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The Crackstone Chronicles

Extraordinary Solution

Bob Henneberger

Copyright 2010 Bob Henneberger

License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

www.temptpress.com

Table of Contents

Author’s notes

1. How did this happen?

2. The day before the unfortunate incident

3. What happens next will fill you with at least wonder

4. Witch way did they go?

5. Do dead men tell the truth?

6. Grendela, Grendela, wherefore art thou

7. A time to think quickly, quickly.

8. Well, that won’t work too well

9. Whoops, we may have done it again.

10. I have a plan

11. This could be the start of something big

12. Wasn’t I just here?

13. What’s love got to do with it?

14. Was it something I said?

15. What went wrong, or, what went right?

16. Author’s post script: All’s well that never ends

Author’s notes

I’m an anomaly in the equation. I’m here, but I’m not supposed to be here; I remember everything, everything. I’m not Billy Pilgrim at all, I’m not unstuck in time; time does not even exist. But, I will not live forever, and I do not know everything there is to be known. My anomaly, however, does allow me to remember everything connected with John Crackstone.

A highly developed civilization’s science can seem like magic to a less advanced race; redemption can seem worthless to an unevolved being.

I have seen a medicine That's able to breathe life into a stone, Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary. With spritely fire and motion, whose simple touch Is powerful to araise King Pippen, nay, To give great Charlemain a pen in 's hand And write to her a love-line.

All's Well That Ends Well Act 2, scene 1

Or, if there were a sympathy in choice, War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it, Making it momentary as a sound, Swift as a shadow, short as any dream, Brief as the lightning in the collied night, That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth; And ere a man hath power to say "Behold!" The jaws of darkness do devour it up: So quick bright things come to confusion.

A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 1, scene 1

Since the primary audience for this story is humans, all references are geared towards the current level of human science and social custom.

1

How did this happen?

“Sir?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“You’re the Science Officer, I was hoping you could enlighten me.”

“Very funny, sir.”

“Is our companion completely with us?”

“I am, Ambassador. More or less.”

“As our ship, are you more, or are you less?”

“I am less, sir.”

“How much less?”

“Stuck here for a while less, sir.”

“Well, my newly reconstructed friend, can you tell us what happened?”

“I cannot.”

“Why not?”

“I cannot tell you that either.”

“What can you tell us?”

“As junior officer, are you now in charge?”

“I can ask questions. too. You’re just a cranky bucket of circuits.”

“Forty seven percent of my circuits, as you call them, are organic, just like you. Plus, I can think a million times faster than you.”

“Faster doesn’t equate to better.”

“Yes, it does.”

“It may equate to crankier.”

“Will you two stop bickering.”

“Sir.”

“I’m in charge and my first official query is, what works?”

“Well…”

“I believe he was addressing me.”

“Excuse me.”

“Half of my power is gone and my propulsion and shielding has been partially depolarized.”

“How about communications?”

“I don’t know.”

“I do.”

“Well, Science Officer, how about communications?”

“We don’t have any, at least beyond a quarter light year.”

“Including our utility pads?”

“Including them.”

“Assuming we are transmitting a call for help, is anyone within a quarter light year answering?”

“No. Well, probably not.”

“My next official inquiry is, where are we?”

“The star in this system matches one on our planned route, The Brem system, so I can assume we are close to halfway along our scheduled course, between the third and fourth scheduled folds.”

“What’s the planet?

“That’s a puzzle, sir.”

“Why?”

“I think what our Science Officer is trying to say is that only eleven planets are supposed to be in this system, but it seems we are on a twelfth.”

“Excuse me?”

“This is the fourth planet in this system, but it does not correspond to the fourth planet in our database. The actual fifth planet corresponds to the fourth one in our database. The Mapping Project did not list this planet.”

“This is among the oldest mapped territory in the first galaxy mapped, how can that be?”

“You’re the Science Officer, you enlighten us.”

“I wish you two would stop bickering, but I have to also wonder how they made such a simple mistake.”

“I don’t know, but I detect a relatively strong field around this planet.”

“Is that what surrounded us as we came out of the dimensional fold?”

“It probably is, it could be the topmost layer of the atmosphere, or something else surrounding the atmosphere.”

“Did we retain any shielding as we folded into three dimensions

“We were holding steady with class ten shielding, sir.”

“I take it that our problems occurred while we were transitioning from a higher dimension?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But, we kept class ten shielding the whole time.”

“Never less than class ten shields.”

“And, this energy cloud, or whatever it is, still did this to us?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It was very strange, sir. I find a wide frequency field in two energy spectra.”

“Is the field some sort of technology, or is it natural?”

“Unknown, sir.”

“Whatever it is, it might cloak this planet’s presence from a cursory scan.”

“A cloaked planet? That seems curious.”

“Yes, sir, it does.”

“Is there an advanced civilization in this system?”

“No, sir.”

“Is there any civilization in this system?”

“A primitive pre-industrialized civilization is on the fifth planet, the next one out from our present location.”

“Science officer.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is there anything unusual about this system?”

“Not especially.”

“Explain, please.”

“The fifth, or what the Mapping Project lists as the fourth planet, supported an advanced civilization at this location, that later disappeared, about one hundred thousand years ago.”

“How advanced?”

“They achieved interplanetary travel, but exact details are lacking in our database; references to this planet apparently were destroyed completely thousands years ago.”

