At 1am on November 4th, I decided I would give NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a shot. The idea is to try to write a 50,000+ word novel in one month. Specifically, the month of November. So yeah, some time in October would have been a better time to decide to give this a shot, but hey, better late than never, right?
The idea for the novel came to me a couple years ago during a particularly long series of late nights at work. Sleep deprivation started taking a toll on my mental state, especially my memory. I found that I couldn’t recall what I did that day the before and it made me wonder what would happen if that were taken to its extreme.
Bear in mind that this is a very rough draft. Think of it as more of a case study about the early stages of writing a novel than a proper piece of fiction. But if you find it entertaining, I’d love to hear it.
November 4, 2009
“Can you hear me?”
The voice is very loud. Attempt at movement.
There is light.
Ouch, very bright. Pain.
“Your name. Do you remember it?” The loud voice seems very concerned.
I don’t. I think I shake my head. But then I realize that there is an “I”. I think, therefore … what was that other part? I can’t remember. But, that’s a good sign, right? That I’m at least aware of
some prior, umm …
“You may have experienced some memory loss.”
Ah, memory. Yes, that’s it. I definitely used to have a memory. I don’t seem to have it now. Oddly, this doesn’t particularly concern me. I communicate this sentiment to the loud voice, “Ahhhn nuhhh toooo cnnshhrrnnd–”
“You may also have experience loss of motor-control.”
Oh, that is a little more worrisome. I start to panic. “Whhhuu duuu yuuu mnnnnn–”
“Don’t worry. It’s probably temporary.”
Even with my limited life experience, I already know that having someone say to you “Don’t worry” rarely has the desired effect. If anything, it does the opposite. I start to say “FFfffuuuuuu–” But I stop when I realize this is counterproductive.
At the very least, this eases the stabbing pains to my eyes. Why is everything so bright?
I blink a few more times.
“That’s a good sign. Your eyes should start to focus in a few minutes.”
I blink more rapidly. The voice starts to coalesce into a shape. Male, mid-to-late 60s. Something in his voice makes me think that we are not speaking in his native tongue. He was right about my vision, it’s already starting to improve. Now I can see that he has dark skin and is balding. I can’t remember the details of any specific people, but I somehow know that this man has darker skin and less hair than most. Something about him says “military”. Also, he’s a doctor. A medical officer in the … ach, it eludes me.
He hands me a tablet and says, “Please sign here.” I scribble something. I’m not aware of my hand moving. He looks at the tablet and smiles.
He’s staring at me. No, that’s not right. He’s not staring at me, he’s giving me time to process information. He’s waiting to see what I make of it all.
Okay, take in the information. Process it.
We are in a small office. Mostly non-descript but a few personal items. This doctor is somehow evaluating me. Probably not hostile. At least, he holds no obvious weapons. I look at his hands. For some reason, I get the feeling that he does not have a family of his own. I look at his shoes. They are scuffed, but clean. Somehow, they are endearing. He is wearing a uniform, but it’s worn casually, perhaps even carelessly. I sense by his relaxed demeanor that he has a great deal of confidence in his profession.
It occurs to me that I know more about this man that I’ve only known for ten minutes than I do about myself. I say, “Surreal.” Or something close enough to it that the doctor smiles.
“Yes, Sascha, it is.”
I struggle to remember, to remember anything. But it’s a futile effort. My entire life seems to consist of the experiences I’ve had in the last ten minutes.
Clones. Wait, are clones real? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that. I ask, “Am I a clone?”
The doctor lets out a surprised laugh. “Oh, dear… I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you. It’s just — no, you are most definitely not a clone.”
“I don’t remember anything. Do I know you?”
His eyes soften. “Ah. Yes. Well, no, you don’t presently know me. But you did at one point. And maybe you will again. I am Dr. Banerjee. You had the temerity to call me ‘Dr. Banj’ but in truth, I did not mind.”
I look at him. I don’t remember any of this. But it seems somehow plausible. He looks like he is waiting for something.
“You have something for me, don’t you, Dr. Ban– Doctor Banerjee?”
He sighs and says, “I do.” He pulls something out of his front pocket with reluctance. It’s a disc. I don’t know how I know how to do this, but somehow I insert it into the player on the desk between us. Muscle memory. Dr. Banerjee interrupts me as I prepare to play it.
“I– protocol dictates that I give this disc to you once I have determined that you are lucid. Technically, I should not be commenting on it before you’ve had a chance to view it but … well, this is a recording you made ten years ago as a compulsory part of your training.”
“I’m about to watch myself tell me who I am?”
“Well, in a word, yes. But ten years ago, you were not … how do I say this? You were not enthusiastic in your adherance to the guidelines set for this type of recording.”
“I don’t understand. Did I not make the video properly?”
“No, you met all the necessary requirements. But you were, perhaps, a bit less … empathic towards your future self, that is to say, the current you. I have urged you on numerous occasions to re-record your orientation video but you are somewhat …”
“I was going to say ‘strong of will’, but your word would not be inaccurate.”
“I am discovering more and more about myself with each passing moment.”
I started the video. It started with the image of a young woman, somewhat athletic looking, although a bit skinny. She looked impatient. I didn’t know who she was but she had a bad haircut. I wondered why they would start this video with some strange kid. And then it dawned on me.
“Hey, Dummy! It’s me. Remember? Hah! Obviously not.”
The woman on the screen — I still had a hard time thinking of her as “me” — started flipping through some papers.
“So, I guess it finally happened, eh? The old ‘jump-wipe’. Well, I’m supposed to tell you all about the risks inherent in the job and the acknowledgement of said risks, blah, blah, blah … you get the picture. By watching this video, you’re supposed to realize that this is all your own damn fault for signing up for this crap-shoot.”
Wow, I was a real jerk.
“But don’t worry, even if you ended up with a total wipe, which I’m told is pretty rare, you’re not really missing much. You grew up in a tiny backwater town of a tiny backwater planet. The best thing I can tell you about home is that I’m not there any more.”
Oh, it just gets better and better.
“On the other hand, if you’re watching this, then hey, we actually made it through! Congratulations to us for successfully becoming a trans-system jump pilot! Ah, who am I kidding? I knew we’d make it. Our aptitude test scores were incredible! It’s like we were made for this job.”
I spared a quick glance at Dr. Banerjee. I couldn’t tell who was more embarrassed. Probably me.
“You know, they say that the better pilot you are, the less likely you are to get jump-wiped, which, frankly, kind of sucks. I mean, that’s partly why I signed up for this gig. The thought that I could totally forget everything that happened in the last twenty years? Man, that’d be awesome.”
She — I mean “I” — seemed happy about that. But then I looked pensive.
“Although … it’d suck to forget about Lainey. Dude, promise me that you won’t forget about Lainey. I mean, yeah, most of the bad stuff is ‘cuz of her but … no, there was good stuff, too, and you gotta take the bad with the good, right? Ah, what am I worried about? There’s no way I could forget about Lainey. I mean, she’s the whole reason I’m here.”
I had no idea who Lainey was.
After the recording finished, we sat in silence. I didn’t know what to say and the doctor was just looking at me. Suddenly, he asked, “What year is it?”
I didn’t think about it, I just said, “Twenty-two … I don’t know. Twenty-two forty-seven? Forty-eight?”
“I have a theory that the memory loss associated with the so-called jump-wipe is not a loss so much as a severing between stored memory and retrieval. I believe your memories are still intact, but difficult to recall consciously.”
“So was I right?”
Dr. Banerjee smiled. “Close. It’s Terra 2253. But you joined this ship in 2247 and started heavy jump rotation in 2248. Your mind has undergone a great deal of stress in the intervening five years. Hence, the long-term memory loss. But, as I said, this is only in conscious retrieval. I believe the key is to rely on unconscious retrieval.”
“What are you talking about?”
He pulled out the tablet I signed earlier. “Do remember this?”
“Sure, that was just a few minutes ago. You pushed it in front of me and had me sign it. My memory’s not that bad.”
He smiled again. It was a patient smile. “Did you know who you were at the time?”
“No, of course not. You had to te–” I stared at the display on the tablet. There it was. Sascha L-something. Leipzig? Lapze? No, it’s Lopez. Sascha Lopez. Odd, I somehow know that it’s right, but it still feels like it’s someone else.
The doctor can see me working this out and smiles again. Boy, he sure does smile a lot.
“You think I smile too much.” That jolts me. Can he read my mind? “No, I can’t read your mind, but you wear your emotions on your sleeve. Is that the right phrase?” I have no idea. “But don’t worry, you are normally much more opaque. It is the jump-wipe. Your reactions are normal. Also, I have the benefit of memory. We have done this before.”
Somehow, I find this to be the most disturbing piece of news thus far. I ask, “How many times?”
The doctor stops smiling. He looks a little sad. “This will make number 27.”
That was a sobering number. Twenty-seven times in five years seemed pretty frequent. I did the math. “So … I lose my memory every couple months or so?”
“No, jump-wipe is supposed to be a relatively uncommon phenomena. The first year, it only happened to you once after a particularly stressful series of jumps. And you recovered most of your memory after a month of rest. But now …” His voice trailed off.
“Now it’s happening more frequently?”
He sighed. “Now it happens with every jump. This is the third jump this week.”
The third jump.
But then … “How am I supposed to recover if I …”
“You haven’t. You haven’t remembered anything, not consciously, in over two months.”
Now I was starting to get angry. “Then why am I continuing to jump?”
He closed his eyes. I didn’t think he was going to speak again. And then, “We are at war. If we don’t jump, we will be destroyed.”
I needed to sit down. Then I realized that I was already seated. I needed to lie down. I said, “You seem to be taking this awfully calmly.”
“Oh believe me, Sascha, I am suitably concerned. But would you prefer that I waved my hands around in distress?”
“No, no, of course not, Doc. It’s just … I don’t see how you can be so calm under the circumstances.”
“Panic would not be productive at this juncture. You are already under a great deal of stress and what you need is — well, what you need is several months off. I cannot give you that. But at least, I can present a calm demeanor for you. Would you like some tea?”
“Are you having some as well?”
“No, I prefer coffee. But you enjoyed tea. You found it relaxing.”
I did? “Then yes, I think I would like that, Dr. Banerjee.”
“I took the liberty of preparing it before you were conscious and it should be ready now.” He turned away, presumably to fetch the tea when a jarring sound interrupted him. His back was to me, but I could see him speaking into a hand-held device. “Yes? No … we just need a few more–” I couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but it must have been intense. “No. She is conscious.” He listened for a while and then suddenly slammed his fist on the table, which startled me. I mean, this guy wasn’t phased by war so what could he have heard on the comm to make him so angry? “Yes, I understand.”
The doctor ended the call and took a deep breath. He turned back to face me and said, “The tea will have to wait.”
“So I gathered.”
He continued on, “Two men will be here soon and they will escort you to the captain.”
“Wow, it must be important. Was he pissed?”
“‘She’, not ‘he’. And no, she was not angry. But the situation is very dire.” There was a loud rap at the door. “That would be security. You need to go, now.”
The doctor helped me out of the chair. I had to lean on him but I found that I could walk, albeit slowly. I turned to him and said, “Dr. Banj?”
“Next time, if I have to come back here again like this, can you do my orientation?”
“You don’t want to see the video you made?”
“I don’t need to see myself like that again.”
Thankfully, they brought a wheelchair. I didn’t recognize either of them but the one walking in front of me seemed vaguely familiar. The corridors were also unremembered but vaguely familiar. I wondered if I would have known that we were in a ship instead of a building if Dr. Banerjee hadn’t told me. I might not have known, but it wouldn’t have surprised me. The hallways seemed cramped and the walls were corrugated metal, presumably to increase the structural stability to weight ratio at the expense of aesthetics.
I couldn’t see the larger man pushing my wheelchair so I concentrated on the man leading us. He had darker skin than the doctor did and walked briskly. I could only see his back but he seemed rather young. I tried to see if there was anything familiar in the way he walked. There wasn’t. But still, I felt like I should know him. I asked, “Do I know you?”
“Very funny Ms. Lopez.” Ms. Lopez? Okay, he wasn’t young, I was just old. He said, “We had breakfast together this morning.” Oh my. I was glad that neither of the security escorts were facing me because I think I was starting to blush. He glanced at me when I didn’t reply, “In the mess hall? Wow, you really don’t remember. You sat down in front of me looking kinda dazed this morning. But we chatted.”
“Oh right.” I still didn’t remember any of that. But I didn’t want to make the young … ensign? private? … whatever he was, I didn’t want to make him feel awkward. I said, “It seems like a lifetime ago.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s been a long day. The attack, the emergency jump you made… I can’t believe you did it. We would have been dead if it weren’t for you.”
We reached an elevator. The young one held the door open while the other one, a rather beefy fellow, wheeled me in. The young one said, “You’re a hero!”
I wasn’t sure how to react to that. Was it true? Maybe, but I felt no pride in something I couldn’t remember. It seemed prudent to just be gracious so I just said, “It’s kind of you to say so.”
“Oh, it’s not just me. The whole crew thinks so. Isn’t that right Lee?” He turned to ‘Lee’ who, at this point, was standing on my other side in the elevator.
Lee replied, “Yes.” Apparently, Lee was not much of a talker.
I could tell we were going down, which seemed strange, somehow. “Is the captain’s quarter below the medical bay?”
“Oh no, that’s on bridge deck. The captain’s meeting us directly in Engineering B12.”
I started to have a sinking feeling. “Engineering? Why is she meeting us there?”
“I dunno. The jump pods are down there somewhere, so maybe that’s it.”
His words hit me like a punch in the gut. Jump pods. I couldn’t remember much, but I knew that the jump pods were the reason why. I felt a sick dread that I couldn’t begin to describe. But also — damn it, there was a part of me that … that had to see it again. My mind started racing. I could feel the anxiety and panic start to rise up as the elevator doors opened. I needed to think about something else. I said, “Tell me about the captain.”
“Captain Weiss? She’s really tough but I think it’s this mission. And the fact that everyone’s trying to kill us.”
“How can you be so stoic?”
“What, me stoic? I’m not stoic. Lee’s the stoic one, ain’t ya?” The young one jovially punched Lee in the shoulder as we got out of the elevator.
Lee replied, “I suppose.” Yup, he was the stoic one.
The young one walked out in front of us to start leading again and said, “Nah, for me it’s that I’m just an ensign. I’m not a gunner or a fighter pilot or a medic. I don’t see any action or anything. I just do stuff like this. Heck, this is better than most days. I’m escorting the ship’s hero to see the captain. Most of the time, I’m just shuffling papers or making calls. So I’m not in any real danger, unless the ship blows up in which case there’s probably nothing I can do about it, know what I mean?”
Not really but I could understand why he was so cavalier. He didn’t have any responsibility, even in this life or death situation. I envied that. We stopped at a door marked ‘Engineering’. The young ensign opened it and said, “After you.”
“Thank you, Ensign …”
“It’s Ensign Young, Ms. Lopez.” The young ensign was named ‘Ensign Young’? I wonder if I knew that subconsciously. Well, at least it would be easy to remember his name. At least until the next jump. Then something he said struck me. Why was he calling me ‘Ms. Lopez’? I looked down at my clothes and they were decidedly civilian. I was also a bit disappointed to note that they weren’t particularly stylish.
I said, “I’m not military, am I? I mean, I’m not part of your …”
“Navy? No, no ma’am. I mean, of course you’re not. You’re a jump pilot. They have to be civilian. You’re Corporate. They’re pretty much like the military, though. Only, you don’t get ranks, just job titles, which kinda seem like the same thing.” We reached the end of a hallway to a door marked ‘Stairs’. I tried getting out of the wheel chair. It was a struggle, but I could manage it.
“If you’d like, Private Lee can carry you down the stairs. Isn’t that so?”
Private Lee looked at me and said, “You’re light.”
I said, “No, I think I can get down the stairs. The walk will do me good.”
Ensign Young was skeptical, “Are you sure? I mean, the Captain would have my skin if anything happened to you and I’d hate for you to fall down the stairs.”
I told him, “I’ll be fine. But you can walk down in front of me just in case.”
That mollified him. He said, “Well, it’s not far past the stairs.” Young started down the stairs while Lee folded up the wheel chair behind me.
I followed Young. Something else occurred to me. I said, “You mentioned Captain Weiss. Her first name isn’t ‘Lainey’ by any chance, is it?”
“Nope. It’s Rita.”
“Is there a Lainey on board this ship?”
Ensign Young said, “Not that I know of. There’s over 200 people on board, so I don’t know everybody but I think I’d recognize a name like that.” He looked at Private Lee, who shrugged back. Young said, “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason, it was just a name I heard once.”
I got down the stairs without incident. Private Lee offered the wheelchair but by that point I was feeling stronger so I continued walking. We passed several rooms and finally reached B12. It was marked ‘Jump Pods’. Ensign Lee exclaimed, “Hey, how about that? The jump pods were in B12.”
How about that, indeed.
The first thing I noticed was how small the room was. There were five people in the room already. It was immediately obvious who the Captain was. She was fairly tall and … handsome? I think that would be the word, but it wouldn’t be the one I used. She spoke with the authority of someone accustomed to it and she was in tense discussion with … a doctor? He was wearing a similar uniform to the one Dr. Banerjee had, but this one was quite short. Another young man with similar markings as Ensign Young was taking notes, I was guessing he was Captain Weiss’s assistant. A man and a woman in lab coats were talking quietly to the side. Beyond them were three stations, which I somehow knew were the jump pods. I didn’t remember them, but they seemed … familiar. Only … there was something wrong with one of them, the one on the left.
Ensign Young presented himself to Captain Weiss but waited until she was finished to speak. He saluted smartly and said, “Captain, jump pilot Lopez is here, as requested.” I knew I should have been looking to the Captain, but I couldn’t look away from the left jump pod.
The Captain acknowledged the salute and said, “At ease.” He nodded and stepped back. I found myself walking towards the left jump pod only peripherally aware of the fact that everyone was staring at me.
The jump pods were bath shaped recliners with wires and leads running up and down the body. There were two monitors viewable from the inside and one display on the outside. There was a half-helmet like device positioned at the head. Two of the pods had neat bundles of wires going into the helmets. But the one on the left, the wires from its helmet were splayed out in every direction.
That’s when I noticed the blood.
It was everywhere, on all the wires, on the pod. Only then did I notice that the dark fabric of the left pod was noticeably darker than the others, especially towards the…
I started to scream when the Captain’s voice rang out, “Everyone, clear the room!”
We all started shuffling out of the room when the Captain reached out and touched my shoulder. I think I flinched. Somehow the touch made me nervous. She said, more gently, “Not you. We need to talk.”
I nodded numbly while everyone else walked out. Ensign Young was the last one out and he tried to give me a reassuring glance.
When we were alone, the Captain turned to me and just said, “Sascha.”
I said, “Captain Weiss?”
She gave me an odd look. But it was gone in an instant. She asked, “What do you remember?”
“Nothing before waking up in Dr. Banerjee’s office.”
She gestured toward the jump pods and asked, “Do you know what these are?” I nodded. She said, “And you are a jump pilot.”
I said, “So I’ve been told. But I don’t remember.”
“So you don’t remember how to jump?”
“Just an hour ago, I couldn’t remember my name. I can’t even begin to guess how I’m supposed to operate one of those.”
She sighed and thought about what I just said. Her eyes were closed and she said, “Has Dr. Banerjee told you his theories about the jump-wipes?”
“He said something about the memories still being there in my brain, just not accessible consciously.”
“Yes.” She opened her eyes and said, “Would you mind getting in the jump pod?” I stared at horror at the broken pod and she said, “No, not that one. That one was Robert’s. Yours was–”
“The one in the middle. The one in the middle is mine.” I started walking towards it.
“Yes. There’s a chance that if you sat in your jump pod, some of it would come back to you.”
I stared at the jump pod, my jump pod. I knew I must have sat in that pod countless times before. It was my job. I could almost feel it on my skin. I could feel it inside me. But now it filled me with dread. “Please, no.” Captain Weiss just looked at me. I could see so much in her eyes. There was so much pain there, it made me want to do just about anything for her but — “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
She said, “If your life depended on it…” her voice shook slightly “… if the lives of the 247 people on board depended on it, would you–”
“I don’t even know how to turn it on!” I was surprised by the vehemence of my own voice but I continued on, “You might as well get in the pod yourself and try to jump! I mean, I don’t even know who I am and now–”
Suddenly, the door slammed opened and the Captain’s ensign called out loudly, “Captain!”
She replied, “Tyler, this is not a good–” He ignored her and continued into the room, listening to something with one hand to his ear.
Ensign Tyler saluted and said, “A second jump was just detected on long range scanner. The energy signature is completely gone so it must have been–”
The Captain finished his sentence, “A jump out. That means they’re bringing back reinforcements. We don’t have much time. Have the techs prepare the jump pod.”
Everything was happening too fast. What were they talking about? I said, “Didn’t you hear me? I’m not ready. I don’t think–”
Captain Weiss turned and looked me right in the eyes. I know I flinched then. She said, “I heard you. We don’t have any choice.”
“Can you hear me?”
The voice is piercing. Trying to move.
There is light.
“Your name. Do you remember it?”
The voice. Must make it stop.
“Security! Restrain him!”
Things grabbing me. Can’t see.
Another voice, “Brian! It’s me. It’s okay. You’re safe now. You can stop fighting.”
A sharp jab.
I stared at the prone figure in the third jump pod. They had called him “Brian”. He must have been a jump pilot, like me. I didn’t recognize him.
He was unconscious when they brought him in, too. But they placed him in the pod, attached him to the helmet, and then administered some sort of drug. Almost instantly, his eyes slammed open and then we … jumped.
No one told me we were jumping but even with the amnesia, it was an unmistakable experience. First, there was a sense of vertigo and then a sense of … stretching? For a moment, it felt like I could reach out and touch the other end of the room. No, it was more than that. It felt like I could touch the next star. Then, there was a sense of doubling. No, that wasn’t right, it was more like a juxtaposition.
And then we were here. I didn’t know where “here” was but I knew that it was far, far away from where we were before.
I thought that would be the end of it but that’s when the jump pilot attacked the small doctor that was attending him. Private Lee restained him long enough for the doctor to administer what looked like a sedative.
I stared at the prone figure in the third jump pod. They had called him “Brian”. I must have known him.
Bright lights flickering in my eyes.
“You seem to be doing better, today.”
I was back in Dr. Banerjee’s office. He had been checking my responses to light being flashed in my eyes. Apparently, ocular dilation speed was a measure of jump-wipe recovery. Outside his office, I could see the rest of sick bay. The Captain and the shorter doctor were already in sick bay when I came in to report to Dr. Banerjee. Brian was in one of the beds. The Captain kept on looking at him. At one point she touched is hand. He wasn’t moving and he was hooked up to some sort of respirator. I asked, “Was I like that?”
The doctor glanced over to where I was looking. He sighed. “It would be best not to think too much on that.”
“But is that what happens after every jump now? When I come out of the next jump, will I turn into some sort of screaming animal as well? Or will they just sedate me into a coma?”
The doctor turned my head to face him. He said, very gently, “Sascha, what happened to Brian was the result of … the result of an experimental drug of some sort. I will not let that happen to you while you are on my ship.”
“Your ship? What about the captain?”
“Oh, she may be in charge of the ship. But what happens to the bodies on board is my domain.” He said it with all the gravity he could muster.
I smiled at that. At that moment, I believed him. But then I looked at Brian. “What about him?”
“Ah. Brian volunteered for it, against my advice, if you must know. But, I suppose we had no choice.”
“People keep saying that! What is it that we’re doing here and why do we keep getting attacked?”
“Ah, as to that, you should ask the Captain. Propitiously, she approaches even now.”
Captain Weiss entered the office and addressed the doctor saying, “Dr. Banerjee, may I have a word with your patient?”
“Of course. I need to speak with Dr. Pendleton, in any event.”
The doctor closed the door to the office as he left. Somehow, being alone in the office with the Captain made me very nervous.
“Sascha, how are you feeling?”
“Better than yesterday.”
“And your memory?”
I shrugged. “I remember everything since yesterday. Maybe bits and pieces of other things, but nothing coherent.”
“Who am I?”
I looked at the Captain queerly. She couldn’t think I was that stupid, could she? “You’re the Captain. Ensign Young said your name was Rita Weiss.”
“My middle name is ‘Elaine’.”
Lainey. My god, I was looking at ‘Lainey’, the person I told myself about on the orientation video. Watching that video was one of my earliest memories and yet when I looked at this woman before me … nothing. How could I forget something like that? All I knew was that I felt very nervous around her. At least now I had some idea why. I didn’t know what to say so I just said, “Lainey.”
The relief I saw in her face was immediate. She said, “You remember.”
She reached out to touch my shoulder. I flinched and said, “No! I mean, I … I didn’t mean for to come out like that. I … I know your name from the orientation video I watched yesterday. I know that you were important to me. But … I’m sorry, I don’t remember. How could I not remember?”
“Ah.” She sat down in the chair across from me. “We have not been as close as we once were. But we have known each other for a long time.”
“We were friends?”
“Very much so.”
I looked at her. There was something else. I asked, “Were we … lovers?”
She blushed. Well, in the brief two days of life that I could remember experiencing, that was certainly the most surprising thing I learned — that I could make the Captain blush. She quickly replied, “No! Nothing like that.” I looked at her dubiously. “Well, maybe we were more than just friends. But that isn’t why I needed to talk to you.”
Oh, is that so, Ms. ‘may I have a word with your patient … alone’? Color me skeptical. Then she said, “The jump pod.”
Oh. Right. I said, “What about it?”
“Can you operate it?”
It was the same question I had been asking myself since I woke up and found out what I was. I knew that this was what I did. But more than that, it was who I was. It was a part of me, as much as my hands or feet. And yet, I couldn’t remember. I said, “I don’t know. I don’t remember anything consciously, but I remember something.” I could remember the feeling of it. It was like swimming. Wait, did I know how to swim? I’m not sure. But jumping through space for a jump pilot was like swimming in the ocean — only, not like a human swimming with its pathetically skinny appendages, but more like some sort of sea mammal with large fins — something that was born to swim in the ocean. And I was born to jump through space.
But then I remembered something else. It wasn’t just me that I was jumping. I was jumping the whole ship and it was huge. I could remember what that felt like. It was like pulling a house through a tar pit. Wait, have I ever pulled a –? Never mind, that’s what it felt like. I was sure of it. And I had done it many, many times. My mind reeled with what I had done and what I was being asked to do again. I said, “I remember what it felt like to jump.”
“But can you do it again?”
“I don’t know.” It occurred to me that I still didn’t know why this was all happening. “What’s going on here? Why are we running? Why are we being attacked?”
The Captain looked thoughtful. “It’s a very complex situation.”
“Are we at war?”
“Not officially. But we are on a mission that might be perceived as an act of war. Or it might be perceived as a response to an act of war.”
“What is the mission?”
“The Volkan Empire,” she said. She paused to see if that registered with me. It didn’t. She continued, “The Volkan Empire was researching technology that would have fundamentally altered the way warp jumps worked. If successful, they could have … well, it would have been bad. Our mission was to destroy or obtain that technology.”
“Did we destroy it?”
She snorted. “If we had, we probably would have been dead by now. The only reason they didn’t nuke us immediately afterwards was because of what we managed to obtain. Dr. Pendleton can tell you more about it.”
“He knows more about the mission?”
“Dr. Pendleton is the mission.”
We were in the mess hall and I was having the third meal that I ever remembered. It tasted like chicken. Somehow, Ensign Young took it upon himself to be my chaperon. I didn’t mind because he seemed to be an inexhaustible source of information. I said, “Tell me about the Volkan Empire. I hear that we’re at war with them.”
“Actually, a formal declaration of war has not been made,” he said. Then he corrected himself, “At least, not that we are aware of.”
“But what about the Volkans?”
“Yeah, what do they look like?”
He looked at me strangely, as if my words were incomprehensible to him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what do they look like? Do they have green skin? Tentacles for arms? Crystalline bodies?”
Ensign Young burst out into laughter. “Oh, my–”
Other people in the mess hall were starting to turn and stare at us. I failed to see the humor in it. I snapped, “I don’t see what’s so funny. I have no memory of anything before yesterday. Maybe it’s obvious to you what the Volkans look like but I’ve forgotten everything.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t laugh.” Well, at least he looked like he was trying to stop laughing. “It’s just… Oh, where to begin? First of all, there aren’t ‘Volkans’. The ‘Volkan Empire’ is named after their dictator, Volkan Andover. But he only uses his first name. I think it might have been Turkish. He often refers to himself in the third person. Insane man. But still technically human. And the people in his empire are very human. They look just like you and me. Well, they tend not to have skin as dark as me, but that has more to do with the six planetary types that the empire currently consists of. Dr. Pendleton was one of them. He was born and raised on Kuvel, the latest planet that Volkan claimed.”
