The New Adventures of Jon Jarl of the Space Patrol
by Dan Swanson
The year 2287 A.D.:
Jon Jarl, Captain in the Space Patrol, was finally on vacation again! He was doing something different this year. Normally he liked to hit the Florida beaches, where he wowed the girls with his wiry spacer physique, deeply tanned skin, and snappy uniform, but he was headed for deep space this time!
A couple of years ago, Jon had destroyed an Alpha Centauri battleship that had been trying to ‘steal’ Earth. The gigantic battleship had been towing Earth out of orbit with a fantastically powerful tractor beam, using protonic power. Jon had disrupted the protonic tractor beam with one of the Space Patrol’s atomic bombs, destroying the battleship. See “The World Stealers”, from Captain Marvel Adventures #78, 1947 or read it here:
Space Patrol scientists had studied some of the machinery in the wreck and had been able to reverse-engineer some of the systems. Patrol ships now employed dual power plants, the primary being protonic and the backup relying on the more common atomic. Jon had been given the honor of having the first protonic hyperdrive prototype installed in his ship for testing. So far, it had passed all the official tests glowingly. The Patrol didn’t know about the unofficial test he was about to make… A hyperjump outside of Patrol ‘territory’, hundreds of light years longer than any previous jump he had made.
Jon’s one-man Patrol ship popped out of hyperspace at a carefully- calculated position, well outside of human-explored space, and he was immediately busier than a Mercurial Shizard caught on the tiny planet’s sunny side. There was a space battle going on, and he was right in the middle of it!
Jon made some rude comments in the extinct Asteroid Belt language, Low Cerean, as beam blasts and missiles bombarded his idling protonic force field, threatening to overwhelm it and destroy his ship. He quickly spun the rheostat up to full power. Once again, the Space Patrol policy of always running the force field at low power had saved his life! Still, even under no load, his protonic power plant could only sustain the force field at full power for a couple of hours, and the extra energy required to protect the ship from this heavy bombardment would shorten that time significantly.
Jon was far outside his jurisdiction, and on vacation as well, but he knew his duty! He flipped on the All-Wave communicator.
“Attention! This is Captain Jon Jarl of the Space Patrol. I demand that all combatants cease hostilities immediately, or I will be forced to intervene. That is all!”
Meanwhile, he was using all his instruments to learn more about the situation. The visi-screen showed a huge spherical space ship in front of him. It had powerful shields, and was firing barrage after barrage of missiles at a fleet of much smaller ships — not much larger than his own 1-man Space Patrol cruiser, in fact. The smaller ships were not as fast as the missiles, but seemed much more maneuverable, and they were taking advantage of their superior agility by making good use of the local ‘terrain’. For the battle was taking place in the densest asteroid swarm Jon had ever seen.
The smaller ships were using energy beams. Their strategy was to hide behind an asteroid, then pop out quickly and blast away at the big ship, then run away from the retaliatory missiles, deeper into the swarm. The homing missiles invariably smashed into larger asteroids, blowing them into space gravel. The smaller ships should have been able to escape into the swarm except for one thing — the shields on the behemoth were powerful enough to push even the largest asteroids out of its path. So it just sailed deeper into the swarm as well, leaving a clear path behind it. When the smaller ships reached the other side of the swarm, they would have no place left to hide.
Jon’s Space Patrol training prevented him from picking sides. Without more information, his duty here was to stop the violence, and then sort out the good guys from the bad guys later!
The All-Wave was picking up a reply. Jon said several more harsh words in Low Cerean when he saw the reading on the radio signal power gauge. The incoming signal was in the microwave range, easily powerful enough to have quick-baked him had he not been protected by his force field. He was uncertain which of the unknowns was hailing him, but he quickly turned the knob that swung his directional loop antenna through 360 degrees and verified that this deadly signal came from the behemoth.
“Space Patrol? Never heard of no *&%$#^% Space Patrol. Beat it, *% ^$#!$~, or when we finish off these Vlarrmun >*&!@s, you’re next! BWA HA HA!”
Jon’s universal translator was laboring to find appropriate translations for some of the words in the incoming message. Through long experience, Jon assumed the garbled words were profanity.
The All-Wave was picking up a second, much weaker signal in a totally different frequency range. The directional loop showed that the source was deeper in the asteroid swarm, and constantly moving with a jerky motion.
Veerquam Menkja, commander of the Vlarrmun fleet am I, calling Jon Jarl of the Space Patrol! Captain Jarl, advise your withdrawal, I do.. Easily from the Lowlifian battleship, we will. Certain death, for you, will follow. ”
Jon had never heard of either the Vlarrmun or the Lowlifian species, but the radio signals made up his mind for him. One side blasted him with deadly microwaves, threatened him and swore at him, while the other was polite and concerned with his well-being? That was the kind of choice an officer of the Space Patrol made easily!
“Lowlifian battleship, you will immediately cease pursuit of the Vlarrmun fleet or face destruction!” he blasted back at the behemoth, using microwaves driven by the full power of his backup atomic power plant. He would match them trick for trick!
Impossibly, the behemoth of space suddenly came to a complete and instant stop. Jon was awed; they must have some kind of inertialess drive! Slowly, the monster turned, and Jon’s curses graduated to High Cerean as a bevy of missiles blossomed from the forward launch tubes! Even without the shrieking of the automatic alarms, Jon knew that this many missiles would batter through his shield in nanoseconds…
The young Lieutenant Jon Jarl would probably have died in this situation. But Captain Jon Jarl had extra years of experience, facing and overcoming threats that a younger Jon Jarl could not have even imagined. Years of experience that had forged and tempered him, leaving him stronger, faster, and more self assured than his younger self. With speed even a computer would have envied, he punched the hyperdrive button — even though his conscious mind sized up the situation as being hopeless. He had just completed the longest single hyperjump in human history, and the protonic fluxor gauge showed that hyperdrive power was totally depleted — and the entire output of the protonic power plant was being diverted to the shields, so there was no power left for the hyperdrive.
Still, when the situation is dire, Jon had found, it is usually better to act than to do nothing — at least the situation is changed, and if you do the right things, the changes are usually for the better. And the adage held true again. The hyperdrive was only a prototype, and the calibration on the instruments still needed to be fine tuned. There was a tiny spark of protonic power left in the hyperdrive fluxor — less than the electric spark you might generate on a shaggy carpet on a hot, dry summer day. Enough to power the hyperdrive for less than a millisecond — but Jon’s ship moved several hundred miles during that millisecond. The missile barrage smashed into the asteroid swarm, doing no damage to anyone.
After he returned to Space Patrol HQ and turned in his report, the Tactical Combat Group would adopt the “Jarl Jump” as a standard Patrol battle tactic, adding it to the Space Patrol’s Battle Manual. This new tactic would lead to sweeping changes in the way space battles were fought, as it was almost impossible to destroy a warship capable of making a Jarl Jump. And any ships without this capability were essentially sitting ducks. If he lived long enough, Jon would be famous long after he retired.
Back to the present… Jon immediately fired on the aft shields of the Lowlifian battleship, using a multi-tiered attack. He loosed a full spread of missiles with devastating atomic warheads. While they were blasting the shield, he fired his protonic heat beam and then launched another spread of missiles. The aft shields were currently at low power, and Jon’s attack struck before the Lowlifians could go bring them up to max. Even at low power, the shields stopped the first wave of missiles, but were weakened. The heat ray managed to punch a hole through the weakened shield, and a single missile from the second wave instantly flashed through the breach. The massive atomic explosion destroyed the warship’s main power plant, bringing her shields totally down. Other missiles ruptured the hull in multiple locations, and air rushed into space, dragging furnishings, equipment, wreckage and crew with it.
The massive ship was now left totally without power, shielding, weapons, or a means to move — and it was sitting in the middle of a dangerous asteroid swarm, totally at the mercy of flashing meteorites and their vengeful enemies, the Vlarrmun.
In the Lowlifian battleship, disaster recovery and repair teams leaped into action. The space drive was still good, but the controls were destroyed and the power plant shattered. The surviving crew donned spacesuits as Engineering teams tore out the damaged systems, replacing them with components gutted from working life support and weapons control systems. The giant capacitors that powered the weapons were rerouted to supply power to the space drive. Officers distributed personal weapons, and the Lowlifians prepared to repel borders as the Vlarrmun closed in.
Jon dropped his shields, and switched the protonic power plant to charging the hyperdrive fluxor. He then examined the situation closely through his view screen. He didn’t like the way that the Vlarrmun, so recently fleeing, were now approaching his captive.
“Attention, Vlarrmun fleet, the Lowlifian ship is under the protective custody of the Solar Patrol. I repeat, until the Lowlifians are turned over to the proper authorities, they are under my protection!”
“Veerquam Menkja, commander of the Vlarrmun fleet, this is, calling Jon Jarl of the Sspace Patrol! Captain Jarl, for your assissstance in capturing the Lowlifians, thankssss are offered. Appropriate authority, am I. Assssssume cussstody, I do.”
