"Captain's Log, USS Ulysses S Grant, Captain Howard Nelson commanding. Stardate 0312.34 We are proceeding at warp 3 for the El Nanth system. Recent subspace scans have revealed that a subspace using culture exists in that region of space. With the recent outbreak of hostilities with the unknown race now called "Romulans" it has been imperative to find additional allies. Log out."
"Mr. Hailey, any further messages?"
"No sir, other than that brief exchange which seemed to be a single message repeated a number of times."
"Keep listening. U.E.S.P.A. has high hopes for this."
"Yes Mr. Hailey."
"Sir, if the Federation wants to contact these people, who ever they are. Why don't we just send them a message?"
"Orders Mr. Hailey. We are to, and I quote; 'Make only physical contact with the unknowns and determine their intentions and amenability to alliance.' Unquote."
"Sir, wouldn't it be simpler and safer to radio ahead?"
"Our's is not to reason why Mr. Hailey."
"Chief, I'll be in my cabin."
CPO Chalmers looked up from his instruments. "Yes Sir."
Nelson went the forty steps aft to the Captain's "suite". The only comfort of command was he got his own bathroom. Damnit, the kid was right. Charging into an unknown that could, and likely would talk to you was dangerous. But, his was not to reason why.
Jerry made a few more adjustments on the subspace antenna array of the Glade station, as he called it. Unlike the Builder's station, this one needed a lot of work. Well, it had kept him busy for the last 50 years. The place was huge, and there still existed large sections that were sealed off, waiting for the necessary, and time consuming refitting of the pressure seals.
The first 5 years he had built his small homestead to suit him, the planets didn't have much challenge other than seeing them. So he set to work on the big stations. First were the antimatter generation plants in an inner orbit. He had two of those working. If needed, and a big if, Savanna could be fired up and make warp speed. Everything was still tight and ready. Vacuum was a great preserver. Getting the antimatter plants running, and a clean up of parts of the big station had taken those first 45 years, Glade station had taken the second.
Over the years he had received news of Earth, and little of it was good. Colonel Green had succeeded with his war, but failed in his goal of world domination. The result was a short, but brutal dark time. One thing the Ane showed him after he nearly got killed getting the Savanna here was interstellar teleportation. It had limits. It required a firm link to the All, their willing help, and a mass limit equal to twice the teleporter's body weight. He could not have saved Elizabeth with the teleport method. Well, that made the trip worth it. However, with him present, it was possible to sneak back to Earth and rescue a few people now and again. Glade currently had a population of about 2000 humans. Families of course. Humans are the fastest breeders in the Galaxy.
Between time he walked the near deserted streets of the city, or worked his small estate on Savanna. "Crystal" is what the Ane called the city, and Crystal it was, beautiful to the point of drawing tears. Who ever had made it had a wonderful sense of style.
He now had three computer companions. The hardware on both stations had proved complex enough to support AI programs, and Elizabeth had two daughters. Selena "manned" the Builder station, and Dianna had taken residence in the Glade station. Each station also had 25 people manning it, and aiding the repair work. Reports from Earth had been promising, and they expected company soon. That was reason enough to get the subspace communications back on line.
"OK Dianna, lets try that relay again. Plain voice."
"Roger Daddyo. Channels open. Sis should be receiving."
"Builder station this is Glade station, do you read."
"Glade station this is Builder station we have you four by four."
"Yes, Builder station we are in business."
"Got it Jerry. Want to try the ground relay?"
"Will do. Memory One, this is Glade station, can you read?"
Elizabeth's strong, calm voice joined the link. "Jerry, Dianna, Selena, well done all. The FTL communication system is back on line."
"Well girls, I would open champagne, `cept I have none, and y'all can't drink."
Nelson was lightly dozing when the bell woke him.
"Captain to the Bridge."
He jumped up grabbed his cap and jacket and shrugged them on as he walked the 40 steps.
"Sir." It was Hailey, still in the radio shack. "I have a subspace message on the free band."
"El Nanth Sir, and it's plain English."
"Yes Sir, listen." Hailey flipped a switch for the loudspeaker.
"Will do. Memory One, this is Glade station, can you read?"
"Jerry, Dianna, Selena, well done all. The FTL communication system is back on line."
"Well girls, I would open champagne, cept I have none, and y'all can't drink."
Silence filled the bridge saving for the celebrating and distant voices. Grant broke in at last. His voice hard, and not at all excited.
"Hailey, cut that. Get me a tight beam to U.E.S.P.A., I want some answers."
"Yes, Sir, right on it."
The calm and assured voice at the other end of the line was beginning to get to Nelson. He was crammed into the tiny cubby that was the Grant's communication shack.
"Admiral, I said, plain English. We received several minutes of plain English that sounded like someone setting up, or repairing a subspace communication net. Now, what I need to know, not want to know, or would like to know, but need to know is who could possibly be speaking English way out here?"
"Captain Nelson I have nothing in my records that indicates any Earth ships in that region of space. You couldn't be hearing English."
"Records not with standing, and they were, as I explained, not in a ship, but on stations. Stations Admiral, multiple locations. We have identified four voices, one male, three females. Names of Jerry, Selena, Dianna, and Elizabeth. Locations named 'Builder station', 'Glade station', and 'Memory One'. I want a change in orders, or you can find someone else to drive this crate."
"Captain you are becoming dangerously insubordinate."
"Admiral, we need some answers. Can you get them?"
"Howard, I don't know. We... Want a minute." The line went dead.
"Hailey, what happened?"
"Cut from that end Sir."