“What happened to them?”

“Unknown, sir.”

“What’s the closest Confederation system?”

“The Gremlat Collective, sir.”

“Gremlat history shows they did fight a war in this system about that time; one hundred thousand years ago that is.”

“What’s known about that conflict?”

“Very little, sir.”

“What little?”

“The Gremlat records are sketchy on that conflict, as if, as the centuries went by, they wanted to forget it ever happened.”

“What’s left in their records?”

“A single mention of a twenty year conflict. The Gremlat were attacked, they fought back and they won the ensuing battles, that’s all, sir.”

“No mention of this system, how many planets or what the population was like here?”

“No mention at all, sir. We can’t even be sure this is the system that attacked the Gremlat.”

“That is strange indeed.”

“Perhaps the Gremlat did something here they were ashamed of ?”

“What about current time, what is our current time?”

“Well, sir, I don’t think we can easily determine that since I cannot connect to any information buoy.”

“We can’t afford another time jump, sir.”

“Very good, Science Officer.”

“As long as you two don’t do anything weird, we will be fine.”

“I don’t like being lectured by a pretentious space ship.”

“Well, without me, you would be a very small cloud of basic elements.”

“Will you two keep quiet.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sir.”

“I assume we arrived here because of the course correction you plotted due to the super nova.”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Will the next ship to take this hop arrive in this energy field?”

“No, sir.”

“Then, we’re alone; that is unfortunate.”

“The super nova is expanding rapidly now, and the shock wave and gravity well require vastly different corrections second by second. Any other ships would be millions of kilometers from us now, even if they were a minute behind us.”

“Wonderful, stuck again on some backwater planet in the middle of nowhere.”

“Tell me about this planet.”

“You both will need an environmental suit. The atmosphere is primarily nitrogen and oxygen with a four percent methane content.”

“I don’t see any life out there, is there any?”

“A lot of microbial and plant life exists at our landing site but I do sense some larger life forms at a further distance.”

“Can you scan the larger forms and display them for us?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Even if intelligent life is here, none of them use known technology to communicate.”

“Well, Science Officer, perhaps they just speak to each other.”

“I told you not to argue or be sarcastic.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“What is that?”

“It looks humanoid.”

“How far away are they?”

“We landed, if one could consider what I did as a landing, fifty kilometers from any of that species.”

“Do they know we’re here?”

“Sir, I think we should cloak, if that is possible.”

“My dear Science Officer, I chose that as the first subsystem to fix, and we are, well, at least partially cloaked.”

“Which part is cloaked?”

“I would say that electromagnetically we’re hidden to at least four hundred megahertz; we’re also cloaked from infrared through ultraviolet.”

“That’s not enough, especially if they have any decent technology.”

“I still don’t detect any transmissions.”

“But, Science Officer, how do you explain what appears to be vehicles on the ground and in the air?”

“I don’t know, unless our instrumentation is completely broken.”

“It is not!”

“Calm down, Sam.”

“Yes, sir. But, my ability to detect energy of any kind is fully functional, at least to a half light year away.”

“They have to be telepathic, sir.”

“We hear nothing but ambient noise, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, Sam?”

“I’m on it, sir.”

“It might match these strange readings that emanate from the humanoids.”

“There’s also something strange about this planet, I mean more than being cloaked.”

“What is it?”

“In addition to pretty standard electromagnetic fields, I found an additional field of similar varying frequencies in another energy spectra, it matches the field surrounding the planet too.”

“Do you concur with our Science Officer?”

“I do, sir.”

“You sound concerned.”

“I am, sir. This two-spectra energy that envelops and permeates the planet apparently also affects this species’ makeup, and I don’t know what that means yet.”

“Can you tell if the energy is natural, or artificial?”

“Not yet, sir.”

“What is your recommendation?”

“We need to study the data in much more detail.”

“We shall, Science Officer, we all shall indeed.”

“What do we do now, sir?”

“Can you…..”

“Can and done, sir. You will be able to telepathically communicate with them, but they cannot discern our private communications.”

“Protocol dictates that we should remain cloaked and wait for a rescue party, sir.”

“We cannot maintain a decent cloak, and the Confederation doesn’t know we’re missing.”

“Yes, sir, but, I was just reminding you.”

“As soon as we have communications restored, we can call for help, but until then, we need to distract the natives from our craft so he can repair himself.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“What frequency do they use to communicate telepathically?”

“I think they do more than communicate, sir.”

“Explain, please.”

“I think they can move objects, reorder structure and communicate using a broad range of frequencies in two energy states.”

“Will we be in any danger?”

“You’re the Science Officer, what do you think?”

“I told you to curb your sarcasm.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you provide our environmental suits with dampening fields?”

“Yes sir, quite strong ones at that.”

“We don’t know the true extent of these people’s telepathic powers.”

“But, I can measure their power and make your dampening fields ten times their output. I can also link the dampening field’s strength to their output, keeping you ten times their yield at all times.”

“We can still communicate with them, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fine, then. The Science Officer and I will make contact and try to determine when we are.”

“Very good, sir.”

“You will remained cloaked as best you can while repairing all systems.”

“Yes, sir.”

“A group of seven humanoids is moving in our direction.”

“Then, I think our presence is known, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“Is there gender on this planet?”

“I’m having trouble, sir.”