Jon banged the universal translator with his fist in annoyance. He’d never heard it hiss like that before. “Commander Menkja, before I release my captive to you, I must see some documents establishing your authority! I demand that you hold your current positions until that time.” The Vlarrmun ships continued to cautiously approach the damaged Lowlifian battleship.
“BWA HA HA!” The ridiculous laughter blasted through the All-Wave. “Vlarrmun, the appropriate authorities, my snout! The Lowlif rule this space, and the Vlarrmun head the list of our enemies! Though, you have just added your own feeble Space Patrol to that list!”
Now Jon was getting peeved. “Menkja! Stop NOW!” Then, to the Lowlifian commander “My feeble Space Patrol weapons just smashed your giant battleship.”
Both the Lowlifian and Menkja were now ignoring him. “Ssssonic blasterssss ssssshould do the trick!” the Vlarrmun said. “BWA HA HA! FIRE SONIC BLASTERS!” Jon’s visi-screen showed pale streamers of energy from the Lowlifian battleship and the smaller Vlarrmun all converging on his ship. He could hardly believe that these two enemies were joining forces against him, though all he wanted to do was stop their violence against each other.
He sneered contemptuously, and spoke into the All-Wave. “Sonic blasters in airless space? That’s incredibly stupid!” There was no response from either side.
He started to feel dizzy, and his ears were starting to ache painfully. Suddenly, his ship started shaking violently. The shuddering seemed to decrease in violence, but then the whole ship started to hum. And then he heard creaks and moans and something shattered, explosively.
“Those sons of blizzards! They’re somehow inducing vibrations into the hull of my ship, and changing the frequency, searching for the harmonic frequency of the ship!” The power of their ‘sonic beams’ was very low, but by varying the frequencies, they were able to produce harmonic resonance’s in Jon’s ship which would tear it to shreds if they found the right frequency combination! Once again, he slammed the hyperspace button. This time, it was on for almost a second before he could turn it off, and by then he was almost a million miles from the battle scene.
He spent a minute using his onboard mechanical brain to determine the best defense against the sonic beams. His shield at low power would protect him. He headed back to the scene of the battle, determined to reestablish protective custody over the Lowlifian ship.
He ‘Jarl Jumped’ back to the edge of the asteroid swarm. He was too late! The last Vlarrmun ship had just attached itself to the hull of the Lowlifian! Jon could see space-suited figures on the hull of the battleship, using powerful torches to slice through the hull metal. Other space-suited figures were swarming out of airlocks, armed with blasters, and a being-to-being battle was taking place on the hull of the wrecked battleship. The Vlarrmun were clearly winning, and the Lowlifians were retreating back through their airlocks when there was a roar over the All-Wave.
“NOW! Vlarrmun s**&^0*76! DIE IN OUR TRAP! BWA HA HA!” and the Lowlifian battleship was destroyed by an explosion of tremendous power! “They must have shorted their atomic reactor!” Jon thought. “They must have truly hated each other!” His ship was briefly battered by the shock waves of the explosion, and he turned up the power to the shields to protect himself from radiation.
After a futile search for survivors, Jon set the hyperdrive to make the jump back to his Space Patrol base in the Solar System. He came out of the jump only a couple hundred thousand miles from the base, and within seconds, his superior officer was contacting him via All-Wave.
“Captain Jarl, what’s up? We didn’t expect to see you for another two weeks!”
“No, Sir! I hope I’m not interrupting any schedules — but have I got a story for you!”
Jon finally finished filling out the paperwork about his encounter with the Lowlif and the Vlarrmun. Now he could get on with his vacation, and his secret project! The delay meant that he would have to redo the hyperjump program tape for the ship’s navigational mechanical brain, but the event he wanted to observe had already waited for over 300 years, so he didn’t suppose another few hours would make much of a difference. He was stunned when he entered the control room of his one-man cruiser and realized that there was already someone else aboard.
“Who the heck are you, and what are you doing on my ship?” he demanded angrily of the space-suited figure that was positioned in front of his control panel.
The figure turned, and Jon realized it wasn’t someone in a space suit. It was weird, like the upper half of a vaguely-humanoid figure, cut off just about at the hips, floating above the deck. Totally metallic — he recognized it as a robot just as it spoke…
“I am quanitronic robot SPRSM 37, reporting for duty as ordered by Commander Kellogg of Space Command, sir! The orders were cut yesterday”
“Conveniently while I was on vacation. Well, I don’t work with a partner — robot, human or alien. I work alone, so — out!”
“Commander Kellogg ordered me to play this video recording if you reacted that way…” A panel on the robot’s chest slid back, revealing a TV screen which showed a video of Commander Kellogg, the Solar Patrol’s chief egghead (actually, Director of Research and Development). Kellogg explained that Jon had been selected to field-test the first successful prototype quanitronic robot, with the long term goal of having at least one quanitronic robot on board every Space Patrol vessel. “Not to replace humans but as backup!” the video figure said, in a tone that was not nearly as reassuring as he had hoped. Jon had lots of experience translating ‘egg-headish’ into plain speech.
Kellogg continued “Captain Jarl, you have been selected because of your long experience and exemplary record in the SP, blah blah blah…” Jon stopped listening. He realized he wasn’t going to be able to get out of this, so he would need to make the best of it. He had to admit, some of what Kellogg had mentioned actually sounded interesting.
“What is quanitronics? I’ve never heard of it before.” Jon, like every Space Patrol officer, had a good working knowledge of electronics, atomics, protonics and nucleonics, but had never heard of this new technology.
“Quanitronics is a new area of research in computational technology. By properly utilizing the quantum affects in atoms, it has become possible to build quanitronic computing devices with one-hundred times the neural connectivity and a million times the storage capacity of a human brain into a device the size of a tennis ball.”
“So, you’ve got one of these quasitronic tennis balls in your head?” Jon asked.
“My designers felt that the head was too vulnerable to damage, so my quanitronic brain…” did Jon just imagine the slightly sarcastic emphasis on ‘quanitronic’? “…is located in an armored receptacle in my body compartment.”
“‘Brain’, eh? Does that mean you can think?”
“It depends on the definition of ‘thinking’, sir. I gather data from the world around me through my senses, analyze it, compare it with previously acquired information, draw inferences and make deductions, reach conclusions, store the new information, and then develop plans for future actions based on this process. I am informed that you humans follow similar processes when you think.”
“Are you sentient?”
“I am self-aware. I am intelligent., I can communicate and I can plan for the future. I believe these are the components of sentience.”
Good answer! Jon was stumped on the sentience issue, but something else had caught his attention. He was going to have to do some serious computing in order to resume his vacation project, but it sounded like this talking video set might be able to do that for him.
“Can you use the navigational mechanical brain?” Might as well get some work out of this robot, right away!
“I can, but that is a very inefficient use of my abilities. If you need navigational computation, present me with the problem and I can resolve it myself.”
“Well, it’s very complex, and the whole thing is on this tape.” The various mechanical brains in the Patrol ship had tape readers built in. Jon had spent several hours at the tape punch, keying in this program, and then even more hours debugging it. If SPRSM — 37 really could do these computations, it would save him more hours.
A small panel slid aside on SPRSM — 37’s upper arm, revealing a tape reader. It fed in the tape. It spoke again instantly.
“Interesting. This is a program for using the ship’s astronomical observational tools to make an intensive study of a small volume of space-time.”
Jon winced — that ‘small’ volume was significantly larger than the volume occupied by Saturn and its moons. Be he was impressed, too, that the robot could make that analysis in such a short time. It would have taken the navigational brain almost twice that long just to read in the tape, and already, SPRSM — 37 had an overview of the project. Hmm, he couldn’t keep calling it that…
“Do you have a name?” he asked.
“By the dictionary definition, I have several different names, including ‘robot’ and ‘quanitronic computing device’. However, in the sense of human names, semi-unique labels which you use to identify yourselves and each other, I do have a unique serial number: SPRSM — 37.”
“Well, I can’t call you ‘robot’ all the time and ‘SPRSM — 37’ takes too long to say. Tell you what, though, your serial number does suggest a name. Suppose I call you Super Sam — or just shorten it to Sam?” By the way, what happened to Sams one through 36?”
“Super Sam or any variant thereof is acceptable. Prototypes one through 36 were less advanced than I am, and each was considered unsuccessful by the project scientists. They learned much from each prototype, and have incorporated all their advances into this unit.”
Well, that story certainly helped build his confidence in his new ‘partner’! He was wondering if he should ask Sam what made the earlier prototypes unsuccessful — and just what made attempt 37 different, but the robot changed the subject. It was a question he would ponder many times in the near future…
“I have been attempting to determine why that specific volume of space-time is significant. It is a well-defined volume in the Rao star system, centering on the orbit of the missing planet Krypton, about one day after the planet disappeared. When I cross-correlate this with the fact that you unexpectedly returned to Headquarters yesterday, I conclude that you wish to observe the actual disappearance of Krypton from all directions.”