Several minutes passed with growing tension. Nelson paced the bridge.
Hailey called the Captain. "Sir, I have them back."
"Howard, you have a guardian angel somewhere. New orders, turn your recorders on."
Nelson inodded to Hailey who switched them on.
"From Starfleet U.E.S.P.A. command to USS Ulysses S Grant. Ane have claimed El Nanth as their 'Ancestral Homelands'. The Federation council is currently debating the issue. Begin orders: Suspend previous orders as of Stardate 312.66. You are to proceed to El Nanth with all due caution. Use all hailing and communication you deem required to make a cautious approach. Verify presence of lack there of regarding Ane or Ane related artifacts. Communicate soonest with reports as to verification. End orders."
Nelson was now totally confused. "Ane, who are the Ane?"
"One of the founding members Nelson. Access your library files. UESPA out."
Nelson pushed the headphones back and shook his head. "Well, if that don't beat all."
LaSaille looked up from the conduit he was taping up. **Yes?**
**We have received a subspace message from a party called "UESPA". They are sending a ship here.**
**Did you get a recording?**
**OK, I'll be up.**
He finished the job and trotted up to the station's massive control deck. Two of the Ane and a shapely young woman by the name of Samantha were manning the communication array. He listened to the recording.
"Well, we better get to Builder station and break out the beer and pretzels, company's coming."
Captain Nelson gathered his senior officers into the cramped space of the wardroom. Elbows were shuffled as seats where found. Coffee passed from the officers galley to each of them.
Lt. Anders said. "Anyone have the cream?"
Larry Reves, the ships Astrophysicist complained. "Smith get your elbows out of my ribs."
Lt. Smith grumbled and complied. "U.E.S.P.A. will never be a class outfit until we get a decent sized briefing room for this kind of thing.
Anders, the warp drive specialist snapped back. "Wadda want, a 14 foot conference table with padded swivel chairs and a nice bank of windows?"
"Dream on. Never been, never will." Anders turned to Reves. "Next thing he'll say is that he wants a barroom with a view."
Smith took a defensive tone. "And what would be wrong with that?"
Captain Nelson rapped his clipboard on the table. "Gentlemen, gentlemen. We could hold these meetings in the shuttle bay."
"That, " said Smith flatly, "has less room."
Nelson got things back on track. "OK, everyone has read the orders?"
Affirmatives from around the table.
"What do we know of the Ane?"
Lt. Nevel waved a paper in the Captain's direction. "Sir."
"Go ahead Nevel."
"Ane: Sixth of the founding member races of the Federation. Sentient species known since the late 21st century. Home planet, Earth. Bioform, a quadruped averaging 180 kilos, and resembling a sleek antelope. They are Handicapped, and known telepaths. They claim to have been on Earth for the last 20,000 years, and to arrived with a group called they called "The Preservers." Last contact with that culture was claimed to be 5000 years ago."
Smith looked at Nevel. "Earth? These guys come from Earth? How come I never heard of them?"
Nevel replied. "They seem to be a retiring bunch. They came up to sign the Federation charter, then melted back into obscurity."
Nelson retracked the meeting again. "Why would they suddenly claim an entire star system, and so far from Federation space?"
"That I can't tell you Captain."
"What do we know of El Nanth?"
Reves took the question. "El Nanth is a stable blue-white star off the standard index scale. It is too small, and too young. It was not believed to have any life bearing planets, and thus far has escaped exploration. No known planets of any size, and assumed to have no planets at all."
"I might have an answer or two." The Grant's normally quiet first officer spoke.
Nelson encouraged her. Alright Philips, what do you know?"
Smith grumbled to Anders. "Another long tale no doubt."
Nelson overheard that, and shot the two a look.
Karen Phillips leaned back (as much as possible), and begin. "I remember my grandfather telling me of the 'real first starship'."
Anders popped in "the Bonaventure?"
"No, launched a year before that. What we have not seen out here makes me think it might be true."
Captain Nelson urged her. "What haven't we seen Philips?"
"The dead remains of the SS Savanna."
Smith snorted. "That old tale. You can't even find any records of it. I doubt it existed."
Commander Phillips reached down beside her seat and brought a plate of brass up on the table. She laid it down with great care. On it was a line etching of an old "DY" type ship, and the words. "DY350 SS Cheetah". She spoke in a soft voice.
"Mark, I might be inclined to agree with you, except for this plate. This, was the original commissioning plate of the ship the University of Michigan rebuilt into a starship. My Grandfather removed this himself, and kept it. The Savanna existed all right, and my Grandfather swore to his dying day that he would love to get his hands on the wretch that wrecked the computer, and stole 'his' ship. He told me the Savanna somehow destroyed the ship that was claimed to be caught in the blast of its own missile, and escaped in the direction of El-Nanth. He said that he was on the trailing ship at the scopes, and he saw the Savanna as the debris cloud cleared. It wasn't an atomic bomb that destroyed the Imperitor. It was the back thrust from that monster drive the Cheetah had. We haven't found the Savanna on a direct line from Earth, and my guess, is she made it."
Smith still looked unhappy. "But why would anyone try a ship of that era on a trip like this. Hell, we are taking risks."
"Grampa told me about the weird bird that funded the project, Gerry Sale. He was tight with the Ane. Always seem to have one around him. Suddenly the Ane are claiming El Nanth. Could it be they know something we don't. Like an earlier expedition that landed here or tried to? When this Sale guy stole the ship. The Ane that hung around him was also gone. No telling how many he had aboard."
Nelson took things back. "So Commander, what is your line on this?"