“Oh.” I was vaguely disappointed. “So, are there any …” I left the question hanging, feeling a little foolish.
“Space aliens?” He chuckled. “Wow, it’s just — sometimes it’s hard to remember how much you don’t know. The vast majority of life that we’ve found has been things like plankton and fungus. Occasionally, there are some very simple invertebrates. There is one species of cephalopods on a water planet, but the jury is still out on how intelligent they are.”
“So no humanoid aliens with pointy ears?”
“Not that we’re aware of.”
“I could have sworn I had a vague memory of–”
“You might have been thinking of an old video series. The concept of space aliens was quite popular in the 20th century.”
“Just great. For the first time, I thought something was coming back to me and it turns out not to be true.”
His eyes softened a bit. I didn’t need this young man’s pity, but … it was better than having him laugh at me. He said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re starting to remember something, even if it was just a story. Stories are important, too.”
We were in the engineering bay, by the jump pods. The Captain (I still found it strange to think of her as ‘Lainey’) felt it would be useful for me to speak to Dr. Pendleton. He was trying to explain his research to me. He said, “I’m a neurologist by training, you see.”
I asked, “What does that have to do with jump gates?”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “Ms. Lopez, how much do you remember?”
Why did people keep asking me that? “I don’t remember anything before yesterday.”
“But,” he said, “you still know something about jumping, don’t you?”
It wasn’t really a question. I nodded. “Nothing consciously, but …”
“Let me guess — you remember what it feels like, right?”
I nodded again.
Dr. Pendleton looked at the jump pod and said, “This is a marvelous piece of technology. It’s an interface to an even more amazing work of engineering.” He looked around the room at the rest of it. “I don’t understand any of it, or very little of it in any case. But what I do understand is what’s in here.” He tapped my skull. “Well, no, that’s an exaggeration. I understand a small part of the process of what goes on in your head under a very particular circumstance — specifically, when you jump.”
“You’ve observed jump pilots’ brains during jump?” I asked.
“I have,” he said with a bit of satisfaction.
“That sounds … difficult.”
“Oh,” he said, “it was quite difficult. Even getting the most rudimentary readings during a jump were an ordeal. But we discovered something amazing.”
“One of the fundamental aspects of jumping are the three limits: there are limits on how much mass you can jump with, how frequently you can jump, and how far you can jump. There are things things you can do to work around the first two limits — use multiple ships and multiple jump pilots, for example. But the third limit, that has been inviolate since jumping was developed. And it affects everything from which stars we can colonize to how effective a fleet can be. What I discovered was that the third limit is based on your mind.”
“How is that?”
“I’ve heard the analogy that jumping is like swimming,” he said. Dr. Pendleton looked at me and smiled. “In fact, you were the one who told me that.”
Ah. It was strange hearing him tell me about myself. But I did sound like something I would say. I asked, “What does that have to do with how far we can jump?”
“Well, in the moments preceding a jump, I discovered that your mind actually goes elsewhere for a few moments. To extend the analogy, in those moments it’s as if you were holding your breath and reaching out to where you were going. But there are limits to how far your mind will travel. Part of that is training, part of that is skill, but another part of it is your mind’s attempt at self-preservation. That’s what I was working on.”
I didn’t like where this was going. “That sounds dangerous.”
“Ah. Yes,” he said soberly. “I know what you’re thinking.”
I was thinking that he was a mad scientist, tinkering with things he didn’t fully understand.
He said, “You think I’m a mad scientist, tinkering with things I don’t fully understand.” I stared at him. He explained, “We’ve had this conversation before. But I have the advantage of remembering it.”
“How did it end last time?”
“Um. We agreed to disagree. Although, to be fair, you’re right about one thing. I don’t fully understand it. No one does. That’s what science is — the quest to understand what we don’t. But I’m not mad. I know that there are risks.”
I was thinking about the other jump pilot. The one that was now unconscious in sick bay. “Is that what happened to the guy that’s in a coma right now?”
“Ah. Brian. Yes, you could blame me for that,” said Dr. Pendleton. He looked pained. “For what it’s worth, I blame myself, too. He volunteered despite the risks because … well, we had little choice. But that’s no excuse. If I knew more, or if I were smarter, or … if I were better, then maybe I would have been able to reduce the risks. Maybe he would not be in a coma. And maybe Robert would not have…” he trailed off. I didn’t know who Robert was, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about it further.
I felt bad. I didn’t even know Dr. Pendleton. Or this ‘Brian’, for that matter. Or if I did, it was a lifetime ago. I didn’t want this life to start out with me being angry with this doctor for something I didn’t even remember. I started to say something to that effect when the door opened. Ensign Young walked in brusquely and addressed me. “The Captain would like to see you.”
“Where is she?”
“In sick bay.”
He turned and led the way. It felt like my life was a series of other people leading the way. I followed.
“Captain, Jump Pilot Lopez is here, as requested.”
“Thank you, Ensign. Dismissed.” And with that, Ensign Young turned and left us in sick bay. I could see Dr. Banerjee in his office talking to someone on his comm. And there was the unconscious figure in the bed. But we were otherwise alone.
The Captain had been looking at the other jump pilot. It looked like she hadn’t slept. I asked, “How is he doing?”
“Unchanged. Physically, he’s stable. But there’s little brain activity.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew he was a jump pilot because I’d seen them place him in the pod and then watched him as he jumped us to wherever we were now, but I couldn’t remember anything about him. I said, “What can you tell me about him? I feel like I should know.”
She paused. I don’t think this is what she meant to talk to me about, but I could tell it was something she needed to say. “His name was Brian. Brian Dalton-Farha. He was, is, a jump pilot, like you. He jumped us to safety yesterday.”
“Did I know him? I mean, were we close?”
She shrugged and said, “Jump pilots are often close. You all work in the same field, you have similar work experiences. I think the process of working in that environment bonded you. You, Brian, and Robert often–”
“There were three of us?”
“Yes, that’s why there were three jump pods.”
I remembered my first view of the jump pods, the first one covered in blood. I said, “He’s dead, isn’t he…”
“Robert?” She didn’t say anything for a moment. “Yes. We were pushed too hard in the first week of pursuit. He was the first one to undergo Dr. Pendleton’s … experiments. The hope was that we could make one long jump and escape.”
“But it didn’t work,” I said.
“No. If it did, they wouldn’t be pursuing us now. But he did get us through the blockade, which may have saved our lives.”
“May have? He’s dead and all you can say is that it may have been worth it? And now you’re subjecting Brian to the same–”
“Don’t you dare! You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know that he was a friend. What was he to you? Just another pilot to use up?”
She looked at me with barely controlled rage. I thought she was going to hit me. Instead, she said, “He’s my husband.”
I sat down.
“I’m sorry.” My words seemed weak. “I didn’t know.” I felt like I should have known.
“I know you didn’t.” She sighed and said, “I’m more angry at myself. I keep forgetting how little you know. I want to be mad at you because I feel like you should know.” Ouch. “It seems so unfair that life has taken away the two people in my life that meant the most to me. You really don’t remember, do you?”
I shook my head. I didn’t. But more than that … I could understand not remembering, but how is it that the things from my past are such a shock to me now?
I said, “You’re married?!”
She smiled wanly.
I said, “To Brian?!”
I said, “You’re married to a man?!”
She snorted. “Why would that surprise you?”
“I don’t know. I just thought …”
“What exactly were you thinking?”
“Well, when you said we were maybe more than …” I couldn’t continue. It was so embarrassing.
“I’m not the one that’s attracted to women.”
Oh. “Well, yeah, but Brian?” She looked at me askance. “I mean, aren’t you his boss? Aren’t there ethics or something involved?”
“Jump pilots are civilians, not under the navy’s chain of command. I can’t order him to do anything.”
“Wow, it’s just, I can’t believe I forgot something like that.”
“You’ve forgotten everything, haven’t you?”
I just looked at her. I looked at Brian lying unconscious on the bed. Nothing. “Yeah, I guess I have.” I looked back at the Captain and asked, “Is there anything else I should know about?”
She looked at me for a moment and said, “Well, there’s your son.”
I just stared at her. I have a –? How could I possibly have forgotten something like that? I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out.
Then she smiled wickedly and said, “Just kidding.”
“Oh my g–” Now words were coming out. I said, “I could kill you! How could you let me think that I–”
She doubled over in laughter. She said, weakly, between laughs, “I’m — I’m sorry, I just– Oh, you should have seen the look on your face.”
“I can’t believe you just… That was terrible.”
Okay, maybe a little funny, in retrospect. But I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of telling her.
She laughed again and said, “Thank you.”
“I haven’t laughed like that since before this whole ordeal started. I know you don’t remember, but you always could make me laugh.”
“How long has this whole thing been?”
“Three weeks. That was our first jump out after the mission on Kuvel. We were there under the guise of jump facility inspections and a technical conference. Dr. Pendleton has made previous arrangements to make it look like he was going to–”
“Hold on, Captain. Rita. Lainey? I don’t even know what to call you, let alone all this stuff that you’re talking about.”
“Yes. You’re right. I’ll try to slow down. First of all, when we were alone, you usually called me ‘Lainey’. When others were around, it was usually ‘Captain’, albeit with a bit of a smirk. Secondly, it’s just … we don’t know how much time we have and I need to know from you–”
“You need to know whether I can jump or not.”
“I don’t know.”
“I know that. But I feel that it might help if you understood what’s–”
“Help? I already know that hundreds lives are at stake and that we may die at any moment! How is knowing anything more supposed to help? I’m under as much pressure as there could possibly be and I still have no idea what I’m supposed to do. How the hell is it going to–”
“Sascha…” someone said weakly. Lainey and I looked at each other. Neither of us said it. It sounded like it was coming from Brian. His eyes were still closed but his lips were moving slightly. We were too stunned to speak. He continued, “she’s just trying … to help…”
Lainey just collapsed on him and said, “Oh, Brian!” I felt really awkward. It felt like a private moment.
Brian started to say something more. He was talking to Lainey, the Captain. It was still strange to think that she was both those people. Sometimes she seemed like ‘Lainey’ to me. Sometimes she seemed like ‘The Captain’. But right now, she just seemed like someone happy to have their husband alive. They talked for quite a while. I was about to start making my way surreptitiously towards the door when she nodded to Brian and stood up, facing me. She said, “I’m going to let Brian handle this one. I think he can explain it better than I can. I’m going back up to the bridge. You can meet me back there when you’re finished.”
She leaned over and kissed Brian. She stood up and turned towards Dr. Banerjee’s office where he was still engaged in a conversation on his comm. She called out, loudly, “Dr. Banerjee, your patient has regained consciousness!” I could hear sudden rattling coming from his office.
And with that, she walked out the door. That was definitely ‘The Captain’.
“This job is killing me.”
Dr. Banerjee had finished his examinations and, satisfied with Brian’s condition, had left us alone to continue whatever conversation he was having before. That’s when Brian had made the pronouncement regarding the effects of his chosen career on his physical health.
I said, “You and me both.”
He was still lying in a bed in sick bay and his mobility was rather limited. But he turned to me and looked for a long moment as if trying to assess something. He asked, “Have you remembered now?”
I shook my head. I said, “What about you? Do you remember what happened?”
He looked up at the ceiling. “I never forgot. I think that’s part of the problem.” He closed his eyes. Brian looked very tired. He said, “I think your amnesia is your brain’s way of protecting you. Or maybe your brain is dumping parts to try to make room.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I’m not sure he was really talking to me. But it seemed to comfort him so I let him continue.
Brian said, “Either way, I think you’re better off than I am.” He opened his eyes and looked at me again. There were a little eerie, those eyes. “I suppose you don’t remember me, then.”
“I’ve been told a little. I know you’re a jump pilot and … I was told that we were friends.”
He stretched out his hand as if to offer a handshake. I took it. He smiled weakly and said, “Jump Pilot Brian Dalton-Farha. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
I shook his hand gently and said, “It’s nice to meet you. Jump Pilot Sascha Lopez. Or so I’ve been told.”
He chuckled at my little joke and dropped his hand. He asked, “How long since my last jump?”
“That was yesterday.”
“That’s bad.” He sighed. “It feels like it just happened. I need a vacation.”
He grabbed the comm attached to his bed and made a call. “Ensign Young, it’s Pilot Dalton-Farha.” I could only hear one side of the conversation but I could guess what the other side was. “Thanks. I’m fine … Yeah, she knows … What’s the situation? … What about the LRS? … And estimated earliest contact? … Got it.”
He disconnected and turned back to me. He said, “Well, it looks like we should be getting over to Engineering.”
I was stunned. “You’re preparing to jump? You couldn’t possibly do that in your condition.”
“Do you remember how to do it?”
I thought about it. I knew that the information was in my head somewhere. I just had to find it. I tried so hard to recall anything but … nothing. I shook my head.
He looked at me grimly and said, “Then I guess we don’t really have much of a choice.”
Ensign Young and Private Lee brought the wheelchair again, this time for Brian. They escorted us to Engineering. Private Lee did end up carrying Brian down the stairs. I followed closely behind. I stared at the whole time. He could barely move and yet he was intending on taking us out to jump if need be. This wasn’t fair to him. I just had to remember. From what Dr. Banerjee had said before, I must have done it before, jumped while amnesic. I could do it again. Right?
Dr. Pendleton was talking with the two engineers from earlier. They looked a little surprised to see the four of us: Ensign Young, Private Lee pushing Brian in a wheelchair, and me. Brian asked one of the engineers, “Is pod 3 ready to go?” She nodded. He turned to Private Lee and said, “I’m going to need a little help getting in.”
It took both Young and Lee a few minutes to get Brian in place. He turned to me and asked, “Do you want to give it a shot?”
I looked at him skeptically. “I still don’t remember anything.”
“That’s okay. I’ll guide you through it. But frankly, you have a better shot of jumping us without your memory than I do in the state I’m in. Your pod is the one in the middle.”
“That much, I remember.” I got into my pod. It fit like a glove. The technicians attached the helmet to my head. I didn’t feel anything in particular, which was a bit strange because I was expecting some sort of change.
Then they turned it on.
The room … disappeared. No, that’s not quite right. If I concentrated I could still see the room and hear the other people in it. But it felt like I was actually seeing the world differently. It’s as if the part of my brain that was devoted to processing vision was now shunted off and processing different information. That wasn’t all. My sense of touch was co-opted and I could feel the ship. And my hearing–
Can you hear me, Sascha? It should be pretty silent for you because I’ve disconnected your pod from the ship chatter. It would have been too distract–
What was that?
It’s me, Brian.
Wait, what? It felt like I was hearing Brian in my head. No, that’s not right, if felt like I was thinking Brian’s words.
You’re not thinking my words, you’re feeling the echos of my thoughts.
Oh my god, could Brian hear me?
Yes! I can hear you.
How do I turn this off? I can’t believe he’s listening–
I’m not listening, you’re just really really loud with your thoughts. You always were. Most pilots, it’s an effort to even make themselves heard.
Thinking the word “silence” doesn’t actually make you silent, you know.
He sounded so smug.
And you can stop referring to me in the third person, I’m right here.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
Pretend like you’re having a conversation with me.
HEL-LO! BRIAN. THIS. IS. SA-SCHA!
Ouch, try thinking less intensely.
You could have warned me about this.
I didn’t want to freak you out. You already seemed skittish enough as it was. Here, let me try increasing the buffer between us. Try thinking something now.
He did something, but I couldn’t really tell what it was. The room felt more … insulated, though.
I don’t hear you now, so I guess it worked. His thoughts felt fainter. If you want to communicate with me, try consciously thinking about sending me a message.
I gave it a shot. I tried sending to him: Did we often talk like this?
I felt a chuckle from Brian. And then: No, it’s a bit too … intimate. Also, there’s a lot of potential for confusion. It’s very rare for two jump pilots to both be online in the same ship network. But I needed to do this to show you how you jump.
Okay, I think I understand. Go ahead with your lesson, Brian.
It’s not really much of a lesson, Sascha. You already know this stuff. I’m just going to do it and you’re going to remember.
You seem quite sure of yourself.
Yeah, we’ve done this a bunch of times before. I think it’s the third time this week.
That was a surreal thought. I was about to re-experience something I had already done before but didn’t remember. I wondered if our conversation went this way last time. Was I just a predictable automaton? Was there even such a thing as self-determination or was all this pre-destined?
Are you thinking about pre-destiny or something like that?
Wow, am I that predictable?
No, one time you were thinking about chocolate at this point.
I chuckled out loud. I wondered what the techs thought of that. I sent to Brian, So what happens next?
Well, by now you’ve probably noticed that you can sense the ship.
Yes. It’s as if I can feel it.
You can. In a very real sense, you are the ship. Jumping is just an extension of that. First, you reach out with your mind and then–
Should I give it a shot now?
No! No, you never want to jump while someone else is plugged in. It’d mess up the jump and there’s a good chance that someone would die.
Ah, good to know. You know, that might have been good to say at the beginning.
We weren’t in any real danger. It takes a good couple minutes to prep the jump, so I would have had plenty of time to stop–
Brian didn’t finish. That was odd. Well, whatever he did to shield me from the ship’s chatter seemed to be pretty effective because I didn’t hear anything. But I was aware of a muffled sound, like a dull bell ringing or something. I wondered if I should be–
–reducing buffer distance to zero, doing a direct surface level mind dump. It’s going to be brutal. Sorry to do this to you, Sascha, but I don’t have time to–
Wait, what? What the heck is — and then I was flooded with thoughts that were not my own: jump protocols systems information fleet planet-locations Tarseron Dr. Pendleton Kuvel assault mission Robert Sascha best jump pilot, Rita I-love-you disconnecting–
And suddenly I was back in my body inside engineering. Klaxons were going off everywhere. Everyone in the Engineering Bay was on their comms, frantically talking to other people. I yelled, “What’s going on?” Nobody responded. And then I noticed that Brian was still plugged into his pod. He was trying to jump! I could see him struggling with it. What could possibly have made him so desperate? I grew very afraid.
I watched Brian intently, hoping beyond hope that he would succeed. Given the toll on his body, it almost seemed impossible. Then, ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly, I could feel the jump starting to happen. No one else noticed it, they were too busy with their own problems. But I could feel it. Brian was actually going to do it! I could vaguely hear someone yelling something in the distance but I didn’t care. Against all odds, Brian was going to jump us out to safety.
Then the missiles hit.
I was still in my jump pod when the attack came. It slammed me hard on the side, throwing me partially out. I saw that everyone else was knocked to the floor. My head was ringing. I couldn’t hear anything, but I could see them getting up and yelling things into comms. There was something I was trying to remember. What was it?
He was still plugged in.
I was vaguely aware of someone helping me out of my pod. Hands fumbled. I could see some blood. I still couldn’t hear. One of the techs, the female one, was checking Brian’s jump pod’s display. She was shouting something I couldn’t hear. I saw Ensign young shouting towards Private Young and pointing to something I couldn’t see. I stumbled over to Brian. He wasn’t moving. I grabbed his face. No response. I yelled at him to wake up. Still nothing.
Someone grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. It was Ensign Young. He was shouting something but the ringing in my ears was still too loud. I looked at him and pointed to my ears. I think he repeated it a few more times and gradually, I could make out some words.
“–shock. You may be suffering from a concussion. Can you hear me?”
I nodded dully. Ensign Young said, “Are you experiencing nausea or a headache?”
I shook my head. He said, “Any memory loss?”
I smiled sardonically and said, “No more than usual.”
He smiled back and said, “You’re all right.”
I tried to turn around, but Young wouldn’t let me. I said, “What about Brian?”
He held me in his gaze and said, “They’re doing everything they can for him but for now, I need you to stay with me. Can you do that?”
I nodded. Private Lee came up to him and said, “It looks like a sprain. It doesn’t look like anything is broken.”
The ensign nodded and was about to say something when the intercom came on. It was the Captain.
“Jump Center, this is the Bridge. Status report.”
“Captain, this is Ensign Young. The jump drives are –” he glanced at the two techs who were shaking their heads “– completely offline. We aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”
“We may not have any time left. Ensign, grab Pendleton, Dalton-Farha–”
“Ensign, this had better be imp–”
“It’s … Brian … he was in the process of initiating a jump. He was plugged in when the missiles hit.”
There was silence. I didn’t know what meant, but everyone else seemed to and it was bad. Nobody moved. I thought I could hear a soft intake of breath. Then, “Ensign … I need you to grab Pendleton … assemble an away team. Your mission is to–”
“Wait, sir, me? I’m just an –”
“Officer! You are an officer. And you know the NCOs better than most. We are out of time. You’re going to have to go directly to the hangar bay and select the rest of your crew on your way and launch with whoever you’ve got. Your mission is to deliver Dr. Pendleton to Tarseron. Nothing else matters. Do you understand?”
“Now, I’ve got a ship to save. Bridge out.”
Ensign Young stood there for a moment, his eyes closed. He was thinking. I could see his fingers and lips moving slightly. His eyes opened, turned to the female tech, and said, “Tamanaha.” Something passed between their eyes and she nodded. “Okay, lead the way to Hangar 2.” Then he turned to the private and said, “Lee, grab Pendleton and follow her.”
Dr. Pendleton yelled out, “Someone get my satchel!” Ensign Young grabbed it.
He turned to me and said, “Lopez, now would be a really great time for you to get your memory back.”
I just stared at him.
He said, “You’re coming with us. Let’s go. I’ve got some calls to make.”
We were making our way to Hangar 2. Tamanaha would occasionally yell for people to make way. She was surprisingly loud for an engineer. Private Lee was jogging briskly while carrying Dr. Pendleton in his arms. Pendleton occasionally winced, but Lee looked like he was barely breaking a sweat. I was still recovering from even a couple days ago and having a bit of trouble keeping up. Ensign Young had finished making his calls and said, “We’re in luck, Jain’s going to join us at the hangar.”
Private Lee responded over his shoulder, “Warrant Officer Becka Jain. She’s the best.”
Ensign Young confided in me, “She is indeed the best thruster pilot we’ve got. Although, I suspect Lee’s smiling because he’s got a little crush on her.”
“I’m not smiling.”
“You’re also not denying that you have a little crush on the Warrant Officer…”
Lee didn’t turn around and kept jogging, face resolutely forward.
We reached the elevator and crowded in.
The female tech, the one Lee called ‘Tamanaha’, said, “And we’re lucky to have the best jump pilot, too.”
That surprised me, “I was good?”
“You’re the best,” she replied.
“At this point, I might be the ‘only’.”
It was silent in the elevator. I regretted saying that. I said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just–”
Ensign Lee interrupted me, “No, don’t apologize, you were right. You might be the only jump pilot left. That’s reality. We can’t shy away from that. But we do what we can. We keep going. And we are fortunate to have you because Tamanaha was right, too.”
Then something occurred to me. I said, “Wait, if you need me, why are we going away from the three jump pods?”
Tamanaha said, “There’s a fourth jump pod on this ship.”
It was in the shuttle. Of course. I should have known. I stared down at it. I wondered if I had ever used it before. Pilot Jain was already in the shuttle by the time we had gotten to it. Young was in front with her, explaining the mission. Private Lee was gingerly strapping Dr. Pendleton in. We were still in Hangar Bay 2 but everyone outside the shuttle was clearing out in preparation for the airlock to open. I looked questioningly at Tamanaha.
“Have I ever …?” I looked meaningfully at the shuttle’s jump pod. It was smaller and a bit plainer than the ones in Engineering.
“A couple times,” she replied. “Generally, it was Robert that did the away team missions. He had an easier time with the smaller mass of this shuttle than he did with the full ship. It was hard on him.” She looked away, lost in some thought.
“I don’t really know what’s going on.”
Tamanaha looked back at me and tried a smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it. I think it’ll come back to you.”
I wasn’t nearly as confident in my own abilities as she was, but I was glad that someone was. “Do I strap in one of the seats or in the pod?”
“You’ll strap in the pod.”
“So … should I start prepping to jump now?”
“Oh, goodness, no. We don’t jump until we’re at least a kilometer away from the ship. We strap you in now so that you can make the jump as soon as we’re clear.”
“I’m still not sure if I can do this.”
Dr. Pendleton overheard me and reached for something in his satchel. He handed a syringe to me and said, “Here, take this. It should help.”
I looked at it a bit apprehensively and asked, “What is it?”
“It’s a suppressant on parts of the pre-frontal cortex while simultaneously providing a stimu–”
“No, I mean, what does it do?”
“It should help you jump more clearly. It takes a few minutes to fully take effect and it lasts for a couple hours.”
“Is this what you gave Brian?” This was the drug that pushed Brian to the edge.
Dr. Pendleton nodded.
“And Robert?” This was the drug that killed Robert.
He looked at me steadily in the eyes and then he nodded again.
“Have I ever used this?”
Dr. Pendleton shook his head and said, “No, you’ve never needed it before. As they have said, you were the best. Robert needed it to cope with the full ship jumps. Brian needed it to keep up with you. But now…”
I was thinking about it. Everyone else stopped talking. All eyes were on me. I looked to Ensign Young. I asked him, “What do you think?”
He thought about it. He said, carefully, “I think that there is a good chance that everyone aboard the ship will die. I think that there is a good chance that we in this shuttle will die. If there is any hope for any of us, it’s in this jump. If we don’t make this jump, the rest of it is moot. But ultimately, the decision has to be yours.”
I knew there was really only one answer. Damn it. I jammed the needle into my arm and injected.
I didn’t feel any different, not at first. There was a hailing tone and Ensign Young went to the shuttle’s comm. He was saying something about the airlock. Was it stuck? The lock was stuck and we couldn’t get out. Lock stuck. Stuck lock. Hah! Everyone was looking at me. Oh, I must’ve laughed out loud. Thruster Pilot Jain was looking at me like I was crazy. Dr. Pendleton was reassuring her. Screw that, I’m not crazy! Oh wait, did I say that out loud? “Lock stuck, stuck lock, get it? It’s funny…” Ensign Young and Private Lee were looking at me strangely, too. But Tamanaha and Pendleton looked like they weren’t surprised. They’d probably seen it before. I could start to make out the doctor’s words.
Pendleton was saying, “–initial euphoria. It’s followed by a short period of paranoia –”
Wait, what? Why is everyone looking at me? Are they out to get me? Why am I strapped into this pod? Was that an explosion? Oh my god, I feel so vulnerable, I have to get out, I have to ge–
“Hey, Sascha, look at that!” said Tamanaha as she pointed to something. I didn’t see anything except the wall. Oh wow, the wall was really interesting. So many different lines. Was it metal? I think it was fiberglass. I could see the different patterns.
“– which is fortunately juxtaposed with a period of intense curiosity, ” said Dr. Pendleton. “So if she can be distracted, the paranoia fades before it becomes an issue. Ideally, this would be three separate injections or time-released drugs so that we wouldn’t have to deal with these stages, but I haven’t had the time to–”
“There’s a problem,” said Ensign Young. Everyone looked at him. “The airlock gates are stuck, damaged in the last attack. They’re trying to repair it, but it’s going to take at least an hour.”
Jain said, “We’re under attack. I don’t think we have an hour.” As if to punctuate her words, another explosion rocked the ship. We were all tossed around but fortunately being strapped in kept us stable.
Young asked, “Does anyone have any ideas?”
Private Lee said, “I could try blasting through the airlock.”
“No, this shuttle’s armaments just might be able to pierce the armor but in this enclosed space, the blowback would destroy this shuttle. Any other ideas?”
I had an idea. I asked, “How desperate are we?”
“I don’t think we can be any more desperate. What’s your idea?”
I didn’t want to say out loud. It was a little too crazy. Instead, I just turned to Tamanaha and said, “Prep the jump pod.”
Her eyes widened and she said, “Wait, you can’t mean to …” she looked Ensign Young. He didn’t understand at first, but then comprehension came to him. He said, very deliberately, “Do it.”
Young turned to me and said, “Do you want the shuttle mobile or stationary?”
I thought about it and said, “Jain, can you maneuver us to the edge of the hangar, as far from the center of the ship and facing away from the wall?”
She replied, “Um, yeah, are we doing this now? What’s going on?”