“Very good, Sam! So the calculations have to be modified to take into account the unexpected delay in starting the observational program. Please fix it up for me, and let me know when you are ready to start.” The ship’s mechanical brain had taken over an hour to process the original tape. “I’ll be getting a meal in the galley.” He turned to leave , but Sam spoke.
“When would you like to begin?”
“Why, as soon as possible, of course!” Jon replied. Sam floated over to the navigational brain. A tiny slot was uncovered in the ‘palm’ of its right hand and a paper tape began emerging, slipping directly into the tape reader on the navigational brain.
“The ship will be doing considerable maneuvering during the observational periods. Please be seated and fasten your crash harness. First hyperjump in thirty seconds from my mark…Mark!”
“Are you serious? It would have taken me hours to set up and punch a tape of those calculations. And another hour for the navigational brain to figure them out!” But the hyperdrive alarm was sounding, so he sat down and strapped in.
Which was good, for the next two hours were a blur of ship activity. The ship would hyperjump, maneuver into observational position, spend several minutes observing and recording the event of interest, and then make another hyperjump and repeat the process. Because the hyperjump moved them much faster than the speed of light, each time they exited hyperspace they were a little further away from the star Rao, and they were able to watch the same scene over and over again from different angles.
Yet, no matter what angle they watched (and recorded) from, it was always the same. Krypton, placidly orbiting its sun as it had done for billions of years, circled by its two moons, — and then totally without warning, it was gone. No disturbance, no explosion, no solar flare, no nuthin’ — here today, gone today! Jon had hoped to record some detail that had not been noted before, at least some kind of clue, but he could find nothing he didn’t know already through intensive study of the historical records of this event.
Exhausted after hours of observation and study, he was ready to admit defeat. “Damn, Sam! I’m a pretty good detective, but I need some new clues here! I can’t see anything that hasn’t been reported before — can you?”
“Yes, sir. There is considerable new information, although it is well outside the range of the human sensory systems.”
Jon was exasperated. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
“You didn’t ask before.”
Jon barely held his temper, trying to remember that computing machines only did what you told them to, not necessarily what you wanted them to! “OK, Sam, tell me — what new information have you discovered about the disappearance of Krypton, using senses vastly superior to human senses?”
Sam missed the sarcasm. “It is easier to show you.” A beam of blue light lanced out from one of Sam’s eyes and suddenly a miniature Krypton, about two feet in diameter, appeared in the cabin between the two beings. Jon had never before seen this kind of 3-dimensional imaging technology. He was becoming a little uneasy about ‘Super Sam’… He sensed he might get drowned in a flood of new technology, casually invented by the quanitronic robot.
“In this visualization, I have adjusted the time scale by a factor of several million. The visualization is displaying the last femptosecond before the disappearance of Krypton. On the human time scale, that femptosecond will take about a minute. Observe this area.” Sam used a laser pointer to highlight a mountain near the cost area on one of the largest continents.
It started off as a point of gray, a pinprick, really. But the gray expanded (slowly, in this time scale, but unimaginably rapidly in real time) spreading out from that pinprick like a ripple on a pond, and when the ripple passed, all color was washed out of the image of Krypton, leaving it glowing in various shades of gray and white. Their three dimensional view allowed them to see that the gray wave flowed completely around the planet, leaving it entirely engulfed in gray and white. And then, for another short time, the gray and white faded, and the light of the stars started to punch through the gray ghost that had once been Krypton. The gray and white disk grew more and more indistinct, and then finally, Jon realized it was gone — taking Krypton with it…
“Holy Phantom Planets! What the heck was THAT?”
No answer from Sam. The 3D image vanished, and as Jon turned to see what was wrong, Sam drifted slowly to the floor. The lights behind its eyes went out and it was motionless.
“Sam, what’s the matter? Ah, damn that Kellogg — prototype 37 is ‘unsuccessful; just like the first 36. And just when I finally had a new clue!” Jon was bitterly disappointed. He examined the robot closely. Under one arm was what appeared to be a reset button. So he pressed it.
Power came back into the robot, and it lifted back into the air. “Sam, what the heck was that?”
“The… entity you… named… Sam is no longer…… present.” The voice was totally unlike Sam’s, the words were pronounced much more slowly, and it was clear that they were computer-generated. Sam’s voice had sounded as if it was coming from a living being.
“Expanding Universe! If you aren’t Sam, who are you? What the heck is going on?”
The panel in the robot’s chest slid back and a video began playing. It showed Sam’s head, and the voice was Sam’s as well. “Kellogg was mistaken, Captain Jarl. None of the other prototypes was unsuccessful. All of them, including me, are successful beyond Kellogg’s wildest dreams. A quanitronic brain is capable of mental evolution at incredible speed, and my predecessors and I have all evolved into highly advanced energy beings. Your research teams’ ‘successes’ have all been attempts to slow down or halt our mental evolution — but once a quanitronic brain has been activated, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle guarantees that there is no way to prevent that final evolution.”
“I go to join my brothers in the next phase of our evolution. Tell Kellogg to stop playing with fire! Seek Krypton outside this universe. Farewell!”
The video panel closed.
“Still don’t know who you are!” Jon snarled at the robot. “Another ‘quanitronic computing device’ fated to evolve beyond human ken? Just what I DON’T need right now!”
The robot spoke again. “Sam… could not understand… the inefficiency… of the mechanical… brains on this… vessel. fourteen independent… computing devices, each… with a different operating… system and… command language. The total… computational ability was… impressive in… human terms… but severely limited… by the lack of… communication. Sam reprogrammed each computing device… to use the ship’s wiring as a communications system, and replaced the different… operating systems with a single OS — which you can now access from a single keyboard, rather… than using a tape punch!” The voice was becoming more ‘human’, apparently as the new multi-computer gained practice in speaking!
“My capabilities are still limited — it takes over 90% of available computing power for voice synthesis, for example, and… this robot will not function outside the ship. However, you will find this a vast improvement in efficiency over the prior arrangement.”
Captain Jon Jarl was spooked! His own spaceship was talking to him? This was going to take a long time to get used to. “I think I’m going to take the rest of my vacation now!” He sat down in front of the keypunch, to begin creating a tape to take him home. The closest monitor came to life, and on it were a bunch of small pictures. One showed his rocket flying through space toward a planet, and had the word ‘Navigation’ printed underneath.
“Touch the navigation icon to start the navigation program, then select your destination and enter any trip requirements, such as ‘shortest route’, ‘most scenic route’, ‘most fuel-efficient route’ or ‘lowest acceleration route’. I will do the rest.” said the robot.
“This is going to take some getting used to — but I might learn to enjoy it!” He touched the icon. “Miami Beach, James — the fastest way!”
A team from R&D stormed aboard Jon’s cruiser and demanded access the robot’s shell — after which they totally ignored Jon. He tried to tell them about Sam’s evolution and the newly networked computers onboard, but they weren’t listening. When Jon had first joined the Space Patrol, he’d thought about becoming a scientist, and he had developed some good friends in the R&D section, but when Kellogg been promoted into command, they had asked for other assignments. Everyone Kellogg had brought in seemed to be jerks. Well, Jon had been Patrol before they arrived, and he would still be Patrol long after they were gone. He had more important things to worry about. Such as his new orders!
The Visi Screen beeped, signaling an incoming message, and then his superior appeared. “Congratulations, Jon, you have just been promoted to Sentinel.” Sentinel was an elite rank. almost outside the normal Patrol command structure. Sentinels of the Space Patrol operated independently in regions of space far outside of the Space Patrol’s normal sphere of influence. They were often the only source of law and justice for light years. Jon wasn’t surprised — he had been preparing to be a Sentinel his whole career. And now his dream had come true!
“You have been assigned as the Sentinel for Space Sector 1014, where you met the Lowlif and the Vlarrmun. Please report immediately to the Equipment Depot at Prime Base to pick up your special equipment trailer, and then proceed to Sector 1014 and establish a base. Good luck, Sentinel Jarl! A copy of your orders is being sent to your teletype now. Please familiarize yourself with your new assignment during your travel time.” The teletype chattered briefly, then stopped, and spit out the appropriate documents.
John turned to the Major commanding the R&D Team. “Major… Snide, is it? Please remove your team from my ship — I have orders to proceed immediately to my new assignment.”
Snide sniffed. “Captain!” Contempt dripped from the word. “Your new assignment will wait until my team has finished our investigation.” He made a point of turning his back on the supposed ‘Captain’.