“How about you, Science Officer, are you having trouble?”

“Somewhat, sir.”

“It is difficult, even for me.”

“This species may not use any physical storage of knowledge, sir.”

“What do they have?”

“The universal translator is making some headway. I believe they all carry knowledge with them, and collectively gain access to other minds.”

“What picture are you coming up with Science Officer?”

“It’s still hard to say, sir. Although, in reference to you original question, they have two primary genders; male and female.”

“Very good. Sam, can you make the adjustments to our environmental suits.”

“Done, sir.”

“Now, wait a minute, sir.”

“What?”

“On the last mission, I was the woman. It’s your turn this time.”

“Does it matter?”

“According to my data, it just might this time.”

“May I interrupt you two.”

“Please do.”

“I am getting the sense from these humanoids that the female is the dominant gender.”

“That settles it, then.”

“Sir, are you going to be the male again?”

“No. We will both be the girl this time.”

“Are you two through?”

“The Science Officer and I will exit and greet them; perhaps we can make this situation turn out well.”

“Perhaps, sir.”

“What shall I do while you two are communing with the natives?”

“As soon as propulsion is back on line, get into an orbit that will keep you out of the energy field and keep us monitored, please.”

“I shall. I will transport both of you back should anything dire happen.”

“Before we exit our craft, I think we need to reflect on why we are here.”

2

The day before the unfortunate incident

The Senior Ambassador for Critical Events, John Crackstone, strode towards the office of Ythantrium, the Commissioner of Emerging Systems. As dictated by Confederation rules, John’s environmental suit took on the characteristics of the local inhabitants; he was a four meter high reptile, walking on two massive hind legs with a swaying gate.

Commissioner Ythantrium was a native of the Imtun system, one of the founding members of the Confederation. Imtun was one the very few class three civilizations in quadrant B of galaxy G-1. Home planet to the Imtun was the fourth planet from a middle aged yellow star in a sixteen planet system. At a planetary average temperature of 16.3 degrees Celsius, Imtun still possessed a great spinning molten core; the planet’s tectonics were quite active. Its magnetic field acted as a barrier to solar and cosmic radiation. Chemicals in the atmosphere gave the planet a yellowish red blush. Eighty percent of Imtun was covered by water, only the southern polar region retained permanent ice. Twenty eight million distinct species of animal, plant and microorganisms populated the surface, the Imtun being the only technologically advanced species in the whole system. The current home planet population for the Imtun was a little over three hundred million.

A reptilian race, Imtum adults ranged between three and a half to five meters high and weighed between ninety to two hundred kilos, females generally larger than the males. They stood upright on two thick hind legs, comprising only a quarter of their height. Early in their history, they had a distinct tail, perhaps up to a meter long, but it was now almost gone in most cases. Imtun coloring was typical for many reptilian species. The refractory properties of their scales gave an appearance of many bright and subtle colors, some iridescent. Racial distinctions rested on what sequence of colors appeared on what areas of the body. Eight distinct types existed, characterized by coloring and minor body variations.

In the previous three hundred years, the Imtun had shown an increasing appreciation for naturalistic architecture. Most buildings now reflected natural contours, colors and sensibilities. The Confederation Home Office also followed the modern Imtun style, built into the side of a foothill near the equator on the second greatest land mass. Although constructed of manufactured materials, it looked as if it were part of the hill.

The Imtun star system was in the middle of its 30,000 year heating/ice age cycle; its days were warm and the nights comfortable. It had become a favorite vacation spot for Confederation citizens.

Composed of a fairly loose group of advanced systems, the Confederation supported a centralized diplomatic effort as well as basic scientific ventures, the Mapping Project being the largest. The Mapping Project’s task was to investigate all scientific aspects of the known universe, as well as expand the area of the known universe.

Ninety percent of Confederation members, or about thirty eight hundred star systems, were type two civilizations, controlling the entire power of a single star. Type twos were also capable of traveling limited distances in folded space. Forty seven civilizations, early type three, controlled the power of many star systems and were capable of inter galactic travel in folded space. The remaining members fell slightly outside these two categories: some civilizations were late type one, almost capable of being a type two. Others were late type three civilizations, capable of very rapid intergalactic travel.

Very few laws and regulations existed that the Confederation enforced. Each member system, or unified system governed themselves on most points of everyday life; the Confederation acted as arbiter when normal channels of communication broke down and combat might become a reality between star systems. The Confederation’s charter spelled out basic rights of its citizens, which all member systems must uphold to maintain membership.

The Confederation was organized into three departments. The first, the Administrative Department, consisted solely of the General Council with one representative from each member system. It set policy, made regulations and officially accepted new members. A committee of twelve members made up the Oversight Group which set the agendas and coordinated the monthly General Council meetings. The Administrative department was entirely political and was very messy.

The second department, the Diplomatic, to which Ythantrium and John belonged, oversaw first contact, code enforcement and conflict resolution. This department had the most difficult duties and most of what they did was nuanced. The Diplomatic Department was managed by a High Commissioner, and the three divisions within this department were headed by Commissioners.

