 

The two scientists raced to the command level to hear Karlon’s voice ask:­ “Is Darin and Geril with you?” “Affirmative Karlon”, said Darin.

 

“We have a positive contact inside the vortex of black hole X.M.C.

15.4 x 3. Freyer is positive it’s Stellar 111”, continued Karlon. “We are running additional checks”.

 

Darin look at the Black Hole’s position and characteristics on the library screen that Geril had immediately activated. It was a large ‘hole in Sector eight, surprisingly close. Surveyed and charted in the home universe 16 years ago, its Gamma radiation was above normal. Angular space co-ordinates associated with this black hole were holoedral and required the highest degree of symmetry. Put into plain language that meant the surrounding space was damned dangerous and had colossal attraction power.

 

Excitement on Tamplin mounted. If it really was Stellar 111, then the breakthrough had been achieved. Darin calmed down. The contact could turn out to be a delayed echo, or maybe just debris from the missing spaceship.

 

Karlon came through again.

 

“Freyer has established faint audio contact.........it seems all the crew are safe and well.........so is the ship........they are trapped by gigantic forces........boy are they pleased to hear us!! “

 

 

Darin looked at his wife; they read each other’s thoughts. It was fantastic that Stellar 111 had been located but inwardly they were worried. If that spacecraft’s memory banks had been erased then the vessel could be trapped for eternity. The two scientists had no power source capable of retrieving her. Force fields involved were incalculable and available computer power was insufficient to assess the situation.

 

Karlon came through again.

 

“Have obtained a good fix. Stellar 111’s memory banks have been erased.... repeat.... erased. We are returning to base.”

 

Darin acknowledged. The news that Stella 111’s memory banks had been erased was the worst possible scenario. If only they could get in communication with ‘Home’ control it might just be possible to figure out how to rescue Stellar 111 and get themselves and her out of this Universe. Without the full resources of the Academy they didn’t stand a chance. Although they had successfully completed a warp back into their present location there was a fault somewhere in Stellar 1V’s timing and sequence systems. There was no telling where in space and time they might end up if they attempted another warp.

 

Thirty hours later Stellar 1V arrived back in orbit over Tamplin and Karlon brought his senior officers down for debriefing. Freyer was delighted with the performance of her scanning equipment. It was superb. Adequate audio links with Stellar 111 had been established but only at short range. It meant accepting a high risk factor being so close to the ‘hole. Ledra had needed all the ship’s retard power to maintain position. It had been hair rising at times!

 

Darin examined the ranging and scanning records. The fix was a good one. He began work on the figures right away. In a few days he hoped to have a clearer picture of Stellar 111’s plight. It seemed that Commander Jaret and his crew were in good health and in no danger. The Stellar class were stout ships and had an endurance of many years if necessary. A comforting thought at least among a sea of troubles!

 

-3-

 

Some weeks later, over dinner, Darin mentioned to Karlon the trip to ‘Earth’ that he and Geril had contemplated earlier. Karlon took him up on this suggestion. Why not go? The intervening weeks since Stellar 1V’s return had produced no tangible solutions and a few days rest might restore their spirits. He offered to send Merik or Ledra with them.

 

Darin was reluctant to leave for any frivolous reasons but he and Geril thought there was some scientific merit in a visit to their own planet. After more talk it was agreed that Karlon and Freyer would accompany them. Merik and Ledra had both said they were very busy on their respective duties. Karlon suspected they were locked in battle with the chess computer!

 

A few days later Karlon gave the order to prepare for the journey to Earth. They would travel in the Launch, which had been designed for extended patrols. It had Tachyonic speed capability. Depending on the route and space conditions they should reach their destination within a week. With excellent communications and back-up systems they hoped the trip would prove to be instructive, although it might also be an eerie experience. They intended to return within three weeks depending on the circumstances they found on arrival.

 

With Karlon at the controls the Launch lifted off from the docking bay. Course was set and a landing site chosen near the Oceanic University.

 

 

-4-

 

 

Two days into the flight - Karlon was concentrating on monitoring the Launch’s trajectory whilst Freyer sat alongside him at the navigation console. She turned towards him;

 

“Scanners show a large Halonic disturbance crossing our flight path Sir, recalibration sequence initiated for course correction.”