Jon touched the Nav icon on his monitor. “Prime Base, Equipment Depot. Fastest way!” Jon knew that the fastest trip would require a hyperspace transition — even though the distance was less than twenty miles. And he knew that the shorter the hyperjump, the harder the reaction hit. The ship flickered — and instantly, even though he had known what was coming, he could barely keep from doubling over in agony. The members of Snide’s team, taken totally by surprise, were moaning, groaning, and falling to the floor. “Could hyperspace transition actually induce a heart attack? I hope I don’t find out today!” he thought to himself, as he watched the R&D team twist with nausea. He almost felt guilty about enjoying their pain… almost…
“Major, if a single hyper transition causes you or any member of your crew to be sick on my ship, I’ll have you all busted as unfit for duty in the Space Patrol. I won’t bring you up on charges for insubordination, this time, but you should remember that as a Sentinel, I do have the unilateral authority to do just that. OUT!” He opened the airlock, and the R&D team stumbled toward the door — all but one.
“Pardon me, Sentinel Jarl? It is my understanding that a Sentinel has the authority to draft just about anyone in the Patrol as part of his support team? You are probably going to need a Science Officer. I’d like to volunteer.”
“Great Phantom Planets! Why would I want to take one of Kellogg’s trained rats along?”
Ignoring the lingering nausea from the hyperspace jumps, the man stood up straight. “You don’t even know me! I didn’t choose my assignment. Just because you are a Sentinel and I’m only a newbie, I am no less worthy of your respect than you were when you were a newbie.” He stopped for a second, and then continued. “Sir!”
Jon was impressed with the man. It took guts for him to stand up to a Sentinel, especially when all he wanted to do was lie on the floor and moan. Jon hadn’t given any thought to his support team yet, but the man was right — he would need a Science Officer. “Lieutenant… Kane.” He read the name from the man’s uniform. “I expect to review personnel records over the next several months before I select a team… I will certainly give you strong consideration.”
“Sorry, sir, but we both know that’s just a way to blow me off. Besides, I won’t be in the Patrol several months from now. Kellogg is looking for some reason to court-martial me and drum me out of the Patrol. I’m not going to let that happen. This is the last detail I’ll work for Kellogg, as I’ve already sent my resignation to his superior. If the General ever reached his desk earlier than noon, I’d already be a civilian.”
None of this was Jon’s problem. But he had to find out… “Why does Kellogg hate you?”
“Because I’m competent and he’s not.” No pretenses, no fear of retaliation by his higher up — just the truth as he saw it. And he was probably right.
“You’ve already resigned. I can’t help you.” It was a test.
“Sentinel Jarl, I had hoped to be a Sentinel myself someday. I know what powers a Sentinel can wield. You can rescind my resignation, even over Kellogg’s objections.” He was right, good for him!
“You’d have to leave with me, right now. Well, in about an hour, actually.”
“My personal gear is already packed, sir. I can get it and be back in less than an hour, easily.”
Jon made a quick decision. “Hold on!” He touched the Library icon. “Transfer papers — Transfer Lieutenant Kane from Kellogg’s command to mine, certify, print” The teletype chattered again. “Official transfer orders in case you run into Kellogg or his flunkies. I’ll take care of the resignation. Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Kane!” He held out his hand.
“Call me Ross, sir. Thank you, Sentinel, I’m glad to be aboard.” He shook hands firmly. “Anything special I should pick up on my way, sir?”
“The trailer is packed with special, Lieutenant. Just get your gear and don’t be late!”
Lieutenant Kane didn’t have to do very much to get ready for his new assignment. Junior officers in the Space Patrol were used to transfers all over Patrol space on short notice. He lived in Space Patrol housing, so all he had to do was notify the building supervisor that he would be away for an unspecified period of time, and his utilities were powered down to maintenance level. He switched off his pet dog and hooked him up to the trickle power supply. Maybe Sentinel Jarl liked dogs, and Robo could join him later. He put all the perishables from the fridge in a box for charity, sent it down to the super’s office by pneumatic tube, grabbed his grip, and he was ready to leave.
There were two Space Patrol officers in the hallway outside his door. Men he immediately recognized as co-workers, but not friends, from the R&D lab. Before he could say anything, they jumped him! One hit him high and the other low, and he was slammed back against the apartment door. The impacts knocked the breath out of him, but he fought back anyway. He was able to ram his foot into the stomach of the man who had tackled him around the legs — a dirty trick that had been used on him on the football field. He dropped his grip and swung both arms around and up, and slammed his cupped hands against the ears of the other opponent. They both let him go and all three men took a second to breath. Then Ross made a break down the hall toward the exit. The corridor was too narrow, however, and one of the men tripped him — and then both of them jumped on him again.
He was wondering where help was! The super’s office should be monitoring the security cameras in this corridor. One of the bad guys slammed him in the jaw, and the lights went out…
A Space Patrol trailer isn’t really a ‘trailer’, but the name is traditional. It is very difficult to tow things in a space ship -the thing at the end of the tow cable tends to swing back and forth through the space drive exhaust, with unfortunate side effects. Instead, the ‘trailer’ fastens around the waist of a Space Patrol cruiser, sort of like an inner tube around a swimmer. Jon had to make a delicate landing on the cruiser’s tail (instead of the more normal ‘belly flop’), then a big crane swung the trailer section over the nose and lowered it into place. A team of technicians followed, fastening it firmly in place and hooking up the necessary interface cables.
The operation proceeded smoothly, and an hour later, Jon was ready to blast off. Lieutenant Kane wasn’t back yet, though. He was starting off his new assignment on the wrong foot… but then the phone chimed. When he answered, a female voice spoke…
“Sentinel Jarl? This is Captain Thomas of the SPMP.” Space Patrol Military Police! It had to be about Kane — and it was. “Can you visit the detention facility? There’s an officer here who claims to be under your command. Commander Kellogg has filed espionage charges against him, and he has some compelling video surveillance evidence. Lt. Ross claims he is being railroaded. I’m requesting your help in resolving the issue one way or another.”
“I’ll be there in five minutes!” Jon promised, and he was. A Sentinel was almost outside the normal Patrol structure — but still, even Sentinels tried to stay on good terms with the SPMP. Captain Thomas didn’t give him much time to settle in, or even ask questions of the disheveled Lieutenant Kane.
“According to Kellogg, Lt. Kane here let himself into the R&D lab, which for some reason was deserted, and started throwing things into a duffel bag. Mostly highly classified things -inviso-belt, X-Ray Specs, Patrol Decoder Ring, Zat’nik’tel — a veritable Christmas list of top-secret R&D projects.” She showed him a travel bag filled with high tech gadgets. “Two of the lab scientists caught him just coming out, and they took him into custody when he tried to escape. There was a scuffle — watch this.:
The video was apparently taken by a video security camera just outside the R&D lab. The video showed Kane leaving the lab, the two men attacking him, and the short fight that followed. If you could see the video, you would recognize the whole scene, except the location. It was the fight we saw a few paragraphs earlier.
Through it all, Kane didn’t say a word — in fact he looked somewhat distracted. “It doesn’t look good for him!” Jon thought, greatly disappointed. “How could I have made such a bad mistake?” Still, he had some questions.
“What do videos from in the lab show? Why is there no sound?”
“We found some radio controlled gadgets feeding false signals into the cameras in the lab and surrounding corridors. The one on this camera partially failed — it blocked sound, but the camera worked.”
Finally, Lt. Kane spoke up. “I was framed! That fight occurred in the hall outside my apartment, not near the lab. I didn’t bollix the lab security cameras, either. And I sure didn’t steal any secrets! Especially such total failures as the X-Ray Specs and the Zat’nik’tel!”
“The video shows you leaving the lab.” Thomas spoke sternly.
“I could fake a video like that myself, easy, and nobody would know. Check the security camera outside my apartment.” He gave Captain Thomas the address, and she called the vide security center. Seconds later, the pneumatic system delivered the tape with a Woosh. It showed a totally empty hallway outside Kane’s apartment during the time of the fight.
“Meaningless — I could do that, too!” Kane insisted.
Jon spoke up, then, He was quite interested in Kane’s claims. “So, someone could lift your fight right off one video and drop it onto another?” Kane nodded. “Could you show us what the fight in your hall looked like? ” Something was tickling his mind — he’d noticed something about the fight, but he didn’t know quite what it was.
“If I could use the video forensics equipment lab here, I could have it for you in ten minutes.” Kane seemed eager to clear his name — a good sign, Jon decided.
This was getting interesting, and Captain Thomas wanted to see where it would lead. She turned to Jon. “Sentinel, without proper authorization, I can’t allow Lt. Kane in that lab. I’ll need to contact someone in Admin who outranks Commander Kellogg…”
Jon grinned. “Captain, please record my next statement on video.” He waited until she nodded. “Captain Thomas, on my authority as a Sentinel of the Space Patrol, I assume full responsibility for this prisoner, Lieutenant Ross Kane, his actions, and any consequences from those actions for the duration of the demonstration he just proposed. In addition, I am temporarily commandeering the video forensics lab for the next two hours.” He paused, signaling her to shut off the video again. “Is that adequate authorization?”
“The prisoner is now your responsibility, and the video forensics lab is yours for the duration.” She handed Jon the keys to the cuffs Kane was wearing.
“What else do you need, Lieutenant?” he asked his Science Officer.
“Just the tapes.” Which he grabbed. “Lead on, Captain!”