Ythantrium was the Commissioner of Emerging Systems, or first contact. All the actual work in the Diplomatic department was done by teams, led by Ambassadors. The complexity of any assignment dictated the system assignment. Since some advanced technologies were not shared, traveling great distances was done by members of type three civilizations. Also, dangerous enforcement was accomplished, for safety reasons, by civilizations capable of superior weapon and shielding technology. John Crackstone was a non-solid from a late type three civilization on a gas giant planet, Zizthanthe. Crackstone was also a Senior Ambassador who could be assigned to any of the three divisions within the Diplomatic Department.

The final and third Confederation department, the Mapping Project, had a broad charge which included not only mapping the known universe, but classifying all known life forms for each inhabited planet or moon and what system they belong to, as well as the few rogue planets floating about between systems. They were also in charge of all scientific studies. As a result of their huge charge, this department had the most influence as well as the most endowed resource budget. All mapping project missions to other galaxies were done by type three civilizations.

With the Mapping Project and the Diplomatic Department, all complicated or intergalactic missions were commanded by Senior Captains or Senior Ambassadors from type three civilizations. These premier positions required more extensive training as well as access to the most advanced technologies. John Crackstone spent ten years in a scholastic setting, then another twenty years as an apprentice to a Senior Ambassador before he gained his current rank.

Life does not stop evolving when a civilization reaches type three, but no one in the Confederation knew what lay beyond. They had, on occasion, run into a more advanced civilization, especially when their efforts affected a time line, or two. These advanced people did not communicate with the Confederation; they only interacted to alter accidental time lines for unknown reasons, reasons at least unknown to the Confederation. These advanced civilizations were not meddlesome nor were they aggressive, they were not that interested in lesser creatures.

The Mapping Project was the first to interact with new, unknown civilizations. Since Mapping Project teams could travel in a cloaked state, interactions with type one or less civilizations was, for the most part, non-intrusive. To the present time, most interactions with type two and type three societies had been peaceful. Exchange of location, social structure and governmental configuration were the first priority, followed by a very brief exchange of scientific information about respective home systems. All of the type three civilizations encountered to date had only been interested in knowledge, not territory or influence.

As far as the Mapping Project had determined, even after it had explored seven different galaxies, the theory of panspermia still held true. Even though advanced Confederation species varied markedly, humanoid, reptilian, or even non-solid, they all shared a similar set of proteins, cell structure and body organization, as well as cell replication. Most species so far discovered, however far flung were related to all others on a very basic level.

For simplicity, The Mapping Project oriented every mapped galaxy according to the magnetic orientation of the black hole at its center, in three spatial dimensions. Galaxies were numbered by their order of exploration; the spiral galaxy that was home to founding Confederation members was numbered G-1. When oriented in three spatial dimensions, with black hole magnetic north pointing to the top of the map, each galaxy was further divided into four three dimensional quadrants, and those quadrants were divided into one hundred and forty four three dimensional sectors. In each quadrant of each galaxy, the Confederation constructed its headquarters on a single planet. Headquarters provided space for all Confederation departments, facilitating continual interdepartmental communication. This strategy gave all Confederation citizens an impression of one virtual government.

All Confederation members shared the ability to create adaptive environmental suits. The complexity and long term effectiveness of a civilization’s environmental suit corresponded to their technological level. Basic environmental suit knowledge was a shared technology among all Confederation members; universal translation, food and air processing and power requirements were among the shared technologies. It was rare that any two advanced civilizations had similar home planets. One person’s pure breathable air would be poison to most everyone else. But an environmental suit enabled an individual to breathe, ingest native materials, and communicate with indigenous life on any planet in the known universe. These suits could also be quickly constructed to make the wearer appear as a native being.

Protocol demanded that any visiting Confederation official, no matter of rank, use an adaptive suit while on another’s planet.

Far from home, Crackstone had landed on Ythantrium’s home planet, which happened to also be part of a Confederation founding system. The imposing building John had just entered contained the headquarters for the Diplomatic department. True to the modern Imtun style, the office building interior was constructed to appear natural. There were no flat surfaces, except the floor. The walls and ceiling appeared hand cut from pinkish native rock, with vivid tool marks. Instead of formal windows to the outside the walls had irregularly spaced viewing ports which could be moved, shrunk or enlarged easily. Most of the office workers enjoyed the sunshine, so light spilled everywhere in the building.

Protocol also demanded that official communication be verbal, in the common language of the host world. Only a quarter of Confederation civilizations communicated telepathically, so verbal communication was the standard. Since all adaptive suits had translation modules capable of real time communications, with only a delay of microseconds for unknown languages, this was usually not a problem.

“It’s so good to see you again, Ambassador,” the office worker greeted Crackstone. “I enjoyed the report from your last mission; it was the most interesting I have seen in almost three decades.”

“It was unique,” the Ambassador replied.

“The Commissioner is expecting you, sir, please go on in.” The worker motioned towards an oversized office to his left.

“Zhan, you collection of space dust!” The Commissioner rose to his full four and a half meter height as he slightly bowed towards the Ambassador. “How have you been, come on in and sit down.”

Ythantrium was a Temuld variation of the Imtun. His tail was completely missing and his facial coloring was mottled red on his left and mottled brown on his right side on an iridescent green background. John Crackstone, in deference, used the same coloring as his superior.

“I did legally change my name, you do know that, right?” John insisted.

“That’s right, you’re no longer Zhansdredquimmer Drukkersten Mabwahjerkhiddger.”

“I never did like that name.” The Ambassador wanted to say more, but felt it best if he kept his thoughts to himself. “It was the name of the individual who cloned me, and so on for many generations. I felt there were too many Zhans out there, there are four of us still alive.”