 

“How large is the disturbance Lieut.?”

 

“Huge Sir, density 30 over 80”.

 

Karlon glanced at the computer visual display. The disturbance was unusually large.

 

“How long will this detour last?” he asked.

 

“Sixty hours Captain”, came the reply.

 

Karlon was slightly uneasy as he glanced at the new co­ordinates; they were uncomfortably close to a heavy gamma radiation sector. He demanded a visual map of the area and called Darin over. At the same time he reduced power and set the Launch on a wide holding pattern.

 

“There’s a nasty Halonic storm ahead Darin and our corrected course is through a gamma sector. What do you make of it?”

 

Darin studied the display map. Karlon was right to be cautious. These deep space Halonic storms were very dangerous, in spite of it’s shielding the launch would do well to avoid the danger area if possible.

 

“Can we turn and outrun it Karlon?” asked Darin.

 

“Not with safety, we shall have to detour”, replied Karlon.

 

He commanded the corrected course and the Launch began to accelerate. Two hours later a further course correction set them towards the gamma sector. All scanners and monitors were on full alert, automatic repair systems were checked and locked on line; it might be a rough ride for a few hours.

 

Freyer contacted Tamplin and advised them of the new change of course, she knew the effects of the storm and gamma radiation might impair communications. She was not unduly worried when the Tamplin channel frequencies went off-line and reported the occurrence to Karlon who nodded.

 

The Launch began to accelerate towards the gamma sector; automatic power settings and course changes became more frequent as navigation computers corrected for increases in the induced gamma field. Meanwhile Geril was using all the computing power at her disposal to determine the structure and density of the gamma radiation. It was a powerful vortex. The flight was also being affected by side waves from the Halonic storm. The Launch would need careful handling during these conditions.

 

Six hours later Karlon was suddenly aroused from his rest couch by automatic alarms. He was immediately alert; a glance at the flight deck controls and consoles indicated an overload situation on the outer shields. Automatic repair and compensation circuits were functioning but the power drain was reaching critical levels. The Launch was vibrating as directional stability thrusters began compensating against outside radiation. Karlon ordered everyone to safety stations and selected full retain on his harness.

 

Conditions began to deteriorate. Reserves of power were diminishing as various automatic control functions struggled to maintain stability and directional control. Despite Karlon closing down all unnecessary circuits the Launch began oscillating with alarming frequency. Freyer lost all communication channels as Halonic echoes swamped transmissions.

 

Karlon had no control over power distribution; it was automatically being used to best advantage. Darin was trying to calculate the possible duration of the storm. Suddenly there was a violent shudder. The Launch became unstable and began gyrating towards the gamma-vortex. Karlon immediately overrode the auto controls and began transferring power from the shields to all propulsion units. This was a desperate and calculated risk; he was gambling on the sound structure and versatile manoeuvring modes of the Launch to combat the gamma influence.

 

It was touch and go..... Slowly the Launch regained directional stability and power banks started recharging. After two hours of tension the vessel began to accelerate away from the centre of the vortex and Karlon considered them out of danger. He assessed the situation. Some systems were still under automatic repair but propulsion and power banks were back to normal. A new course was set and as frequency channels became operative again Freyer was able to report back to Tamplin that all was well.

 

Resting in the lounge Darin realised that Karlon’s prompt action in taking manual control of the craft had undoubtedly saved their lives. No matter how sophisticated the machine or systems, human brains and gut reactions were still of paramount importance. There was no substitute for fitness, good training and good luck!

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

—1—

 

Freyer was looking at the visual screen, searching for definite signs that the Launch was approaching the solar system and planet Earth. Inky blackness and pin points of light slowly resolving into new combinations of background luminosity riveted her to the screen and she was startled when audio sensors drew her attention to the centre of the plot.

 

“Unidentified object on the screen Sir.”

 

She spoke to Karlon, who had closed his eyes for a while. He started up.

 

“Where away?”