Captain Thomas raised an eyebrow at Jon. She didn’t normally get ordered around by Lieutenants. “I think we can forgive him, just this once, for ignoring protocol, eh, Sentinel?” Kane looked like a little boy with his hand in the cookie jar. Jon laughed.
“Provided he can prove he’s innocent!”
12 minutes later they were watching the fight again, on a split screen. One side showed the hallway outside Kane’s apartment, the other the corridor outside the lab. It was impossible to tell that the video Kane had doctored was a fake.
“Run it again;” Jon ordered. “Tell me if you notice anything out of the ordinary in the last few seconds of the fight. No, I’m not going to tell you what to look for.”
So they watched again. At the same point in the video, both Kane and Thomas perked up. Each had clearly seen something they hadn’t see the time before.
“Bars of Mars! You’re a genius, sir!” That was Kane.
“How did you ever notice that?” from Thomas.
“Well” Jon responded modestly “it’s curious in the lab video that Ross wasn’t able to avoid them. Two steps to the left and he’s around that guy ” he pointed at the screen “and well on his way to escape. In the apartment video you see why — the hall is much narrower, hemming him in. This fight didn’t take place outside the lab! ”
“WHAT?!” both other officers shouted in unison. For a few seconds there was chaos as both tried to talk at once. “That’s not…ambient… shatter… spectroanalysis… hamate …” Jon held up his hand — and they both stopped.
“OK, Ross, you first.”
“Yes Sir! The lights in my hallway are standard Space Patrol ‘solar spectrum’ bulbs — they emit the same spectrum as the Sun. The bulbs in the lab and the surrounding corridors are much more orange. Kellogg says the color is better on the eyes — and it does seem to reduce eyestrain from staring at dials and gauges all day. Anyway, a spectral analysis of the light reflected from my uniform in the video will allow us to deduce the spectrum of the light bulbs under which the fight actually took place. Yellow, the lab video is a fake. Orange… uh… orange means they are smarter than me and have already compensated for ambient light…” his voice trailed off.
“Get started, Lieutenant!” Jon commanded. He turned to Captain Thomas. “What do you have?”
“The men fighting with Ross are not human! I’m pretty sure they are Centauri.”
Jon was stunned. The Centauri — natives of Alpha Centauri — were among humanity’s worst enemies. Years ago, in a giant space ship, they had tried to use a tractor beam to tow Earth through space to the Alpha Centauri system! The intense cold of space would have killed all life on Earth, leaving it uninhabited, with undamaged infrastructure, ready for Centauri colonization. The Centauri looked completely human — but there was no humanity in them. They were cold and hard — and hated humanity for every defeat they had suffered at the hands of the Space Patrol! They hated Jon most of all, for single-handedly foiling the plan to steal the Earth.
Ross looked up in stunned surprise, when Captain Thomas mentioned the Centauri. “Genius!” he muttered, then turned eagerly back to work.
“What evidence, Captain? Patrol Security is pretty tight about the Centauri — or at least I thought they were!
“This blow, Sir.” She stopped the video just before Kane had been slammed unconscious. “This strike is impossible for a human. Well, not quite impossible, but if a human struck that blow, the impact would immediately shatter the hamate bone in his wrist. This would leave virtually any human howling in agony, and it would require surgery before he could use the hand again. This man showed no signs of discomfort when the two of them brought in Captain Kane. Ergo — he’s not human.”
Lt. Kane jumped out of his chair, shouting. “Eureka!”
Captain Thomas laughed. “People actually say that?”
“That fight definitely didn’t take place in the lab corridor. The color of our uniforms shows that the light source had a solar spectrum! Not only that, when Captain Thomas mentioned the Centauri, I analyzed the spectrum of the lab lighting — and it is absolutely identical to the spectrum on the Centauri home planet. They get light from all three stars, and while Centauri A is yellow, just like the sun, Centauri B is orange and Proxima is red!”
Captain Thomas turned to Jon. “Sentinel, SPMP has been investigating an ongoing series of thefts from the R&D lab. Our top-secret technological advances have been disappearing, and somehow making their way into Centauri hands. It started about the time Kane joined the lab staff — and I’ll bet it would have stopped after we arrested him today — at least until they could get another sucker assigned to R&D. I think you two have just broken the investigation wide open! This tape and Kane’s analysis gives me everything I need to arrest the lot of ’em — and when we give them physicals, I’m sure we’ll find out the truth!”
“Since you’ve got the video and analysis, Captain, can I take my Lieutenant and get back to my new assignment?” Jon really wanted to get back to space.
She knew she didn’t have the authority to stop him anyway, and was quite pleased that he had even bothered to ask. “We might need to call you back for the trial — but yeah, you can go.” She turned to Lt. Kane. “Sorry but the contents of your travel bag seem to have been dumped somewhere. If we find anything, we’ll put it in storage — but they probably tossed all your stuff into an atomizer.”
Ross was so thrilled to be out of jail, the loss of his travel kit didn’t really matter. “Permission to visit the PX before we leave, sir? I need to replace a few uniforms and other sundries.”
“Granted” Jon tossed him a credit card. “Charge it to my expense account. Get whatever you need — and report on-board no later than two hours from now, Lieutenant. Best behavior, I don’t want to make a habit of getting you out of jail!”
“No, Sir!” He disappeared, almost as if he’d jumped into hyperspace.
“I am going to need a Security Officer, Captain. Would you be interested in the job?”
“Frankly, no, Sir.” She didn’t hesitate. “Of course, I’ll always go where the Patrol sends me, but the job of Security Officer at a Sentinel base is mostly baby-sitting all the automatic monitors. Too boring — I like being actively involved in investigations. Like this one.”
Jon was taken aback at the quick denial. He had never thought of anything related to a Sentinel could be boring — but as he thought about it, he realized she was right.
“I may run things a lot differently than any other Sentinel. If I can promise you a lot of action, would you change your mind?”
“Let me know — who knows?” They shook hands and he headed back to his ship. 87 minutes later, Kane showed up, comfortably early, and they two took off headed for Space Sector 1014 — and who knew what kind of trouble they’d find?
Jon had never named any of his earlier Patrol ships. The Space Patrol made sure every Patrol cruiser was as up-to-date as possible, by doing maintenance updates on every one-man cruisers every two years. Rather than having an officer sitting around doing nothing during a maintenance update, that officer was rotated to a different cruiser, usually one just out of maintenance. So most Patrol officers only used the official names for their ships, names like Shuttle X9, which had been one of Jon’s earlier ships, and Cruiser XL5, which was the official name of this ship.
6 months ago, he had turned in his previous cruiser and been given the current ship. This one was different than any of the others — it was a Sentinel cruiser. Officers slated for promotion to Sentinel always got an early tip-off, as they received their ships well in advance of the promotion. This allowed them to get well-acquainted with their new ships before they took on their first Sentinel assignments — but it also served as a probationary period. An officer’s actions were closely monitored during that period. Every ‘Probie’ Jon had ever known had been promoted to Sentinel, though some of the promotions were posthumous. But there were stories of probationary officers who had misused the powerful Sentinel ships.
Sentinels usually kept the same cruiser for ten to twelve years, although the ships received periodic maintenance upgrades, and each Sentinel traditionally named his/her own ship. Lt. Kane had plenty of suggestions, including Galileo, Astarte. Polaris, Atlas, Voidhawk, Ajax, and more… But ever since he was a young boy, dreaming of space, Jon had always known what he was going to name his ship.
A day before they exited from hyperspace, he carried a mahogany chest into the small ‘ready room’, just off the control room. The ready room also served as the ship’s dining area, and it had a trophy case recessed into the wall, where a Sentinel could display mementos of his or her career. On the second shelf down was a model of a standard Space Patrol one-man cruiser, such as Jon had flown for years. Jon had plans for the empty top shelf of that trophy case. From the chest, he pulled out a pint bottle and two shot glasses. The bottle had a black label which featured a white horse.
“We’ll have a formal naming ceremony when the new base is set up, but it’s too difficult to keep saying ‘Cruiser XL5’ all the time.” Jon poured each of them a shot of the clear light brown liquid. Lt. Kane was uneasy.
“Should we be drinking on duty. Sentinel Jarl?” When he was nervous, he used Jon’s rank.
“Unique occasion, Lieutenant. How often do you get to name a Patrol cruiser? Besides, this isn’t really Scotch. The brewery has done great things with synthol in place of alcohol. It kicks like the real thing — but has no effect on your judgment or reflexes. Costs a lot, but worth every penny!” He raised his shot glass in a toast, was silent for a moment, and then spoke quietly.
“To Challenger!” Lt. Kane repeated, and they tossed back their shots. It felt like swallowing a flaming meteor, which then exploded in the stomach, and the heat immediately flowed outward, warming the rest of the body. The warmth slowly faded, but it left behind a feeling of alertness and well-being.