Young said, “Yeah, we’re doing this now.” Jain started powering up the shuttle. “Lee, tell them to evacuate the hangar immediately.”
Everyone started moving. I could feel the jump pod come online. Then I could feel the shuttle moving. Only, I wasn’t just feeling it like my body was reacting to the movement. I was feeling it as if I were the movement. My body was the shuttle. I could feel Jain adjusting my thrusters. I could feel the hangar we were in. Peripherally, I could hear voices. I couldn’t tell whose.
“Is this even possible? Has this ever been done before?”
“Not intentionally. There were a couple early accidents where–”
“I don’t want to hear this, do I?”
“Ah, probably not.”
“If we live through this, what should I expect?”
“Just be prepared to hit maximum impulse and get ready to start dodging very quickly.”
The voices were a distraction, so I just shut them out. I expanded my senses. I don’t know if it was Dr. Pendleton’s drugs, or Brian’s last brain dump to me. Maybe it was a combination of both. But I knew how to jump. I could feel it. I just had to create a tiny bubble, reach out, and shift through.
The hardest part about all of this was all the mass. I now remembered, jumping is all about inertial references. You move a finite amount of mass from one position to another. You use other masses, preferably large ones, as points of reference. In this case, I was moving the shuttle (the small mass) away from the larger ship (the large mass). The tricky part was that the shuttle was inside the larger ship. Also, the explosions were throwing everything off. Fortunately, the larger ship was absorbing the bulk of the attack. If one of the missiles hit the shuttle, well, I didn’t want to think about that. But we’d all be dead anyways.
Tamanaha had said that we don’t jump until we’re at least a kilometer out from any other masses. That made sense. That kilometer buffer made it easier to identify which mass you were jumping with. Otherwise, you might end up jumping with half your ship missing. But with the drug that Dr. Pendleton gave me, I could feel that my senses were enhanced. I could feel the ship. I knew where it was. All I needed to do was form a bubble around it and jump that. The only problem was that everything kept on shaking. It was hard to maintain a coherent shape. If I made the bubble to small, the shuttle would be ripped into pieces. If I made it too big, I’d destroy the larger ship. What was the name of the larger ship? I couldn’t remember. Odd, considering that I’d lived on it for over five ye–
“Lopez, if you’re going to do something,” I heard someone shouting through the din, “you’d better do it fast!”
Enough dawdling. There was only one way to see if this was going to work.
In one moment, the shuttle’s main screen showed the far end of the hangar. In the next, it showed the same thing suddenly much farther away. Confusion, and then a realization: the jump worked! I had jumped the shuttle out of the ship! And then another realization: I must have jumped the outer wall of the ship with us. That’s why were were still seeing the far end of the hangar.
Then I felt the ship pull hard to starboard and accelerate. I was about to ask why when I felt a sudden shockwave. It felt like it was coming from where we just were. I was still plugged into the jump pod and it was still online so I could feel the explosion’s effect hitting the edge of the shuttle. It was rough, but not devastating. A direct hit would have ripped us apart. But I could feel Jain pulling us out and away from the battle.
We were safe, for now.
I relaxed a bit. I could feel the jump pod powering down. It felt like I was floating one moment and then, I fell into my body. Everything felt heavier. I was tired, but not completely drained. I could see the inside of the shuttle again. I could hear people talking.
Tamanaha said to me, “Welcome back. That was pretty amazing.”
I said, “Was it?”
“Yeah, in the past, jumping near a second separate mass resulted in the two masses getting embedded inside each other. I thought we were going to end up with a chunk of the Medusa inside of us.”
“Oh,” I said. “I’m glad I didn’t know that before.” I guessed that ‘Medusa’ was the name of the ship we were just in. The name sounded vaguely familiar. I wondered if our shuttle had a name.
Ensign Young was hailing the ship. “Medusa, this is Pegasus. Come in Medusa.”
A voice crackled on the intercom. “Pegasus, this is Medusa. The Captain is not happy with what you did to her ship.” We all looked at each other. “But she is very relieved that you made it out. Now carry out your mission.”
“Affirmative. If Chrysaor is not otherwise occupied, we could use an escort to open space.”
“Chrysaor is already on its way. Anything else?”
“How is the battle going?”
There was silence on the other end. And then, “Ein davar, tov lamut be’ad arzenu. Medusa out.” And the connection was cut.
Jain was up in front with Ensign Young and asked, “What was that? German?”
“It was Hebrew. They were the last words of an officer in a war during the early 20th century. He said, ‘Never mind, it is good to die for our country.'”
“Pegasus, this is Chrysaor. We are en route for escort to open space. It should be fine, Medusa is taking the brunt of all the attacks.”
Ensign Young responded, “Chrysaor, it’s good to have you. If we’re lucky, they haven’t even noticed us.”
“Oh, I doubt that. I think the whole system could detect the micro jump you just did there. Pretty gutsy move. I didn’t even know something like that was possible.”
Young looked at me. I smiled sheepishly. He said, “Yeah, we’ve got quite the jump pilot here.” He looked out the main screen. We were facing away from the battle and everything looked so peaceful out there. Ensign Young said, “Is the battle as bad as I hear?”
There was a pause. The voice from Chrysaor replied, “Normally, Medusa could have taken them out, no problem. But with this mission…”
“Yeah, I know, we were going under the pretext of inspections and a scientific conference.”
“Right, low armaments. But they’ve got some countermeasures and can hold out for a little longer.”
“Chrysaor, we’ve almost hit open space, why don’t you get back to defending Medusa?”
“Negative, Pegasus, the Captain was quite explicit. Getting you to safety is the only priority. Besides, it’s only a few more minutes.”
“Acknowledged. Pegasus out,” said Ensign Young. He cut the connection and swore under his breath. Everyone looked pretty grim.
I didn’t understand so I asked, “What’s going on?”
At first, no one answered. Then Private Lee said, “it doesn’t sound like Medusa is going to make it. We might be the last survivors.”
Ensign Young was really shaken up. He seemed to be taking it even harder than everyone else but I didn’t see why. Lee saw my confusion and explained, “If we are the last survivors … well, Ensign Young was the one who chose us and …”
Oh, then it was his choices that decided who among the 247 crew lived or died. That was an incredibly heavy burden. The friends and shipmates that he had inadvertently condemned to death…
Private Lee turned to Ensign Young and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Lee said, “Sir, you didn’t know. You couldn’t have. You just chose the best crew for the mission. Well, except for me. I don’t know what you were thinking there.”
Ensign Young turned to face Lee. There were tears in his eyes, but he smiled through it and said, “You know, Lee, you really are a talker once you get started, aren’t you?” The ensign faced me and said, “Well, you should start getting ready to jump us to Tarseron. It’s a short jump from open space and you’re only pulling the Pegasus, so hopefully it’ll be an easy one.”
I was relieved. I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. So I said, “No problem, I just need to know–”
Alarms rang out everywhere. The intercom screeched into life, “Pegasus! This is Chrysaor! All missiles have switched targets. You are now the mark. Repeat, you are now the mark!”
Young yelled back, “Acknowledged, initiating emergency procedures!” To Jain, “Evasive maneuvers.” To Lee, “What’s the range to Chrysaor?”
To me, “We’ll have to risk it. Jump now!”
I yelled back, “Where is Tarseron?” I figured I only had one big jump left in me and I had to get it right.
Jain started calling out galactic coordinates which meant nothing to me. I ignored her and reached out with my mind, feeling the stars around this system. So many stars. I yelled out, “Is Tarseron the nearest star?”
Tamanaha knew what I was talking about. She said, “It’s not the nearest! I think it’s the third nearest.”
There were five nearby. One felt almost familiar and I could … hear? … no, that wasn’t the right word, but I could sense two vague … I couldn’t describe it. “Does it have two gas giants?”
“Yes, that’s it! It’s the fourth planet from the sun but any–”
The voice crackled over the intercom again, “Pegasus, too many missiles, get out of here! Oh god, there are too many of them, I can’t –” The intercom went silent. Moments later, we felt a small shockwave.
Jain yelled out, “Billy!”
We were in Tarseron space, the planet Tarseron itself a huge blue and green sphere only partially visible on the main screen. Ensign Young immediately hit the comm saying, “Tarseron Central, this is the Shuttle Pegasus of the USS Medusa. Come in Central.”
A reply came over the intercom, “Pegasus, this is Central. Hold on … someone wants to talk to you.”
Moments later, “Pegasus, this is Rear Admiral Brandeis. Who am I speaking with?”
“Sir, this is Ensign David Young.”
“Ensign, was the mission accomplished?”
“Sir, Dr. Pendleton is in the shuttle with me now, but–”
“Good, good. So why are you here in a shuttle?”
“Sir, I was about to say that the Medusa is currently engaged with hostiles in–”
“Hostiles? You brought back hostiles with you?”
“We have been pursued for the last three months and they caught up with us at our last jump to the system, Shandar. We are requesting emergency–”
“Hostiles in Shandar? My god, man, that’s the next system over!”
“Yes, and the Medusa is in dire need of support. If you could send a couple assault ships–”
“That is entirely out of the question. There is only one ship currently scrambled and–”
“Then send it! There isn’t any time to–”
“Ensign! If the hostiles are in Shandar and are successful, they may choose to attack Tarseron next. Your priority is to complete your mission and our priority is to prepare all ships for planetary defense. Your Captain would have understood that. Do you understand?”
Ensign Young sat there, shaking with rage. It looked for a moment like he was going to scream. But all he said was, “Sir, yes sir.” He cut the connection and turned to our pilot saying, “Jain, take us down to Tarseron.”
Jain just nodded. Ensign Young said, “Becka, I’m sorry about Billy. He was a good man.”
“Thank you, sir, ” she said. Then, “They were all good.”
I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Wait, is that it? We just give up on them?”
Ensign Young said, “What else can we do?”
“They’re our friends! How can you just leave them to die?!”
“What choice do we have?! You heard the rear admiral! This mission and the safety of the planet below are the only priority. They aren’t sending any support.”
“The hell they aren’t!” I was so very tired, but I figured I had just enough left in me…
Ensign Young looked at me quizzically. Then his eyes widened and he started to reach towards the pod. Before he could do anything–
I jumped …
… back to the battle at Shandar. Jain recovered first, slamming us into full impulse and then pulling away from a nearly unavoidable collision with something huge.
Dr. Pendleton screamed and then he looked like he was about to throw up. Lee said, “That’s not the Medusa!”
Ensign Lee yelled out, “Where the hell did you jump us?”
So … tired… I was about to collapse, but I said, “Enemy ship, figured we could … shoot them … or something?”
Private Lee yelled out, “We’re in a shuttle! Our laser cannons can barely penetrate their armor!”
I said, “Good to know…”
“Sascha, if we get out of this, I will kill you myself!”, said Ensign Young. “Jain, take us out to open space. Maybe we can pummel Lopez into jumping back to Tarseron.”
Jain said, “I don’t think we’re going to make it, those missile turrets are swinging away from the Medusa and towards us. We can’t dodge at this range.”
Ensign Young addressed me again and said, “Okay, look, I’m sorry about what I said earlier. Just jump us out of here again, and all is forgiven.”
I replied, “Too tired…”
He turned to Dr. Pendleton and said, “Doc, give her another injection.”
Pendleton looked back with apprehension and said, “But another dose could–”
“We’re dead anyways!”
He started rummaging through his satchel. He found another syringe and handed it to Tamanaha. She jabbed me in the shoulder.
“Wait, what’s that?!” Private Lee pointed to something that flashed on the screen.
I didn’t have to look, I could feel it. It was the Tarseron ship. It immediately opened fire on the enemy ship. Wow, that was good timing. The missile turrets on the enemy ship exploded, nearly killing us if it weren’t for Jain’s evasive maneuvers. Oh, that’s funny. The Tarseron ship was trying to save us by shooting at the enemy but didn’t realize we were right next to it. I guess I forgot to tell them. I started to laugh.
My laughter was met with horrified looks. Dr. Pendleton explained again, “It’s the phases again. She starts off with euphoria, then paranoia –”
Wait, what if the Tarseron ship was trying to kill us? Maybe they wanted to remove all the evidence. Omygod, omygod, omyg–
“– then curiosity.” Dr. Pendleton snapped his fingers towards me. What? It suddenly seemed very quiet.
I realized what it was — all the ships had stopped firing. Ensign Young said, “I think we’re alive. I think the enemy ship has been disabled!”
And then, I felt an intense nausea come on, as if the world were folding in on itself. I said, “What the hell is that?” But no one else seemed to feel anything.
A voice on the intercom said, “Pegasus and Medusa, this is Aegis. We have disabled the enemy ship. Rear Admiral Brandeis is extremely livid.”
“Ah, we had,” said Ensign Young looking at me, “a jump malfunction.”
“Well, you’d better fix it soon. It looks like the enemy ship is initiating a nova blast.”
I asked, “A what?”
Tamanaha replied, “It’s a form of self destruct. They take all the fuel and start a chain reaction. When that chain reaction reaches critical mass, it creates a giant explosion.”
“Big enough to take all of us out.”
The voice over the intercom asked, “Pegasus, can you jump? If not, we can attempt an emergency scoop into our hangar.”
Ensign Young looked at me. I nodded. “Affirmative, we can jump,” he said. “But what about Medusa?”
Another voice on the intercom. “Medusa here. Our jump drives are still offline. Save yourselves. If they’re going nova, it’ll happen soon.”
I couldn’t believe it. After all this, the Medusa was still going to get destroyed. Nearly everyone I had known. Even if I couldn’t remember them, I knew that I must have known them at one point. I couldn’t just let them die, not for something I didn’t even understand. This mission seemed so pointless. How could it be worth hundreds of people dying?
I said, “No.”
“What do you mean ‘No’?” said Ensign Young. “The enemy ship is just about to go nova. Whoever’s left in this system is going to go with them. The Medusa’s jump drives are offline. There’s nothing we can do but get out of here. We don’t have a choice!”
I said, “No. We always have a choice.” I reached out with my senses. I could sense our tiny shuttle, nearly helpless among three behemoths. I could sense the Aegis, still fresh and powerful. I could sense the Medusa, broken and nearly destroyed. I could sense the enemy ship, disabled but smoldering slowly inside, threatening to engulf us all in a raging explosion. I could sense myself. I wasn’t tired anymore. I felt like I could do anything.
I jumped the enemy ship … into the sun.
No, wait, I remember…
Everything feels so heavy. Where am I? I struggle to open my eyes. Okay, that was a mistake. Too bright. I blink a few times. Everything is fuzzy. Is this a hospital bed? Why am I always waking up in hospitals? I hate hospital beds. One day, I am going to have a giant four poster bed with curtains draped all around. There will be pillows everywhere. I wonder if I had ever had that before. No, I’m sure I would have remembered. Maybe that’s what this has all been about, one long quest to get–
“Ah, you’re awake.”
Who said that? I turn to the voice, but it’s still too bright and fuzzy for my eyes to see clearly. I make out a dark shape, maybe a silhouette. It’s a woman’s voice. Do I recognize it? She doesn’t sound very friendly.
“It’s about time.” No, definitely not friendly.
I asked, “Where am I?” Or, at least, I tried to. I think it came out, “Wormmmai?”
She didn’t respond. I tried asking again, this time a little more clearly. She said, “I’ll be asking the questions here. When and how did you learn to jump an external ship?”
My speech was getting better. I said, “Whuah?” Well, okay, my words were still indistinct, but my vocal chords were working properly.
“We know that the enemy ship was about to go nova and then it jumped. Moments later, the Aegis detected a large explosion near the Shandar system sun. We know that you were somehow responsible.”
Jumped an external– oh god, I remembered now. I jumped the hostile ship into the sun. I– I killed ev– “No!” I didn’t mean to say it out loud. It just came out.
“You can deny it all you want, but eventually, we’ll get it out of you. And the sooner you start cooperating with us, the sooner we’ll all be happy.”
I could see another body enter the room. This one called out, “Colonel!” It was another woman’s voice. Did I recognize that one? I thought so.
“Chief Petty Officer Tamanaha,” said the first woman, the unfriendly one.
“Yes, Colonel?” Tamanaha! It was her, I recognized her voice! I could start to make out her face. It looked urgent.
“Did it somehow escape your notice that I was interrogating the subject?” Interrogating? That didn’t sound good.
“Sir, Dr. Pendleton said he needed to speak with you. He said it was urgent.”
“It better be,” the colonel said. She got up and walked out the door.
I was about to say something when Tamanaha loudly interjected, “Your pillow looks flat. Let me fluff it up for you.” She leaned over and grabbed the pillow from behind my head. As she did so, she whispered into my ears, “Say nothing, the room is monitored.”
She stood up and fluffed the pillow for a while. I looked into her eyes. Almost imperceptibly, she shook her head. When she was done, she leaned over again to place the pillow behind my head. She whispered again. This time, she said, “Fake a memory loss.”
When she got up, she looked into my eyes. I nodded, very slightly. I was starting to see much more clearly now. I could see that I was indeed in a hospital bed. It was a small private room. There were no windows. The walls were bare. It didn’t feel like a ship. I think the ceiling gave it away. It was too high. But the most ominous feature I now noticed was the armed guard at the door.
He was posted on the inside.
The colonel was scowling when she came back in the room. She said, “That man needs to learn the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘somewhat pressing’.”
Tamanaha said, “What did he want?”
“Something about the latest shipment of talderium. I’m sure it’s important, but he didn’t need to bother me about it,” the colonel said. She looked at me. I tried to look dazed. It wasn’t hard. “What about the subject? Did she say anything while I was out?”
“She hasn’t said anything. She appears to be quite disoriented.” Tamanaha put her hand on my lower jaw and jiggled it. I let out an involuntary groan. “See? Quite inarticulate and rather unresponsive. It appears that she’s suffered another jump wipe.”
The colonel snapped, “Jump wipe? What’s that?”
Tamanaha said, “It’s a relatively rare condition that strikes jump pilots under extreme stress. This pilot has suffered over two dozen in the last month.” She looked at me pityingly. I lolled the side and let my tongue fall out. I moaned softly. Tamanaha gave me a sharp look. Okay, maybe the moaning was a bit much. I closed my mouth and pretended to drift off. “Also, Dr. Pendleton’s drugs may have exacerbated the condition.” Actually, if anything, Pendleton’s drugs had the opposite effect. I remembered everything from … wait, how long ago was that? “But it’s all in Dr. Banerjee’s medical report.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure it is. But I don’t care about any of that. I just need to learn how she did it.”
“Sir, we’re still not entirely sure that she did.”
“Well, I am sure. And with a potential invasion fleet launching from Kuvel, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
“Of course, sir, but with the patient unresponsive–”
“This is pointless. We don’t have time for niceties. Get her up and into the jump pod. Pump her full of drugs if you need to. Start the experiments and find out whatever you can.”
“But nothing! We’ve got the lives of an entire planet at stake and there is information inside this skull,” the colonel was tapping my forehead, rather hard, “that may prove critical in its defense. Do whatever you need to to get that information.”
Tamanaha and I were alone in the room. Well, except for the guard. I was still feigning a slight delirium for his sake but I tried not to overdo it. Tamanaha addressed the guard and said, “Would you mind getting Dr. Pendleton?”
“I can’t leave my post.”
“Oh, I’m sure I can defend myself from one small and nearly unconscious woman.”
“I have my orders.”
Tamanaha barked at him, “Private!”
The guard stood up a bit straighter. “Y-yes sir?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Chief Petty Officer Tamanaha, sir!”
“And what does a private do when given an order by a chief petty officer?”
“He follows it, sir!”
“Now, I need someone to fetch Dr. Pendleton for me. Are you capable of that or do I have to fire your ass and get another private who can?”
“Yes, sir! I mean, no, sir! I can do that, sir!” The hapless private started to salute Tamanaha.
“No, you don’t salute NCOs, just– just go.” She shushed him away.
He took off running.
With the guard gone, Tamanaha leaned over me again and whispered, “We’re going to move you to the other room. We’ll do what we can to protect you.”
I buried my head into her hair so the monitors couldn’t see my lips move. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a naval base on the planet Tarseron.” Tamanaha wrapped her arms around me as if to try to pull me up. She whispered, “Stay prone.”
“How long have I been out?” I pretended to be even more lethargic than I was.
“We kept you under heavy sedation for the first two days to give your mind a chance to recover. It’s been three days since the battle.”
Three days. I’ve been unconscious for three days. No wonder I felt so out of it. I whispered to her, “What’s going on?”
“It’s — it’s complicated,” she whispered back. “We have to get you out of here before the other engineers and doctors get here.”
The guard returned with Dr. Pendleton in tow. The first thing he doctor said was, “How is the patient?” The guard returned to his post at the door, watching us.
Tamanaha replied, “She’s conscious but it’s exactly as you predicted before, she’s suffered a severe jump wipe.”
“Ah, I see. I suppose we should, ehm, re-orient the patient?”
“I think that would be good.”
The doctor turned to me and said, “Can you hear me?” Then he nodded very slightly.
I nodded my head.
He asked, “Do you know who you are?” He shook his head almost imperceptibly.
I shook my head.
“Ah,” he said loudly. “It is just as I had feared. This woman has suffered a complete memory wipe. It would be useless to question her, she doesn’t remember anything. Private, please escort her out the building. We need to arrange transport to her jump corp. They’ll have better facilities to deal with this sort of thing and–”
Then the colonel walked in and said, “What’s going on?”
We all looked at each other while the colonel glared at us. She turned to the private and said, “Well?”
“Sir! The subject seems to have suffered some sort of … amnesia? And we were going to transport her to her jump corporation to–”
“The hell you were! She is not to leave this building, is that clear?”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“Ma’am, I don’t want to sound–”
“Doctor. I don’t know where you’re from, but you address me as ‘Sir’ or ‘Colonel Yancy’, not ‘Ma’am’.”
“I meant no disrespect. I am from Kuvel, ma– sir. But the facilities here are not suitable for rehabilitating the–”
“Rehabilitating? What do you think this is? We are quite possibly at war. At this very moment, a fleet of assault ships from your home planet of Kuvel could be headed here to attack.”
“Yes, that is why we need to move quickly and move the patient to a more appropriate–”
“She is not going anywhere! Whether or not she jumped the hostile ship into the sun, one thing is clear: she jumped the Pegasus back into battle–”
“To save the Medusa!”
“– which jeopardized its entire mission! As far as I am concerned, that’s a hostile act in a time of war. And we are more than justified in holding her, indefinitely.”
The doctor looked at her, coolly. He said, “And what of me? Am I also to be your prisoner?”
“Of course not. You are our guest.”
“Then am I free to leave at any point?”
“The situation requires you to be held under protective custody. This is for your own safety, doctor.”
The room went silent. Tamanaha was looking back and forth between the colonel and the doctor. The guard was resolutely staring straight ahead at the far wall. I just wanted to disappear.
They moved me to another room, which was remarkably similar to Jump Central on the Medusa. Ah, military conformity. This room had two jump pods, but one was in a state of partial disassembly. A different guard was posted at this door. This one was also on the inside of the room.
Tamanaha was going through a process of ‘orientation’ for me, as if she would if I really had suffered a jump-wipe.
“Your name is Sascha Lopez. You are a jump pilot.”
I, of course, remembered all of this. But for the benefit of the guard watching, I nodded slowly.
“We’re going to hook you up to a jump pod.” Wait, what? I looked apprehensively at Tamanaha. She winked. Oh. Okay? I wasn’t totally reassured. She continued, “Don’t worry, it’s not a fully operational pod. You’re on a planet now so you can’t jump anywhere. It’s way too big a mass so you can’t calibrate your destination. But being in the pod may help restore some of your memory loss.”
I nodded slowly.
Dr. Pendleton and Tamanaha helped me into the jump pod. As Pendleton attached my helmet, he whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry to say that it seems like your government is not so different from my own.” I had nothing to say to that.
They wired everything up. This was the third jump pod I remember getting into. They were all slightly different, physically. This one felt a bit larger than the other two. Also, it seemed rather … it reminded me of the way a the interior of a new vehicle smelled. I wondered how I knew that. I certainly couldn’t remember being in a new vehicle, but that smell was unmistakable. My mind started wandering, thinking about all the other things that I might have forgo–
Then they brought the jump pod online.
I could feel everything.
It was like standing at the entrance of an impossibly large cave. Only … it was like the exact opposite of that. It wasn’t a vastness of space, it was a vastness of mass. I could feel the entire planet. No, that wasn’t right, I could only feel a very, very small part of it, but I could sense that the rest of it was there, just out of reach. I understood what Tamanaha meant about jumping near a planet. It was just too vast. It would be like trying to hear yourself whistle in the middle of a thunderstorm. Like trying to thread a needle in the middle of an earthquake.
It was just so loud. And then I realized, it wasn’t just the vastness of the planet that felt loud. It actually was loud, inside the room. Dr. Pendleton was nearly shouting at me.
“I said, ‘Can you tell where you are now?’ I mean, can you sense it through the jump pod?!”
“I think so. This is so much different from being online in a ship!” I practically had to yell to be heard above the din. I said, “Isn’t this a bit loud for a jump pod?”
“Yes, I disabled the temperature sensor on it so that the ventilators would go at full blast. This way, the guard can’t hear us!”
Ah. He thought ahead. “Very clever, Dr. Pendleton! Do you have a plan?”
I could see him smile. “I always have a plan.”
Dr. Pendleton had a plan all right, but it wouldn’t be ready for another couple days. Unfortunately, the other scientists and engineers would be here by then, but we still had the rest of the day to plan things out.
Once it was apparent that I was conscious and not a threat, the security relaxed a little. There were still guards everywhere and there was no question of just making a run for it, but at least we were afforded a little privacy.
I asked, “What happened? Why am I being held down here?”
The doctor replied, “The Federation Navy held an emergency inquiry after the events of the battle. There’s a lot of confusion, but there’s speculation among some that you actually jumped the Volkan Empire’s ship into the sun.” He looked at me questioningly and said, “You … that’s not true is it? I mean, it’s just not possible.”
I looked back at him and said, “I … I think–”
“No, don’t say anything. I shouldn’t have asked. I don’t want to know. Not here, not now.”
“But is that enough for them to keep me here? Don’t I get a lawyer or something?”
“Ah, as to that, I don’t know. I know very little about the legal system here. I haven’t even been outside this building since they brought me here. Kyra could tell you more about that.”
I looked around and asked, “Who’s Kyra?”
Tamanaha said, “I have a first name, you know.”
“Oh.” I blushed a little. “Did I ever know that?”
“Don’t worry, I’m just teasing,” she said. “I know you don’t remember anything. But yeah, you, me, and Brian used to hang out.”
“Did I call you ‘Kyra’? Everyone else calls you ‘Tamanaha’.”
“Everyone else is in the Navy. You, Brian, and the doctor here all call me ‘Kyra’ unless it was some formal thing. Even in the military, we don’t always use last names.”
I looked at her and tried to remember. Nothing. I said, “It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten.”
“If it was important, it’ll come back. Or you’ll make new memories. We’ll be friends again, some day.”
“How can you be so blase about it?”
“A few days ago, I thought we were all going to die. After that, everything else seems like a bonus.”
Dr. Pendleton interrupted our reverie and said, “That’s very nice, Kyra, but perhaps you could tell us a little more about the legal recourse that Sascha here might have.”
“Ah, as for that, I think it differs from country to country. Tarseron is a fairly small planet in terms of population, though, and I think Federation standard guidelines apply. In that case, you’d have the right to habeus corpus.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. Sensing my confusion, Tamanaha explained, “It basically means, you can’t be held here without a reason. Except…”
I said, “Except what, Tama–, Kyra?”
She smiled at my awkwardness. This was going to take some getting used to. The she grew more serious. She said, “Except that no one knows you’re here.”
I felt like I just got punched in the gut. “That sounds really bad.”
“Well, I should clarify. People know that you’re here, but the navy is saying that you’re in intensive care.”
“Wait, ‘people’ know that I’m here? What people?”
“Captain Weiss is making a lot of statements to the effect that you came back and saved the Medusa from certain destruction. It’s gotten picked up in the press and you’re something of a hero.”
I blushed a bit. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of all that attention. But if it could get me out of here… “I can’t imagine that the navy is altogether pleased about that.”
“No. She’s getting a lot of flak for it. It’s not doing her career any favors. The navy has issued a number of press releases effectively saying that you’re in critical condition and cannot be moved. But the captain knows what’s really going on.”
“I don’t suppose you have anything to do with that…”
She looked all innocence and said, “I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about.” But then she looked serious. “I’ve been discreet. I don’t talk openly with anyone from the ship. I was just transferred here initially with Dr. Pendleton because I was the only navy tech familiar with you both.”