"Personally, I'd like to find the guy's grave and spit on it. Professionally, I wonder what it is the Ane want from this place. They impress me as sneaky and secretive. At no time in the history of the destructive wars of the 20th or 21st century did the Ane raise a finger to stop anything, yet they claim to have known this or that `great race'. Something is being hidden, and I want to find it."
"Well, we are likely to get a chance."
Nelson was on the Grant's tiny bridge. It more closely resembled the CIC of the older sea vessels than the bridge of same. Consoles formed a horseshoe shape around the Captain's station that was raised in the center. Viewports at the sides and a large viewport at the front permitted a view outside, or did. The Grant had all its bridge viewports welded over at Captain Nelson's order. A large video screen swiped from the recreation facilities of Starbase 1 was anchored at the front, and could display information from either the ship's computer, or from cameras mounted on the outside of the ship. Below the freshly dubbed "viewscreen" was the astrogation station, and its dual-phase radar. This recent invention made warp travel a little less risky. The subspace part of the set could get signal returns from those things that bounced subspace waves. That wasn't everything by any means, but the technology was improving. Behind the Captain's station was the radio cubby. The radio operator, both subspace and sublight sat all but covered by the instruments with a set of headphones on.
Nelson spoke. "OK Mr. Hailey, lets see if we can raise them."
"Yes Sir, what frequency should I use Sir?"
"Hmm, I don't really know, can you hail them on the complete band?"
"Yes sir, I can do that."
"Then open a hail on all frequencies."
"Hailing on all frequencies Captain. Audio to your mike."
Nelson pulled the thin mike out of the arm rest and spoke. "This is the United Federation of Planets starship Ulysses S Grant, Captain Howard Nelson commanding calling Builders Station. Builders Station will you reply?"
The signal came back strong. "Welcome Ulysses S Grant, This is El Nanth Control. We read you four by four. Please alter your course by z30 for two light hours to avoid the Grinder asteroid field."
Spaceman Jones at the astrogation console spoke. "Sir, I am getting feedback on the subspace radar."
Nelson thumbed the mike off. "Noted Jones." He thumbed it back on. "We read your advisory and will comply El Nanth control." He thumbed the mike off. "Jones are we still getting that feedback?"
"Yes Sir. Steady level."
Nelson punched a button on his chair and picked up the mike again. "Lt. Reves to the bridge." He placed the mike back in its holder. "Helm, adjust course 30 degrees on the z axis, hold course for two light hours."
"30 degrees z axis, hold course for two light hours, aye, aye Sir."
A few minutes later Lt. Reves arrived. Nelson turned to him.
"Lieutenant, what do you make of that?"
Reves bent over the scope, made a few adjustments.
"We are being scanned by another subspace radar would be my guess Captain."
"What kind of power are we talking?"
"A lot of power, more than we can generate."
"OK Mr. Reves, hang around a bit."
Reves nodded and tapped the rating at the astrogation console. "I relieve you."
"Yes Sir." He read of the course and heading data to Reves, who repeated it back.
"Two light hours Captain."
"Resume former heading Reves."
Hailey busied himself In the cubby. "Captain, El Nanth Control on channel 5."
"Got it Hailey. El Nanth this is Captain Nelson, go ahead."
"El Nanth Control, USS Grant you are cleared for approach to El Nanth space dock. Please to lock on to signal alpha one, and ride the beam in."
Nelson turned to Hailey.
"Got it Captain, carrier wave with an alpha pulse, directional beam."
"Affirmative Captain, we are on the beam and closing."
"El Nanth Control to USS Grant, you have entered the El-Nanth traffic control zone. Please reduce to sublight speed and continue to follow the alpha one control signal."
"We read you El Nanth Control. Mr. Reves, take us sublight."
"Aye, aye Sir, sub-light now."
The universe resumed the shape it was suppose to have and the viewscreen suddenly focused. Ahead of them was a bank of brilliant lights that stretched over a considerable area.
"Holy Hanna, look at the size of that thing. Reves, how close are we, will we hit it?"
Reves bent over the scope for a moment. "No sir, we are still 2,000,000 kilometers out."
"How big is it."
"Larger than all the stations currently in the Earth system combined would be my guess."
12 hours later they pulled slowly into the El Nanth space dock. The viewscreen cameras played over the structure. All the officers were on the bridge. Reves spotted something.
"Wait, what was that?"
The rating at the camera backed it up a bit.
Smith let out a low whistle. "DY class ship if ever I saw one. And with warp nacelles too."
Phillips was quiet. "Spaceman, can you zoom in a bit."
The rating obliged. The letters on the side came clear. "SS Savanna FTL100".
Phillips cursed quietly. "Son of a bitch. He actually made it. Captain, I would closely question who ever is running this station. The warrants against this man were never closed."
Nelson looked Commander Phillips over. "Pillips, we are on unknown ground here. This Gerry Sale, is dead. What warrants he might have had against him died with him, and with the Green government 80 years ago."
Phillips spoke heatedly. "Captain, that ship is stolen property."
Nelson spoke sharply. "Commander Phillips, if your attitude does not change I will consider you a hazard to the mission, and confine you to the ship. Is that understood?"
"Mr. Casy, continue the scan of the station."
Hailey broke in. "Station control Sir."
"Nelson here, go ahead Station control."
"Starship Grant, please come to a full stop. Approach and docking will be handled by station control."
"Affirmative. All stop."
Reves' hands flew over the console. A slight flux in the gravity field was felt.
"All stop Sir."
Anders thought aloud. "I wonder how they do that, tugs?"
A low boom echoed through the hull of the Grant.