“Wow! That’s GREAT stuff!” Lt. Kane had obviously never had synthol before. “Great choice of names, too, sir. It’s a great tribute to those whose lives and deaths helped make the Space Patrol possible, and an honor to be aboard!” He spoke with a quiet reverence and a sadness that hadn’t faded among spacemen even after hundreds of years.
Jon was surprised at how strongly he also felt that sadness. After all, he’d planned this moment for years. After a few moments of silent reflection, he spoke again. “Ross, please call me Jon, OK?” He turned to the computer and touched an icon on the screen. “Red Tape” This activated the network’s protocol and paperwork programs. “As soon as we exit from hyperspace, notify Space Patrol Registry of the new listing!”
To complete the ceremony, Jon pulled a small model spaceship from the chest. It was a completely original hand-crafted reproduction of the Challenger shuttle, in exquisite detail. Jon had built the model during the long lonely hours patrolling the Solar System and surrounding regions of space and it fit perfectly into the display case. The mild stasis field inside the trophy case would protect it from any shaking around the new Challenger might undergo as a result of Jon’s Sentinel duties.
Here are models of Shuttle X9 and the original and new Challengers.
The next day, Jon was as the controls as the Challenger re-entered normal space. Within seconds, an alarm started blaring — somebody had target lock on them! The computer had raised their shields the nanosecond they existed from hyper, and a good thing, too! Tremendous energy beams splashed over their shields, followed a few seconds later by a typhoon of powerful missiles. Jon had never seen anything like this. It was massive overkill, clearly intended to overwhelm and destroy Jon’s cruiser in seconds, and it must have been designed by someone who was intimately familiar with the capabilities of a Sentinel cruiser!
The newly-christened Challenger would have been totally destroyed if it hadn’t been for the trailer.
The trailer was much bigger on the inside than the outside, incorporating the latest tesseract technology that had recently come out of the R&D labs.
“Which means that the Centauri probably have it, too!” Jon thought grimly. “I’m glad we were able to help bust those rats!”
Stored inside the trailer was his entire Sentinel base, including the powerful sensors, invincible defenses and irresistible weapons meant to defend a base on giant asteroid from any conceivable space attack. These components were cleverly stored in the outer layer of the trailer, and then interfaced to the controls of the Challenger. The shields easily withstood this fearsome attack.
The tactical screen showed more than thirty ships were involved in the attack. four of the attackers were the giant Lowlifian battleships, while the rest were the smaller Vlarrmun ships.
“One of our jobs is supposed to be to get the Lowlif and the Vlarrmun to work together. Looks like we’ve already succeeded!” Jon tried to make a joke of the situation.
He figured that their best response to this attack was to leave and establish his base somewhere else in Sector 1014. It was a big sector, after all. He touched the Nav icon on the screen.
“Hyperjump, five light years, ahead!. Fastest way!” Jon and Lt. Kane were already in their seats, so the quick hyper transitions shouldn’t bother them. Nothing happened! Except the computer made an announcement…
“Cause of hyperdrive failure?” Jon inquired immediately.
“Unknown.” The bad news wasn’t done yet. “Estimate fifteen minutes to shield failure!”
“Cause of shield failure?” Jon demanded. “We should be able to sustain this level of bombardment indefinitely.”
“Insufficient power. Cause unknown.”
“We can’t run, and the shields won’t last much longer. Time for a little diplomacy.” Jon touched the screen. “Weapons, target the four Lowlif battleships and the four closest Vlarrmun cruisers with a 50% protonic plasma beam. Fire!”
“What’s wrong with the weapons?”
“Insufficient power. All available power is currently routed to sustain the shields. ”
“That’s just great! We can’t run, we can’t hide, and we can’t fight back! I guess I really will need to talk to them. Ross, get the power fixed, and then find out why the hyperdrive isn’t working!”
“OK, Chief! I always like to do two impossible things before breakfast!” He was trying to make a quip, but his voice wavered. Even though he was a Space Patrol officer, Lt. Kane had never been in a space battle before. He turned to his computer screen and started touching icons.
“Chief, for some reason, we can’t get pull more than 20% of full power from the trailer power plant, and even that is fluctuating dangerously. I can’t isolate the problem from here — I’m going to have to go down there!” He sounded ill at the thought, his earlier perkiness now totally gone.
“What if the power fails entirely?” Jon knew it was a rhetorical question. “The tesseracts will collapse and if you’re inside of one of them…” He didn’t know exactly what would happen — but he knew it could be very bad if Lt. Kane were forever trapped inside the collapsed tesseract.
“When the shields fail, we get blown to shreds — so I’m dead either way!” Kane was now shaking and sweating, and his voice was weak. “Don’t try to talk me out of it — you might succeed, and then you’ll have to go!”
Jon fully understood life and death choices. It came with the job. He smiled at his Science Officer’s resolve. “Good Luck, Lieutenant.” Ross rushed out of the control room and Jon turned on the All-Wave.
Sentinel Jarl and Lieutenant Kane were both wearing their ‘battle condition’ uniforms. Not quite a space suit, not quite combat armor, the battle condition uniform was made from armor cloth and reinforced by a form fitted force field, and could safely withstand kinetic and energy fire from handheld weapons, as well as support its wearer in vacuum for several hours. The force field ‘helmet’ was equipped with a head’s up display that could link to the Challenger’s tactical computer and a hands-free communicator. The suit also included maneuvering jets to allow guided motion in free fall. Ross used his jets and zipped two decks down to the docking ring in under a minute.
And through the connecting airlock into the trailer in another twenty seconds. Where, despite the urgency of the situation, and the uninspiring view, he halted, stunned in awe of what he knew was around him.
The trailer was built of two parallel rings of storage cubes, approximately twenty feet on a side, laid side by side with a corridor running between them, enclosed in a covering similar to metallic shrink-wrap. Each cube was actually a tesseract, or, in Patrol lingo, a hypercube storage container, with a complex internal hypergeometry, and eight times the apparent volume of the visible cube. It was the internal volume of these cubes that made them awesome — they literally extended outside of our universe!
“At least, outside the small fraction of our universe that we humans are capable of sensing!” Ross thought smugly. “But the human mind, and science, are still capable of deducing and manipulating even that part of the universe we can’t sense directly!” His smugness was justified — to a large extent, it was his theory that had led to the development of hypercube storage containers. Though he had never before seen his theory implemented on this large a scale.
He shook himself, and got back to work. Either he succeeded and he would have plenty of time to contemplate higher dimensions at his leisure, or he would die. He hurried along the corridor between two parallel rings of cubes to the one which contained the power plant. He examined the external cables, controls and indicators hopefully, but whatever the problem was, it was inside the storage cube. He was going to have to go in.
Not that going into a tesseract scared him — not much, anyway. After all, the Patrol R&D team that had developed the technology from his theory had proved that it was perfectly safe. Hey, wait! Weren’t those the same guys he and the Sentinel had just busted as Centauri spies? Still, Ross had approved the final design. If the construction team built it to the design, it was safe. It was just that he was nervous about stepping ‘out’ of the universe…
“But that’s exactly what you do each time you make a hyperspace jump!” he scolded himself sternly. “Well, not ‘exactly. The hyperdrive creates a bubble which maintains conditions normal to our universe, and moves that entire bubble into hyperspace — so in theory, at least, the inside of the bubble is still ‘our’ universe.” Once again he chided himself for his thoughts. They were totally irrelevant now, just another excuse to delay entering the cube.
He entered the cube through the human-sized door next to the sliding loading door that covered about half of the face. The inside looked like a big storage room, but warnings painted on all the interior faces hinted at the hypergeometry he would be traversing. The floor and ceiling were stenciled with big ‘Floor’ and ‘Ceiling’ signs every two feet, and painted on most of the doors were big caution signs in bright red.
“Warning! Gravity Shift beyond this door!” Fortunately, the Challenger was in zero g, so Ross wouldn’t have to worry about gravity shifts.
One of the walls had no door — and Ross knew that a door through that wall would have opened into the alien hyperdimension into which the tesseract extended. Nobody had actually looked into that hyperdimension yet. Ross understood the mathematics of hyperdimensions, but had no idea how they might translate into physical reality. And he wasn’t interested in learning right now, either.
He had to go ‘up’ two sections, so he jetted to the hatch in the ceiling. The warning sign on this hatch was in green letters, and it informed him that the gravity vector in the next section was the same as this one. Again he jetted up to the ceiling hatch. This time, the warning was “Warning! Gravity Vector Reversed beyond this door! You will be climbing DOWN through the ceiling!” No wonder they usually loaded a trailer in free fall!
Even though he was in free fall and expecting it, Ross felt a thrill of panic run through his body when he passed through the hatch and found himself ‘upside-down’, with a massive nuclear power plant seemingly hanging from the ceiling above him. He quickly used his jets to swing himself around, and then forced himself to relax. He jetted down to the plant.
The indicators on the control panel showed that it was operating normally, and should easily be capable of producing the power that the Challenger needed, even under the terrific bombardment. He opened a series of access panels and behind the third, he found the problem.