“What about me?” asked Dr. Pendleton. “Do I even exist out there?”
“Oh yeah, everyone knows your name. You’re the great scientist that escaped the evil Volkan Empire. But everyone thinks that you’re working for the navy now.”
“Ah. This is not so different from how it was when I was a ‘guest’ of the Volkan Empire and ‘invited’ to work on their jump program.”
“That’s not the same,” said Kyra. It was strange to think of her as ‘Kyra’. I found that it made me think of her differently, more … like I was closer to her. It’s surprising how much of a difference a name made. “We’re not all bad.”
“Neither were they, Kyra.”
The three of us, Dr. Pendleton, Kyra, and I, were having dinner in the mess hall. The menu said, ‘chicken parmesan’ but I was dubious. I knew my memory was gone, but I must have had it before and I’m sure it was better than this.
“What’s your first name, Dr. Pendleton?”
I had caught him by surprise. He said, “Oh, it’s ‘Gary’. Why do you ask?”
“No reason, I was just caught off-guard by ‘Kyra’ over here. Did I call you ‘Dr. Pendleton’ or ‘Gary’.”
“I understand that you tended to call everyone by nicknames. But I’ve only known you for about a month, since the mission to retreive me on Kuvel. And for most of that, you were in something of a fugue state.”
“How do you feel about ‘Doc’?”
“Well, that would be pretty ambiguous considering how many doctors there are. Even on the ship, there was your own Dr. Banerj–”
“Then ‘Doc’ it is.” I turned to Kyra and said, “So, how do we get out of here?”
Kyra said, “Whoah, what’s with this ‘we’ business? I’m just an innocuous little navy tech. No need to bring me into this.”
“Fine then,” I said and turned to Dr. Pendleton. “Doc, how do we get out of here?”
He leaned forward a bit conspiratorially. Kyra leaned back and examined her entree. He said, “We walk out.”
“That’s your plan?”
“Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, but essentially yes.”
“Okay, maybe I’m missing something, but did you notice the armed guards? And the fact that we’re on a naval base?”
“Yes, that’s why I’m going to start a fire.”
I stared at him. This plan was getting worse and worse the more I heard about it. “A fire,” I said.
“Yes, and then the building will be evacuated and then, we will simply walk out in the confusion.”
“And then what? Take a taxi to the nearest … where do we even go? I don’t remember anyone here and you don’t know anyone on the planet, do you?”
“As it happens, I do have some contacts at a nearby University but we have an even better option.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“In two days, members of your own jump corporation have scheduled a routine maintenance visit.”
“Well, that’s convenient.”
“It’s not entirely coincidental.” Dr. Pendleton looked meaningfully at Kyra. She looked meaningfully at her dessert. “A certain engineer placed a call to get a certain jump pod temperature regulator module fixed.”
Kyra said, “It’s a very standard request. There’s nothing suspicious at all about me placing that call. But the piece getting broken in the first place, on the other hand…”
Dr. Pendleton said, “Well, hopefully I’ll be long gone before they get around to asking those kinds of questions.”
The next day, the navy science contingent arrived. Colonel Yancy, the woman who ordered the guard not to let me leave, was escorting them. Kyra was making the introductions. “Dr. Pendleton, these are doctors Lieutenant Commander Fields, Lieutenant Price, and Ensign Virgil.”
I was standing in the background, not sure of what to do. I didn’t know these people and I’m not sure that I wanted to. Hands were shaken all around. When it came to Ensign Virgil’s turn, she said, “It’s an honor to meet you Dr. Pendleton. I’ve read all of your published work, although neurology is not my field.”
Dr. Pendleton looked to Ensign Virgil and asked, “You wouldn’t happen to be ‘Dr. Samantha Virgil’, would you?”
Virgil’s face lit up. She said, “You’ve heard of me?!”
“I’ve read your paper proposing the possibility of doing a remote jump. I’m not a physicist but I tried to familiarize myself with that side of jumping. Your paper was one of the first I read and one of the most interesting. It struck me as quite a bold proposition. I’m surprised to see you in the military. I would have figured you would stay in academia or go to industry.”
“Ah, well, the navy paid for my education, so…” she glanced nervously at her superiors.
Lieutenant Commander Fields laughed, “Oh, don’t go stealing Virgil from us quite yet. We’ve got to get at least a few years out of her here, first.”
“Ah,” said Dr. Pendleton. “As to that, I must confess that I am entirely out of my element here. If it would be possible for us to transfer to the University of–”
“Quite out of the question,” said Colonel Yancy. “I’m afraid that the impending threat of war has made the situation quite dangerous. Also, the security considerations for the type of research we require are quite high. A university would not be able to provide that level of security.”
There was an awkward silence.
Virgil broke it by asking, “Can we see the jump pilot? I know we can’t ask her any–”
Colonel Yancy stepped forward and said, “She’s over there.” She pointed me out. I felt a little exposed.
The science contingent reacted with surprise. Finally, Lieutenant Commander Fields said, “We were told that she was still in critical condition and not yet conscious.”
The colonel replied, “She was, but now she has mostly recovered.”
I saw my chance and said, “Indeed, I have. Thank you Colonel Yancy for your warm hospitality but I think it’s time for me to return to my jump corporation. I’m sure they’re eager to have me back.”
Now her gaze focused on me and it wasn’t pleasant. “You aren’t going anywhere. You endangered the shuttle you were on–”
“Only because you were too scared to go and save the Medusa!”
“–thus endangering the very mission the Medusa was sent to accomplish. The mission was more important than the ship.”
“In your opinion! Besides, Dr. Pendleton made it here just fine and the Medusa and all her crew were saved.”
“That’s not your call to make! You think that you’re a big hero because you saved two hundred people. Well, I’ve got the lives of twenty million people to think about. And that’s just on this planet. Do you have any idea how many lives you jeopardized by that one action?”
I didn’t know what to say. It didn’t seem fair. Any of it. I didn’t ask for this. I just wanted to be left alone. But then a terrifying thought occurred to me. What if I did ask for this? I couldn’t remember anything before last week. Maybe this is what I wanted, to go out there and fight wars, spend my life jumping. I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.
The next day started a series of experiments. I submitted to them because, well, I had no plausible reason not to and because I was too tired to keep fighting.
I had been trying to avoiding Dr. Virgil as much as possible. Her research area was just too close what I was trying to avoid thinking about. But she finally cornered me after one of the experiments. I was still in the jump pod but all the other scientists had gone for lunch.
“Is it true?”
“Is what true?” I was dreading the question. I hadn’t had to lie to anyone yet. And I still didn’t want to talk about it.
“It it true that you jumped the Volkan fleet ship into the sun?”
“I– I don’t know.” I lied, “I don’t remember any of that.”
She looked crestfallen and said, “Oh.”
“So what if it did happen?”
“Are you serious? It would change everything.”
Her ferver frightened me a little. “But it would also mean that I had sent hundreds of people to their death by sending them to the sun.”
She hardly reacted. “Oh, that. You could hardly be blamed for that if you did. It was in the middle of a battle under extreme circumstances. But think of the possibilities!”
I didn’t want to think about ‘the possibilities’. I needed to head off this discussion. I said, “It’s moot. I don’t remember anything from the battle.” That was a lie, but I needed to get Dr. Virgil to stop pursuing this line of thought. I didn’t want to become some sort of guinea pig that they dissected to discover its secrets. I said, “For all we know, it was simply an accident or their own jump pilot somehow miscalculated and jumped into the sun.”
It didn’t phase her. “Perhaps, but that’s what these experiments are for.”
I was in the lab’s jump pod again. We were on a planet, so there wasn’t any ship to jump. Instead, it was connected to a series of monitoring equipment and a simulator. But in all other aspects, the jump pod was fully functional. Everything was there including a supply of talderium, the synthetic element required to jump. The setup was designed to mimic actual conditions on a very small ship, about half the size of the shuttle Pegasus.
Colonel Yancy was observing the experiments today. She had asked Lieutenant Commander Fields how it was going to work. Fields said, “I confess, I don’t really know. I’m just the highest ranking science officer they could find. Lieutenant Price is the neurologist most familiar with Dr. Pendleton’s work and Ensign Virgil is the physicist whose hypotheses we are actually testing.”
Price spoke up. “I should also add that while I’m familiar with Dr. Pendleton’s work, I don’t fully understand it. Dr. Pendleton was the first neurologist to attempt to apply that field to jump technology. I know the drugs that he proposed using and some of their affects on conventional minds, but as far as the jumping goes, it’s really Virgil’s show.”
Virgil looked a little embarrassed and said, “Thank you sirs. But it’s really not that complicated an idea. I proposed that there is no physical reason why a jump pilot could not jump a mass that was external to the pilot herself. The jump engine itself and the talderium fuel are what power the jump and the pilot is merely the navigator. But there are some fundamental limitations to the technology. For example, jump pilots need to be in the center of the mass being jumped. That is, until now. What’s been revolutionary about Dr. Pendleton’s work is that he’s discovered that certain drugs can alter the minds of jump pilots and have an effect on some of these fundamental limitations. We suspect that’s how Jump Pilot Lopez was able to jump the enemy ship.”
Dr. Pendleton said, “Ah, well, to be clear, it’s not certain that that’s what Pilot Lopez did. She herself has no recollection of the event.” He turned to me and I tried to shrug convincingly. “Furthermore, there are indications that the enemy ship itself was attempting to jump and simply misnavigated.”
Colonel Yancy said, “Into the sun? That’s a hell of a misnavigation.”
“Actually,” said Virgil, “it’s more likely than you might imagine. Jumping is all about the masses and the easiest target is a very large mass. If you were to just try to jump randomly somewhere in a solar system, there’s a good chance that you’d end up jumping into the sun.”
That was a sobering thought. Note to self: do not attempt a random jump.
Virgil looked eager. She said, “I’d like to get started if that’s okay.” Everyone else nodded. I was already in the jump pod. She pointed to two large containers. One of them had something floating in the air inside it. “These two vaccuum chambers have had their air pressure reduced to simulate space. The one on the left has a piece of superconductor floating in it to represent a small ship.”
Colonel Yancy asked, “Why does it need to be a vacuum and why does it need to float?”
“Ah, that’s another fundamental limitation,” said Virgil. “Jumping is essentially teleporting. But if you teleport one mass into another one, even if it’s just atmosphere, then very, very bad things can happen.”
“Well, it could set off a small nuclear explosion.”
Everyone in the room reacted to that, including me. I wondered if that could have happened when I first teleported the Pegasus out of the Medusa. I’m not sure I would have tried it if I had known. Then again, we might all have died if I hadn’t. Still, it was a sobering thought.
Colonel Yancy said, “Perhaps we should clear the room.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. The chances are extremely small of something like that happening. And if it did, it wouldn’t really matter if we simply cleared the room. The whole building would go.”
“Ah, still, I think I’ll leave the experiments up to you. I’ll expect reports in the morning. Good day.”
With that, the colonel left the room. The guard at the door looked like he wished he could leave, too.
So did I.
The first experiment was just to try to jump the block of semiconductor from the left vaccuum chamber to the right one. Kyra powered on the jump pod. It was incredibly loud due to the ‘modification’ that Dr. Pendleton had made to it.
Lieutenant Commander Fields nearly shouted, “Is it normally this loud?”
Kyra answered, “No, the temperature regulator is malfunctioning and so the ventilators are going at full power. Don’t worry, I’ve placed a call and the module should be replaced tomorrow.”
“Good thinking, Chief.”
The jump pod was online and I was hooked up. All I had to do was to do it. Maybe if I learned what they needed from me, they’d let me go. I tried to use that as motivation.
I closed my eyes and reached out with my senses. It was so very strange doing this on a planet. On the ship, everything was separated by the vastness of space and it was as if I could wrap my mind around the ship. But here, the planet itself was just too big. It was like the different between trying to hug a person and trying to hug a building. I just couldn’t reach all the way around.
Instead, I just focused on the details within. I could feel everything in this room. I could feel each of the people in it. If I concentrated, I could even feel their heartbeats. Kyra’s heart was beating the hardest. Offhand, I wondered if she was nervous for herself or if she was nervous for me.
I could feel, more than hear, Virgil speaking. It was like a form of synesthesia, I thought. I tried to focus more on her words and I could make them out.
“– on the individual objects in the room. Can you hear me?”
I made my lips move and pushed air through my vocal chords to say, “Yes.” I sounded strange to hear my own voice.
“Good, now try to jump the block of superconductor from one chamber to the other, but without moving yourself.”
That was harder to do than it sounded. In order to initiate the jump, I had to create a bubble around myself and send it elsewhere. The problem was that I couldn’t create a bubble around me which didn’t somehow include me. But I gave it a shot.
“I can’t do it.”
Kyra powered down the jump pod. It was amazing how much quieter the room seemed suddenly.
Dr. Virgil said, “That’s not surprising. No one’s been able to do it, although there’s no physical reason why it shouldn’t be possible. Dr. Pendleton’s work was identifying the jump pilot’s mind as the weak link.”
Dr. Pendleton coughed delicately. “I would not say that the jump pilot’s mind is the ‘weak link’. Far from it. Without the jump pilot, nothing but the most trivial jumps could be made. It is her very mind which allows us to do what would have been thought impossible just a couple centuries ago.” Dr. Pendleton nodded his head towards me.
I said, “Thank you Doctor.”
He nodded. “But I do agree that the jump pilots can achieve far more than they are currently capable of and I have developed different drugs which seem to have some effect in that direction.”
I asked, “What kind of drugs?”
He shrugged. “They are a number of different things — a simple beta blocker to attempt to reduce anxiety and thus improve jumping accuracy, stimulants to reduce jump fatigue and downtime, fairly pedestrian chemicals. But I’ve also unearthed a rather old drug from the 20th century, lysergic acid diethyl–”
“The name means nothing to me. What will it do to me?”
“You’ve already taken it once. You should tell me.”
“I don’t remember. What’s it supposed to do?”
“Well, it’s a hallucinogen so it’ll make you see things. But according to the old reports that I was able to track down, some users experienced an out-of-body sensation.”
“Aha!” said Dr. Virgil. She looked excited. “That makes perfect sense. If the jump pilot’s mind thinks she is outside the body, it might be able to form a jump bubble outside the body as well.”
Dr. Price looked impressed. “I’m familiar with certain hallucinogens and have occasionally prescribed them to some patients, but I never would have thought to apply them to jump pilots to try to extend their abilities. Brilliant!”
“Thank you,” said Dr. Pendleton. He looked at me carefully. “But it’s important to note that at this point, it’s just a hypothesis. For all we know, there is a physical reason preventing out-of-body jumps.”
Dr. Virgil looked like she could barely contain her excitement. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get started!”
Lieutenant Commander Fields lifted up a finger to make a point. “Before we begin. Are there any risks to the jump pilot?”
I was getting a little tired of being referred to in the third person. Even though Fields was expressing concern, it felt more like he was worried about losing an asset than for my personal safety. I started to feel a bit apprehensive. Somehow, Kyra sensed my uneasiness and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I was glad that she and Dr. Pendleton were there in the room.
Dr. Pendleton said, “Yes, there are. There was an unfortunate incident where the first jump pilot that I administered the drug to had a traumatic emotional reaction and … ”
“Ah yes, I read about that in the report. Dreadful business. Not to worry, we’ll be keeping all firearms away from the jump pilot.” He smiled rather smugly. There was something I really didn’t like about that man.
“What about long term side effects? We should weigh the benefit of the experiment against the possible effect it might have Pilot Lopez’s future.” asked Dr. Price. Somehow it seemed to me that the lieutenant was actually concerned about my health and not just my value as an experimental subject. Maybe it was because of his experience treating patients. What was the term? ‘Bedside manner’. I could see that Dr. Price had a good one.
Dr. Pendleton said, “To be honest, I don’t know. The literature I found was very old and somewhat divided on this. But at the doses I’m using and the relative infrequency of the injections, I’m hoping that the long term effects are minimal.” He turned to me and said, “I’m sorry Sascha, I can’t be any more reassuring than that. But I’ve limited the drug that I’m giving you, so hopefully you won’t suffer the same side effects that you felt before.”
I just looked at him and gave him a curt nod. I just wanted to get this over with. I turned to Kyra and said, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
Kyra patted me on the shoulder and started the power up sequence on the jump pod. Dr. Pendleton gave me his injection as I heard the roar of the ventilators coming on.
Moments later, I could feel the room spinning, although I knew it wasn’t really moving. I could also feel myself leaving my body, although that seemed impossible. But then, there it was, I could sense my own body, below me. Whatever ‘me’ was, was now able to move. I floated ‘myself’ to the test vacuum chamber. I wasn’t centered around my body anymore. I was centered wherever I willed it. But how was that possible? I don’t know. I could feel the world moving through me and I with it and this was just another piece of it.
It was at that point that I realized that I could do what this experiment called for. It was just a matter of opening up a little bubble ‘here’ where I was now, at this tiny block of superconductor which suddenly encompassed my whole world. And then just jump it over to ‘there’, the little empty space in the other vacuum chamber. The only tricky part was that everything was just swimming around so much and it was hard to think over the din of the ventilators. What the heck, let’s just do it.
I jumped the tiny block of superconductor to the other vacuum chamber.
There. Done. There was a surprising pop when I did it, but I thought I was successful. I could hear some muffled sound but I couldn’t quite hear it in my state. Then I could feel the jump pod powering down.
That’s when I heard the screaming.
I quickly scan the room. Someone is running out the door, the guard is on his comm yelling. Kyra! Where is she? Oh, there, kneeling on the floor. Dr. Pendleton? I can’t see him! No, wait, he’s behind me. He looks like he might faint. Lieutenant Commander Fields is tending to him. Why is Kyra kneeling on the floor? She’s blocking my view of something. I crawl out of the jump pod and make my way over. Then I see that the floor is covered in blood, so much blood. It’s — I think it’s Lieutenant Price, the neurologist. Kyra is pressing her hands to his neck, but I can see his face. His eyes. His eyes are staring into me. I cannot look away. I cannot look away until he blinks. But he doesn’t blink. He never blinks again.
Dr. Virgil and I were standing inside Colonel Yancy’s office. It was one of the few new rooms that I had seen in the last three days. There was an armed guard posted at the door. He was the same one who ‘escorted’ me to the office.
I was not relishing the experience but the injection that Dr. Pendleton had given me hadn’t worn off yet and everything had a tinge of surreal to it. Everywhere I looked, the textures seemed to ‘swim’ in front of my eyes. I almost felt like I could walk through the walls. I wasn’t entirely certain that I wasn’t still inside the jump pod.
The colonel glared at Ensign Virgil. She said, “Explain.”
Virgil looked rather nervous but plowed ahead. “There was an accident and the block of superconductor that we were using to test remote jumping became embedded in the target vacuum chamber. It exploded and–”
“I thought you said the risk of explosion was minimal.”
“I said the risk of nuclear explosion was minimal. And it was. Is. It’s exceedingly unlikely that two atoms would happen to try to occupy the same space, which would be–”
“Fine, fine, so then what kind of explosion was it?”
“Actually, just a very simple one, the jumped block embedded in the glass and the glass shattered. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Price happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and a shard of glass sliced through his jugular vein. No one could have forseen that.”
“Nevertheless, I am shutting down the experiments until–”
“But the experiment was a success! We actually managed to–”
“Ensign! A man is dead. Does that mean anything to you?”
“Of- of course, sir. I didn’t mean any disrespect, sir.”
“Then the experiments are suspended pending a full investigation on these matters. Is that understood?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“One other thing,” said Colonel Yancy. She turned her gaze directly towards me. It was not comfortable. She was watching my reaction but was addressing Dr. Virgil. “Is there any chance that Pilot Lopez here could have intentionally done this?” Whoah, not cool, that was very not cool…
“No,” said Virgil. “Like I said, there was no way anyone could have forseen that.”
The colonel nodded and said, “Dismissed.”
I was back in the mess hall, eating with Kyra. Everyone else was back at the lab. With the experiments suspended, there was no urgency to return. I was relieved and for the first time in as long as I could remember, relaxed. Today’s meal was something called ‘spaghetti’. I didn’t understand why it was shaped the way it was. It seemed rather an inconvenient food to eat. But I did like the balls of meat. I wondered what they were called.
“So are you going to go through with it?”
“With what?” I asked.
“The escape. Are you going to try to break out with Dr. Pendleton tomorrow when the maintenance guys come?”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about it.” Somehow, that talk about a desperate escape seemed so long ago. “The way things are now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just let me go.”
“I suppose. In any case, it doesn’t seem like there’s any hurry.” Kyra was idly playing with her dessert. It was some
“What am I supposed to do if I get out of here? Do I have a home somewhere on this planet? Do I report back to the ship? I guess that’s my job, right?”
“Oh, that was just a contract. I don’t know the details of your contract, but I imagine it was for the duration of the mission. Now that the mission is over, you probably head back to your jump corp and get debriefed.”
“What’s a jump corp?”
Kyra looked at me and said, “It’s easy to forget that you don’t remember anything. Like, you know what a job is, but you don’t know what your own happens to be.”
“I never really thought about it but you’re right. Why is it that I remember some things and not others?”
“It’s like you remember everything about life in general, but nothing about you in particular, like you’ve gone through ego death.”
“What? That sounds bad.”
“Oh, it’s this old psychology term. The ego is the part of you that is ‘you’. It’s your identity, what separates you from everyone else.”
“So I’ve forgotten everything that sets me apart from everyone else?”
“But why have I forgotten things like the name of this food we ate?”
“You mean ‘spaghetti’?”
“Yes, that. And do they have a name for those balls of meat?”
“You mean ‘meatballs’? Wow, you have forgotten a lot.”
“Ah. ‘Meatballs’. I like those.” I stole one of Kyra’s ‘meatballs’ from her plate.
She stuck her tongue out at me. She said, “Yeah, you did like them, an awful lot. Maybe that’s why you’ve forgotten about them. Because they were a part of you.”
I thought about that. Maybe everything that I had forgotten was part of me in some way. I looked at Kyra. “Were you a part of me?”
“What? Well …” She gave me a mischievous look and said, “We did kiss once.”
“We did?” I was starting to discover that there is nothing quite as embarrassing as having someone tell you that you had a thing for them.
“Oh, you were pretty drunk at the time so I’m not sure you even remembered the next day. Heck, that’s an interesting thought.”
“I could probably tell you anything and you’d believe it, right?”
“Oh. Well, not any more!”
“Don’t worry, that’s not what I was talking about. I was just thinking that you could be anything you wanted to be. I mean, you could say whatever you want about yourself and it’d sort of become true, for you. You have this unique chance to re-invent yourself. You can be whatever you want to be!”
“I … I hadn’t thought about it like that.” This was a new concept to me. It made sense. Only … “I don’t really know what I want to be.”
“Ah, I’m sure it’ll come to you eventually.” She saw something over my shoulder and said, “Speaking of which, something’s coming to you now.”
“What are you ta–”
“Great news!” I heard Dr. Virgil’s voice behind me. I turned and saw an unhealthy gleam in her eyes. She said, “The experiments are back on!”
Dr. Virgil had run off to make some sort of arrangements so Kyra and I were left to ourselves to make our way back to the room with the jump pod. There, we found Dr. Pendleton by himself. He explained, “I’m the only one who doesn’t know his way around here. Also, a neurologist is not quite as useful in helping to set up these experiments.”
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why are the experiments even being done? I thought they were suspended until a full investigation was complete.”
“Oh, they didn’t tell you?”
“Tell us what?” asked Kyra. She looked a little annoyed. I was more apprehensive.
“They’ve detected a fleet of destroyers warping in from Kuvel. They’re coming in pretty fast and look to be here in a week.”
“A week?” said Kyra incredulously. I had no idea why that surprised her. “It took us nearly three to cover the same distance and that nearly killed our jump pilots.” Oh, right. I had forgotten that part.
Dr. Pendleton shrugged. “They may have doubled or tripled their normal contingent of jump pilots per ship.”
“But that’s crazy! The entire system couldn’t have more than a couple dozen or so jump pilots. They would have to be using all of their pilots in this one mission.” Kyra and the doctor were quite animated in their discussion. I didn’t follow all of it, but it could sense their anxiety.
“Or using a lot enhancers. Either way, it speaks to a great desperation.”
I spoke up and said, “Dr. Virgil has a funny sense of what makes ‘great’ news.”
Kyra looked at me and said, “Oh, don’t get me started on that one. If she weren’t an officer…”
“She’s just an ensign, isn’t she? And you’re a chief something-or-other?”
“Chief petty officer. But I’m still enlisted and she’s still an officer. It’s a military thing.”
“Did I ever understand this sort of thing?”
Kyra chuckled. “No, I suppose not.”
The second experiment was a repeat of the first one, only with bigger vacuum chambers. I was already plugged into the jump pod, although it was still offline. I asked, “Why do we even have to use vacuum chambers? And what’s with the floating block in the center?”
Kyra answered, “They’re both there to help simulate the conditions of outer space. Jumping is easier when the mass is entirely isolated from other masses. There’s also a secondary concern.”
“If you jump a mass into another location in atmosphere, you’re juxtaposing that mass with the atmosphere that was there to begin with.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. “So what?”
“Well, for one thing, it would kill any living thing that you tried to jump.” Oh. “And for another, there’s a good chance that you’d shatter or at least seriously degrade the structural integrity of anything else you jumped.”
“Oh.” So much for my idea of just jumping out of here. I’m glad I asked.
Dr. Pendleton asked me, “Do you require another injection? The last one you had might be wearing off by now.”
I said, “No, I think I’m fine. I remember how I did it last time. I don’t think I need it.”
Dr. Virgil made some final adjustments to some measuring equipment. She said, “Are we ready?”
I mumbled, “As ready as I’m ever going to be.”
Kyra said out loud, “We’re ready, sir.”
Dr. Virgil said, “Okay, once we clear the room, power up the jump pod and proceed with the jump.”
I turned to Kyra and said, “Did they say ‘clear the room’?”
“Yeah, just in case. They don’t want a repeat of this morning.”
Oh. “Maybe you should clear the room, too.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not going to leave you alone. Besides, I should be safe behind the jump pod.”
Secretly, I was glad she was staying. I didn’t want to be alone either.
Everyone else had cleared the room. Kyra powered up the jump pod. The ventilators were still making an infernal racket thanks to the Dr. Pendleton’s handiwork. But din or no din, I could feel the jump pod take me. The room ceased to be something that I just saw, but it became something I could feel. After a moment, I wasn’t even conscious of the noise.
I sensed the two chambers. One of them had a block in it. The other one didn’t. Simple. Now it was just a matter of centering my consciousness around the first one, creating a little bubble, and … jump.
I felt the power draining from me. Kyra came up to me and said, “Hey, great job! It looks like you did it.” I smiled.
Then Dr. Virgil came into the room and said, “Excellent. Now we’re going to try something a little more complicated.”
The third experiment was indeed more complicated. Instead of just a simple block in the first vacuum chamber, there was a rather strange box. I asked Dr. Virgil, “What’s in the box?”
“It’s a very simplified version of a jump ship. There is a rudimentary jump engine, along with a small amount of talderium sufficient to jump the model ship. We’ve removed the talderium from your own jump pod, so this is a test to see whether or not a remote jump is possible using a remote source of fuel. Also, instead of a superconductor to levitate it above the ground, we’re suspending it from the top of the chamber with a piece of string. We’re hoping that you can still jump the model, even though it’s attached to the string.”
“So if this works, what does that mean?”
“It means that it’s possible that you jumped the other ship into the sun.” That wasn’t a particularly strong motivator for me. She sensed my ambivalence and said, “It would also help us understand what you might have done and if we understand, we don’t need to keep you here any longer.” Ah, dangle the carrot of freedom before me.
Watch me dance.
I said, “Let’s get on with it.”
The fourth experiment was a slight modification of the third. Same model, same settings. The only difference was that the miniature jump drive wasn’t powered on. I couldn’t jump it. I asked, “What does that mean?”
Dr. Virgil replied, “We were hoping that you’d be able to use your jump drive and the remote talderium to jump. It would have meant that you’d be able to jump an enemy ship away even if they had powered down.”
Lieutenant Commander Fields said, “That limits our options in battle a little. But the main point is that we can still use jumping as a weapon. Either by jumping something directly into their ships or jumping a nuke instantly to their vicinity.”
I was going to be used as a weapon? I felt sick to my stomach.