Nelson looked over the bridge. "Reves?"
"We are moving Captain, but I don't know how."
"What is our rate of approach?"
"1 meter per second."
"Standby to fire reaction jets if it looks like we'll hit too fast."
The Grant slid slowly up to the station, momentum stopped and the ship groaned a bit at the abuse. The ship was jostled a bit as the locks were matched up. Again a clang and rumble as the seal was made hard.
"USS Grant, this is El Nanth spacedock control. You have a confirmed hard dock. Welcome to El Nanth. A greeter will be dockside to handle your needs."
Nelson stood up and straightened his jacket. "Well gentlemen. Shall we boldly go?" He suited actions to words.
A few moments saw them gathered in the Grant's cramped EVA room. The Grant's CPO checked the airlock himself.
"Sir, we have positive pressure on the outer hull."
Nelson nodded. "Very good Chief. Standard drill."
The Chief nodded and punched to button for the outer door. It slid back into the ship and recessed.
"We have equal pressure with the outside environment."
"Very good Chief, you may open the inner door."
The Chief undogged the hatch, and punched the open button. Every man in the room sniffed involuntarily as the station air mixed with the ship. That important first whiff of an alien environment, even if it was just a station.
Out on the dockside a young woman, human no less, stood in a flowing skirt and puffed sleeved blouse. Nelson stepped out on the dock, hand extended.
"Good day madam. I am Captain Howard Nelson of the starship Ulysses S Grant, these are my officers. We bring greetings from the United Federation of Planets."
"Welcome to El Nanth Captain, gentlemen. Your greeting is accepted Captain. I'm Samantha Greyson."
"We are interested in meeting with your government on the matter of relations with the UFP."
"Oh, that won't be necessary Captain. You see, we are UFP members."
Nelson came up short. "Excuse me?"
"We are members of the United Federation of Planets."
Phillips stood looking out the port and the next ship over, well the only ship over.
"How is this, we just arrived?"
"Why don't we have a seat In the lounge over here." She walked across the dock promenade to a smaller area with seats. I am afraid I don't have much in the way of refreshments to offer you. Some fresh juice, and a few fruits."
The Officers of the Grant dived in with a will. Phillips hung back looking the Savanna over.
"The question is..."
"Yes Captain Nelson. The Ane signed the Federation charter. You are in the Ane home system."
"How many Ane are here?"
"About 10 billion spread over six planets."
Reves said. "Holy Moses, that's the entire population of Earth! Six planets?"
"Yes, the El Nanth system has six class M worlds."
Nelson took it back. "So, who is the head honcho?"
"Depends on what?"
"What you want to discuss. The human presence, the Ane, anything else?"
"Well, the rest of the Federation has a large problem."
"You mean the Romulans."
"You're better up on the news than I thought. If you're aware of them, why haven't you pitched in?"
"Lack of ability Captain Nelson. Our only 'starship' is an one hundred year old prototype that has not been powered up in that 100 years. The Savanna is a museum piece. However, we do have two antimatter plants working, and a considerable store of same."
"I could use to top of the tanks."
"We will arrange with Starfleet for service to your ship."
"I have the authority to make those agreements."
"Good, we can discuss it."
"What about the Ane?"
"They live here, they always have."
"When did they build this station, and how?"
"The Ane didn't build the station. Other races they have had contact, and contract with them in the past have build all the facilities you will see here. Except for the few that we are responsible for."
"How old is this place?"
"Old, the 'Builders' made it is all we can get from them."
"So did you arrive in the Savanna?"
"No Captain, I was born here, well, on Glade. My family were refugees from the Time of Troubles."
Anders broke in. "But that was less than 80 years ago, how did they get here?"
"I have never been told. But before you ask, the Savanna made only one trip."
Phillips had joined the group some time back. She sat loosely in her chair and sipped the juice.
"What about the Savanna? What happened to the guy that drove it here."
"He settled on Savanna. We all live on Glade."
"Liked his privacy I see."
"He, and the other Ansisi have something special with the Ane. They are permitted to live on the Homeworld. Glade is for everyone else."
Reves looked shocked. "You put up with this elitist attitude?"
"I didn't catch your name."
"Lt. Reves. Jason Reves."
"Lt. Reves, my grandparents were rescued from certain death by the Ane. We are tolerated here. I have seen the areas that Ane prefer. Open, endless plains of grass and not a structure in sight. Humans have a thing about getting wet and cold, we like buildings. They gave us a place to put buildings. Not their preferred life-style. So if the Ane in their graciousness allow us one place to clutter the country side, we must be happy with that place. Their house Lieutenant."
Reves looked unhappy. "Its not very fair."
"What is 'fair' Lt. Reves? Would it be fair for me and mine to barge all over their homes and stick buildings up willy-nilly?"
"So what is inherently unfair about being given a place to live?"
Reves sat a while, Samantha waited expecting an answer.
"Well, nothing I guess."
Samantha took a sip of juice. "Lt. Reves, it is a mistake to automatically view any restriction as unfair. Learn the reasons behind the restriction first."
Karen Phillips spoke. "Why then the restriction to certain people on this Savanna? Named for the Ship?"
"I couldn't tell you that one. I assume that the names are old. But was we are taught is school they are; Savanna, Veldt, Aurora, Meadow, Ellyssum, Glade."
Captain Nelson broke in. "Six habitable planets in a single system is highly unusual. What kind of orbital extremes are we talking here?"
"Captain, all six of the El-Nanth worlds are in the same orbit. The are spaced equally around the star."
Reves blurted out. "But, that's impossible."