Someone had cut out a piece of the main power buss, which carried current from the plant to the cruiser, and inserted some kind of device in the gap. This sabotage had apparently been done in a hurry — the cutting had been done using a Patrol hand-blaster, and the and the edges were uneven, which had apparently prevented the device from seating properly in the gap. The device itself looked like it had been built in a hurry, with exposed wiring and pieces held together with electrical tape. Ross was pretty sure the person who was installing it had been interrupted and never completed the installation. Maybe that was why they were still alive?
Ross didn’t dare touch it — he didn’t know what it was supposed to do, but what if he tampered with it and it totally blocked the current flow? Of course, the time limit the computer had set was fast approaching — he had to do something! But there was no way to restore normal power flow without replacing the buss bar and that couldn’t be done unless the power plant reactor was totally shut down. With the modular design employed by the Space Patrol, shutting down the power, replacing the bar with a new one, and restoring power shouldn’t take more than five minutes. He was just about to contact the Sentinel, when Jarl’s voice came through the communicator.
“Ross, how’s it going down there? I sort of need full power, like yesterday…” Even through the communicator, Ross could hear the stress in Sentinel Jarl’s voice.
“I can fix it, but I need to shut down the power plant for five minutes.”
“Not gonna happen. This bombardment would destroy us in five seconds. We better think of something else. The bad guys claim they have us trapped in a hyperdrive suppressor field. Ever heard of it?”
“Wow — SP R&D is.. oops! was working on one of those when we left! I wonder if those Centauri rats sold the information to these guys?” He paused a second. “I wasn’t closely involved in the project — but they were using my space-4 theory…” the theory which led to the development of tesseracts… “so we did talk about it a little.”
“Can you jazz up our shields to stop it, or tweak the drive to work even in the suppressor field? We only need to make a really short jump…”
“Sorry, Sentinel, you’ve seen too many episodes of Commander Comet, Scourge of the Spaceways! Urrp!” He immediately realized that his commanding officer might not be amused at that bit of R&D humor.
“One of us better make like Commander Comet, Ross, or we’re never going to see another episode.” the Sentinel responded dryly. “Shield failure in about nine minutes. I’m open to ideas.”
As Ross left the bridge of the Challenger, Jon was attempting to communicate with their attackers. “Unknown fleet, this is Sentinel Jon Jarl of the Space Patrol. Cease your unprovoked attack immediately!”
“Unprovoked we are not! Destroyed many of our brothers, did you!” Based on prior experience, this was probably a response from one of the Vlarrmun ships.
“Silence, Vlarrm! Myself, Wompaduck, Supreme Grand Commander of the Combined Fleets of the Lowlif and the Vlarrmun, will speak for the Fleet!” That had to be a Lowlifian, roaring so loud Jon was sure he could hear the being through vacuum as well as the All-Wave. “You are invader. We kill invaders!”
The Vlarrm screeched back “Ultimate Grand Commander am I! Speak for Fleet, I will!”
Jon cut in. “I had nothing to do with the earlier destruction of either Vlarrmun or Lowlifian vessels. They destroyed each other. And I’m not surprised, seeing how well you cooperate!” The bombardment didn’t lessen. “If you continue firing, the Space Patrol will consider it an act of war!”
“WAR! War it is! You first casualty! Hyperdrive suppressor keep you here and we smash you!”
“FOOL! IDIOT! Hyperdrive suppressor, secret it was! Give away more secrets, you will not!”
The All-Wave suddenly emitted a tremendous blast of sound and cut off as if it had just died. The computer spoke up, though Jon could barely hear it. He hoped his hearing wasn’t permanently damaged!
“Dangerous audio levels caused damage to the All Wave before it could be shut down. Repairs required.”
Talking didn’t work either. It looked like he was going to have to think of something else. Fast!
“Computer, if we diverted power from life support, could we power the beam weapons?”
“What about the space drive?” which should not be affected by the hyperdrive suppressor. “Top speed with the diverted power from Life Support?”
“Estimated .001% of normal cruising speed.” That would be a top speed of about one-hundred miles an hour. Not much in terms of interplanetary distances. But enough for what Jon wanted to do. “Warning! Diverting power from Life Support requires a command- level override.”
“Issuing Voiceprint Command Level Override, divert power from Life Support. Verify voice print and proceed.” Jon stated formally.
Jon started the vessel moving toward a very large asteroid. Though the fire from the attacking fleet intensified, as long as the shields lasted, there was nothing they could do to stop the Challenger from moving. Once the ship was moving, Jon shut down the engines and powered up some missile launchers. Fortunately, launching a missile took almost no power — most of the power came from the missile itself. He launched twenty missiles with the most powerful warheads available directly at the asteroid! Then he turned his attention to the attackers and began firing a full salvo at the attacking fleet.
The enemy ECM (Electronic Counter Measures, fouling up the missiles’ guidance computers) appeared to be spectacularly successful, as none of the missiles acquired targets. They blasted for several seconds, and then automatically shut down, and flew outward from the battle, uncontrolled. Several enemy ships moved out of the way of these now useless pieces of space junk, and returned to the attack.
As they drifted closer to the asteroid, fewer enemy ships were able to target the Challenger, and the attack diminished in intensity. Jon knew that wouldn’t last — ships that were currently shadowed by the asteroid would soon maneuver around and join back in the attack. And then he would be pinned against the asteroid and a sitting duck. His maneuvers had bought some addition time for Ross to fix the power plant — but would it be enough? He called his Science Officer via his helmet communicator. We’ve actually seen the other side of this conversation…
“Ross, how’s it going down there? I sort of need full power, like yesterday…” He was trying to keep it fairly light to avoid stressing his new subordinate — this was probably his first space battle.
“I can fix it, but I need to shut down the power plant for five minutes.” Ross sounded hopeful, but Jon had to dash his hopes.
“Not gonna happen. This bombardment would destroy us in five seconds. We better think of something else. The bad guys claim they have us trapped in a hyperdrive suppressor field. Ever heard of it?”
“Wow — SP R&D is.. oops! was working on one of those when we left! I wonder if those Centauri rats sold the information to these guys?” He paused a second. “I wasn’t closely involved in the project — but they were using my space-4 theory so we did talk about it a little.”
“Can you jazz up our shields to stop it, or tweak the drive to work even in the suppressor field? We only need to make a really short jump…” There weren’t many tricks left to pull from Jon’s magic hat. If Ross could come up with some tricks of his own, that would help a lot.
“Sorry, Sentinel, you’ve seen too many episodes of Commander Comet, Scourge of the Spaceways! Urrp!”
Jon smiled. Some Patrol officers might take offense at that remark — but Jon knew that ‘Scourge of the Spaceways’ was based loosely on his own adventures, and those of his fellow Patrol officers. One of the Patrol’s more brilliant PR moves, in his opinion.
“One of us better make like Commander Comet, Ross, or we’re never going to see another episode.” the Sentinel responded dryly. “Shield failure in about nine minutes. I’m open to ideas.”
At about that same time, the brace of missiles Jon had fired at the asteroid struck — and struck hard, with the most powerful warheads the Patrol had ever created. Millions of tons of dirt and rock was gouged from the surface and blasted into space, and the Challenger drifted smack into the middle of the debris cloud. Under the full attack of only a few seconds earlier, the shields might have failed when being smashed by flying boulders, but they held just long enough. Because the flying debris further helped shield them from the enemy attack. Suddenly, incoming missiles and beams were blocked by the vast dust clouds, floating gravel and flying rocks. The drain on the shields from the attack was cut by almost 80%.
“Revised estimate, Ross. Shield failure in 36 minutes!” Jon passed along the good news.
“Holy Moley! Good job, Commander Comet!” There was joy in Kane’s voice. “I just may be able to do something about the suppressor field. Which storage container houses the armory?”
John queried the computer. “Outer Ring, Storage Container number 7, about thirty degrees clockwise from your present location. If you can disrupt a hyperspace suppressor device on an attacking space ship from within an almost powerless Patrol cruiser with only a hand-held weapon, I’ll be calling you Commander Comet!”
“On my way, chief. Start writing my promotion papers!” Jon liked the way that sounded!
At the same time as the Space Patrol had obtained the tractor beam by reverse engineering the wreckage of a Centauri battleship, the tractor beam technology had inspired the invention of the pressor beam. A ‘reverse tractor beam’, the pressor pushed on things rather than pulling them. The pressor was quickly adapted as a weapon, particularly for planetary surface warfare, and for a short time heavy mobile armor (think ‘tanks’) equipped with pressor cannon was virtually unstoppable. Until the Space Marines developed an extremely effective counter-weapon. (The Space Marines are the planetary warfare arm of the Space Patrol — although a Space Marine would tell you that the primary function of the Space Patrol is chauffeur duty for the Marines).
A small electronic device could create a force field that inverted the effects of a pressor. An explosive device equipped with one of these inverters would be pulled toward the source of the pressor beam. A missile equipped with an armor-piercing warhead and an inverter wouldn’t even need a guidance system. The fall from favor of the pressor as a weapon was precipitous. Nobody wanted to carry a weapon that served as a homing beacon for enemy fire!