The sixth experiment — wait, did I skip an experiment? I was having a hard time remembering. I think it involved jumping a block from one chamber into the model ship in the next. It shattered. I remember feeling sad. I think I was getting attached to that little ship. I wondered about all the little people that were on it. Did they have little families on little worlds?
The tenth experiment. I was definitely forgetting something. The nice woman next to me was saying something to the mean woman. They were yelling. I couldn’t hear clearly above the sound of the ventilators. I couldn’t see clearly. There was something about the chambers. Was I supposed to move something in the chamber? Or was I supposed to move the chambers themselves?
What would happen if I just tried swapping the chambers? I guess that would require two bubbles. Oh, I was too tired for that. I’ll just do one.
There was an explosion. Or, maybe more of an implosion. I’m not sure. I don’t remember anything after that.
I woke up to someone brushing my hair out of my face. I knew her. Tamanaha? Yes, I knew her first name, too. Kyra. Yes, Kyra was here. Where was this? It was dark. I didn’t see any windows. Maybe some sort of dormitory room? There weren’t any decorations on the wall. I wasn’t a hospital bed. But I saw there was an IV line in my arm.
Kyra saw me notice the line and said, “You passed out from dehydration. They put the IV line in to hydrate you faster. It’s just saline.”
I opened my mouth to say something. It was too dry. Kyra brought a cup of water to my mouth. I coughed a little and spit some of it out, but managed to drink a little. It felt good. I said, “How long?”
“The last experiment was about two hours ago. They aren’t going to do anymore today, but they’re going to resume tomorrow. Dr. Pendleton objected and they told him that if he didn’t administer the injections himself, they would confiscate his bag and start administering them randomly without him.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
Kyra said, “Get some sleep. Tomorrow, a crew from your jump corp are coming under the pretext of fixing the jump pod ventilators. But they’re really here for you and Dr. Pendleton. We’re going to get you out of here.”
That sounded much better. I drifted off to sleep.
Is it strange to wake up and have no idea where you are? I don’t know. But it happened again. In fact, I can’t remember ever waking up knowing where I was. I wondered if I ever had. I wondered if I ever would. After a few moments, it started coming back to me. I was in a dormitory room, in a military base, on the planet Tarseron.
Today, I was going to escape.
Can you practice a skill even if you don’t remember doing it? I don’t know. But I know that I’ve suffered memory loss many times before and I know I must go through the same process each time. It’s become almost instinctual: observe as much as possible, deduce as much as you can as quickly as you can, then act on that knowledge. Even though I retained most of my memory from last night, the morning grogginess triggered that instinct in me again.
That’s how I noticed it. The door had a slot for a lock, but no keyhole. I must be locked in. I looked around the rest of the room. It was pretty bare. I couldn’t see any cameras, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. They could still be watching. I decided there wasn’t anything I could do about it so I got out of bed. I looked around the room for something I could use as a weapon.
Then I heard some steps at the door. I threw myself into the corner behind the door. There was a light knock. I didn’t respond. The door opened slowly and a small figure entered. I didn’t have time to think. I leaped their back and put their head in a vicious choke hold.
Or, at least, that’s what I attempted to do. I put my arm in front of the figure’s head, intending a choke hold. That’s when I felt my arm being grabbed. Then the figure ducked down, rolled forward, and I experienced a few moments of weightlessness as my body was flipped upside down and flung through the air. I remember thinking, “This is a terrible way to die.” But I landed on the bed.
Then I felt strong hands grab either side of my face. I clenched my eyes and tensed my neck to try to prevent my head from getting twisted off. Then I heard a sharp voice say, “Sascha! It’s me!”
Kyra? I risked opening one of my eyes. Ah, yes, sure enough, it was Kyra. I step back sheepishly and said, “Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”
“Who the heck were you expecting?”
“I — I don’t know. I just had this vague feeling that it was someone out to get me. You know, since I was locked in and all…”
“What do you mean locked in?”
“The door — it has a slot for a lock, but no keyhole.”
“That’s because it doesn’t have a lock.” She pointed to the now opened door. Sure enough, no lock. “What you see on your side is just a plug. If you were being held, they would have put you in a holding cell. Besides, what exactly were you planning on once you got past the hallway? There are armed guards posted outside the area and they all know you’re not supposed to leave.”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
“Do you have any martial arts training?”
“Um … I don’t remember, is there any way to find out?”
Kyra answered by bringing her hand high up in the air. I looked at her blankly. Then she yelled and dropped it down on my head. I flinched as it tapped me on the forehead. She said, “I’m pretty sure you don’t have any combat training. Or if you did, it’s buried very, very deep in your subconscious.”
Darn it. I was almost certain that I had some sort of training like that. Maybe it was another movie I saw.
Kyra said, “I think Dr. Pendleton’s injections are starting to have an effect on you.”
“I think you may be right. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.”
She leaned in to whisper to me, “That’s why they’re going to get you out of here.”
I whispered back, “Are you sure? I mean, it sounds like there’s going to be war.”
“Maybe. But that doesn’t make it right to kidnap a jump pilot and experiment on her against her will.”
“Are you sure you want to get involved?”
“Whoah, hold on… who said anything about me being involved?” She leaned back and said loudly, “I just made a routine maintenance call for an obviously broken ventilator module.” Then she leaned back in and said, “If that maintenance team happens to bring in a small explosive which creates an electrical fire, forcing us to evacuate and then you and Dr. Pendleton get lost in the shuffle, what does that have to do with me?”
I smiled and said, “I think you’d be a terrible spy. But you’re a good friend.”
Dr. Pendleton and I were ‘advised’ to stay in the mess hall while repairs were being made to the jump pod ventilators. There were guards posted at the door. It was frustrating to know that people from my jump corp were just a few rooms over. According to Kyra, the official story was that I was still in critical condition in the navy medical facilities and couldn’t be moved. I, of course, knew that that wasn’t true. And the jump corp knew that it wasn’t true. But without proof, they couldn’t do anything.
Of course, if I were to just walk into that room and greet the ‘maintenance’ workers from my jump corp, the charade would be over and the navy would have to let me go. Either that, or they’d try to hold us all or worse. I wondered how far they would go to keep me.
I looked at the two guards. It was between breakfast and lunch, so there weren’t any other people in the mess hall besides the Dr. Pendleton, myself, and the two guards. I hadn’t seen either of them before and neither seemed the talkative type. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try.
“Hey, you guys wouldn’t mind if I just stopped in to say hi to the corp guys, would you?” No response.
I tried walking past them and they solidly blocked my way. Dr. Pendleton glanced up from his book with some amusement. He said, “I don’t think that’s going to work.”
I agreed with him. The two guards were both taller than me and were staring resolutely ahead. I waved my arm in front of their faces. No reaction. I grabbed one of the nearby chairs and stood on it to get to eye level with them. Still no reaction, but at least, I could tell that I was making them uncomfortable.
I looked one of them, the younger looking one, straight in the eye and said, “You know that what you’re doing is wrong.”
He tried to avert his eyes from my gaze. But since I was standing on a chair, there was nowhere he could look to do so. He said awkwardly, “We have our orders.”
“Orders?! You have orders to unlawfully detain a civilian against her will?”
“We– we need you here for–”
“For what? Do you have any idea what they do to me?”
“I– I don’t–”
“They pump me full of drugs and then do ‘experiments’ all day. Do you know what that’s like?”
“When you’re done here and you go home, do you know what I’ll be doing? I’ll be strapped into a chair and forced to keep running experiments until I pass out. And they’ll keep on doing it until I’m dead.”
“I’m sure they wouldn’t–”
“You know someone’s already dead, don’t you? Lieutenant Price. He’s dead and yet they keep on pushing.”
“But it’s for–”
“For what? What did I do to deserve this? I didn’t do anything. I was just doing my job and then you guys–”
“Stop it.” It was the other guard. The older one.
I turned to the old guard and said, “Why? You know what I’m saying is true.”
“I’m not going to argue with you about that.”
“So what? Are you just going to hide behind your orders, too?”
“We do have our orders, but more importantly, I know why we have them.”
“We’re at war.”
“So that justifies everything?”
“It means that there’s more to it than just you.”
“Well, excuse me if I’m more than a little concerned about–”
“Do you know what happens if a ship goes nova in range of a planet?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I said, “What does that–”
“Everyone on the planet dies. Not all at once, but slowly, as the particulates in the atmosphere choke the life out of the planet. It’s happened before, do you remember that?”
I hadn’t. I turned to Dr. Pendleton and asked, “Is that true?” He nodded sadly.
The guard said, “We risk our lives to protect our friends and family and any one of us would gladly die to prevent something like that from happening here. If I could, I would be happy to take your place and have them run experiments on me all day. But I can’t. You’re the only one who can do this.”
“I didn’t ask for this.”
The older guard paused. “I know,” he said, sympathetically. “But this is war. If you’re asking me to step aside, you’re asking me to put millions of people at risk for you. I can’t do that.”
I sat down. It was more than I could handle. Millions of people? What right did I have to jeopardize them? Did their lives really depend on my actions? I didn’t know what to do. I said, “I don’t know if I can do it.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the older man. He said, “We do what we can.”
I looked back at Dr. Pendleton. His eyes locked with mine for a long moment but I couldn’t read his expression.
Dr. Pendleton and I were at the far corner of the mess hall where the guards couldn’t hear us. They didn’t seem to mind. Their only concern was that we didn’t try to leave. Other than that, what else could we possibly do? We were hopelessly outmatched physically and we had no weapons.
I said, “Do you believe them?”
Dr. Pendleton replied, “It’s hard to know what to believe. But it’s possible. Volkan’s fleet is nearly fanatical in its devotion. They were very brutal in the subjugation of my own home planet, Kuvel. If he felt things were going badly, I could well believe that he’d send a starship to destroy this planet in retaliation.”
“That really did happen once?”
“It did.” He looked very tired. “It happened many years ago. The reports were quite sketchy, but all accounts agree that two fleets were engaged in battle and one of the ships went nova. The resulting reaction created an impact large enough to instantly vaporize both fleets and several cities within a 500 kilometer radius.”
“That sounds rather big.”
Dr. Pendleton chuckled. “You have a talent for understatement, Ms. Lopez. That ‘rather big’ explosion also kicked up enough debris and wreaked enough havoc on the weather systems to wipe out nearly every large living thing. Thousands made it out on evacuation ships over the next several weeks but it was a tiny fraction compared to the millions who died.”
“Did the planet recover?”
“Eventually. The planet does not care if the people on it live or die and eventually, it came out of its artificially inflicted ice age.” He smiled wryly and said, “From a scientific perspective, it was an absolutely amazing event. We were able to observe first-hand, the effects of a extinction-scale cataclysm occurring.” He paused. “But from a humanitarian perspective, it was the worst disaster in all of human history.”
“So. Should we stay?”
He looked away. His gaze settled on the two guards standing at the entrance. “They would certainly have us do so.” He sighed. “I do not know. What I know is that I contacted my colleagues in this government because I felt that I felt Volkan and his government were wrong to oppress and enslave us. I did not want to be a part of his tyranny. But your government seems to be no better.”
“That’s not fair, our government isn’t the one threatening to destroy a planet.”
“Oh? Are you so sure that that is what they are coming to do? Volkan told his people that the Federation was coming to destroy Kuvel because they hated the freedom we had on the far reaches of explored space. I never believed it, but many did. Some people on my planet even welcomed Volkan because they felt he was strong. There may have even been people from Kuvel on the ship that…”
He didn’t say it, but I knew what he was thinking. The ship that I destroyed.
He said, “I didn’t mean to bring that up. But I can guarantee you that if there is a ship coming to destroy this planet, it’s because they are convinced that it’s necessary to do so in order to save their loved ones at home.”
I said, “War is hell.”
The repairs were finished and we were escorted back to the lab. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of the repair crew. But I could tell that they had been their because the jump pod was online and it was nearly silent. Dr. Virgil was busy talking to some new lab techs. They were setting up a number of chambers. I could hardly wait. I wondered how many experiments we would have to run through before the fake emergency gave us an opportunity to escape.
Kyra was there, whispering something to Dr. Pendleton. I was strapping myself into the jump pod when Kyra came over to attach my helmet. She said, “Hello again, Ms. Lopez. We’re going to run a few diagnostics to make sure the jump pod is still fully functional. Just lie back and observe the test patterns.”
This was a little different from before. Also, Kyra sounded oddly formal this morning. Well, I suppose she was trying to be unsuspicious. I could feel the world slipping away as I connected with the jump pod. Then, I could see words forming as if on a suspended display in front of my eyes, “hello sascha, this is kyra”
I said out lound, “Hi Ky-”
Oh. Okay. I guess I wasn’t supposed to talk. I wondered how I was supposed to communicate back.
“if you can understand this, squeeze my thigh”
What? Oh, my hand was being placed on something. I squeezed.
“ok, there was a problem with the crew”
This didn’t sound good.
“the equipment they were trying to smuggle in as welding equipment was confiscated”
Oh no, then that meant–
“which means that we aren’t going to be able to create the diversion as planned”
Ah. I wondered to myself, what now?
“so dr. pendleton is going to try to rig something up”
Wait, wasn’t Dr. Pendleton a neurologist? This didn’t sound very promising.
“i can’t get involved but i gave him some things to try”
Well, that was a slight encouragement.
“in the meantime, you once told me something about being online in a jump pod”
I wondered what that was.
“you once told me that you could sense people and things around you, is that still true?”
I cast out my senses. Yes, I could ‘see’ everyone in this lab. If I concentrated, I could extend out my awareness a little further. I squeezed Kyra’s thigh.
“good. see if you can find the crew from your jump corp. they were just here and should be near the main entrance of this building. we’re two floors underground and the main entrance is to the south. the main parking lot is to the east”
I tried stretching out my consciousness beyond the floor. It was just too vast. I couldn’t do it. I said out loud, “I think the injections from last night have worn off. Maybe Dr. Pendleton should give me another.” It was a strange sensation to feel my mouth saying the words, but not to be able to hear them clearly.
I heard some talking. I couldn’t quite make it out. Then I felt a small jab in my shoulder. Then, it was like slipping into a different body. Or, more accurately, out of my old one. Suddenly, I was flying through the room, down the hallway, up the empty elevator shaft. I could see the whole lobby now. Actually, ‘see’ wasn’t quite right. I could feel the whole lobby. There were five people in it. One was seated, another was standing at the entrance. The other three were exiting. I followed them out. Two were walking in front, the third a bit farther back. There was something almost familiar about the pair in front.
This must be them! I squeezed my hand several times in succession. Then my world seemed to slide away as the jump pod powered disconnected and I could see the room again.
Kyra was looking at me. Everyone else in the room was preoccupied. She leaned in and said, “That’s not my thigh.”
I looked down to where my hand had fallen. I blushed and said, “Sorry!”
“That’s okay. I don’t mind.” She smiled archly. I blushed some more. Then she whispered, “I take it you located your crew.”
“I think so. They said they’re going to drive a block east and then wait around the corner for us to come out. They’ll be there all day so all we have to do is somehow force an evacuation of the building.”
“What about all the guards?”
“I haven’t thought that far in advance. This would have been better with the explosives. But we’ll think of something to get you out of here.”
I’m sure she would. I just didn’t know how to tell her that I wasn’t sure I should.
I remember the first experiment. It was just a warm-up. It’s strange. As far as anyone in the lab knew, I was the only person who had ever successfully jumped a remote target. In other words, no one else had ever jumped something without jumping themselves in the process. Yesterday, this was a fantastic breakthrough and it was the biggest advance in the technology in a generation. Today, it was just a warm-up.
Dr. Pendleton made his move after the second experiment. A couple panels were left open by the maintenance crew. Dr. Pendelton pushed his drink mug into one of them after I was safely disconnected from the pod. There was a loud pop and then, the room went dark. Several people started talking at once.
“What was that?”
“Does anyone have a light?” I could see little communicators flashing on the room. I could just make out Kyra on the far side. A couple people were making calls.
“Do you think it was the whole building?”
“Perhaps we should evacuate.”
“No, just wait for the–”
“Does anyone else smell burning plastic?”
I felt a hand grab mine as another traced up my arm to my shoulder and then head. I heard a whisper in my ear, “It’s Pendleton. I’m going to make my way to the exit.” I squeezed his hand. We fumbled through the darkness. We reached the door, somehow avoiding everyone else.
And then security came in with flashlights. “Is everyone okay?”
We froze. Everyone else mumbled assent. Then the emergency lights came on. The room was still dark, but now everyone was visible. There was a flicker for a moment, but it subsided. The guard’s communicator beeped and he replied, “Martis here. Everyone seems to be okay. Did you find it?”
The voice on the other end of the communicator said, “It’s definitely a short. It’s just that section. We replaced the fuse and it just popped immediately.”
The guard asked us, “Did anyone see anything right before the lights went out?”
Someone said, “I thought I heard something crack by the jump pod.”
Everyone wandered over to it. The liquid was easy to spot by the harsh lights. The mug was in pieces on the floor.
Dr. Pendleton said, “Ah, my mug. I was wondering where it went.”
Lieutenant Commander Fields voice snapped out, “Dr. Pendleton, you can’t be this careless. This is extremely valuable equipment.”
“I’m very sorry, it won’t happen again.”
Someone called out, “Do we need to call back the maintenance crew?”
One of the techs was looking at the damage and said, “I don’t think so. We got lucky. It didn’t hit any of the circuits, just the main power lines. If we keep the power off, we can probably just dry it.”
Fields said, “That was very fortunate for you, Dr. Pendleton.”
He replied, “Luck often seems to play a part in my life.”
While we waited in the semi-darkness for the techs to dry the shorted wires, Kyra told me about the new people in the lab today. One of them, I recognized; Colonel Yancy. I was not looking forward to spending another day with her there.
“They finally found a couple other jump pod engineers, so I might not have to stick around much longer. But the main guy is Dr. Yavid.”
“He’s the tall one with the curly hair.”
“No, I mean, what’s so special about him?”
“Oh, he’s one of the leading experts on jump ships going nova.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
The third experiment was Dr. Yavid’s. As it was explained to me, the process of going nova had something to do with talderium, the fuel used for jumping. It was also separate from jumping, and could be initiated within the cool-down period of the jump engines.
There were so many time-intervals and I got lost in the technical jargon. But the important facts seemed to be that you had to wait at least an hour between jumps on large ships, even if you had a fresh jump pilot, and that going nova required at least twenty minutes to initiate. Dr. Yavid was the one explaining all of this to us. I think he might have been a civilian as well, but he seemed somehow attached to the navy.
“Of course, much of this is conjecture. There are only three known instances of a jump ship going ‘nova’. This is, by the way, an unfortunate misnomer. A jump ship that initiates this event has nothing to do with a stellar mass undergoing a nuclear explosion. In fact, it is a much more interesting phenomena where space itself is folded back and forth to the point of breaking, which of course causes the–”
Lieutenant Commander Fields interrupted and said, “I’m sure it is quite interesting, but the situation is most urgent. If you could just skip ahead to what we need to know for the experiment…”
“Of course. Pardon my digressions. The salient point is that the estimated hour between frigate class jumps and the purported 20 minutes required to initiate nova together imply an approximate 40 minutes of vulnerability. We’re going to see if we can do something about that vulnerability.”
“I can think of three ways. This experiment is to test the first one, which would also be optimal from a number of perspectives. Jump Pilot Lopez will attempt to stop us from completing a nova reaction.”
“What?!” said Lieutenant Commander Fields. “You’re going to create a nova reaction inside this lab?! Are you insane?”
“Of course not. That would be ludicrous. We’ve can’t induce a nova reaction without another jump pilot and a significantly larger quantity of talderium than we currently have on hand. Besides, it would be somewhat counterproductive if Lopez didn’t stop it in time.”
Dr. Pendleton whispered to me, “Ah, he also has a gift for understatement.” I smiled.
“No, through my research, I have developed a simulated nova field. It’s not perfect, but it should be sufficient to determine whether or not a jump pilot could conceivably stop one from occurring in a real environment.”
I still had no idea what he was talking about. “So what am I supposed to do in this experiment?”
“Ah, to be honest, I don’t really know. But my impression was that all jump pilots have had training regarding the nova phenomenon, yes?”
Lieutenant Commander Fields said, delicately, “This jump pilot has suffered some mental trauma and would not recall any such training.”
Dr. Yavid looked at me for a moment. He looked disappointed. “This is unfortunate. From what I had heard, all jump pilots have an almost instinctual understanding of what a nova initiation felt like and how to start one themselves.”
“Oh, you mean the nausea?” When I said it, everyone turned to stare at me. I explained, “I think I felt something like that in the last battle, with the ship from Volkan’s fleet.”
“Yes, that’s it exactly!” said Dr. Yavid. “I’ve heard it described like that and I’ve also heard that part of understanding how it feels is to know how to initiate one yourself.”
I thought about it. “I never really thought about it before, but based on what you said before I think you’re right. I probably could initiate a nova.” That caught several people’s attention. Virgil and Fields looked at each other a bit nervously. I said, “Of course, I’d never do that. It would be ‘somewhat counterproductive’.”
“Ha ha, yes, quite so. But hopefully this next series of experiments will prove more productive.”
The next series of experiments made me throw up.
We tried twelve different variations but they all had one thing in common. As soon as he turned on his nova simulator, I could feel a wave of nausea. Nothing I did seemed to have an effect on it. No, that’s not quite true, sometimes I could make the nausea worse. In a couple instances, I actually triggered the simulated nova event. It was like standing on a boat in the ocean and watching a tower of blocks start to wobble. I was trying to keep all the blocks from falling while maintaining my own balance. All I managed to do was get sick.
Dr. Pendleton spoke up for me after a particularly bad incident. He said, “I think we should stop here. This is not working.”
“I agree,” said Dr. Yavid. “But it is most unfortunate. As I said, it would have been optimal if this could have worked.”
Kyra had gotten me some sort of carbonated beverage, for which I was incredibly grateful. At least the navy had better drinks than it did food. I could feel my stomach settling. I said, “Didn’t you mention you had three ideas to deal with the vulnerability?”
“I did,” said Dr. Yavid. “The second one is fairly obvious, but I have no control over it. If we can reduce the time necessary for the large jump-ships to recover their jump-drives to less than 20 minutes, they could simply jump back out of harm’s way.”
Dr. Virgil said, “Of course.” I didn’t see the point of saying that out loud. I mean, none of this was obvious to me, but if it was to them, why say it at all? But maybe I was just feeling cranky. Throwing up apparently did that to me.
I said, “What’s the third idea you had?” Whatever it was, I was sure it had to be better than than his first one.
I was wrong.
“The third idea would be to stop the hostile ship from a safe distance away.”
I could see that he was trying to hide behind euphemisms. I said, “What do you mean by ‘stop’, exactly?”
“I mean, you’ve demonstrated that you can jump remotely and you can probably initiate a nova so therefore, it should be possible to initiate a nova remotely on an enemy ship in another system.”
I recoiled in horror. Lieutenant Commander Fields said, “That’s brilliant!”
Dr. Virgil said, “Of course, that makes perfect sense.”
Everyone was congratulating each other on how brilliant an idea this was except for Dr. Pendleton and Kyra who could see how upset I was.
I quietly said, “No.”
Dr. Yavid looked confused and said, “What do you mean, ‘no’? You don’t think it would work?”
“I mean, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.'”
Colonel Yancy said, “Listen to me, this is a war and in a war, people–”
“No, this is your war! I don’t know about any of this.”
She looked at me with contempt and said, “So you’re just going to sit idly by while your people are–”
“They’re not ‘my’ people any more than that jump ship headed this way is ‘my enemy’. I woke up less than a week ago and now you want to turn me into– into some sort of a weapon? That’s obscene.”
“No, what’s obscene is that they’re coming to destroy this planet and–”
“So you say! I don’t know that for a fact. For all I know, they’re just coming back to retrieve Dr. Pendleton.”
“You are being hopelessly naive. And we have been far too tolerant of your attitude up til now.” She signaled to the men posted at the door and said, “Guards! Seize her and put her in the cell. We have two days to break her.”
I started to panic. She could do it. I said, “No! I’d rather die first.” Everything was happening too fast. I stared at Kyra, hoping she would understand. She looked back, eyes wide with fear, but then I saw her nod.
Kyra yelled out, “Look out, Colonel, she’s going to jump out of here!”
Dr. Yavid stammered out, “B- but that would kill us all!”
Kyra kept on running out the door pushing the Colonel out in front of her. Her panic was contagious, people were following her. Good girl, she understood. Everyone started clearing out.
Except Dr. Pendleton, who came racing towards me. I raced my consciousness outside the walls, up two stories and east. He reached me and said, “Take me with you!”
It was a desperate gamble. I didn’t think I would survive. “I don’t know if–”
But it was better than the alternative. I was tired of being forced into everything. This time I would make a choice, even if it was the last one I ever made. “I don’t care! Now do–”
He never finished that sentence.
I was on a swing.
It was a beautiful day and I could see the whole playground. Other kids liked the slides or the climbing rock, but my favorite was the swing. I just loved the feeling it gave me. Pumping my legs back and forth, back and forth; it felt like flying.
Robert, the dead jump pilot was next to me. Of course, he wasn’t dead now. He was swinging on the swings with me. I couldn’t see him, but I knew it was him.
He said, “That was a pretty neat trick you did back there.”
I beamed. I wasn’t very good in school, but there was one thing I was good at. I couldn’t quite remember what that was, but it was still nice to have something. I tried to turn my head to see him but I couldn’t. I said, “Why can’t I see you?”
“Oh, you don’t remember me. Not yet.”
“That makes sense.”
“So what now?”
“I dunno. This seems pretty nice.”
“Yes, it does.”
“Maybe I’ll stay here forever.”
“You can’t do that, Sascha.”
“You don’t belong here. You know that.”
I turned to face Robert, but it wasn’t him any more. Now it was Brian Dalton-Farha, the other jump pilot. I said, “Oh, are you dead, too?”
“I guess so. Are you?”
I was a little sad. I had started to get to know Brian again after the amnesia. I didn’t know him that well, but he seemed nice. I was more sad about the fact that we had once been friends and now I couldn’t remember any of that. I said, “I don’t think so.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
I looked around. It was so nice here. I just kept swinging, higher and higher. “Is this,” I said, “is this heaven?”
Brian laughed. “I don’t think so.”
“I wish I could take it all back.”
“You can’t put the cat back in the bag.”
I sighed. “I can’t stay here, can I?”
“No, you can’t.”
“But it’s so scary out there.”
Brian looked at me and said, “Yes, it is but this isn’t life.”
I looked over the playground. I wondered if I could swing all the way around. I never could before, but it never stopped me from trying. It was so peaceful here. But that was all it was. Just peaceful. There wasn’t anything else to it. If I stayed here, nothing would change. It would be like this forever. Robert and Brian, or whatever they were, were right. I didn’t belong here. But it was nice while it lasted.
I woke up but didn’t open my eyes immediately. It was going to be another hospital bed, but I couldn’t face that right now. I was just so tired of waking up in hospitals. Just once, it would have be nice to wake up in a nice warm bed to the smell of …
What was that smell? I didn’t know what the name of it was but I knew I had smelled it before. Whatever it was, it was making me hungry.
I ventured a peek and cracked one eye open. I could see light pouring in from the left side of the room. It seemed so pleasant, except for a heaviness in my chest. What was wrong with me now? Did I somehow injure my lungs in the last jump? I looked down and saw that there was something actually on my chest. It was a dark and mostly roundish mass, it was also somewhat warm. Was it some sort of heart monitoring device? Maybe it was to keep me warm. But why was it so heavy?
I decided I would try to touch it when it started to move. I shrieked.
“Sascha!” said a voice outside. Someone came running into the room and I bolted upright. The man looked pretty worried and said, “Are you okay?”
I recognized him. “Brian?”
He smiled and said, “Hey, you remember me!”
“Wait, am I dreaming?”
“No,” he said slowly, “you’re in your apartment.”
“So, you’re not dead?”
He gave me a baffled look and said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
I poked him a couple times. He seemed solid enough. “You’re not dead!” I hugged him.
“Um, right. Well, I should be getting back to breakfast before it burns. I see you’ve already been re-introduced to Jarvis.” He pointed to the dark, round mass. It did not seem to react.
“What’s a Jarvis?”
“I have a cat?” I stared at the dark mass that was now resettling by my side. Oh, now I could see that it had a face somewhere in there. I poked at it. It responded by yawning.
“Yes, named ‘Jarvis’.”