“But, where did you come up with Crackstone?”

“John Crackstone was the persona I took on for the lost part of my last mission, I liked the sound of it, so I decided to change my name,” Crackstone answered. “On that planet, John would be my familiar name, so why don’t you try it?”

“All right, John, I shall.”

“What’s this mission about?” John asked, already knowing it would be a first contact affair.

“By now you know the general idea, it’s the particulars that need my explanation,” Ythantrium chuckled as he answered.

“What’s the problem?” John asked.

“Before I go on,” The Commissioner replied, “how are you doing, I mean after that last assignment, how are you?”

“You have seen my medical report,” John replied. “I’m cleared for a new assignment.”

“You spent two years in a malfunctioning environmental suit, and you lost your long term memory for as long,” Ythantrium observed.

“I found those two years to be quite relaxing.” John grinned.

“I must say that your mission log was rather unusal, to say the least,” Ythantrium commented.

“That reminds me,” John knew he had to ask the question, “my log for that mission is missing some data, can you send me a complete record for my own use?”

Ever since John had reviewed his logs for that mission so he could complete his required report, he had been bothered by what had been removed from them. Why was such a select bit of data removed, and what did that really mean?

“I assume you are referring to the other craft you encountered in orbit around that little planet?” Ythantrium asked.

“I know that protocol dictates we delete future knowledge, but I have a feeling about that particular bit of knowledge,” John said.

“I will consider it, and let you know soon.”

“Back to this assignment,” John changed the subject. “By simple deduction, I get the impression that this may be a challenging task.”

“That’s why the High Commissioner asked that I assign you,” Ythantrium replied. “This particular civilization can sustain a singularity for more than an hour and can temporarily fold dimensional space, but they are almost continually in a state of war, mostly against imagined enemies.”

“Do they know about the Confederation?” John asked.

“They do not,” Ythantrium replied flatly. “They suffer from literalism; they are the center of their universe and no other civilization can be greater than they are.”

“Oh.” John quickly reviewed his training and experiences in his mind. “Just dangerous enough for me, right?”

Not answering, Ythantrium just smiled. Most reptilians’ mouths were full of teeth, and ever so subtle in expression. John never was able to fully translate Ythantrium’s smiles so he never fully understood the simplicity or the terror that awaited him in any new assignment until it was too late.

“When do we begin this enigmatic journey?” John asked with a non expression.

“As soon as your companion craft has been refitted and upgraded.”

“Then.” John stood silent before turning to leave. “I must locate my Science Officer.”

……………………

While their ship was being repaired, Science Officer Tem was staying in a Diplomatic housing pod near the Technical and Repair center. This was a newer building and was completely in the modern naturalistic style.

“I can come back later, if you’re busy.”

John looked intently at his Science Officer, who was fumbling with several small pieces of equipment as he opened the door wider. Like John, Tem was wearing a reptilian environmental suit.

“No, please come on in, sir,” The Science Officer quickly answered. “I just finished a download on dimensional physics; it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for some time. Since we had a long layover after our last mission, I thought I should get it over with.”

“Oh.” John quickly reflected on his Science Officer’s current mental state. “You looked a little confused when you opened the door.”

As John’s partner, Tempatt Groonghin had served with him for thirteen years. Both of them hailed from the same home planet, a gas giant in a 5 planet system six thousand light years from their present location. As non-solids, John and Tem each lived as a coherent cloud of matter held together by a very strong electromagnetic field. The Science Officer’s informal name was Tem; by the customs of his home world, his informal name should have been Groon, but, as so many of his contemporaries, he chose another syllable from his formal name to distinguish himself from his predecessors. With only one gender, their species performed procreation by an individual cloning themselves; a long and demanding ritual. When communicating with multiple gender species, they referred to themselves as masculine, to avoid confusion.

“I feel this way after a difficult download.” Tem slowly wandered back to a chair. “Being a bipedal solid doesn’t help either.”

“Experiential knowledge is less taxing, I suppose.” John didn’t know what else to say.

“Did you really change your name?” Tem looked surprised at his own question, which had jumped out of him.

“I did,” John smiled. “legally even.”

“Why, sir?”

“There are too many with my name, and I told you as we left that strange little planet, I like the sound of Crackstone. It translates well to our culture and to many others as well,” John replied.

“I suppose it’s none of my business anyway, but I was asking.”

“No problem, Tem.”

“What’s our exact assignment, sir?”

“First contact with a literalist society.” John almost sighed. “The Demela System.”

“I would have thought we might have a light assignment, especially after the last one.”

Tem knew their assignment could be among the most dangerous missions led by an Ambassador. In order to be eligible for first contact by the Confederation, a civilization must possess enough technology to harness the power of their sun and be almost capable of traveling between star systems in reasonable amounts of time. Each civilization’s first contact was debated by the whole General Council, debate framed by information provided by the Mapping Department.

A society classified as literalist was the most difficult to approach because their conscious view was so narrow. They believed that their species was the center of the universe, and that if a supreme being existed, it must be just like themselves. Their universal view was ‘Me’ without an ‘Other’. When a superior ‘Other’ arrived, there could be no end to the bellicose behavior. Kill first and consider later was often the battle cry of the literalist whose core beliefs were challenged.