"To occur naturally, yes."
The various officers exchanged stunned looks about the room, from suspicion, to awe.
**Perhaps I can be of some assistance.**
The shapes of thought got everyone's attention. A buff grey Ane female of medium size faced them. Captain Nelson cleared his throat.
"Ahem, yes. We were discussing the local arrangement of planets."
**The rosette is an artificial construction that was finished 760,000 years ago at our request.**
"Who could build such a thing?"
**You have discussed the matter yourselves. Federation science might get their eventually.**
"You possess this science?"
**No we do not. We have records, but they would be useless to you.**
Phillips looked darkly at the Ane. "More secrets?"
The female turned to face her. **Karen Phillips, I will have the entire record translated as well as possible into English, and brought to you as soon as possible. I will predict that you will find the enclosed information as useful as your warp drive manual would be to a medieval monk.**
"You are underestimating my intelligence I think."
**No, properly estimating your tech level. That monk could be a genius, but he would have little reference for a warp drive manual. You would likewise have little reference for the Builder's work. I will have it prepared, it will take several months to translate all the documents and print them.**
**We do not bluff, that is a Human convention. As I doubt your Captain can remain for that period of time, give me an address, when the first transport arrives, I will ship the entire lot to you.**
"It might be years before you see a transport."
**Books will not spoil.**
**You accuse me of keeping this `vital science' a mystery, of hiding knowledge from other members of the Federation. Give me an address, I'll ship the books.**
Nelson broke the exchange. "Does that knowledge contain works on terraforming?"
**It would need to. Only Savanna was inhabitable to begin with. Moving planets was not the only task required.**
"Then send them to the Federation archives. Someone will eventually understand the books."
**Yes, this is true. I will do that.**
"I would like to know more about these Builders."
**That we cannot tell you.**
"Lack of knowledge?"
**No, secrets. As part of the agreement, we do not reveal the nature of the Builders to anyone.**
Anders joined the conversation. "After almost a million years, who would care what you told?"
**We would care Lt. Anders, and that is enough.**
Nelson got back into the conversation. "So, when can we see some more of this marvelous place?"
**You are welcome to wander the station at will. I would suggest going in pairs, with some means of navigation. Getting lost would be easy. Also do not go passed doors with red tags. Those areas have not been safety checked. You are also welcome to go planet side on Glade. You can use your own shuttle, or one of ours.**
"How many shuttles do you have?"
**We currently have ten insystem shuttles operational, four are here at the station. Their controls are easy to learn.**
Phillips spoke again, a condescending tone in her voice. "I suppose you recommend we use them as they are superior to our shuttle."
**I haven't a clue as to the capacity of your shuttle Commander, however, the ships are available to you. I sense a great deal of hostility in your manner Commander, is there something you would like to discuss?**
"We are at war, yet as Federation members you have done nothing."
**What would you have us do commander? I regret to inform you that a vast fleet of warp driven battlecruisers is not waiting to be manned here. What you find is only what those leaving the station many years ago considered not worth their time to take, or that belonged to the station to start with. We have one warp drive ship other than the Savanna, I would not recommend it.**
Nelson jumped in. "A ship is a ship, what is wrong with it?"
**Other than it was towed in 3000 years ago as dead freight, the ship leaked then, and the owners abandoned it rather than pay the docking fees, nothing.**
"Oh, space junk. Nothing useful?"
**You might want to look it over. It could provide lessons on how not to build a ship.**
"I would like to send my men over to it."
**Sure, give us a few days to clear the passages to the dock. And remember it is very old, and very dangerous.**
Phillips said "What needs to be cleared? We might be of assistance."
**You might. Nothing is blocking the way that I know if, but the seals, atmosphere, and other systems need checking. It is way back in the complex, and we didn't anticipate a need for that area for some time. Samantha will help you with coordinating the check.**
Captain Nelson assigned Commander Phillips and a team of six engineers to help clear the way back to the old ship. The station supplied Mr. Ryan. He looked to be a young fellow of no more than 25 years, except for the partly grey hair, but he seemed to know his business.
"So Commander, you want a look at the old wreck?"
"Yes, have you seen it?"
"Nope. I have been over all of the station we have open, but nothing beyond that. What you see first, will be first seen in over 2000 years. I simply advise you prod with an object first, some of that stuff might bite."
"Have you had those problems?"
"In a word, yes. Some of the junk is downright dangerous. This ship was likely powered down, but check it like a live bomb."
They had come to a red tagged airlock. Mr. Ryan reached for a lump positioned at waist level.
Phillips broke in. "Is that thing safe?"
"Standard control panel, you find them all over the station."
"It doesn't look anything like a control panel."
"Ane was the last to use it, no physical controls needed. Watch."
Mr. Ryan touched the lump, after a moment is stated to shift, it quickly assumed a rectangle shape with gauges, sliders and readouts in English.
The Grant crew looked wide-eyed at the thing.
Mr. Ryan continued. "That is a prime example of Builder technology. We can't make heads or tails of it. The shuttles are the same way. You touch them, they assume the control protocol you expect. We have two that don't work, and you can't even break them up for scrap." He read the state of the air on the other side and made adjustments. "I turned the lights on, gravity is normal, but it's 110 kelvin in there. We either wait several hours, or button up."
"Let's button up, I want to see this thing. By the way, what is on the other side?"
"Warehousing space, customs escrow and the lot. There might be interesting artifacts, do not play with them. Four people have been killed on this station by stuff they didn't know what was, and they thought it should be harmless."
"You hear that you lot, no souvenir snatching. Everyone comes back alive, or I'll personally kill them."