 

Freyer demanded maximum resolution.” Off the starboard star field at 110. Sensors detect a metallic object, Lathium construction, with induced spin and enclosed atmosphere -obviously artificial — one kilometre in diameter.”

 

“Anything recorded in this sector?” He asked.

 

“Nothing on the charts Sir.”

 

They all stared at the shape on the screen. Karlon increased speed, the sooner they closed the quicker would come answers.

 

“What do you make of it Darin?” he asked.

 

“No idea Karlon, maybe it’s a defunct beacon or something like that?”

 

“It’s too big for that” said Freyer.

 

As they closed on the object it began to assume an elongated shape not unlike an old time Rugby ball. Sensors confirmed its structure to be Lathium — a synthetic metal used in the construction of artificial planets.

 

Karlon stopped the Launch within short visual range of the object.

 

“What do you make of the atmosphere?” he asked Darin who was studying the sensor readouts.

 

“It’s oxygen/helium with membrane encapsulator at normal pressure, suitable for life forms and comfortable for humans,” he replied. “Geril and I would like to explore further.”

 

Karlon agreed with this suggestion and manoeuvred the Launch into an umbilical position above the satellite. This would enable the landing party to ferry themselves across the intervening space without severing connection with the Launch. Once down they could disconnect themselves and explore the interior of the satellite.

 

Darin and Geril put on space suits; completed the necessary checks and requested Karlon to open the air lock leading to the umbilical track way.

 

They descended slowly and carefully, Darin using his scanner to locate the satellite’s air—lock. It was unusual to provide an encapsulated atmosphere for a small satellite but there must be some reason behind the construction of such an expensive atmospheric envelope. Entering the air lock they detached and tethered their umbilical cords and descended to the surface by aerofoil transmission tube.

 

Entering a domed shaped hall leading to the internal levels they found themselves standing in a small amphitheatre suffused in pale blue luminescence. In the centre stood a curved platform with two inward facing horn shaped sculptures at each end of the dais. Behind this structure was a passageway flanked by two inverted columns. After checking the atmosphere they removed their visors and helmets.

 

“Well, whatever this place represents it must have a reciprocal in the ‘real’ Universe”, said Geril as she and Darin walked down the passageway. They came to a room filled with all sorts of discarded bits of material. Suddenly they both began laughing.

 

“What’s going on down there?” demanded Karlon.

 

Darin pointed his video scanner to a large notice, which read.

 

STARLIGHT FILMS. STUDIO 3. SILENCE.

 

“It’s an abandoned film lot”, replied Darin, “Must be recorded somewhere. And I thought we had discovered an unknown civilisation!”

 

There were dozens of these discarded film lots charted. It was mandatory to leave them operational and they made useful satellites although the beacon on this one appeared to have degraded. These units were built as appendices to a mother craft and were released when no longer required. With a ‘seeded’ atmosphere and gyroscopic inertial systems they could stay functional for decades. Darin and Geril explored the set thoroughly. From the look of things it was of recent construction. Geril wondered what make believe saga had been enacted where they were standing that could possibly compare with the real life drama of their present circumstances.

 

She began to feel isolated from reality. Was this the ‘dreamtime!’ ancient people had pondered on? A journey through boundless halls of space. Trapped in her own consciousness perhaps this ‘Universe was only a mirror for her own thoughts? Encapsulating memories and events in a never ending procession of images and mirages until what was ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ became blurred,

-  An illusion of sameness - of no beginning or ending - like the kiss of a summer’s breeze - scented but unseen -harbinger of delights but also a messenger of autumn...........

 

“Geril, you alright?”

 

Darin’ s voice broke her daydreaming.

 

“Come and look at this piece of jewellery!” He exclaimed.

 

As she took the necklace from his hand her heart began to beat faster.

 

“Incredible! Incredible!” she gasped, running the necklace through her fingers. “This is exactly the same necklace I wore on that never to be forgotten day by Lake Guatavita, where did you find it?”

 

“It was lying under some slats over there”, Darin replied, pointing to where a dismantled staircase was leaning against a retaining wall. “It just caught my eye; put it safely in one of your pockets while we finish having a look round the lower levels”.