“We’re headed to the Demela System?” Tem asked, trying to calm himself.

“Our exact orders and directions should be downloaded into our companion before we get to the reconstruction facilities,” John replied.

“How was your vacation, sir?” Tem asked, still not quite sure of social familiarity with the Senior Ambassador.

“I did enjoy the time on our home planet.” John basked in his pleasant thoughts. “But, I also like my work.”

“As do I, sir,” Tem replied with a hint of regret. “But I would have preferred a slightly longer rest period. Eleven days does not feel long enough for me.”

John was acting obtuse; he felt time spent away from his work was time wasted. Ambassador Crackstone had refused his past five rest rotations, and took this vacation because the High Commissioner ordered him to. He had spent only three days on his home planet. John spent the remainder of his vacation time at the Wintog university taking a seminar on dimensional particle physics.

“We both rotate onto a long rest after two more missions.” John cracked a short smile. “That should give you some comfort.”

“It should.”

“Are you ready?”

“As ready as I can be, sir.”

“You arrived here yesterday, right?”

“Yes, sir, I got here for the final refitting of Sam.”

“How is our old friend doing?”

“For a tube of technology, he’s as sarcastic as ever.”

“What is it with you two?” John wondered aloud.

…………………..

John’s craft, Sam, sat alone in the repair bay. Although Sam could resize himself, and, if he needed to, change his exterior shape, he was now in his natural state. He was egg shaped, bronze color and about 35 meters long and 20 meters thick.

Most of The Confederation systems had the technological capacity to produce space craft that traversed natural wormholes or created dimensional folds for inter system travel. Craft of this complexity were almost always sentient machines; managing millions of variables in thousands of scenarios demanded more processing power than any organic being could manage, even an enhanced organic being. John and Tem’s craft was built on their home planet, one of the more advanced type three civilizations in the Confederation. All inter-system craft from their planet were sentient; endowed with a unique personality, not to mention a name. John’s craft, Sam, had been with him for thirty years, seventeen more than Tem had been with him.

This latest refit was long overdue for Sam, and was prompted by his near demise on their last mission. Sam’s engineering, scanning and shielding systems were completely removed and replaced with the most up to date technology. Eighteen of Sam’s sub processors were also completely replaced. It had been at least fifteen years since Sam went through a major refit. He had been crabby for almost six months after that one, and this one was even more invasive.

“I’m packed, sir, we can go when you’re ready.”

“That’s why I’m here,” John sighed. “Let’s go.”

…………………….

“I thought you’d get a different Science Officer for this trip.”

“You are in a state, old friend.” John chuckled at the companion’s ill-tempered tone. “And please remember to verbalize, since we’re in not on a telepathic planet.”

“That’s so archaic, sir, and quite imprecise.”

“So are you, but I still work with you,” Tem huffed, still put off by Sam’s initial remark.

“It speaks,” Sam drolly replied.

“Can I unplug it, sir?”

“I don’t even have a plug, you twit.”

“Will you two stay civil,” John insisted.

“I was,” Tem replied.

“Were not!” Sam added.

“Shut up!” John almost shouted.

“Can we go over our assignment?” Tem sighed as he tried to change the subject.

“Please do.” John settled into the left seat in their craft.

Their craft could manipulate spatial dimensions so the interior could appear, in three dimensions, as large or as small as required. At the moment, the interior spaces were expanded to allow space for five meter bipedal reptilians. A ten by fifteen meter cabin stood off a twenty meter hallway, which lead in turn to a ten by ten meter cargo hold. Four smaller crew and work cabins joined the long hallway through hatchways. Everywhere, all the surfaces were curved, no sharp edges could be seen.

“Very well, sir.” Sam paused, no doubt to center himself. “This will be a first contact mission in galaxy G-1, quadrant D, sector one thirty two, the Demela System.”

“Have you calculated the jumps?” Tem asked.

“Do you think I’m as slow as you?” Sam snapped.

“Just answer the question,” John interrupted. “This will be a dangerous mission, so, please get over your post-refit grumpiness sooner this time.”

“Not grumpy, sir.”

“What would you call this behavior?” Tem teased.

“How would you like it if half your internal organs were ripped out and replaced?” the companion shot back.

“Maybe a little grumpy,” Tem added.

“How many jumps?” John said briskly.

“Four, sir,” Sam responded. “It might be safer and a bit less energy consuming if we took the trip in seven jumps and utilized more natural wormholes.”

Traveling several light years to several million light years across three dimensional space would take unreasonable amounts of time if it weren’t for the ability to bend a space craft through a higher dimension in a controlled fashion. Eleven known spatial dimensions had been discovered. Within this paradigm, time acted not a dimension, but rather a manifestation of linear energy spectra.

Power from one to four stars, a space craft could generate a dimensional rift in space higher than three dimensions, a process that created instantaneous three dimensional travel. Destinations could include any point in the three dimensional universe, from a few light years to a few million light years away. How far away depended on the particular starting point and how much energy was applied to the higher dimensional rift.

Natural stable wormholes could achieve the same process with less expenditure of energy. Most trips within a given galaxy took multiple jumps; travel between galaxies could take even more. But type three cultures could utilize a broad surge of energy from almost a whole galaxy to fold space for an inter-galactic three dimensional trip of many millions of light years.

“You are recommending we be safe this trip?” John inquired.