I picked up the ball of fur and hugged it to my chest. “I have a cat!” It felt warm. “Named Jarvis!” I nuzzled my face in its belly. It responded by pressing its paws into my face.
“You remember him?”
“Not at all.”
“Ah, well I’ve got a breakfast to go save. I’ll leave you to him.”
Brian left the room. I looked to the left again and I could see windows through curtains. It was the first time I could remember seeing windows since the amnesia nearly a week ago. I hugged Jarvis one more time and got up. Wait, what was I wearing? Some sort of … pajamas? Were they mine? I didn’t remember them, but that didn’t mean anything. They did feel somewhat familiar, though. How did I get in them? I’d have to remember to ask Brian about that.
I opened the curtains and saw a beautiful hillside. It was morning and I could see that it had been raining. In the distance, I saw some larger animals grazing. Cows? Llamas? Some sort of quadrupeds. Farther on, I could see the city center. I liked this place.
Then I realized what I needed to do, something that I had needed for the last week and was badly overdue. I needed a shower.
Of all the wonderful advances that technology has brought us, the greatest has got to be heated plumbing. Sure, it’s amazing that we can travel to far off worlds and see things that our ancestors only dreamed about. But I think if I had to choose between never traveling to another world or never taking another hot shower, I’d keep the shower.
I felt like a new woman afterward. I suppose with only a week’s worth of memories, I literally was a new woman in many respects; except that I was in my old apartment with my old clothes in front of me. Did it matter that I didn’t remember any of it? I stared at the dress. It was red and had an interesting cut. I assumed it was mine because it came out of my armoire but I didn’t recognize it. It seemed like the sort of thing that I would wear. Actually, I had no idea what kind of clothes I would wear. But this didn’t seem out of place. I dried off and put it on.
It felt a little big but still fit well. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked completely different. My hair was still dark, but it looked shinier. I liked the way it looked when it was wet. I wondered if there was some way to keep it looking like this. I checked around the sink. There were a number of bottles and such but I didn’t know what they did. I also saw a toothbrush. Hmm … I should probably brush my teeth. On the other hand, I wasn’t totally convinced that this was my toothbrush. Which would be more disgusting, not brushing my teeth for yet another day or brushing with someone else’s toothbrush.
I called out from the bathroom, “Is everything in this apartment mine?”
I heard Brian call back, “Yes, you lived alone.”
I decided to risk it and brushed my teeth. Today was going to be a day to be adventurous.
“That smells delicious!” I said as I walked up behind Brian. He was washing the dishes.
“I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook and it’s gotten a bit cold. I didn’t think–” He was turning around and paused when he saw me. He said, “Wow.”
I suddenly felt self-conscious. I said, “Is there something wrong? Is this not my dress?”
“No! I mean, yes, it’s your dress. Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s fine. It’s just that … I can’t remember the last time I saw you in a dress.”
“Oh, it’s the first thing I saw in my closet. What do I normally wear?”
“Um, I dunno. Pants? Sweaters. Stuff like that. They’re probably not in a closet. Maybe in drawers somewhere.”
“Should I change?”
“No! I mean, you’re fine. You look good. Better than good! You’re great.” He was stammering a bit. “Don’t change.”
I think I liked this dress. I wondered why I didn’t wear it more often. I said, “What kind of food did you make? It smells familiar, but I don’t remember what it’s called.”
“Ah. Well, like I said, I’m not really much of a cook. But this is called ‘scrambled eggs’. It started off as an omelet but it sort of broke apart as I attempted to fold it and so now it’s scrambled eggs with stuff in it.”
“Are the ingredients different between ‘scrambled eggs’ and ‘omelet’?”
“Umm, not really.”
“So then why is this called ‘scrambled eggs’ instead of ‘omelet’?”
“It has to do with the shape of it. Yeah, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me either, but I’m not really much of a cook.”
“What are those crispy looking things next to it?”
“Ah, that’s bacon. I think you’ll like it.”
I smelled it. It smelled like … I had no way of describing it. But the way it smelled made me feel like I was chasing after something, something delicious and juicy. I tried one of the slices. “Mmm… I like this ‘bacon’.”
“Of course. Everyone likes bacon. Well, except for vegetarians and certain religions who won’t eat it.”
“Why wouldn’t you eat this? Is there something wrong with it?”
“Ah, that gets a little complicated. Suffice to say, you liked it before so I figured you’d enjoy it for breakfast.”
“Thank you.” He smiled back and handed me a glass of some orange liquid. I wondered what it was called. I tried a sip. It was bitter. “Ech … it tastes funny. Did I like this too?”
“Um,” he said. He grabbed the glass and sniffed it. “It smells okay to me and the juice I had earlier was fine. And I’m pretty sure you drank orange juice.”
Ah, it was called ‘orange juice’. That made sense. “Let me try it again.” I took another sip. It wasn’t as bitter. “I think it’s better now.”
“Oh, I just thought of something.” I looked at him questioningly. He asked, “Did you brush your teeth in the bathroom?”
“Yes.” I wondered what that had to do with it.
“Ah, orange juice tastes bitter right after you’ve brushed your teeth. Usually, you brush your teeth after breakfast unless it’s going to be a while before you eat.”
“I’ll try to remember that.”
“Speaking of remembering things, how much do you remember?”
“Um, I still don’t really remember anything from before.”
“Like the name for ‘bacon’?”
“But you knew what a toothbrush was?”
“Well, of course, everyone knows what a toothbrush is.”
“What about this?” He pointed to the orange liquid.
“You called it ‘orange juice’.”
“But you didn’t remember that on your own?”
“No. In fact, I was wondering what it was.”
“What about this?” He was holding the thing I used to eat with.
Ach, I knew what it was. I just … somehow the name of it wouldn’t come to me. I shook my head.
“Don’t worry about it.” He put the utensil down. “The corporate doctors said some things about your amnesia.”
“Oh, what did they tell you?”
“They said that jump wipe is usually an indication of the jump pilot’s brain trying to protect itself.”
“From what? Is there something horrible that I’m trying not to remember?”
“No, nothing quite like that. It’s more the stress on the brain to perform a jump is incredible. Doing it too many times, and the brain can … well, it can fracture or go insane trying to keep track of everything. So the amnesia is a way for your brain to give itself permission to not keep track of everything.”
“I think I understand. So when I actively try to remember something…”
“You’re going directly against what your brain has set up as a defense mechanism. Hence, you can’t remember. But if you go about your business as usual and something happens to be recalled, your brain doesn’t stop it.”
“How is that supposed to work?”
“Pass me the fork.”
I picked up the fork to hand to Brian. Then I realized what I had just done. It was the eating utensil I couldn’t name before. “Ah. This is a fork.”
“Exactly. The doctors felt you had a better chance of recovering your memories if you were in a familiar place and you didn’t actively try to remember things. That’s why you’re in your apartment instead of at the Talico Jump Corp medical facility.”
“I certainly prefer my own bed and real food, even if I don’t remember it all.”
“Speaking of real food, you’re going to love what I brought for dessert.”
“What is it?”
“It’s called ‘chocolate cake’.”
After breakfast, Brian was filling me in on what happened on the Medusa. “I was unconscious for a lot of it.”
“I saw you just lying there in the jump pod after the first missiles hit. I thought it killed you.”
“It was close. It’s very dangerous for jump pilots to be plugged in when the ship gets damaged. It’s like having a brick thrown at your head. Usually, there’s at least a concussion. Sometimes it’s brain damage. There have been a few cases of death. That’s why I booted you out of the system, to try to protect you from that. Luckily, I was just knocked unconscious with a light concussion.”
“How long were you out?”
“A couple hours. By then, the repairs were well underway. We couldn’t save Hangar 2. But Hangar 1 was still functional and there was some talk of having your shuttle, Pegasus, dock there since Chrysaor was lost.”
“Ah. I vaguely remember that. Our pilot yelled out, ‘Billy’.”
“Yeah, Billy sacrificed himself to protect the Pegasus and the mission. There was a ceremony for the people we lost that day and Billy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.”
“How’s she taking it? The Pegasus pilot, I mean. I forget her–”
“Becka. Becka Jain.” Ah, right, now I remember. “She’s taking it pretty hard. They were pretty close. But she’s very proud of what he did.”
“No, nothing like that. He was just a kid. But she was his mentor. Normally, she would have been the one to fly the fighter, Chrysaor. But with the mission being the top priority, they snagged her for the Pegasus. And Billy ended up in the fighter.”
Oh. And Ensign Young was the one who picked Jain to be the pilot for the Pegasus. I wondered how he was taking that.
Brian said, “Eventually, your ship, the Pegasus, was ordered to go in the Aegis back to Tarseron space. Rita wasn’t too happy about that.”
Rita? Oh, right, his wife, the Captain. The one I used to call ‘Lainey’. I still had a hard time believing that this man was married to her. Actually, it wasn’t that I couldn’t believe it, it was more that it was still surprising to me. I guess I didn’t think of captains as being married, and certainly not to someone on their ship. I asked, “What happened after that?”
“On the Pegasus? I have no idea. Last night was the first time I saw you again. I wasn’t sure I ever would. It’s been nearly a week. There were all sorts of rumors. Dylan, Wei, and Becka transferred back to the Medusa on the Pegasus once we reached Tarseron’s space dock but they said you, Kyra, and the doctor were all immediately taken into custody. They didn’t even know if you were still alive. A couple days later, I was sent down planetside to get debriefed and I’ve been here ever since.”
“Who are Dylan and Wei?”
“Ensign Dylan Young and Private Wei Lee.”
“Ah, of course. I never ask people what their first names are.”
“I suppose it’s because it’s to embarrassing.”
“Don’t be embarrassed. You’ve been under a lot of stress and the amnesia is very real.”
“Considering all that, you’ve done some really amazing things these last few days.”
“What, you mean jumping the Pegasus out of the Medusa?”
“For starters, yes. Rita’s still sore about what you did to her hangar.”
“I don’t look forward to having to explain that to her.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. She was much more concerned about you than she was with her ship. But I was talking about the other stuff you did.”
“You mean with the ship from Volkan’s fleet?”
“Yeah, I heard the rumors. That you jumped it into the sun.”
I said as neutrally as possible, “I’ve heard those rumors too.”
He said, quietly, “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
I stared out at my living room. None of it seemed familiar. There was little in the way of personal decoration. I heard an insistent meow at my feet. Jarvis seemed to recognize me. It was funny, my cat had a better idea of who I was than I did. I held him. He meowed louder. I took some solace in the fact that to this simple creature, I was someone worth loving.
Brian said, “I think he wants food.”
“Oh.” Stupid cat. I stood up and looked for food. I eventually found it in a pantry. “Who fed him while I was out?”
“Probably Maria. She lives in this complex, too.”
“Is she another jump pilot like us?”
“There aren’t that many jump pilots. We’re pretty rare. No, she’s a tech. In fact, she was in the maintenance crew that brought you back.”
“How did I get back here? The last thing I remember, I was trying to make a jump to the maintenance van.”
“Well, that part’s easy. Maria and Kayode brought you and Dr. Pendleton over to Talico.”
“Dr. Pendleton! I completely forgot. How is he? Is he okay?”
“Oh, he’s fine. He’s staying with a colleague at the university. He’ll probably drop by Talico once you’re back. But Kayode said he was really shaken when they picked him up.”
“First, let me ask you: is it true that you jumped from the navy compound to the van?”
“I– I think so. I don’t remember exactly, but I think that’s what I was trying to do. What did they see?”
“Maria said it was the most surreal thing she had ever seen. One moment, she was glancing down the street to see if you were coming and the next, a roughly sphere shaped volume appeared in front of the van. She said she could actually see it grow in front of her and that for a few moments, she could actually see other people in the room you were just in.”
“I don’t remember that part.”
“Yeah, I think you had passed out by then. Dr. Pendleton’s account was even more vivid since he was inside the sphere.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he saw ‘the universe peeling away’. I don’t know if any other living person has ever seen what he’s saw. And only a handful of people have seen what Kayode and Maria saw.”
“And what’s that?”
“They actually witnessed a jump happening right in front of them. Normally, jumps are conducted at least 1000 meters from any other object. More typically, it’s several kilometers. So it’s rare to even see much of anything. But they actually saw it happening just a couple meters away. And you never see a jump happening in atmosphere. You know what you did should be impossible, right?”
“Err– yeah, I heard something about that. That jumping a living thing to somewhere with atmosphere would kill it.”
“Yeah, it’s true. It’s the first thing they teach us about jumping. You can’t jump in atmosphere. And it’s not like they haven’t tried. Every few years, some poor jump pilot decides to risk it. They try a variety of methods: reducing pressure, different enclosures, suspended animation, etc. Nothing. Every time, the test subject dies on transfer or shortly thereafter from brain aneurysm or shock or explosion. Except for you.”
“Wow, if I’d known all that, I don’t think I would have tried.”
“So how’d you do it?”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to say. You can’t put the cat back in the bag, whatever that means. But by now, the navy would know that it was possible. Given enough time, they’d figure out how I did it. I didn’t want the military to be the only ones who knew how to do it. So I said, “I got this idea when they said that jumping into atmosphere was fatal. The problem isn’t the atmosphere, the problem is that you’re trying to push both of them into the same spot.” I held up one of the left over eggs in one hand, another egg in my other hand. Then I brought the first egg down on top of the second. Egg guts everywhere.
“Okay, thank you for the visual. I didn’t really need it but I follow you so far.”
“So then, suppose you want to take this egg,” I gestured to another egg that I picked up in my left hand. “And put it where this other egg is,” I pointed to another egg with my right hand.
“I don’t think I understand your–”
“You swap them.” I picked up both eggs and switched their positions.
Brian’s jaw dropped open. He said, “Wait, you’re telling me … that you swapped positions with the space next to the van?”
I smiled and said, “Yup.”
“How– how is that even possible? What, you did two jumps simultaneously?”
“I guess so.”
“But … how do you even do that second jump? You’re saying that you brought that space next to the van to your original location?”
“But, you can only jump things that are around you. You have to be at the center of whatever you’re jumping.”
“Ah, as to that, you should talk to Dr. Pendleton.”
“So, Brian, do you often spend the night in my apartment? I mean, it’s a little strange since you’re married to my best friend who I can barely remember and all.”
“Hah, no, this is the first time I’ve spent the night. And the doctors and nurses were here for most of the first part of that.”
“Oh, so you weren’t the one who put me in my pajamas?” I asked him archly.
Brian started sputtering, “Goodness, no! No, nothing like that. It was one of the nurses. One of the female nurses. I’m only here because the doctors said you should have a familiar face here when you regained consciousness. They thought it might help.”
“It really did. I’m not sure what I’d do by myself.”
“Well, you’re about to find out.”
Apprehension. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve got get back to Talico at some point. And I think you could still use some time away from the office. Do you think you’ll be okay on your own?”
I thought about it. “I’m scared, Brian. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. All I remember of my life is a few days here and there in the past week. My whole life has been ships exploding around me, people telling me what to do, people dying… But it’s all I know. I only know how to do one thing and when I’m not doing that … I don’t know who I am.”
Brian held my hand and said, “You’re Sascha Lopez. You’re a jump pilot, a damned good one. In the last week, you’ve done things that no one else thought possible. But you’re more than that. You’re a good person. You have people who love you, even if you don’t remember them.”
“I want to believe that, I really, really do. But what if I never recover my memories? Who will I be, then?”
“You’re still the same person inside. And if you don’t recover your memories, you’ll make new ones.”
Brian took off for Talico that afternoon but said Maria would be stopping before evening. That meant that I only had to worry about being alone for a couple hours. For as long as I could remember, people were shuffling me around and telling me what I had to do. Now that they weren’t there, I found that I wasn’t sure what my life was about. I didn’t like getting pushed around all the time, but at least then, my life had a clear purpose. Oddly, having all the pressure off was quite stressful.
I spent some time with Jarvis. He was a good cat. He was a little bossy, but not overly demanding. He just wanted to be scratched and played with. Ah, my life had purpose again.
I suppose I could have left the apartment, but there was still so much I wanted to know about myself and it seemed like this was as good a place as any to find those things out. I felt a little voyeuristic rifling through my own belongings, illogical though that may be. I know I would mind if a stranger started looking through my things and for all intents, I was a stranger to my former self.
Here’s what I discovered: I don’t have much appreciation for art, I had a number of travel books, and I had a guitar. Could I play the guitar? I picked it up and started strumming. For a moment, it felt like my hands knew what they were doing and they arranged themselves in seemingly familiar patterns. But it sounded awful. Maybe I was good at pretending to play guitar.
One surprising fact I discovered about myself was that I knew a number of different languages. I didn’t know them well, but I could more or less read in three. I wondered if it was something I picked up as an adult or if I grew up knowing them.
The medicine cabinet was pretty generic. No prescription drugs, some pain relievers, anti-biotic. The towels and toiletries were also fairly neutral. But I did seem to have a curious bath toy that– oh, that wasn’t a bath toy. Ah, okay, that was a little embarrassing. Backing away from the bathroom now…
I went back to my bedroom and opened the armoire. My clothes were nondescript. The red dress I was currently wearing seemed to be the most interesting thing I owned. I also had a surprising number of shoes for what I considered to be a rather bland wardrobe. I was a little disappointed, I had hoped that my life would be more interesting. There seemed to be very little in the apartment to indicate the kind of personality of the person living there.
Then I saw the computer. Ah, that probably had more information. At the very least, it would have correspondence. Eagerly, I turned it on. User name and password. What? I had a password? Ach. I had no idea what it would be. I tried the obvious things like ‘jarvis’, ‘talico’, ‘password’, etc. No luck.
Well, there was a TV. I turned it on.
That turned out to be a mistake.
“What we do know is that Jump Pilot Sascha Lopez is somehow at the center of all this. We have not been able to reach her for comment, but there is now little doubt that she was somehow involved in an incident that downtown residents are calling ‘terrifying’. Police have cordoned off several blocks adjacent to the Navy base where the incident took place. Tanda Queros was on the scene earlier yesterday and had this to say.”
“As you can see behind me, Navy personnel are heavily armed and have set up large screens to block the view of what residents are saying was the site of a mysterious science experiment. I’m here now with Rachel Marcus, one of the first witnesses. Rachel, can you tell us what you saw?”
The screen switched to an outside street view. I didn’t recognize it. But I was guessing that was the area that I jumped to. There was a reporter standing next to some older lady. The reporter said, “It was a real quiet day. There wasn’t anything there in the morning, and I was just there on my way to breakfast. Then I come out and walked over and there was just this thing. It looked like — like something had taken a big circle out of the street and sidewalk and just scooped it out and put something else in there.”
“How did it make you feel?”
“Well, at first, I thought it was an art thing or something. But then I remembered it wasn’t there before breakfast and I didn’t hear anything. Then a bunch of soldiers came out of the navy base and that’s when I started getting scared.”
The screen switched back to the anchor man in the newsroom. He said, “That was Tanda Queros earlier yesterday. She’s back at the same site now. Tanda, is there anything new to report?”
The screen split in two and on the right side, I saw the same outside view only it was starting to get dark and large construction vehicles could be seen. “Trevor, what we saw throughout the day were these construction vehicles coming in and out. Quite a lot of noise could be heard and it sounded like chiselling and scraping. You can see that the Navy has taken down the screens blocking the view, although police are still preventing people from entering.”
“Tanda, what do you see now in the area that was screened off?”
“All we can see is a large hole. The navy has not yet issued a statement, nor have they have denied that this was the result of a weapons test accident.”
“And how is Jump Pilot Lopez involved in all of this?”
“Well, Trevor, it’s unclear at this point. There was some speculation that the jump pilot that saved the Medusa was being kept against her will at the navy base, but the both the navy and Talico have denied this saying thag she was merely in intensive care earlier and was returned to Talico as soon as her condition was stable.” Hah! I laughed out loud at the lie. On the other hand, it was encouraging that both the navy and the jump corp were going along with the story. The reporter on the screen continued, “There is also speculation that Jump Pilot Lopez somehow caused this incident.”
“Thank you Tandsa. Here to comment more on that is Dr. Jackson from the Bankaler Institute of Technology Physics department.” The split screen disappeared and it went back to the newsroom. A formally dressed woman sat next to Trevor, the news anchor. He asked her, “Is there any possible truth to these rumors, Dr. Jackson?”
“I don’t know what all the rumors are, but most of them seem quite preposterous. A jump pilot simply can not jump while on a planet.” Hah! I laughed out loud again at the TV. Shows what she knows. I just did it!
“So is there any way she could have caused the incident?”
“Not that I can think of.”
“You’ve done some work with Talico Jump Corporation, isn’t that right?”
“I have worked on a few joint projects in industry with them, yes.”
“Did you know Ms. Lopez, Dr. Jackson?”
“Yes, I had interviewed her on a couple occasions through the course of my work.”
“And have you seen her since the events of the last few days?”
“I believe she is recuperating from a rather long tour of duty. So no, I have not yet had the chance to see her.”
“Some are saying that she was being held against her will at the navy base and is now a fugitive.” I couldn’t believe this! He already covered this and they said I wasn’t a fugitive. Why was he repeating it? I thought I heard something, maybe it was Jarvis knocking over something. But I ignored it.
“I don’t believe that’s the case, Trevor. Didn’t the navy already deny this?”
“What about rumors that the navy is involved in jump ship nova experiments?” Did I hear something else? I didn’t know, but this reporter was infuriating me.
“I can hardly comment on what the navy might or might not be doing. But it seems ludicrous to imagine that they would experiment with something like that on the planet.”
“There is also talk about war and that as we speak, a fleet from Volkan’s empire is on its way here.”
“You really shouldn’t be watching that.” Wow, the audio system was really good. That last part sounded like it was actually coming from my living room.
Oh wait, there really was someone standing in my living room.
I just sat there, a little shocked to see someone standing in my apartment. She was a rather large, solidy built woman and she practically bounded over to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. I awkwardly got up out of the chair and turned the TV off. I reached out my arm for a hand shake but she grabbed me in a bear hug and said, “Oh! It’s so good to see you conscious again, Sascha! We were so worried about you last night. And look at you!” She stepped back and took an appraising look at me. “I always thought you looked good in that dress. I would kill to have that figure. Really? No. What am I saying? I’d probably kill you for that figure. Hah!”
She turned around and walked back towards the front door of my apartment saying, “I knocked a couple times but you didn’t respond, so I let myself in.” The strange woman put my keys in a bowl on a little bowl next to the front door. She kicked off her shoes and knelt down next to Jarvis who had padded up to her. She said, “Hellooo Jarvis. Miss me? It’s only been a couple days!” Well, apparently Jarvis knew her. I figured this must be the one Brian told me about, Maria. She was a lot to take in.
She turned to me and saw that I still hadn’t said anything. “Oh, right, Brian said that you suffered a jump wipe.” She said, much more deliberately, “Hello. My name is Maria. Ma-ri-a. I am your friend. Frieeeend.”
“I’ve suffered amnesia, not an attack of stupid,” I said archly.
“Ho, still quick-witted as ever! Sorry, it’s just that I’ve never experienced this kind of thing before. Well, I guess you’re the one experiencing it. I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do. Do you remember anything?”
“Nothing before this week. I’ve been able to piece a few things toge–”
“Oh! I remember, hold on.”
Maria headed off to my bedroom. Of course, she knew this place better than I did at this point. After all, she wasn’t the one with amnesia. In a way, it felt like it was more her apartment than mine. I wondered if I would ever feel comfortable in it. Maria was pulling the bottom left drawer of my dresser out and reached inside. She came out with an envelope that had been taped to the bottom of the drawer above it, which she handed to me.
I asked, “What is it?”
“I dunno. I didn’t read it. You just told me that if something like this ever happened, you wanted me to give it to you.”
I glanced down at the envelope. The words, “In case of jump wipe…” were written across the front. Apparently, I had the foresight to anticipate this kind of situation. What sorts of things would I tell myself? I hoped it was more thoughtful than that first orientation video I watched of myself from when I was a punk. The envelope felt thick. It was a lot to take in.
Maria asked, “Are you going to read it?”
I looked up at her. “Maybe later. I’d rather talk to you now.”
Maria smiled at that. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Brian pretty much caught me up to current events, although he left out the part about me being a fugitive…”
“Alleged fugitive. Don’t worry, nobody’s after you. Talico gave a huge press conference about how you’re a hero and how thankful they were to the navy for taking care of you while you were in critical condition. There’s no way the navy could try to get a hold on you without public opinion turning against them.”
“What about the press? Are they trying to get a hold of me?”
“Oh sure, they can try. But Talico security is very good. You’re completely private here. They’ve got a full detail blocking their access to you.”
“That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through for just a single jump pilot.”
Maria cocked her head at me and asked, “How much do you know about jump pilots?”
“I know that we’re the ones that make it possible for the ships to jump from star system to star system.”
“Do you have any idea how rare jump pilots are?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. I know that there were three of us on a ship of a couple hundred. So that would make it about 1% of the crew.”
“The standard complement is two jump pilots per ship. They almost never go beyond that because it’s so rare to find people who can do it.”
“How rare is it?”
“Let me put it this way, there are about 23 million people on this planet right now. Out of that, only four people can do what you do.”
“Wow.” That put things into perspective. No wonder the navy was so keen to keep me. I might have been their only chance to experiment with the jump technology. I said, “I can see why I’m on the news, then.”
“Yeah, you’re pretty big news on this planet.”
It was a lot to take in. But it didn’t really answer my real questions. “Can you tell me anything about me? I mean, stuff that doesn’t have to do with my job?”
“Oh, sure, I can tell you all sorts of stuff. What do you want to know?”
“Well, that’s just it, I don’t even know where to begin asking. It’s just that … I have no idea who I am. I spent a couple hours looking through this apartment and it’s like, no one really lives here. There’s nothing here to tell me who I was or what kind of a person I am. All I can tell is that I’ve got crappy taste in art and I can’t play guitar.”
“What are you talking about? You’re a great guitar player.”
“Maybe I was, but I sure can’t play it now.”
Maria looked over to where my guitar sat. She said, “Was that what you tried playing?”
Maria walked over to the guitar and started plucking a couple strings. “Well, no wonder. This thing is horribly out of tune.”
“You have to tune these things?”
“You do if you’ve just let it sit there for several months.” She started fiddling with the knobs a the end. She said, “I can’t really play, but I can at least get the strings in right general relative pitch.”
“Where did I learn to play?”
“On the ships, of course. You have a ton of free time when you’re not actively jumping. Sometimes you’ll assist with long range scanning. But in general, there’s not a lot for civilians to do on military ships. So you spent a lot of time playing guitar, learning new languages, writing, and drawing.”
“Oh yeah, all the time. I’m surprise you aren’t drawing now.”
“I hadn’t thought to try.”
Maria finished tuning the guitar and passed it over to me. “Try now.”
I plucked a few strings, tentatively. It sounded better than before. My fingers seemed to have a better idea of what they were doing than I did. But a couple of the strings still sounded a bit off. I knew what I was supposed to do from watching Maria and I tuned the strings until they sounded right. Maria smiled. I moved my fingers softly over the strings, not plucking, just trying to familiarize them with the motions. My hands waved across the frets, pressing down in a couple places. There was something there. I could tell it was the beginning of something. I repeated the movements soundlessly until I was sure I had it right, although I’m not sure how I knew.
And then, my fingers danced and I played.
I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t have told you what I was playing or how I was doing it. But my fingers knew and I could feel the music. More than that, I could feel a part of me through the music. I could have wept. For the first time that I could remember, I connected with the person that I was before. This was a part of me, this was a part of who I was. The amnesia, the jumps, the war, the experiments … none of it mattered because it didn’t destroy this part of me. I was still here, somewhere.
And then it was over.
“Bravo!” Maria’s voice startled me.
I was a little embarrased and said, “Oh, thank you. I forgot that I wasn’t alone.”
“That was always one of my favorites of the pieces you played.”
“What was it?”
“It’s funny that your brain doesn’t remember the name of it, but your fingers remember how to play it.”
“It’s been the story of my life, lately.”
“I think it’s called something like Les Barricades Mysterieuses. It’s an old Earth song.”
“It’s very pretty. I wonder how long it took me to learn that.”
“You’ve been practicing it since before I knew you, so at least seven years.”
“We’ve known each other for seven years?”
“Or so. You’ve been with the Medusa for the last five or six but I still saw you a lot when the Medusa was docked.”
“I wish I could remember something of that.”
“Well,” she said cautiously, “you could always try the experimental MRP at Talico.”
“Memory Recovery Program.”