"Yes Sir Commander Phillips." Replied the six in chorus."
The ratings checked each other's suit seals, and Phillips and Ryan did the same thing. Phillips got a good look at Mr. Ryan's suit.
"Mr. Ryan, this suit looks like an antique."
"It is. The Savanna had five suits, this is one of them."
"You trust this suit?"
"I did the work on it."
"What do you know about the Savanna?"
"Enough to get her back on line, not that I would want to."
"This suit has been constantly maintained, Savanna has not. She was shut down 100 years ago, and not much touched since. I do a tour every five years, but nothing gets turned on."
"What would it take to get it space worthy?"
"Everything from a complete systems check, to fueling. Nothing is hot, nothing."
"Some, barely above background level."
"When is the last time it was checked?"
"Two years ago. Why, you want a joy ride?"
"In that? Do I look stupid?"
"Nope. Everything checks. Everyone ready?"
All hands checked in.
"OK, first door open. Turn away from the door."
He punched the button, and after a moment's hesitation the massive pressure door rolled back. Instant fog filled the air around the door, and quickly settled to the floor.
"Wow, what was that?" Said Fennel, one of the ratings.
"Carbon dioxide snow." Said another. "Didn't you listen in basic chemistry?"
"That and water ice" added Mr. Ryan.
"Why did you want us turned away from the door?"
"Experience has shown that if you don't, your face plate gets fogged up. We usually wait till the temperature comes up as we don't have a lot of suits."
"Well." Said Commander Phillips. "Let's do it."
She walked the thirty feet to the next door. "Mind if I try this one?"
Phillips reached for the smooth blob and touched it, after a moment it took a shape identical to the airlock panels on the Grant. She punched them through.
Soon they were making there way though the thin snow of water and CO2 that covered every surface. As they walked a faint fog rose from the floor.
"What gives with the fog?" Asked Fennel.
"CO2 warming up. I set the entire section to warm. By the time we come back we can walk with open suits."
The walk lead through empty passage after empty passage. It circled around to the sun side of the station. No snow was present there. Solar heat from a bank of windows kept it from forming. Something however, was blocking the way.
"Crystals." Said Spaceman Mort.
"Beautiful." Added another.
"Deadly." Added Mr. Ryan.
Phillips looked at the display flashing in the sun. "What is so deadly about it?"
"Life from, silica based and photoelectric. Touch it, and you get a jolt strong enough to kill you. This was responsible for at least one death on the station."
"What do you do about it?"
"Look for a way around, and wait."
"Wait, the heat will kill it. It just melts away."
"A shame. How alive is it?"
"Near as we can tell, barely. Deprived of light, it stops growing. Kept in the dark long enough it starts to melt. Get it too warm, it melts. Pretty, but it eats away at the station. It has to get minerals from somewhere. Touch it breaks, and you die. Speaking of eating away." Mr. Ryan walked over to a wall blob, touched it, and a comm panel appeared. "Station control, this is Ryan, we are in section 84A-137. Crystal flower on the windows. You better send someone down to look for leaks."
"Roger Ryan. We will see to it. Advise you detour through section 84B. Cross walk should be 5 meters from your location away from the windows. Station control out."
"We better move Commander Phillips. It's not wise to be the nearest conductor when that stuff melts."
Mr. Ryan lend the way around the detour. Another half hour found them in a jumble of warehouse space, crates of unknown origin loomed in the shadows.
"What's in those?" Asked Fennel
Ryan looked them over with his suit light. "God only known Mr. Fennel, God only known, and we don't have the air to find out."
"When will you find out?"
"We may never find all the odd-bits around this station. Its layers deep, and miles wide and long. There are a dozen enclosed docks that would swallow the Grant and a hundred ships like her. Parts of the station haven't been used in half a million years. Getting lost is a real hazard. Exploring will have to wait until a sizable population exists of non-Ane. And here we are, end of this hall and we are there."
The end of the hall proved an hour away. The ship was outside in one of the big enclosed docks that Mr. Ryan had mentioned.
"What are the conditions out there?" Asked Phillips.
"Vacuum. However, the fact it is under cover means that it hasn't suffered 3000 years of micrometors on the hull. How is the air holding out?"
"We have a ten hour supply, it took three hours to get here. Comfort is a factor however. Ten hours in a suit is a bit much."
"How about an unsuited break?"
"How do we manage that?"
"Have you been watching your meters? It's a cozy spring day outside."
Mr. Ryan cracked the seal on his suit, took a deep breath. Phillips looked at him carefully.
"How is the air?"
"Warm wet, and tastes like history. Comfort stations are behind the lounge, same design as the controls. I brought a meal for the crew. Commander, I am going to unsuit, eat, relieve myself, and stretch for a minute. Your call as to what you and your men do."
"OK, open up and take half an hour. Mr. Ryan, how well do radios work in this place?"
Phillips unsuited and moved off a bit. She tuned her pocket radio for the Grant's secure channel.
"Commander Phillips to US Grant."
"Grant here Commander, Spaceman Handsbald reporting."
"Patch me to the Captain Mr. Handsbald, secure channel."
"Aye, aye Sir. Secure channel to the Captain."
She waited for a moment.
"Nelson here. What is it Phillips?"
"We are at the ship in question. A three hour walk. It looks like a real piece of junk even from here. We are inside and unsuited. The ship is in vacuum. We will check it out after we eat.
Captain, this place is a treasure trove of technology I never even dreamed of. Exact details will have to wait for my report. Sir, we need what this place has. Once we have it figured out the Romulans are history."