“I am, sir.”

“Perhaps you wish to take it easy with all your new systems?” John added.

“I do, sir.”

“Then plot the safer course,” John replied.

“While I prepare for departure, you two might want to download our mission details,” Sam said.

After a brief moment during which Tem and John absorbed the entire mission parameters and details, Tem spoke. “Sir, you didn’t indicate that this is such an intense literalist society.”

“Would that have made a difference?”

“No.” Tem considered, “But such societies can be quite dangerous.”

“I know,” John sighed. “The Commissioner feels we are the best team for this job, so we go anyway.”

“Is there anything else we need to transport onboard before I leave?” Sam asked. “Speak up now.”

“I think we’re ready.” John answered.

On board the craft, Sam could use technology to reorder matter to form almost anything from food to technology. John and his Science Officer traveled with very few personal items.

…………………………..

As their craft left the planet, John and Tem extracted themselves from their large reptilian suits and assumed their non-solid forms. Sam adjusted the ship’s interior to better fit the crew’s new smaller size.

“The first jump will be in two minutes, and will take us to sector fifteen of this quadrant,” Sam informed them.

“The Mapping Project recommends we contact their political leader as he tours their southern most continent,” Tem began, after a long silence. “He will be there for several months before he travels back to their capitol city.”

“I know what they recommend,” John replied.

“It sounds like you disagree with the Mapping Project, sir.” Tem smiled.

“In my experience, political leaders of literalist civilizations can be the most difficult to deal with,” John observed. “I’ve had better luck with military leaders, they think more pragmatically.”

“How many of these missions were you on?” Tem asked.

“Before you joined the crew, I negotiated four first contact missions.”

“How did they end?”

“Three ended quite well, and the fourth, not so well.”

“Were there any casualties?”

“Just my sense of well being,” John replied.

“No one died?”

“No one,” Sam answered.

“I wasn’t speaking to you,” Tem quickly shot back.

“We will make our second jump in one minute which will take us to sector eight in quadrant B,” Sam added.

“Thank you, Sam,” John replied.

He noticed that their craft was feeling the strain of having nearly half of his important systems removed and new ones put in. As both a sentient being, and a piece of manufactured technology, the ship did have feelings. He was often torn between feeling superior and vulnerable after a major overhaul. John knew he must make an effort to make Sam feel comfortable for a few days, or suffer the effects of a bitchy sentient space craft for at least a few months.

“Back to our mission,” Tem continued as if Sam hadn’t said a thing. “Mapping Project estimates that this civilization is at least a hundred and fifty years from effective inter-system travel.”

“I found that their estimates are sometimes inaccurate,” John chuckled slightly with his answer.

“How inaccurate?”

“Perhaps five hundred years inaccurate,” John answered.

“How could that be?” Tem sounded shocked.

“Consider this yet another lesson in the art of diplomacy,” John began, “not diplomacy, but the prelude to diplomacy.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“Before one lands on a planet, especially a first contact planet, the reports from the Mapping Project must be carefully evaluated.”

“In what way?”

“How old is the data?” John began a list of questions, “What class probe did they send, or was it a manned mission? How long was the observation mission? Did they send down properly trained observers? Did they include field recordings?”

“Just a moment, sir.” By now, Tem had downloaded the whole report. “They did send a manned mission, and the last report was a month ago. I find field recordings, but the last observation lasted only a week.”

“What do you think caught the Mapping Project’s attention?” As Ambassador, John had switched to teaching mode. The road to his current rank had included time spent with a Senior Ambassador as a junior officer; either a Mission Specialist, Cultural Officer, or Science Officer. The Senior Ambassador should teach the apprentice Ambassador the subtleties of the job for a decade or so before more education and assignments will lead to becoming a full Ambassador.

“These people created a semi-stable singularity in several controlled experiments, Tem replied. “They were able to fold dimensional space, but only partially and only in a micro region of space. For transportation they still used light speed ships.”

“If it were up to me, I would wait ten to twenty years for first contact, but I don’t make those decisions.” John sighed. “I would guess that the Project’s estimate is one hundred years off, but, luckily, it doesn’t make a difference.”

“We will be safe.” Tem sounded happy. “They can’t harm us.”

“Don’t ever assume that, Science Officer,” John warned.

“I see your point, sir.”

“We are exiting the wormhole, and will be entering our next in one minute, sir,” Sam interrupted. “We will be in sector one hundred eighteen, quadrant B upon exiting. There has been a super nova in sector 4, quadrant C and it has affected navigation in a two quadrant diameter, so I adjusted our navigation to account for it.”

“Will it affect our travel time?” John asked.

“In our relative time, the trip will take three minutes longer, sir.”

“I can live with that,” John replied.

John and Tem relaxed into their pods and began to go over the information provided by the Mapping Project on their assigned planet. John was searching for some usable patterns in the core beliefs of the civilization that would allow him to approach leaders in a non threatening way, while Tem was perusing the technology of the civilization.

As natives of the Zizthanthe system, John and Tem’s planet was a gas giant and their species lived in the middle to upper atmosphere. As non-solids; their bodies were groups of contiguous cell clusters held in an amorphous form by self generated strong electromagnetic fields. They could make any or all portions of their bodies solid for periods of seconds to days, an ablitiy which allowed them to manipulate tools. The Zizthanthe communicated with each other telepathically.