 

Geril slipped the necklace into a pocket of her spacesuit and followed Darin down into the lower levels of the satellite. They found nothing else of interest and after a couple of hours they returned to the Launch. Karlon asked Freyer to rig another beacon on the satellite; it could prove useful if they found themselves in this sector of space again.

 

The rest of the journey to earth was uneventful. Four days, six hours, three minutes and eighteen seconds after lift-off from Tamplin they were in orbit at one hundred kilometres. Visual surveillance showed nothing unusual although they suspected the same phenomenon that greeted them back on Tamis awaited them on landing!

 

Karlon made a careful descent and landed safely, five hundred meters from the Oceanic University.

 

-2—

 

It was unsettling and strange to see and hear people going about their daily lives. Geril saw her father at work in his study, and almost gave way to tears. It was odd to be able to touch and pick things up and still see them in situ in the real’ world, if that was the word to describe what they were experiencing. Under these circumstances what was ‘real’ or ‘Unreal’? It was an open question. There was no way they could make themselves visible and even if they shouted their heads off, no one would hear them.

 

It was soon apparent to Darin and the others that nothing useful had been gained by their journey; other than a break from routine on Tamplin. Geril wanted a walk in the submarine gardens. Darin tried to dissuade her but realising that perhaps the experience would help her and the others to unwind he returned to the Launch and collected gills and underwater clothing.

 

As they submerged Karlon and Freyer were fascinated. They had never visited the scene before at ‘home’. The underwater gardens were astonishingly beautiful. It was a dream world. The submarine flora and coral outcrops were like transparent sculptures. A myriad of fish and other marine life in rainbow colours swam all around them. Wandering among the pavilions and grottos they began to feel more at ease in this water world.

 

Geril made her way alone towards the Dolphinarium; she could see the sleek outlines of her favourite creatures as they glided and swam with effortless grace. Then to her great delight she saw Andy winding his way through his family and friends. He swam towards her; if only he could see and talk to her. She stretched out her hand and saw it dissolve through the Dolphin’s body. Sitting down she watched while he swam around. After a few minutes and without thinking about what she was doing she spoke idly into the Dolphin communicator still affixed to her underwater suit.

 

“Hello Andy, you lovely creature

 

She spoke softly, at the same time manipulating the controls automatically. To her utter amazement the Dolphin answered her.

 

“Hello Geril!”

 

She stared at the read-out in disbelief!!

 

“Can you hear me Andy?” she asked.

 

“Yes, where are you, I can’t see you?” he replied.

 

“I’m here”, she said, without thinking.

 

“Where?” He swam all around her. He could obviously hear her but could not see her. She waved frantically to the others who came over to where she was jumping up and down. They were soon told what had happened and were nonplussed, to say the least!

 

“Andy, can you still hear me?” Geril asked.

 

“Yes, do you want to play?” he replied.

 

Geril remembered the games of hide and seek they used to play among the pavilions and corals. Andy obviously thought she was hiding.

 

It took some time to convince Andy that Geril wasn’t playing games and needed help. He swam away and returned with a supervisor, who thought the Dolphin was playing games and having him on at the same time. After some minutes of confusion the supervisor realised that something very strange was going on. He left to summon Geril’s father and other members of the staff. If for some reason Andy’s brain was able to bridge the space-time gap then help might be possible. Darin and the others waited impatiently for the arrival of the Professor. After a short interval Geril’s father and other individuals arrived underwater.

 

There then ensued one of the most remarkable and complicated conversations any of them would ever have in their lives. After it was firmly established that contact had been made through Andy it was decided to leave the submarine gardens and transfer the Dolphin to a special enclosure where it would be easier to continue talking.

 

The four travellers returned to the Launch. They were still a long way from reality but being able to talk with ‘home’ was a miraculous breakthrough. They informed everyone on Tamplin and Stellar 1V of what had happened and opened all communication channels; they were going to need them!

 

Freyer was fascinated by the import of the momentous discovery that Dolphin communication could encompass other space-time realities. What would the field of communications be like in the future? She mused to herself. Karlon interrupted her thoughts.

 

“Let’s get the show on the road Lieutenant”. He ordered, smiling as he did so.