"You sound convinced Phillips."
"I am sir, there is stuff in here you have to see to believe, and then you doubt it."
"I'll look forward to that report."
"Yes sir, Phillips out."
She put her radio away. And looked around again. U.E.S.P.A. needed to take this place over at once. A through search of the station would put the Federation so far ahead of the technology game no one could touch them.
She noticed that Mr. Ryan was watching her. He had an odd look. But he was an odd bird. If you looked passed the salt and pepper hair he looked like a kid, with a thousand yard stare. She shrugged to herself and grabbed some food before her half hour was up.
"ALL RIGHT you monkeys, lets do this right and by the numbers. Remember, that ship is older than your granny's favorite socks, and potentially dangerous as a nest of diamondbacks. Now, suit up, stay in pairs, four out two in, we rotate. Six hours max for this romp, we DO NOT play with our reserve. Now DO IT."
Jerry Ryan LaSaille sat back and munched an apple as the sailor boys went through the drill. He didn't know what this ship would teach them, except that it was old. And frankly, he didn't care. Right now, looking at this Karen Phillips, it looked like Old Earth had solved her problems by shipping them out. He knew the day would come that Earth would come to him, but he wasn't sure he was ready for it yet. Well he might as well make use of his time. There had to be a lifter in the area somewhere, and chances are it worked. Provided he could find one they wouldn't walk back.
Six hours later seven sweaty U.E.S.P.A. personnel gathered in the dock and striped out of their suits. Mr. Ryan sat back on a long flat cargo vehicle of some kind and watched them.
"Well, y'all find out anything?"
Phillips raised an eyebrow at the wheelless cart. "We found out it doesn't work."
"I could have told you that much."
"We also found it isn't made anything like the ships we have. Took enough scans to fill a book, and are, frankly, beat."
"Well, the good news is you don't have to walk back."
"This, cargo lifter, the station is full of them."
"Why didn't we take one out?"
"Two reasons. One, the gravitc coils really like the cold, and work too well, Two, standard procedure is that we walk all parts of the station the first time through. We will return by the same route we came."
"No more exploring?"
"Not by lifter."
Phillips looked over the tired crew. "OK, we'll ride."
A week later the officers of the Grant once again jockeyed for a comfortable position in the ward room. Smith complained, as usual.
"Why don't we hold this pow-wow on the station? They have lots more room."
Phillips gave him a sharp look. "Yea, plenty of room and no security."
Nevel looked surprised. "Why the security worries? Everyone is Federation here. No Romulans for light years."
Phillips snapped. "Don't be naive. We hardly know these people."
Anders tapped his spoon on his cup. "He has a point however, they are part of the Federation."
Phillips looked at Anders. "Not you too? Sure, one big happy family. But one branch of the family is holding out on the rest."
Nelson entered at took his seat. "Don't make hasty judgements Phillips. 'Act in haste repent in leisure.' We have received every courtesy that we would expect at our home port, within their staffing limits."
"Yet this station, the technology."
"We will get to that. Now, everyone have a chance to read the report?"
Nods from around the table.
"OK Anders what can you tell us?"
"Well, hunk of junk or not, I have reason to believe, based in the scans given me, that the hunk of junk was at least, at least mind you, twice as fast as the Grant."
"Twice as fast." Reves looked flustered. "The Grant is pushing the time barrier as it is. How can you go twice as fast as, as fast as you can go?"
Anders leaned back, shuffled his seat. "Larry, the 'time barrier' is not an absolute limit. Subspace communication exceeds it, there is no reason ships can't. The limit is the design. From the visuals supplied, I can see that the intermix core, it only has one, not one per nacelle, and the warp coil generators are very different in shape than the ones we use. That and the powder in the intermix control chamber is, well interesting in the least. It matches, to some extent the theorized development we have to make to break that 'time barrier'."
Nelson took a sip of coffee. "Will the data be helpful?"
"I hope so, poking around at warp 3 is making me old.
Phillips looked sullen. "I bet the Ane could tell you exactly what you needed to know."
Anders looked at her. "Why do you say that?"
"Look at this station, technology out the waz, stuff we never even heard of."
Nevel the sociologist started to speak, Phillips rode over him. "All we can get from them is; 'The Builders did it'. Who are the Builders? Well that they will not tell us."
Nelson looked at her levelly. "Do you believe the Ane are lying?"
"Damn straight I do. They know more, lots more, and if they cared they would use what they know to stop the Romulans cold."
Nevel swallowed hard. "If I can get a word in here?" The rest looked expectantly. "While everyone else has been treasure hunting, I went planetside, Glade they called it. I talked to a good many Ane, and quite a few of the local Humans. Most of the Ane don't care. They want to think, and chew their cud. The general opinion is that we will pass, and they will record it. These Ane live in open plains with not a piece of technology in sight.
However, some I talked to were very interested in what we are doing, and two or three of them offered to come along and help. I don't think we have the room for them, they are pretty big. I deferred to the Captain on that matter." He cleared his throat.
"The humans on the other hand are to a person the descendants of people that, somehow, got here during the `Time of Troubles'. Green's War, the AI war, and the problems that followed that. Most did not know how their parents arrived. Some did. I was assured that there were teleported to this world from Earth."
Phillips interrupted. "Interstellar teleportation? We are expected to believe that? I say they have ships they are not willing to admit the existence of."
Nevel took control again. "I said as much. They offered a demonstration." He cleared his throat again. "I hope I didn't break any regulations Captain, but I took them up on it."
He pulled an object from his shirt pocket. "I know how much you like the nutbars on Coney Island."