“There’s a memory recovery program?!”
“Why hasn’t anyone told me about this?”
“Well, they wouldn’t have had the facilities to do it either on the Medusa or at the navy base.”
“Still, it would have been nice to know.”
“Did I mention the part about it being experimental?”
“Yes, several times. What does that mean?”
“From what I understand, it’s not totally the reliable. Also, there are potential side effects.”
“Brain damage. Death.”
“Ah. I’m going to have to think about that a little more, then.”
“You do that. In the meantime, I can help you get re-acquainted with yourself.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“I’m going to take you out to dinner for your favorite type of food.”
“I have a favorite food?”
“Yeah, it’s called ‘sushi’.”
We were seated at a nice restaurant. The decor was subdued yet elegant. I liked this place. It had a quiet and homey feel to it. Maria had ordered for us and when the food arrived, I still didn’t recognize it. I poked skeptically at the soft fleshy block of … something … that was sitting on top of a smaller block of rice. Ever since Maria told me what we were going to eat, I was racking my brain trying to remember what ‘sushi’ was. Ironically, it was probably my concerted effort that was somehow preventing me from remembering what it was.
“What is it?”
“Oh, just try it. I’m telling you, you’re going to like it. It’s one of your favorites.”
“Well, it’s hard to deny a recommendation like that.” I popped it into my mouth. It was delicious! It was an amazing blend of different sensations. The rice was warm and soft, slightly sweet and vinegary. The block on top of it was so tender that it nearly melted in my mouth. The taste reminded me of a summer day on a beach.
“Oh, very much so.” And then it hit me. I’d been here before. Not only did I know that, but I remembered it. I remembered this place. “This is fish. Maguro?”
“Well, the local equivalent. But yeah.”
“It’s funny how tastes and smells can trigger a memory.”
“You remember something?”
“This is where you told me that you got engaged.”
“Hah, good memory. That was, what, six years ago? You were at my wedding, too.”
I didn’t remember that. But something else occurred to me. I said, “You have a daughter.”
She beamed. “Actually, two now! But you haven’t seen the second one. She was born shortly after you took off on your mission. I thought having one kid was tough. With two, it’s nearly impossible. But it’s so good to finally get out of the house.” She sighed. “It’s funny, there’s so much that I want to catch you up on over the last couple months. But it’s like you’ve got 30 years to catch up on first.”
Later, when I was alone in my house, I opened the letter that I had written to myself:
If you’re reading this, then I guess it happened again. Wow, this is weird. How do I even write a letter to myself? Do I use ‘we’ or ‘I’? The last few years have been pretty rough on the Medusa and we were hit with a jump wipe or three on some of the longer missions. (Okay, ‘we’ sounds too pretentious. I’m dropping that, but you get the idea.) Anyways, possibly multiple jump wipes happened over the last few years. I don’t really remember. Hah, that was a little joke.
Anyways, where to begin? Your name is ‘Sascha Lopez’ and you’re a jump pilot for the Talico Jump Corporation, although you probably know that part by now. I’m writing this letter on the eve of a pretty big, top secret mission. I probably shouldn’t be writing this down, but the mission involves a very long series of jumps over the course of three months. There are three of us jump pilots so if all goes well, I shouldn’t suffer anything but a few short term jump wipes for the first couple months. But the last month involves double duty jumps over 20 days or so. That could lead to a pretty severe jump wipe. It’s even possible that I’ll completely lose all memory from before.
That’s why I’m writing this letter. I wanted you to know that I thought this might happen, but I agreed to it anyways. I know, that’s not much comfort. If it was me, that wouldn’t really be enough and heck, you are me. But believe me, there are some things that I’d rather forget and a total jump wipe wouldn’t be so bad.
In fact, in some ways, I think I’d welcome it. I know, that’s kind of a sick thing to wish on yourself. But there you go. If I were to be honest with myself, I’d admit that I’d rather just forget about it all and start over. I mean, you’ve got quite a bit saved up. You could totally quit now and just go to some new planet, meet new people, make new friends, the whole bit. What’s so great about your old life?
Okay, it’s not all bad. I don’t mean to be all glum. We’ve got friends. Maria and Kayode at Talico. But Maria is just about to have her second baby and Kayode is completely busy with his band now. Who else? Brian and Robert are the other jump pilots going on the mission. Brian’s pretty cool, all things considered. I don’t know Robert that well, but he seems nice. I think he might have a crush on me, which could get awkward over the next three months. I guess we’ll see. So who does that leave? Jarvis? That’s your cat, by the way. He’s kind of a bastard, but he’s a good guy.
What I’m trying to tell you is that everyone in your old life is moving on. It’s time for you to move on, too. But your memories are holding you back. Just take me for an example. I just volunteered for a stupid life-threatening mission. Why? Old memories. They’re just baggage. You’re better off without them.
Go off and start a new life. Take that trip back to Earth that you always dreamed about. Can you imagine? That’s where humanity began. I hear they’ve got great sushi.
P.S. If anyone tells you about the MRP, don’t do it. That shit’ll mess you up.
Maria came by in the morning again to check up on me. “Sleep well?”
“Probably the best sleep I’ve had since the jump wipe. It was a nice change to know where I was when I woke up.”
“Thanks for showing me the letter. I read it last night.”
“Did it help?”
“I’m not sure. It didn’t really tell me much I didn’t know.”
“What did you want to know?”
I thought about it and said, “It would have been nice to know more personal stuff, things that I thought were important to me.” I tried to think of what else would have been nice to know. “Ah, it would have been nice to remind me what my password is.”
“Password?” Maria looked confused.
“You know, for my computer.”
“You don’t need a password. I mean, you could if you set it up. Here,” she opened the laptop and put it in front of me. “Put your right hand over the center of the keyboard and hold it there for a few seconds.”
I did so and the computer beeped on to life. Oh. That made sense.
“Boy, you and your fascination with the 20th century. It’s like you remember more from then than you do from now. I’ll never understand it.”
I put the computer away. I could look at it later. I said, “So, is there anything I should be doing today? Like going in to work or something?”
“Well,” she said hesitantly, “they have been asking about you, actually. But I think you could use a couple more days.”
“What’s going on at work?”
“I’m not really sure. I’ve been on maternity leave, but Brian said that it’s pretty critical right now. There’s talk about sending all the jump pilots up again. He asked me to see if you’re ready to come back. But I told him that you still need time.”
Uh oh. I had a bad feeling about this. “I think I might have an idea about what this is about.”
“What is it?”
How much should I say? “Would it be hard to arrange a trip out of this system in the next couple days?”
“Wait, what? That’s impossible. You have to book those sorts of things weeks in advance and they’re really expensive.” Maria’s eyes widened and she said, “Are the rumors true? Is — is something bad coming?”
Oh no, I didn’t want to panic her. I didn’t even know for sure that Volkan’s fleet was headed here. I lied, “Of course not. I don’t know anything, remember? I was just wondering if I could fit in a quick vacation before I had to go in.”
Maria laughed nervously. “Oh gosh, you really scared me for a second. No, you probably don’t have time to go off planet for a vacation. But there are a couple swamps on the other side of Tarseron that aren’t completely toxic. I hear they’re nice.”
“Sounds enticing. But I should really face facts and get back to work.”
Maria brought me to work as I didn’t know how to get there on my own. She used the trip as an excuse to bring her baby in. I’m not sure what created more of a commotion, me coming back to work or the baby. But I was thankful for the diversion.
Brian found me and ushered me into a conference room full of people. Most of the people were in civilian attire, but there were a few in military uniforms as well. I recognized Colonel Yancy and Lieutenant Commander Fields. They were in the middle of a heated discussion but it all stopped when I showed up.
I asked Brian, “What’s going on?”
One of the military people said, “The rumors are true, there’s a squadron of jump ships coming in fast from Kuvel.”
I had heard as much when I was held at the navy base. When I was there, I wondered if it was just a ruse to keep me going along with the experiments. But now, I realized it must have been true.
Someone I didn’t recognize said, “Sascha, the navy is going to send the three frigates currently in range. They aren’t asking for any more jump pilots. But they’re specifically requesting you.”
I had a bad feeling about that.
“They’re being very cagey about it.” I could feel the tension in the room increasing as the man spoke. Clearly, this had not been a very open or easy discussion. “Can you tell us why they want you so badly?”
I glanced at Colonel Yancy. She was glaring at me. Before I could say anything, she said, “Ms. Lopez is privy to some very sensitive information. If she were to divul–”
I blurted out, “They want to use me as a weapon.” The room was stunned into silence. “They want to send me up and annihilate the invasion force before it gets here.”
The room erupted into chaos.
“You caused quite a stir back there,” said Brian. We were on a balcony of the third floor of the Talico building. The meeting was still going on. Nothing was resolved but the higher ups on both sides decided it would be better if i wasn’t there while they argued about me. I couldn’t agree more.
I was just looking out over the city. Maria had told me a few things about this city. It was the largest on Tarseron and the first one established when the planet was colonized. There were about 3 million people here alone. 3 million people from nothing in just less than a terran century. It seemed incredibly fast. But in a few days, they could all be dead.
What were the lives of a couple hundred people worth compared to millions? I stared out at the city. I just couldn’t take in the concept of millions of people. But in those millions were people like Maria. And there must be people that I once knew and loved. So it should be an easy call to kill a few hundred to save millions, right?
“Brian, have you ever killed anyone?”
“Wow, you’re not much for small talk.”
“I’m serious,” I said, “have you ever been responsible for the death of another human being?”
He turned to me and said, “Then, no, I never have. Is it true, then? Did you really jump that ship into the sun?”
“I’ve never said it out loud. I guess that’s kind of stupid. As if saying it out loud would make it somehow more horrible than–”
“You didn’t have a choice.”
“Of course I had a choice. You always had a choice.”
“But they were going to die anyways. They were going to nova their own ship to take the rest of us out. It was suicide. All you did was save a couple hundred people who would have died otherwise.”
“I know. I know you’re right and I’ve made the same argument myself. But what if we were wrong? Maybe they weren’t going to nova. Maybe they would have changed their minds. Maybe people on the ship were trying to stop them. Maybe I could have stopped them some other way.”
“Look, there’s no sense in torturing yourself over this. You reacted to the situation. You didn’t have to think.”
“I know. But now I do have the time to think.”
“We’re talking about tens of millions of people on this planet and you’re worried about a couple hundred people?”
“Look, suppose you had to kill me to save a hundred people.”
“Or the Captain? Suppose you knew that you had to kill her to save the ship. Could you do it?”
“That’s totally different.”
“Why? Because she’s your wife? Because you know her? Well, a couple hundred people might be a lot less than a million, but someone knows and loves each of them. And I hate to say this, but I don’t know any of you.”
“It’s different because they’re the ones that are trying to kill us.”
“Really? Because my memory may be a little fuzzy but weren’t we the ones who invaded their planet to ‘acquire’ Dr. Pendleton? How many people did we kill for that?”
“They were going to force Dr. Pendleton to–”
“To what? To jump their enemies into the sun?”
“Look, nobody’s forcing you to do anything.”
“Really? Then why was I being held against my will at the navy base these last few days?”
“So some people in the navy are a bit overzealous, but you’ve also got friends in the navy who were trying to get you out.”
“And maybe there were people on that hostile ship that were trying to stop the nova.”
Brian looked out on the city. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t easy for you.”
“I wish I were in the military. They get trained for this sort of stuff, don’t they? It’s their job to be able to kill if necessary. I just don’t know if I can do it.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.” I wanted to talk about something else. Then something occurred to me. “Brian, why is it that we’re not part of the military?”
“Oh, that goes way back. For one thing, jump pilots tend to have temperaments that are … not well suited for the military. There are so few of us around that every time a new potential jump pilot is discovered, they get heavily recruited from an early age.”
“How old were we when we got recruited?”
“I was twelve terran but I was on a bigger planet where everyone gets tested. I think you were about sixteen terran. You might have had the option to go navy and then get the training at an outside corp. But there’s another problem with that.”
“Jumping is a very delicate and extremely … critical process. One little thing goes wrong and the entire ship gets killed.”
“Does that happen often?”
“It happens. It’s pretty rare but it happens every once in a while. More so in a war, as you might imagine.”
“So wouldn’t it be better if the navy had its own jump pilots, trained for war?”
“You’d think. But the few times they tried that have ended up badly. When you’re in the military, you follow orders. There isn’t any question. So a jump pilot in the military might be more inclined to ignore some of the warning signs and that–”
“Leads to more people getting killed.”
“Yup. So now, jump pilots are almost all civilians now. It’s important that they always feel like they have a choice.”
“As long as the navy feels its own lives are the ones in jeopardy. Forcing me to killing enemy ships is fine.”
“That’s not fair. We don’t know that the navy would force you.”
“I know that Colonel Yancy would.”
Brian didn’t argue that.
“So are you going to stay?”
“And possibly be helpless to do anything if they do decide to nova the planet? All things being equal, I’d rather not be dead.”
“It doesn’t sound like your options are all that great.”
“No.” I wish I’d had more time. I wish I knew more about what was going on. I said, “In the end, I think it’s not really much of a choice. The 23 million people on this planet may be in danger. I don’t have the luxury of philosophizing or sitting this one out. I have to go.”
James, one of the assistants came came up to the balcony to fetch me. He was taking me to the office of somebody named ‘Dira’. I got the impression that he was just in the meeting that I had left a few minutes ago.
“How’s the meeting going?”
“About the same as when you left.” He was smiling, but I could tell he was worried.
“I’ve been thinking. Maybe it’d be better for all of us if I just–”
“Don’t worry Sascha, nobody’s going to force you to do anything. That’s why I’m taking you to see Dira. She’ll explain everything.”
Oh. Okay. I guessed I would find out soon enough. Something else occurred to me. I asked, “Is it true that you guys have some sort of way to recover memory?”
“‘You guys’? Hey, you’re one of us. We’re here for you. But yeah, you’re talking about the MRP, the memory recovery program. I can look into it for you if you want, but it might be too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t really know much about it, but I think it’s supposed to be done right after a jump wipe.”
Dammit. “No, never mind. I wasn’t sure about doing it anyways.” Another thing to be pissed at the navy for.
“Sascha, you do not have to do this.” This was said to me by an older woman named Dira. She dressed like a bureaucrat with her glasses but something in her face made me feel like she meant what she said. We were sitting in her office. I was under the impression that she was some sort of representative for me, maybe for all the jump pilots. She was telling me that I didn’t have to go with the navy if I didn’t want to.
I asked her, “Did we know each other?”
It was her eyes. She had very compassionate eyes. She smiled and said, “Yes. We did. I know all the jump pilots. I am the ombudsman.”
“It is someone you turn to when you have a complaint about the system.”
“I’m not sure that I have a complaint. Not with the company, anyways. I didn’t like being detained by the navy, but that’s not really a complaint.”
“I also look out for your general welfare. I do not have any power over the navy, but it is my responsibility to make sure that you truly consent in your actions and are not being coerced in any way. You have undergone a great deal of stress and trauma lately, so it would be difficult to even measure consent.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“I canot tell you that. I can only tell you that you don’t have to do this.”
“But what happens if the ships attack us?”
“It is the responsibility of the navy to defend us.”
“And if they can’t? What if they decide to nova the planet?”
“There is an evacuation plan. You would be safe.”
“Evacuation plan? For 23 million people? How many people do you think would make it?”
“So it’s not really a choice then, is it?”
She said, “I know that you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. And it’s possible that you are right. The difference between you going up or not could be the difference between millions of people dying or not. Or maybe not. It’s also possible that if you went because you felt you had to, that you’d jeopardize the ship in some other way.”
“But those conjectures aren’t all equally likely are they? And if this is to be a war, then I’m justified or maybe even compelled to … to do what needs to be done.”
Dira took off her glasses. “I was a survivor of the Iver 7 bombings.”
That threw me completely off guard. “The what?”
“Ah, sorry, I keep forgetting about your amnesia.” She chuckled a little. “Well, it was all before your time, anyways. But there was a war and one side thought the other had a giant weapon and there were bombings and retaliation bombings.”
“Which side were you on?”
“Side? We were just a family. I was a child. My older brother, who seemed so big and powerful to me, was only five years old. I barely knew the name of the other country or why we had to hide in the basement. But it didn’t matter. My entire family was killed, except for me.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s been a long time. Those wounds … well, they don’t sting as they once did. But I tell you this because I have lived a long time and I think more atrocity has been done because people felt that it was necessary than through any concerted desire for evil.”
I thought about what she had said. “So you’re saying that I should never just do something because I feel I have to.”
She nodded. “I’m saying that you always have a choice.”
I was back in the conference room but now it was just me and Colonel Yancy. I could tell she was not happy with the idea of having to sit in a meeting with me. But it was the only way that I was going to agree to go up. I said, “I have some conditions.”
“The navy does not respond to threats or ultimatums. We do not accept your conditions.”
“Without even hearing them? Then fine, I’m not going up.”
“You would doom 23 million people just because your petty demands aren’t being met?”
“If I’m going to do this, I need certain things to succeed. If you’re not willing to even hear me out, then I don’t have a chance.”
She glared at me. Did this woman ever have another expression on her face? Maybe she just hated me. Or maybe it was the fact that she couldn’t control me in the same way that she could everything else in her life. She finally said, “Fine. What conditions do you need to be met in order to succeed?”
I gave her my list.
She looked it over. “Okay, this looks reasonable. We would have done most of thi–” She looked at me. I guess she got to the last item in the list. “No, I will not dance like a chicken for you.”
I smiled. Yeah, I would never have made it in the navy.
Brian dropped me back at my apartment. It had been an exhausting day. I had spent the previous two hours signing forms, getting debriefed and briefed for the next ‘contract’, learning (or should I say ‘relearning’?) some of the major guidelines regarding jumping, etc. One of the surprising ones was that we are supposed to only do one jump per week. Boy, did I blow that one. No wonder I felt so completely exhausted. I just wanted to soak in a warm bath and fall asleep for a week.
But the day wasn’t over yet. There was just one more thing I had to do.
There was a knock at the door. Ah, this was it.
I got up and answered the door. It was Kyra. As soon as she saw me, she gave me a warm embrace. I embraced her back. She smelled good. It was good to see her again.
“I’m so glad to see that you’re okay! I was worried sick when you just jumped out of there.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Kyra.”
She came in and took off her shoes. She said, “So, what’s this all about? I just got ‘orders’ to come in and see you. I was trying to stay away until we were back at the Medusa and–”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What are you talking about? I heard you were going back and the last shuttle leaves tomorrow morning.”
“No, I know. It’s just, I don’t want you on that shuttle.”
She took a step back. She looked hurt. This was harder than I thought it would be. “What?”
“I want you to stay here.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. All the words that I had practiced in my head seemed to dry up. I couldn’t express myself. I said, “Because you’ve always been there.”
“And so now you want me out? What, did I do something? Are you afraid that … that I’m cursed, and that bad things keep happening when I’m around?”
“No! No, nothing like that. It’s just that … my whole life, the part that I remember, consists of this past week. And in that week, you’ve been the best friend I’ve had. I just don’t want–”
“You want to protect me? You want me out of harms way?”
I nodded dumbly.
“Oh, Sascha. You poor, poor girl. I understand.”
I felt something akin to relief. “So you’ll stay?”
“Of course not.”
“B- but I thought you said you understood.”
“Oh sure, I totally understand how you feel. I feel like that, too. But I’m not going to stay. For one thing, I’m in the navy and we’re the ones who jump into harms way to protect people like you. For another, what makes you think that staying on this planet is going to be any safer than going up on the Medusa?” That was a good point. I hadn’t thought about that. “But finally, we are friends. Maybe more than that. And friends don’t tell friends what to do, even if you think it’s for my own good.”
But there was another reason I wanted Kyra to stay here. One that I was ashamed of. “There’s something else.”
“What is it?”
“You know what they wanted me to do.”
“Oh.” She didn’t say anything else. She just put her hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t want to do it. But if it ends up … I don’t want you to be there if I–”
“Shh…” She put her finger on my lip. She said, very softly, “I was there last time, too. You didn’t have any choice. You did what you had to, to save us.”
“I don’t want to be a murderer.”
“You’re not a murderer. You wouldn’t even kill someone to defend yourself. And you’ll do everything in your power to keep from having to do something like that. I know. And that’s what makes you worth jumping into harms way for.” She held me tightly and whispered into my ear, “That’s why I’m not going to leave you to face this alone, Sascha.”
I turned my face towards hers. At that moment, I knew what she wanted because I wanted it, too. My lips parted to say her name and we kissed.
Kyra spent the night after that and we talked some more. We did more than talk.
It was a good night.
The next morning, Kyra drove us to the shuttle launch point. Dr. Pendleton met us there, nervously eying the various military personnel at the port. Kyra told him, “Don’t worry, they’re not going to kidnap you. Too many witnesses around.”
He looked like he didn’t know whether to take her seriously or not. She smiled. He said, “Ah yes. Very droll.” He turned to me and said, “I’ve mixed a few more doses. There should be fewer side effects now, although I haven’t had time to fully test them.” He handed a small box to Kyra and said, “I trust that you’ll be handling the injections if … if it comes to that.”
I said, solemnly, “I know this must be difficult for you.”
“Since there may be my own countrymen on those ships heading here? I may be from Kuvel, but if they really are considering to nova the planet, then I cannot condone that.”
“Do you ever worry about what the people on Kuvel would think?”
“I know there are some who would call me a traitor. But there are more who would do the same as me if they could. Voklan has enslaved us and if any are fighting with him now, they must be stopped. My conscience is clear.” He looked me in the eyes. He said, “As should yours. You did not bring this on them.”
“Thank you doctor. For everything.”
He nodded to both of us. “Well, I should be going. Despite your assurances, Ms. Tamanaha, I think I prefer the company of my peers to yours.”
“I’m a little nervous.” We were seated inside the shuttle and due to take off any moment.
“About the upcoming battle? Yeah, that’s natural.”
“No, about the shuttle launch. I’ve never done this before.”
“What are you talking about, Sascha? You’ve done this a bunch of times before.”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember any of those times. For all intents and purposes, this is my first.”
“Oh, I see what you mean.” Then she turned to me a little mischievously and said, “Then I guess last night was your first–”
“Whoah, I … wow, I didn’t think about that. But you know, it really might have been my first time.”
“I don’t remember. But I also don’t know of any prior relationships. Did I have any previous relationships?”
“We didn’t really talk about it. You certainly never mentioned a former girlfriend. Although…”
“Well, there were some rumors?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t be saying this, but everyone knows that you and the Captain were friends from before and there were rumors that before she was married to Brian …”
“Really? Are they true?”
“How would I know? I never asked you before. I mean, it’s my captain we’re talking about, here. That’s not the sort of thing you inquire unless you’re more than just friends.”
“And now we’re more than just friends and I don’t remember.”
I thought about it. I said, “I guess I don’t really care. I mean, I probably would if I remembered. If I really was involved with your captain at one point, it would have been important to me to remember it. But now … that’s all she is to me, ‘your captain’. I don’t remember her any other way. And if I never do recover that part of my life, I’m not sure I would miss it.”
The shuttle pilot announced that we were cleared for takeoff. Kyra held my hand. The engines roared to life and we blasted into the sky. We flew higher and higher. I liked my life the way it was.
It was like I was seeing the space station for the first time. It was so incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t believe how big it was. We were in geosynchronous orbit over Tarseron and seeing the station so close, it felt like it was bigger than the planet. I could see three large ships and several smaller vessels docked at various locations.
I asked, “Which one’s the Medusa?”
Kyra pointed to the large ship closest to us. “That one. You can see that they’re making repairs to Hangar 2.”
It was beautiful. Of the large ships, it was the smallest. Something about it looked very sleek, even if one of its hangars was damaged. And sure enough, I could see a large gash roughly corresponding to the intersection of a sphere and the ship. Three or four people in space suits were welding it on the outside. “Do you think they’ll finish in time?”
“That’s a pretty big repair. I suspect they’re just trying to keep it in one piece for now.”
“What are the other two ships?”
“The one on the left is the Aegis.” It was a little bit larger than the Medusa, mostly in its width. It looked roughly like a shield. “That was the ship that saved our ass. She’s mostly built for defense. She has a CMPC array that can knock out almost any current missle system.”
“CMPC?” I asked.
“Counter Measure Pulse Cannon. If she gets out early enough, she can keep a ship disabled indefinitely.”
“And what’s the third ship?” It was sharp and pointed, quite a bit larger than the Aegis and easily twice as large as the Medusa.
“Ah, that’s the Hydra. If the Medusa is built for speed and the Aegis is built for defense, then the Hydra is built for offense.” I could believe it. It looked like a destroyer. “The Hydra was a few systems away, which is why she didn’t join us for the last battle. But she’s ready and here now. If they sent her, that means the navy is taking this threat very seriously.”
“Do they know when the other ships will reach us?”
“At this point, we’re not totally certain that they’re headed here. But it should be a few days. My guess is that we’ll each jump out to one of the three neighboring systems of Tarseron in the direction of Kuvel. It’ll make us a little harder to spot. With luck, we’ll ambush them in the Carvis system. They have to go through there and I think we outgun them, especially if they’re not expecting us.”
“Is that likely?”
“It’s impossible to tell. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about war, it’s that it rarely goes like you’d expect.”
We spent the rest of the day in the space station. The crews from all the ships were there and it was pretty crowded. It was like a small city in here. I was amazed at how many people there were. Kyra seemed to know quite a few. She re-introduced me to a number of people from the Medusa and introduced me to a few that she knew from the Aegis and the Hydra. I didn’t see the Captain, though.
“The Captains of all three ships and their executive teams are all in a big meeting discussing strategy for the battle. But I’d be surprised if it was much different from what I guessed earlier. The other option would be to just wait for them to come to Tarseron, but that seems riskier and I just can’t see them being that cautious.”
“Are we sure it’s going to be a battle?”
“You don’t come in that fast without any communications to a non-allied star system. There’s no question that there’s going to be a battle. The only question is where and who wins.”
Everyone seemed to be headed in the same direction. “Where’s everyone going?”
“Probably to ‘The Bar’.”
“There’s a bar in this station? It really is like a small city.”
“Well, it’s not really a bar so much as it’s a place where you can get alcohol. You’ll see. Everyone that’s non-essential for tomorrow is going to be there drinking heavily. It can get a little rowdy at times on the night before a mission, but it’s always fun.”
“Have I been there before?”
“Hmm… I’m not sure that you have. I think you tended to stay in your quarters. Would you rather just head in for the night?”
“You know what? I feel like doing something new today. Not just new to me since I got amnesia, but new to me, ever. Feel like a night of heavy drinking?”
“Nah, I can’t. I’m one of the essentials. I have to be ready to prep for the jump in case it happens. But you’re more than welcome to. They’re certainly not going to have you jump tomorrow. With luck, you won’t have to do any jumping. So you’re free to drink as much as you want tonight.”
“No thanks. I want to check out The Bar, but I think I’ve had enough of waking up in a haze, not knowing where or who I was.”
“Hah, good point.”
‘The Bar’ was one of the central hubs of the station. It turned out that it wasn’t named for the fact that it served drinks, but for the rather prominent structural support bar that ran down the center of the hub. But at some point, someone got the bright idea to actually turn it into a bar and now there was a circular serving table in the center and four bartenders rapidly dispensing drinks. We ended up finding a spot with a few of the marines, including one that I recognized.
“Ms. Lopez! Great to see you again! I’m glad you made it out okay.” He got up and gave me a large hug. Kyra and I sat next to the marines who made some room for us.
“Private Lee, it’s good to be out.”
“Aw, we’re at The Bar. You can just use ‘Lee’ or hey, call me ‘Wei’.”
“Well then, ‘Wei’. You can call me Sascha.”
“So, ‘Sascha’, I think this is the first time I’ve seen you in this joint. We gotta celebrate. Whaddaya having?”
“Oh, I wasn’t sure abou–”
“You have to drink! Beer’s on me.” He grabbed one of the bottles on the table in front of him and tossed it to me.
I looked at it dubiously. I asked, “Is it any good?”
Wei smiled and said, “It’s an experience you’ll never forget.”
I turned to Kyra and asked, “Really?”
She replied, “Ah, I wouldn’t have put it exactly that way, but … it is a rather memorable drink.”
“Well, I did say I wanted to try something new.” I popped the cap and took a big swig. I almost immediately regretted it. I gasped. Somehow it managed to burn my throat and make me want to retch at the same time. The flavor … I wasn’t sure how to describe it. I said, “It tastes like something died in my mouth.”