 

She began to arrange the network of frequencies needed. The Launch had never been designed for anything quite like these circumstances. She was determined to stretch the systems to their limits.

 

Geril was delighted that her mother and father knew at least she was alive and well. The news of the survival of both Stellar space ships was broadcast world wide, throughout the Galaxy and beyond, to the remotest settlements.

 

Andy was the hero of the hour.

 

In official circles a sense of realism remained. There was no certainty of the safe return of either ship unless the problems of what to do and how to do it were solved.

 

Orders were given to remove Stellar 1V into orbit around the ‘Earth’ and Tamplin, as a base, was closed down. Karlon lost count of the number of times he made the journey from his spaceship to the Oceanic University. Data began to accumulate. Darin and Geril worked flat out through their Dolphin friends, evaluating, sifting and testing the ideas and calculations provided by the Academy.

 

Stellar 1V under Merik’s command returned to the black ‘hole’, X.M.C. 15.4 x 3 and found Stellar 111 still entrapped but otherwise alright. Having taken new bearings and other readings requested by the Academy, Merik explained to Commander Jaret details of the efforts being made to rescue him and his crew. After four months of frantic effort a feasible plan had been evolved to bring both ships safely though another warp and back into their own Universe. On his return from this mission Merik was told that the rescue plan was ready to be implemented as soon as the latest bearings of Stellar 111 had been evaluated.

 

A few weeks later Karlon held a final briefing on board Stellar 1V.

 

-3—

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen. We are about to leave on our hazardous mission. I will only say that my confidence in you and this superb spaceship is unlimited. We find ourselves facing the unknown once again with the added responsibility of trying to rescue our friends aboard Stellar 111. I have asked all hands to this meeting so that you will all learn about the problems involved. I am about to ask Academician Darin to tell you what those problems are and how it is hoped to solve them. Good luck to us all”.

 

Karlon sat down and looked at the faces of his crew. They were quietly contemplating his words. He never made long speeches; everyone knew their survival depended on each individual working together.

 

Darin rose to speak. Unlike Karlon he was used to making speeches and giving lectures. He knew this talk would be the most important one he was ever likely to make. He spoke first of the successful warp achieved at the beginning of the mission. This had been a brilliant feat of scientific experiment and vindicated the Academy’s hypothesis that it was possible to travel beyond the bounds of space and time from one Universe to another. The loss of electronic and Tachyonic recordings during the actual warp was serious. It prevented accurate assessment of what had taken place during the subsequent warps and made a safe return almost impossible. Almost, but not quite!

 

The discovery that Dolphin minds possessed the ability to communicate with another space-time dimension had enabled the Academy to utilise all the computer resources in the Galaxy to solve the re-entry problems. He was pleased to say that a feasible plan had been worked out. In order to rescue Stellar 111 the particle generators and acceleration power of Stellar 1V would have to be increased by 75% and a time fault in the Delyon counters circuitry repaired. Based on calculations made by himself and his wife over the past few weeks, modifications made to the ship’s Tachyonic generators would provide the extra power. There was no way of testing the generators until the actual moment arrived but experiments in the Academy’s laboratories at ‘home’ had proved encouraging. He was confident the mission would achieve its aims. Navigation problems were minimal and the symmetry systems fully operational.

 

The huge field force preventing Stellar 111 from moving had to be overcome and a very ingenious solution had been worked out. It was proposed to use the same ‘Hole’ she was trapped in to warp both ships back to the real ‘Universe’. Instructing Stellar 111 to use maximum retard power Stellar 1V would enter the ‘hole’ and allow its directional stability to become eccentric. This should put both ships into close proximity. At this juncture Karlon would order his particle generators to be increased to absolute full power. This action would result in a Tachyonic ‘tow’ for Stellar III. At the event horizon polarity would be reversed and both ships should warp back into their ‘home’ Universe. New programs that had been written and should only take a few seconds to achieve would control all these manoeuvres automatically.

 

Darin sat down. The crew looked impressed, although not everyone would have appreciated all the technical details. Ledra thought the whole scheme was brilliant. Karlon trusted the scientist’s judgement. They, in turn, trusted him and his crew. The meeting broke up. It was time to set off.