Nelson took the proffered object and flipped it over. The date of manufacture was two days ago.
"Holy Hanna, Mother Mary, and all her angels. You've been to EARTH?!"
Nevel looked nervous. "Well, yes Sir."
How easy is this?"
"Not easy Captain, I was told that the demonstration took a great deal of energy, and that every Ane in the system helped, also, they can't go any place they haven't been."
Phillips threw up her hands. "Well, we have our answer. The Ane are using us as patsies to explore the galaxy for them, then they teleport around and take over."
Nelson looked at her sharply. "It doesn't wash Mr. Phillips, they have'`been around' before."
"Or so they tell us."
"Explain this station?"
"The last set of slaves they worked to extinction? Sir we have to act now. Declare martial law on the station and take it over. The technology and weapons we need are here!"
Nelson was on his feet pounding the table. "We are not sure! And we can't take that kind of action against a Federation member without a good deal of cause. Cause, I will remind you, we do not have!" He straightened his uniform and looked at the spilled coffee. "Let's discuss the possible."
Lt. Smith spoke for the first time. "Sir, the data on that old warp drive is useful, but what we seek here is not to be found. All the technology is old, and even if we had the plans it would do us no good. We don't have the tools or the knowledge to build it. I respectfully suggest Sir that we take the offer of an antimatter refill, stock up on fresh fruit, and get back to work."
"Best suggestion I have had all day. Very well, make the arrangements we need, and lets get to work. We have played tourist enough.
At Phillips insistence the work parties had security. Boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables were brought up by shuttle, and man-handled on to the Grant through her main airlock. She would have to travel to the antimatter lighter off the station to top off.
Karen Phillips paced the dock looking for any problems. The longer she was here, the more nervous she got. The Savanna outside the dock window was not a help. That Ryan fellow was back helping with the loading. He was back again with another lighter load of foodstuffs.
"Mr. Ryan will you... What is your first name anyway?"
Jerry looked at her, it was now or never, how much had Earth learned?
"Jerald Ryan LaSaille."
"LaSaille miss, LaSaille."
"Your the son of the guy that took the Savanna."
"No, I am the guy that sailed the Savanna. One cannot 'take' what they paid for in the first place."
"You destroyed the Computer!"
"Green destroyed the computer, I saved it. Elizabeth is Memory One."
"You son of a bitch. You destroyed my Grandfather's life."
"Miss, if anyone destroyed your Grandfather, you will have to look closer to home."
Phillips pulled out her hand cannon, and pointed the energy weapon at LaSaille. Work stopped on the dock.
"You're under arrest."
"You have no jurisdiction here, and that 'crime' is bad history. Put your gun away Commander, and be sensible."
Jerry stood arms at his sides. Karen Phillips looked around the dock for support. The other security guards did not have weapons drawn.
She shouted, "You're not getting away with this!" Her arm stiffened its aim.
Karen Phillips jerked off her feet as if pulled by a string, she thudded heavily to the deck. Blood spread rapidly across her chest. Jerry had an ugly slab of metal in his hand that smoked slightly from one end. The three other security types reached for their weapons. Jerry spoke.
"Keep `em where they are boys, y'all live a lot longer."
One look at the ancient Colt 1911 convinced them, they moved their hands away from their holsters.
"Boson, take the armed men back into the ship, and get the Captain."
Nelson started at the white Ane again, and repeated himself.
"You mean that is it?"
**That is it Captain. She had the weapon in her hand. She offered the threat, she took the risk.**
"No court, no trial?"
**What is to try? Everyone saw what happened.**
"What about him?" Nelson waved his arm in the direction of Jerry.
"What about me Captain Nelson?"
"If you hadn't set her off with that cock and bull story about being the 'guy that sailed the Savanna' she would not have gotten so excited."
"It wasn't a story Captain Nelson, I am Jerold Ryan LaSaille. I did commandeer the Savanna I did sail her here."
"That would make you at least 125 years old, you don't look that old."
"Captain, I was born in 1948. I got this gun serving in Vietnam in the late 1960s. I was 20 years old when I took a body full of machine gun bullets. I should have died on the spot, I didn't. I should have died a dozen times since, but I didn't. I don't know who or what I am, but both my parents died in a tornado that failed to kill me. I was at least born of humans. I was 100 years old 100 years ago. I was hoping Earth was ready for me now. I had hoped they had grown up. I see I was wrong. What about me? I am going back to Savanna. Maybe in another 100 years, I'll try again."
"Just like that?"
"Yes, just like that. I'm not going to tell you what to do Captain, I am not telling you what to say. I am sorry Karen Phillips is dead, but she drew first, and I don't like getting shot. Come on Aleilan, let's go home."
"Captain's log supplemental. We are departing the El Nanth system more enlightened, but not much wiser. The Ane do not have a wonder weapon we can use against the Romulans, nor do they have ships to add to the fight. We carry a cargo of antimatter to add to the Federation's store of war material, the one thing they did possess to aid us.
It is also my sad duty to record the death of The Grant's First Officer, Commander Karen Phillips, due to a case of mistaken identify. What demons of her past drove her to draw on an armed man that intended her no harm we will never understand. Local law enforcement ruled her death a case of self defense. I regretfully enter this black mark as the final entry in an otherwise spotless record. May she be remembered for her past valor, not for her one mistake. End log."
Nelson rubbed his chin. He was tired.
"Mr. Reves, set a course for Earth, warp 3. Let's go home."
Contact -- Garry Stahl, April 1998
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he Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Copyright Garry Stahl: Arpil 1998. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.