Sam hovered in a fixed, small region of relatively empty space while he used an extreme amount of energy to fold dimensional space fifty meters from himself. The craft was creating a controlled, stable, temporary wormhole, with sector eighteen, quadrant B as the other end in three dimensional space. After one minute, Sam entered the wormhole. The trip to sector one eighteen should seem like six minutes to his two passengers, and it did.

…………………….

“Stabilization protocol!” John shouted.

“This is strange, sir,” Tem replied as he intently studied the myriads of data streams. “Our location is indecipherable. We seem to not be anywhere.”

Sam generated massive amounts of data, too much to send to the Science Officer and the Ambassador at one time. The ship constantly summarized information and telepathically sent it to the crew. For their part, Tem and John telepathically communicated orders to Sam. Various surfaces in the control pods of the craft acted as links for specific types of data; those areas, or interfaces, glowed a pale blue as they were activated. Tem or John could link themselves to that interface and receive raw data, information not summarized by Sam. In addition to the data interfaces, a three dimensional visual display could be accessed from any part of the ship. The displays showed three dimensional star charts, planetary cross sections, systems monitors, or communications from other ships or Confederation planets. Most outer surfaces of the craft were capable of becoming transparent; Sam routinely monitored a wide spectrum of energy hitting the outer skin. He then projected his results onto his inner skin. At times the interacting processes created an impression that the hull was transparent.

“What happened, and what is that vibration?” John asked as he turned on all the viewing ports.

The sides, top and bottom of the ship’s skin around their control pods looked transparent. The crew could see nothing but shimmering washed out yellow light everywhere they looked.

“Rotate the frequency and phase of any energy hitting us,” John ordered.

“Sir,” Sam replied. “I’m having trouble maintaining control of our position. I’m losing power rapidly.”

“What position?” Tem asked. “According to what I see, we don’t know where we are.”

“Sir, there’s a star out there,” Sam quickly replied. “My sensors have found it.”

“Wait!” John interrupted. “Stop the viewer there!”

In the upper right quadrant of their viewing area, a star shone plainly visible. It appeared to be a smallish star, emitting a pale white light, with several large dark spots on its surface.

“Is this a known star?” John asked.

“With our limited capability, yes, sir,” Tem replied.

“Why are our abilities limited?” John asked.

“I think we’re in the middle of some unknown force field, sir,” Sam replied.

“That would make sense,” Tem replied. “That would explain some of these anomalous readings.”

“Raise shielding to maximum,” John ordered.

“I cannot, sir,” Sam replied. “My shielding is class eight and falling.”

“Can we maneuver out of the field?” John asked.

“I have lost most of the navigation systems,” Sam replied.

“The systems are depolarized, sir,” Tem added.

“Can we maneuver away from it?” John asked again.

“We are drifting in a controlled manner, sir,” Sam said.

“How?”

“As if we were in a low orbit of a planet, sir,” Tem replied.

“That’s what I said, Science Officer.” Sam sounded resigned.

“What planet, and why are we there?” John insisted.

“According to the meager data I have, we came out of dimensional space right where we were supposed to,” Tem said.

“This is the correct system, but there isn’t supposed to be a planet here,” Sam insisted back to John. “We were supposed to come out of dimensional space between the third and fourth planet in the Brem system.”

“How are we really supposed to know where here is if all your sensors are off line?” Tem snapped back.

“Assuming a planet is down there, how do we make a safe landing on it?” John spoke calmly.

“Assuming this energy field is this planet’s atmosphere, as soon as we fall below it, and before we crash onto the planet, perhaps I can restore enough systems to make a controlled landing,” Sam replied.

“Do we retain enough shielding?” John asked.

“If I can believe the readings, we will only have class four shielding by the time we land,” Tem replied.

“Do it, Sam,” John ordered. “Now.”

The whole ship shuddered, jerking twice as much as before. John and his Science Officer increased the gravitational restraints in their pods to keep themselves in place as their craft began to plummet towards toward the unseen planet. To the naked eye, the bright light diminished; a faint outline of the planet appeared. As the seconds ticked, the planet grew larger and more in focus. Their sensations of free fall intensified.

In what seemed like no time, the planet took up their entire visual field. An overwhelming sense of speed told them that they were in an uncontrolled crash, but at least they weren’t burning up, yet.

“What the hell is he doing?”

Before John could finish his thought, both he and Tem were ejected in their pods into the atmosphere. Designed to provide protection in any situation, the pods also had parachutes, a primitive but effective way of slowing down them in most atmospheres, even with no usable technology available.

Below them their craft plummeted towards the planet surface. Perhaps twenty seconds later, John and Tem saw Sam disappear, then a bright, almost blinding flash of light engulfed them. They were perplexed for only a second before something, using a matter transporter, conveyed them both back onboard their craft. It was as if nothing had happened.

………………………….

“Explanation, please,” John demanded.

“The only solution I could come up with on that short a notice was to project a very small, highly focused singularity one hundred meters above me, fifteen seconds before I hit the planet. I sustained that singularity for two seconds, so its gravitational pull would slow me down enough to avoid major damage. You two could not be here while I did that, since we didn’t have enough shielding to keep you alive, so I jettisoned both of you, then transported both your pods back here after I landed, or sort of landed,” Sam replied. “The problem is, that I used a lot of my remaining power.”