 

-4-

 

Freyer was tense. Stellar 1V had arrived within audio range of Stellar 111. Full instructions were being transmitted on all channels to update her sister ship’s propulsion and communication equipment. No time was being wasted. Stellar 1V needed all her power to maintain distance, and power was precious. A few minutes sufficed. Stellar 111 acknowledged instructions received. Freyer worked swiftly and professionally. All locking channels were green. She glanced at the visual screens. Her duties for the time being were over. Karlon, Merik, Darin and Geril sat in their couches. It only remained for Karlon to give the order to the automatic sequence computers.

 

“Are you all set Mr. Ledra?” Karlon asked.

 

“Aye Aye Sir”, came the calm reply.

 

“Then let’s go!”

 

Karlon’s finger pressed the command button on the arm of his couch.

 

—5—

 

In propulsion Ensign Ledra stared at the directional stability counters, as he had done during the first warp. Almost immediately warning lights came on........the pulse stabilisers and Delyon counters were overloading........ two seconds into the warp and stabilisation became unbalanced and erratic........ the particle generators reached maximum output....... ranging lasers flashed rainbow colours thermal barrier systems began breaking down........ the low hum of Tachyonic activity became an unbearable howl........ three seconds and automatic repairing systems in the main Cryogenic computer banks began malfunctioning........four........five.... ...six seconds........this couldn’t go on........ Ledra watched with fatal fascination as the Gamma scale went to a light factor reading........surely the ship would break up?........seven seconds........the shields were being destroyed faster than damaged automatic repair circuits could work........eight seconds.......suddenly the howl ceased....... ranging lasers turned blue, green, then amber. The shields began to recover. Pulse stabilisers and Delyon counters returned to normal. Power requirements diminished. Lasers turned Red. Polarity was normal.............had they made it?

 

On the bridge Karlon was looking at the scanning screen. There in the middle was the magnificent sight of Stellar III.........

 

THEY HAD WON THROUGH!!!

 

In Communication Freyer was still clutching her doll when the voice of Commander Jaret came over from Stellar 111.

 

“Thank you Stellar 1V, Well done!”

 

She was drained of emotion and just kissed her doll.

 

Darin looked at his wife; she was smiling and pointing to the screen. The familiar backgrounds of stars were shining in their right sequence.........

 

THEY WERE HOME!!!

 

—6—

 

The rest of the voyage was a triumph. First to Tamis for reunions and de-briefing. Then on to Earth for more of the same. What a mission! And what a lot of unanswered questions. The implications of the voyage were staggering. How many Universes? Was intelligent life common to this Cosmos only? What of the Dolphin species and their advanced mental faculties? Speculation was endless.

 

One of Geril’s first priorities after returning home was to contact Starlight Films Inc. The company informed her that the satellite she and Darin had searched in space had been used to recreate the Festival of El Dorado for an epic film they had made about ancient civilisations. Geril told them about the golden necklace Darin had found on the satellite and how it was identical to one she had worn on Lake Guatavita. She explained that she had not found the necklace in her pocket on her return to the ‘home’ Universe. Starlight Films said they had borrowed a priceless necklace from the Museum of Ancient Art for the production and had accidentally lost it whilst filming. They had had to pay substantial compensation to the Museum. Geril described exactly where the necklace had been found on the set in Studio 3 and an expedition was sent to the satellite. The necklace was found exactly where Geril had indicated. Starlight Films were delighted to have recovered the priceless piece of jewellery. The necklace was loaned to Geril to wear at a dinner with the President and Fellows of the Academy. At this prestigious gathering Geril and Darin were to be honoured with commemorative Medals and Fellowships.

 

On the evening of the dinner Geril was sitting in front of her dressing table, wearing the golden necklace and brushing her hair. In spite of his experience at after dinner speaking Darin was nervous and was practicing his lines in his head when he heard Geril give a startled cry. “OH!”

 

He turned to see what had caused his wife to cry out. Geril had dropped her hairbrush and was looking at him with a quizzical smile.

 

“Darling, my image in the mirror just winked at me!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

FINIS