“I know!” said Lee. He punched one of the other marines in the shoulder and said, “Gupta, didn’t I just say that?”
“You said it tasted like something died in the vat. I like Sascha’s description better. Much more vivid.” He turned to me and said, “Hey Sascha, I know you don’t remember me, but I’m Gupta. We were are together on the mission to acquire Dr. Pendleton.”
Oh. I hadn’t realized I was part of that mission. “Who else was there?”
“All the marines: Lee, Vega, Frey, Carson, and me.” He pointed to four of the other men at the table. They were all quite large and they seemed to be involved in some sort of drinking game involving coins and glasses of beer. “Oh, and the sarge, of course. Billy was piloting and Kyra was there to make it look official.”
Ah, Billy. I remembered that name. He was the pilot who sacrificed himself to protect the rest of us in the first battle. “Did I make any jumps?”
“Just the one, when they started shooting at us from the ground. You were there in case of an emergency and that was the emergency.”
I saw the pilot from the shuttle, Becka Jain, approach the table. She looked a little subdued, but she smiled when she saw me. Private Lee got up and hugged her, too. Boy, he sure did seem affectionate tonight.
I turned to Gupta and asked, “Is he normally this outgoing? The last time I saw him, he was pretty reserved.”
Gupta smiled. “I think he got himself a little drunk.”
“Ah, nerves before the battle?”
“Hah, no, something far more terrifying.”
“What would that be?”
Gupta just pointed back at Lee. He was talking animatedly to Jain. She seemed to be responding to it. Ah, I remembered Ensign Lee saying something about Lee having a crush on Jain. I smiled. Gupta said, “Besides, it’s unlikely that the marines on the Medusa are going to see any action this time around.”
Kyra explained, “The marines are a close-combat team. So they’d only be used if we were either being boarded or we boarded one of their ships. It’s unlikely that they would try to board us if we outnumber them. And without a fighter escort on the Medusa, it’s unlikely that we’ll deploy the Pegasus.”
Gupta said, “Exactly. But we’ll be there ready to go in the Pegasus, regardless. The marines are always ready.”
“Are the marines part of the navy?”
“No, we’re a separate branch of the military but we work closely with them. While we’re on the ship, we follow the chain of command.”
“So have you seen a lot of action in the marines?”
“I’ve seen my share.”
“Can I ask you something?” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Kyra giving me a warning glance.
Gupta saw Kyra’s glance but turned back to me and said, “Go ahead.”
I was suddenly self-conscious but I asked anyways, “Have you ever killed anyone?”
He sat back. “That’s generally not a question you ask a marine.” I started to say something but then he said, “It’s okay. I know why you’re asking. Word travels fast on a ship. And we all know what you did.”
I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed for asking, but also because he knew why I was asking. Gupta said, “No, don’t take it like that. You only did what you had to. We’re all very proud of you. And grateful, too. We wouldn’t be here having this conversation if it weren’t for you.”
I didn’t know what to say. Gupta put his hand on my shoulder. “To answer your question: I’ve had to take down three people in combat. I think about those three people still. You end up second guessing yourself a lot. You could go crazy trying to analyze it.”
“Tell me about it.”
“But in the end, you have to accept that you did the best you could at the time. Sometimes you make mistakes and hopefully, you learn from them and do better in the future. But in your case, I don’t see how you could have done anything better. They were going to die anyways. All you did was save the rest of us.”
“Thanks.” I guess he was right. I needed to stop thinking about it. I glanced over at the others. Private Lee seemed to be doing pretty good with Jain. The other marines were still involved in their game. I said, “So tell me, how does this game work with the coins and the cups?”
I woke up with a pounding headache and had no idea where I was. Dammit, I thought I was done with that.
Then it started to come back to me: the station, The Bar, some sort of game — oh that awful, awful beer. Suddenly, I had to throw up. I threw a desperate glance around the room and, ah, there — that must be the bathroom. I raced over and made it just in time. There a small shower in here. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the one in my apartment. But at this point, I would take anything. My head felt like it was stuffed with something. Everything was a little blurry, which made it hard to think. I remember being at the table with the marines and Sascha. I think Lee and Jain left together at some point. But I couldn’t remember how I got here. Speaking of which, where was here?
The shower helped some. I wasn’t quite as nauseated but my headache was still there. Worse, I could hear a persistent ringing in my head. Oh wait, that was the comm sitting on a desk by the bed.
I answered it.
“Gooood morning!” It was Kyra. She sounded entirely too cheerful.
“Technically.” I looked around the small room. I didn’t recognize anything. Ugh … the room started spinning again. “I feel like crap. Where am I?”
“You’re on the Medusa. We’re still docked at Acropolis. We’ll be taking off soon.”
“Do I need to be there to jump us out?”
“Oh no, Andul and Miranda will be the jump pilots for this mission. With luck, you won’t have to do anything. But I thought you might want to drop by to meet the other jump pilots.”
I thought about it. Well, I didn’t have anything better to do. “Yeah, sure. Just give me some time to recover.”
“You want me to send someone by to pick you up?”
“No, I’ll see if I can find my way back there. It’ll be good for me.”
I spent some time exploring the ship. It wasn’t very big but there were people everywhere. I had no idea what they were doing, but everyone seemed busy.
Eventually, I made it to Jump Central. Kyra was still there and she introduced me to the two people I didn’t recognize. “Kyra, this is Andul Park,” she gestured to the tall slender man, “and this is Miranda St. Peters,” she gestured to the petite woman.
I shook their hands. I asked Kyra, “What about Brian?”
“He’s still planet-side. Jump pilots rarely go on consecutive missions, especially after one as tough as the last one. Like I said, hopefully you won’t have to do anything on this mission.”
Andul said, “I know you don’t remember us, but we worked together a number of times, years ago. I’m sorry about Robert.”
Ah, the jump pilot who committed suicide on the mission. “Thank you, but I don’t remember him at all. Were either of you close to him?”
Miranda shook her head and said, “He was pretty new, he finished training earlier this year. But he was very excited to be part of the first mission.”
“How did he get chosen for the mission if he was so new?”
“The three of you were the only ones available when the mission started. Andul and I were brought in the next month to serve as reserves.”
“So what’s the plan?” I asked.
Kyra said, “It’s pretty much like I said. We’re going to jump out of here later today to the three different neighboring systems. Each of the ships will start setting up scanning passes and we’ll triangulate to find out more about the incoming squadron.”
“And then what?”
It turned out that much of war was spent waiting. A lot of the crew played cards. Some played board games. Kyra was pretty busy setting up the scans and reading the data. Andul, Miranda, and I were in the officer’s lounge. We weren’t officers, or even part of the navy. But we were welcome in the lounge out of a sign of respect. Sergeant Diallo, as the highest ranking marine, was also welcome here. He sat with us. I would have enjoyed hanging out with the marines again, but it was pretty crowded in the enlisted areas.
Diallo told me, “Gupta said you spent last night hanging out with my boys.”
“Yeah, what I remember of the night was fun.”
“Hah, he said you drank half of them under the table.”
“You missed a good time.”
“Believe me, I would rather have been there than stuck in a stupid meeting where I know I’m not going to learn anything new. All that brass, yappin’. We’re probably going to go just sit here the whole mission, anyways. Waste of time if you ask me.”
Miranda said, “But aren’t you here to protect the rest of us in case we get boarded?”
“Ship to ship boarding in space is actually pretty rare. There’s just too much that can go wrong even when you’re trying to board a friendly ship, let alone one that’s trying to keep you out. It happens in cases where one side far overpowers the other. But this upcoming battle, I think we’re pretty evenly matched.”
Miranda said, “Well, I’m glad you’re here. I feel safer already.” Andul rolled his eyes.
Diallo asked me, “So is it true that you don’t remember anything from before?”
“Yeah, I heard I was part of the team that extracted Dr. Pendleton.”
“Yup. You bailed us out once they started firing. Good thing, too. I think Billy, the pilot, was starting to panic. Poor kid. But I didn’t think you could jump like that, that close to the planet’s surface.”
Miranda said, “It’s true, you normally can’t. But Sascha’s a genius when it comes to this.”
Really? I hadn’t known. Andul said, “She’s done things that none of us have ever thought possible.”
I felt a little uncomfortable being the topic of conversation. I said, “But I don’t remember much of it.”
“Yeah,” said Andul, “the jump wipe. It happened to me a couple years ago, too.”
“Did you get your memories back?”
He nodded. “I was one of the first candidates for the MRP, the memory recovery program.”
“How was it?”
“It was … disorienting. I remember coming out of the coma, waking up in a hospital bed, not having any idea who I was. Those first few hours were very confusing. But eventually, I started to make some sense of it. I didn’t know who I was, but I understood that something had happened and that I was somehow broken.”
“Is that when they did the MRP?”
“They offered it and I accepted.”
“Do you remember the process?”
“Yes. It was like … becoming someone else. I didn’t really know who I was in the hospital, but after the first session, I knew. I didn’t … I knew I wasn’t actually the same person that I was, but eventually, that’s who I became. No, that’s not quite it. At first, I felt like I was having these memories pushed on me but after a while, I became the person in those memories.”
“Wow, spooky,” said Miranda.
Diallo said, “I’m glad I’m a marine.”
We all drank to that.
Kyra and I were in the observatory. We were orbiting Shandar-6, a large gas giant. It filled up half the view. There were impossibly long bands of orange, white, and blues across the planet. I asked Kyra, “How many people do you think have seen this view?”
She thought about it for a second. “Ships don’t normally come this close to a planet unless there’s a reason to. And there’s nothing important in this system. We’re only this close to the planet to try to avoid detection from the incoming hostiles. And Shandar is really only useful as a junction on the route between Tarseron and Kuvel. Normally ships don’t even come here because Pika and Veylo are more direct.” She looked at the storms forming below us. “So maybe only a handful of people have ever seen what we’re seeing now.”
“You seem to notice odd things.”
“I suppose it’s because everything’s so new to me.” I was lost in thought for a while.
“It must be hard trying to process all this new information. In less than a couple weeks, you’ve met dozens of new people, gone through an exhaustive series of experiences, and been told so much.”
“It was hard, especially at first. But now I’ve sorta gotten a handle on it. I like meeting th epeople the most. Every time I meet someone new, I think I learn more about myself.”
“Yeah. Before, I didn’t know anything about people. But the more I meet, the more I see how they’re different. And I can start to realize how I’m like some people in certain ways and not in others.”
“Well, I’m not like the Captain, who is so strong and assertive. But I’m also more outgoing that Lee, except maybe when he’s drunk.”
“That’s a pretty wide spectrum.”
“But also, I’m finding that I can choose who I want to be.”
“What have you chosen?”
“Nothing really big. But take The Bar. I don’t think it was the sort of place that I went to before, am I right?”
“Yeah, you tended to be pretty reserved.”
“I can believe it. I almost didn’t go. But then, something made me want to try it.”
“What was that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Nothing in particular. I guess it was just that I didn’t have years of old habits keeping me from doing something like that.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, Sascha, I like the way you are now.”
“Did you know me all that well before?”
“Not really. Like I said, you were pretty shy.” Kyra chuckled and said, “but that didn’t mean I didn’t try.”
I looked out the window again. Somewhere out there was a squadron of ships that would try to destroy us. I asked, “Have you learned anything from the scans?”
“Ironically, the very same planet that we’re trying to use to keep them from detecting us makes it hard for us to know anything about them. But we’re triangulating with the other two ships and we think there are two or three assault class ships coming this way. They’re jumping near simultaneously, which makes it difficult to count them.”
“How long before they arrive?”
“At the rate they’re going, they’ll be in Carvis tomorrow.”
“That’s a little sooner than we expected, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And that’s a little worrisome. Considering the population of their planets, they shouldn’t have more than twenty jump pilots across the whole empire. If they have three assault ships coming traveling at the speed they’re going at, they’d need something like six jump pilots per ship.”
“So, they’re using all of their jump pilots on this one mission?”
“Either that, or something worse.”
“What do you think it could be?”
“Dr. Pendleton was saying that in his time on Kuvel, scientists and engineers were being forced to work on projects related to jump technology. Some involved human engineering.”
“You mean …”
“They may have figured out a way to turn people into jump pilots.”
The Captain summoned me to her quarters that night. I don’t know what made me more nervous, the fact that she was the captain or the fact that she was once a friend.
The Captain’s Quarter was bigger than my apartment on Tarseron. It was, in a word, luxurious. There was a large video display on one wall, currently showing scenes from an external camera. I recognized Shandar-6. Another wall had an aquarium with actual living fish in it. The other walls were covered in bookshelves filled with books and beautiful items that I guessed came from around the galaxy. It was the kind of quarters that had years of history behind it. I wondered if I had ever been a part of it.
“Sascha, thanks for coming.”
“Hey, it’s not like I was busy. You’re the one running the ship. Nice place.”
She smiled. “You said the same thing the first time you came to visit me here,” she said. “I wanted to tell you how glad I was that you made it.”
“It’s good to be alive.”
“I also wanted to tell you how sorry I was.”
“What, for getting held at the navy base? You couldn’t have known and more than I could have. And I would have gone back for you anyways, even if had known.”
“Not just that, I’m sorry for all of it — everything that you’ve gone through: the experiments, the mission, the jump wipes… It’s all my fault.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “For what it’s worth, I don’t blame you for any of it. To be honest, I don’t remember what I lost.”
She looked me in the eyes and said, “You don’t remember me at all, do you?”
“You mean from before?” I stared at her. I tried to remember something of this woman before me. I looked at this room. Nothing seemed familiar. “I’m sorry. I don’t. I don’t remember us ever being friends.”
“I know. But I do. And it was important to me. You were the closest friend I’ve ever had and now, I feel like that’s gone forever.”
I thought about it. I thought about this life that I was starting to experience again. I thought about everything I knew about the Captain and everything I knew about me. I said, “I don’t think it could have survived. You’re the captain of this ship. And I’m … I’m not sure exactly what I am. But I’m not cut out for being in the military. Not anymore. This isn’t who I am. Whatever friendship we did have, I think it only existed in our memories. And it might be gone from mine, but it’s still in yours.”
“I think you’re right.” She might have felt sadness at that but she didn’t let it show. But maybe the responsibilities of being a captain prevented her from indulging in that much vulnerability. She said, “Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I hope we don’t need to use you. Goodbye, Sascha.”
Today, there would be war.
There were no official announcements but everyone knew. Word travels fast on a ship. Everyone had some sort of a job to do and they were all doing it. Everyone except me and Andul, who had jumped us from Tarseron to Shandar. Miranda would jump us into Carvis once we detected their ships in the system. If we survived the battle, Andul would jump us back to Shandar after he fully recovered in a few days and then Miranda would jump us back to Tarseron. And to them, that was a heavy week. It was hard to imagine that I had double that jump schedule for nearly two months solid. No wonder I had jump wiped so hard. I could see how Robert could become a casualty of that. And it was amazing that we survived the trip.
Andul was in his quarters recovering from the initial jump out here but I didn’t feel like just waiting in my quarters. I went to Jump Center. They didn’t need me to do anything at the moment, but if something happened, it seemed like the logical place for me to be.
Miranda was already plugged into the jump pod when I arrived. She said, “I could feel them jumping to Lethe. They’re really close.”
Kyra said, “The scans are pretty fuzzy, but we think there are three ships.”
“Is that bad?”
“With the Hydra here, I think we can take them.”
“How long do you think it’ll be before they make the jump to Carvis?”
“They’ve been making roughly two jumps a day. Never more than 18 hours apart and never less than 3. So long as their jump technology isn’t radically different from ours, it should be at least an hour between jumps. They just hit Lethe, so it could be anywhere between an hour from now to 18 hours from now.”
Miranda says, “So now it’s just a waiting game. I hate this part. I hate not knowing when it’s going to happen.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not happening for at least an hour.”
Miranda turned to me and said, “Thank you for coming down. I was a little nervous.”
“I’ve never jumped from this close to a planet before.”
“Oh, is that a problem?”
“No, it’s not that bad. It just means that my aim might be a little off. But I’m just jumping into space. I heard that you actually did a jump on Tarseron. Is that true?”
I thought about my desperate escape from the navy base. I nodded. “It was a incredibly risky move. I wouldn’t want to try it again.”
“How did you do it?”
I tried to describe it. “Basically, it was like doing two jumps at once, like swapping two spaces with each other.”
“Wow, no wonder you don’t want to do that again.”
“Not unless my life depends on it.”
Kyra said, “Fortunately, we’re out in space so there’s no need for you t–”
Miranda suddenly tightened up. “They’ve jumped!”
Kyra said, “That’s impossible, it’s only been … twenty minutes! There’s no way their engines are ready!”
The large panel display on the wall flared into life. Captain Weiss came on the screen. She said, “Jump Central, we’ve just detected their jump signal. I’m patching you in to Hydra, follow their commands.”
Kyra said, “Understood, sir!”
Someone I didn’t recognized came on the screen and said, “Medusa Jump Center, this is Hydra Command, we have just detected the invasion fleet’s jump to Carvis. We don’t know how, but it was sooner than we thought possible. Are you prepared to jump?”
Kyra looked at Miranda. She anxiously nodded her head. “We are, sir. Prepared to jump on your signal.”
“All three ships will jump on my mark in three, two, one … mark!”
And we entered battle.
The first thing I heard was, “Incoming missiles!” The display flickered and then settled on a split screen between the command centers of the Medusa on the top half and Hydra and Aegis on the bottom half. I could see people shouting on all three displays.
Kyra said, “I’m detaching you from the grid, Miranda!” She started typing on the console.
“Wait!” Miranda shouted, “there’s something wrong. I can only feel two of them and–”
“It’s too risky, I have to unplug you before the missiles–”
“Keep me in! I need to find the other–” Miranda’s eyes went wide, but I knew she wasn’t seeing us. “There is a third ship and it’s still at Lethe!”
On the display, I could see graphics representing the battle. It looked like the Aegis was intercepting all the incoming missiles. The people in the command centers of the three ships were looking confident. The missiles would not be enough to destroy us and we were preparing to counter attack.
Kyra said, “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would they only bring two ships in to fight us? There’s no way they can win now. Could they have failed to make the jump?”
“I don’t think–” Miranda’s mouth went slack and she convulsed once. She cried out, “Get me out! I can’t–”
Kyra was already on it. She disconnected Miranda and helped her out of the pod. Miranda threw up on the floor. Uh oh, I’d only heard of one thing that would make a jump pilot nauseous while plugged in. Kyra asked, “My god, what happ–”
“It’s a trap!”
“What is it?”
“They’re initiating a nova. They’re going to kill us all!”
Kyra got through to the Captain on the display and was relaying all the information. “One of the ships is initiating a jump nova.”
The Captain didn’t pause to react. She simply said, “How do you know this?”
“We think the missiles were just a distraction, to get us to unplug the jump pilots. But Miranda insisted on staying in and she could feel it starting.”
“How is that possible? Don’t they need their jump engines online to do that?”
“I thought so too, sir. They shouldn’t be able to start it for another hour and by then, we would be able to jump out to safety. But somehow they’ve figured out a way to do it early, like they figure out how to jump to Carvis early.”
“How much time do we have?”
“Maybe twenty minutes. Unless they’ve figured out a way to do a jump nova even faster. I have no idea.”
“We can’t destroy both ships in that time.” The Captain on the display screen turned to me and said, “Sascha. I’m sorry, but–”
“I know,” I said, “and I know what I have to do.”
I walked over to the jump pods. The center one was mine. Kyra helped me in and administered an injection of Dr. Pendleton’s drug. Then she plugged me in and I felt an immediate wave of nausea wash over me. It felt obscene. But it made them easy to find.
I reached out throw them into the sun, but the ship kept on slipping from me. More than that, I felt like I didn’t have enough power. I could feel them, but I couldn’t move them. “I can’t do it! There’s not enough power.”
Kyra said, “It’s the jump engines. On ships this size, the engines are completely drained after a jump. They won’t come back for another hour.”
“There’s another jump engine.”
Kyra understood. She got me out of my jump pod and we ran for Hangar 1.
The hangar was frantic with activity. They were just about to launch the Pegasus. Kyra had to shout, “Wait! The hostiles are initiating a jump nova, we have to stop them.”
Sergeant Diallo stood at the bay door of the shuttle and said, “We know, we’re going try to board.”
“That’s crazy! You’ll never get inside in time.”
“We’re dead anyways. We have to try.”
“Let us on board, Sascha’s going to try to jump them into the sun.”
Sergeant Diallo took a step back. He looked at me and said, “You can do that?”
I said, “Maybe. But I need to get in the jump pod on Pegasus to try.”
He stepped aside and let us in. Diallo closed the shuttle bay door. It was much more crowded in here than last time. There were the six marines, Jain piloting again, and Kyra. I strapped into the jump pod.
Jain called out on the comm, “The deck is cleared and Pegasus is secure. We’re doing an emergency release. Blow the doors!”
There was a loud clang and we jolted forward as all the air in the hangar was suddenly sucked out into space along with us. Then Jain hit the thrusters and we sped into the maw of our enemy.
Fortunately, the missiles were mostly targeting the Hydra and Medusa. But any closer, and the anti-fighter ballistic guns would be in range. All the fighters from the other ships were launched and trying to take them out. Given time, they might have succeeded, but time was the one thing we didn’t have.
Jain called out, “I’ll be honest. I’m good, but I’m not that good. In this shuttle, I can get us a little closer, but there’s no way I can get us close enough to board.”
It was time for me to try again. I said, “I’ll see what I can do from here.”
Kyra powered on the shuttle’s jump pod. I felt another wave of nausea hit me. It was more intense this time, pulsating faster. The whole world felt like it was slipping through my mind. I fought the urge to throw up and reached out again to throw the enemy into the sun. I could feel my grip on them, but it was too large, too far, and too slippery. I yelled, “It’s too much, they’re too far along and I can’t grab them.”
“Would it help if I got closer?” asked Jain from the cockpit. “If I call for all the escorts and we punch it, we might be able to survive long enough to get within a couple hundred meters.”
“I’ve — I’ve got another idea.” Bile was rising up in my throat. I swallowed it and said, “Can you hold the ship still?”
“Still?!” Jain was incredulous. “You want me to hold the ship still in the heat of battle?”
“Just for a couple seconds. I’m going to try to–”
“I don’t want to know!” she yelled. “Coming to a halt …” She slammed on the thruster brakes. “Now!”
I jumped us into the enemy ship.
We dropped almost instantly but Jain reacted quickly and countered with the thrusters. We still slammed hard on to the floor and skidded across, stopping just short of crashing into the wall in front of us.
Sergeant Diallo called out, “Where are we?”
I said, “I think we’re in the hangar. Of the enemy ship. I can feel …” I reached out with my senses again and tried to perceive the ship. It was hard to do with the world undulating back and forth around me. This time I did throw up. But I pinpointed the source. “It’s not far, their jump center is out the hallway, turn right, down one level.”
The sergeant called out, “Marines! We have a job to do. Who’s ready?”
As one, they called out, “Oorah!” and stormed out the shuttle. I think my ears popped a bit when the shuttle bay doors opened. I heard them running down the hallway.
Kyra, Jain, and I were the only ones left in the shuttle. I could hear the sounds of gunfire and shouting.
Jain said, “I can’t what just happened.”
Kyra asked me, “Do you want me to shut down the jump pod?”
I said, “No, I need to know–” I heard some more muffled gunfire, and then the nausea suddenly disappeared. “Ah, it’s over.”
I passed out.
The aftermath of the battle took much longer to resolve than the battle itself. The ship we jumped into was called Volkan’s Lance and the one that was protecting it was Volkan’s Shield. We never saw the third ship, Volkan’s Fist. At this rate, the guy was going to run out of names soon.
Fortunately, Volkan’s Fist was running with a skeleton crew. It looked like it was intended to be suicide missions from the beginning. The marines met little resistance and were able to take command of the ship without killing anyone. Volkan’s Shield, on the other hand, would not surrender and fought bitterly to the end. It did not take long to destroy them.
The most disturbing thing about Volkan’s Fist was its jump crew. As suspected, there were six of them. But they were all children and they all appeared heavily drugged. When questioned, they thought they were playing some sort of game.
I don’t know what was more sad, the number of lives that were lost in a war or what war did to its survivors.
Many days later, I was back at Talico. Kyra was taking some well-deserved shore leave and came as my guest. I also wanted her to be there for what I was about to do. We were sitting in a medical office. A doctor I didn’t recognize was explaining the MRP, or the memory recovery program.
“Ideally, we try to intervene within hours of the jump wipe. The longer we wait after that …”
“The less effective the program?”
“No, it’s not that. The memories are still just as vivid as before. But there the longer the wait, the less malleable the brain is. It can be very disorienting. There is a chance of brain damage.”
Kyra said, “You don’t have to do this, Sascha.”
“I know. But my memories aren’t coming back to me. I still have no idea who I was. It feels like …” I struggled to find the right words to say, “It feels like there is a hole where my memories should be. And I can’t know who I am now without that.”
I turned to the doctor and said, “I’m ready to begin.”
We went to a room with a pod remarkably similar to a jump pod. I asked, “How does it work?”
“When you’re in a jump pod, various monitors record your various states. This is a slight modification of that. What we did for you previously was to have you sit in this pod and try to recollect some of your strongest memories. We try to record those memories as best we can and today–”
“Today, you play them back for me?”
“Oh it’s more than that. Do you recall a time when you were plugged in a jump pod while someone else was on the same network?”
I remembered the time Brian and I were both online when he was first trying to explain how to jump to me. I nodded my head.
“Whenever that happens, a barrier is set up between the jump pilots to keep their thoughts separated. If that barrier were removed–”
“Uh, actually, that happened — with Brian Dalton-Farha. It felt like I was actually thinking his thoughts.”
Kyra looked worried. The doctor said, “Ah yes, I’d read about that incident in the report. But very apt. It is much the same experience. When the memory gets played back, you will actually be living it. In fact, it may even more vivid than when you remembered it.”
“So are the memories just random? Which one will I get?”
The doctor pulled up a list of files on a display. “When we did the record sessions, we had you label them. You can look through the titles and pick one you think you’d like.”
I scanned through the titles. Most were names like, “Prom sucked”, “Wintersfield park”, “Bicycle repair”, “Red Dress”, and “First jump”. And then I saw one that said, “Lainey”. I pointed to it and said, “Let’s do that one.”
Lainey was holding me. It was nice. It was always nice when she held me afterwards. But then she let go and said, “Sascha, listen…”
It was the sort of tone that never preceded good news. I asked, “What is it?”
“I think you should do it.”
“What, the jump thing?”
“Yeah, you should totally do it.”
“Why would I want to be a jump pilot? There’s nothing out in space. It’s just a big void.”
“It’s a chance to get off this planet!”
I was a little hurt. It felt like Lainey was talking about me. I said, “What’s wrong with this planet?”
“Nothing. It’s just, there’s so much out there. Don’t you want to see it all? See new sights, explore the galaxy, fight in exotic wars…” Her voice trailed off.
“What, and go around killing people?”
“That’s not what the navy does. They protect people.”
“Wait, you’re … you’re actually thinking about joining them!”
“Next month, I turn 18 terran. Then I can do whatever I want.”
“But I don’t want to join the navy!”
Lainey turned to me and said, “Well, who asked you to?”
I whispered, “What about us?” Lainey didn’t hear me but I was too scared to say it any louder.
She said, “I’ve got a whole galaxy to explore. You’re my best friend, Sascha … you should be there, too! After all, I’m going to be a captain someday and every ship needs jump pilots. Just think about how exciting it’ll be!”
She kept on talking about how great it would be if I was with her but it was too late, I knew it was over. I knew that she had dreams bigger than me. She was destined for great things and I … I was not part of that. It stung. It was the first time that I realized that I was not really part of her life, no matter how much I loved her.
It was a memory that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
I woke up to see Kyra staring into my eyes. She asked, “Sascha, are you okay?”
I said, “Yeah, Kyra, I think I am.”
Relief washed over her face. The doctor chimed in, “Did you remember something?”
Kyra asked, “What did you remember?”
I thought about telling her. Instead, I said, “It’s not important. But it taught me something.” I understood why I was so desperate to retreive some memory from before. It wasn’t so I could go back to that, but because I needed to know where I came from. I said, “I’m grateful to the person that I was because it brought me to where I am now.”
I look up into Kyra’s eyes and said, “But it made me realize that I don’t have to be that person anymore. I can be whoever I want, now.”
I touched her face. It was so beautiful.