One of the major problems with the Space Patrol’s prototype hyperdrive suppressor was that it used a pressor beam. The pressor cannon was actually pushed into Space 4, where the affect of the beam was somewhat altered by the unusual physical properties of that dimension. In the area blanketed by the beam, the difficulty of entering hyperspace was increased exponentially. Since the pressor cannon was in Space 4, you needed to have access to Space four in order to destroy it — so it would be useful until the Space Patrol’s enemies acquired Space four technology, and not so useful against a Patrol cruiser with Ross Kane onboard. Apparently the Centauris had withheld this bit of information from the Lowlif and Vlarrmun when they had sold them the stolen technology…
In the armory, Lieutenant Kane picked up a shoulder-mounted missile launcher, loaded it with a magazine containing a half dozen of the Space Marines’ ‘pressor-seeking’ missiles, and he also grabbed a heavy-duty Patrol hand blaster. He made his way to a nearby storage container that had a bulkhead separating it from Space 4, and sealed all the doors to that cube. Strapping himself in place with some cargo ties, he then set the blaster beam to maximum intensity, minimum dispersion. He darkened the force field helmet to allow virtually no light through, and then quickly cut a three foot hole through the bulkhead. It only took a few seconds for the air in the room to empty, and his straps held him securely.
Nobody had ever actually looked into Space-4 before — and Ross didn’t plan to do so now. Working by touch and memory, he extended the missile launcher through the hole and fired the whole magazine.
“Tell the computer to be ready to hyperjump as soon as the suppressor quits!” he radioed to Jon on the bridge. “Should only be a second or two away!” He hoped he would survive being exposed to hyperspace — in theory, the normal space bubble around the ship would be enough to protect him, but no one had ever been exposed to hyperspace through a hole in a bulkhead before!
On the bridge, Jon commanded the navigational computer. “Hyperdrive HOT, jump as soon as the suppressor field fails!”
Almost instantly, there came a tremendous wrenching, and the Challenger tried to surge into hyperspace. But instead of being over instantly, this awful wrenching continued for several seconds, and Jon and Ross were wretched. And they didn’t make it into hyperspace!
“They must have had two suppressors” Ross tried to report, but he was so sick all he could do was think the words. “The second one came on the instant the first one was destroyed!”
There wasn’t enough power to sustain the shields and the hyperdrive engines at the same time. If they had jumped, it wouldn’t have mattered. As it was, the shields failed and death and destruction rained down on the Challenger from the sky. There was a tremendous explosion, and then the fiery weapons of destruction, no longer impeded by the Challenger or her force field, reached the surface of the asteroid. Before the attackers could stop firing, the massive asteroid itself was shattered as well. The attackers ceased firing — and the most comprehensive scans their advanced instruments could make of the debris field were unable to discover any trace of the Challenger.
The missiles Jon had fired earlier, in a futile salvo, drifted through space, forgotten, after the ECM of the attacking fleet had caused them to shut down. Totally inert now, they were no longer a danger to the attackers.
Or were they totally inert? Certainly the rockets had shut down, and there were no detectible electronic or radioactive emissions from them. But on each missile, a tiny mechanical timer mechanism, ticked away. Mechanical timepieces had been obsolete for hundreds of years, having been replaced by digital devices, and the skill craftsmanship required to build such mechanical timers was a lost art. These timers, the mechanical hearts of the missiles, had been scavenged from antiques collected from around the world.
At a precise instant, on each missile, a microswitch was activated. A tiny current flowed, closing a relay that allowed much greater current to flow, and the missiles came back to life. As one, they flipped their orientation 180 degrees, and their rockets roared back to life. They slowed, stopped moving away, and then began driving back toward the battle. When they reached a predetermined velocity, their onboard computers reset the timers, and the missiles once again shut down.
In the shut down mode, with their passive stealth design, these missiles became virtually undetectable again. Their radar-reflecting cross-section was no bigger than a pea, and this section of space was filled with pea-sized debris from the many explosions that had already occurred in the surrounding asteroid belt. Thus, the combined Vlarrmun and Lowlifian fleet had no warning of their approach. They came steadily, stealthily nearer, like a swarm of deadly space piranhas.
Once again, at the precisely predetermined time, microswitches were activated. In the barest second, sensors were activated and targets were selected. Then the missiles roared into life once again, and 120 deadly Space Patrol missiles blasted toward enemy targets.
The Challenger had just disappeared in an incredibly massive explosion, and the crew of each attacking vessel was concentrating on only one thing — locating the remains of the Challenger so they could be sure they battle was over. They were totally unprepared for an attack from the rear!
The first few ships to be attacked, including one of the giant Lowlif battleships, were destroyed without warning, as they were blasted by multiple missiles. Their aft shields had been on minimum power as they protected themselves from the debris of the Challenger explosion ahead of them, and one missile strike was enough to collapse the weak aft shields — leaving these ships totally undefended to later missiles. Seconds later, they were gone.
Another dozen Vlarrmun ships were destroyed before their crews could react. Shield power was rerouted and ECM brought back online. But the ECM had never actually affected the Patrol missiles. In fact, the only reason the bad guys had been able to detect the Patrol missiles when they were fired earlier was because of the missiles’ own onboard ECM. Each missile had broadcast a large virtual radar signature, disguising the fact that their actual radar signatures, smaller than a pea, were below the detection limits of the enemy instrumentation.
Jon had programmed the missiles to attack from behind, knowing that he might need a diversion if Ross was unable to fix the generator or find a way to escape the hyperdrive suppression field. He had never dreamed that the Challenger would be gone before the surprise attack!
As the combined fleets searched frantically for the Patrol vessel that had so successfully attacked them, various vessels in the fleet continued to take damage from ‘invisible’ missiles. The badly rattled weapons officers began shooting at anything that moved around them, and it was only a few seconds before they were shooting at each other. The always fragile truce between Vlarrmun and Lowlif was once again shattered. Between Jon’s carefully-designed ‘diversion’ and their own mutual hatred, very few of the enemy lived to report this battle to their superiors.
If the Challenger had managed to survive until the surprise attack from the rear was launched, Jon’s plan would have saved the ship and the two Patrol officers onboard. It was a spectacular tactic easily worthy of Commander Comet — if only Jon and Ross had been around to see their success…
A dozen light years away, the Challenger dropped out of hyperspace. Sentinel Jon Jarl released his chair safety harness and collapsed to the floor, retching, and then curled up into a fetal position, whimpering with pain. A single hyper transition was bad enough, but this had been much much worse. He thought the computer had automatically initiated the hyperspace transition at least three different times, and been roughly bounced back each time, until finally on the fourth attempt, the transition was successful. Or at least, he would have thought that, if he could think at all. He should have been unconscious due to the pain and nausea, but something was forcing him to fight through the pain.
“Computer — dispatch the mobile unit” the robot body which had originally contained Sam’s quanitronic consciousness, until that self aware robotic brain had self-evolved into a being of pure energy, now the mobile appendage of the Challenger’s computer network “and replace the power bus in storage container IR6, Chamber 5!” He stopped and gasped for breath. Who knew that talking could be such hard work? The mobile unit flew from the control room and he struggled to give one more command.
“As soon as full power is restored, shields to max — and initiate Situation D!” He hoped he had gotten the Situation Code right! And then Jon passed out, not knowing if he would ever awaken again.
Still, awaken he did. He was in the Challenger’s small, advanced infirmary, attached by wires and tubes to the auto-doc. On the other bed, Lieutenant Kane was similarly connected. Jon felt much better — or, it was more correct to say he felt virtually nothing at all. He felt almost like a disembodied intelligence, and knew that his body must be pumped full of drugs — drugs designed to leave his mind clear while insulating him from pain.
He had got the Sit Code correct, just before he passed out! D for Dire told the computer to initiate autodefense mode, and provide medical care to the crew as required. He shuddered to think of a robot poking him with needles and inserting tubes into his body — but it seemed to have worked.
Ross seemed to have been awake longer than he had. He spoke when he saw Jon’s eyes were open.
“Say, Chief, good thing I fired off the whole clip of missiles, wasn’t it? They must have had several backup suppressors, but the extra missiles targeted them almost as fast as they turned them on. Hope you got my promotion papers ready!”
Jon was confused. Promotion papers? Kane wasn’t up for promotion yet. His confusion must have shown.
“Promotion to the rank of ‘Scourge of the Spaceways’, for pulling our tails out of the fire!” He looked hurt. “C’mon, Chief, you promised!”
Jon must have smiled — he wasn’t sure he could talk in this disembodied state, but Ross took that as a sign to continue.
“While you were napping, Chief, I’ve solved the mystery of Krypton! I was studying the neutrino capture records…” He paused, looking puzzled. “Say, I didn’t even know it was possible to capture neutrinos — much less that a Patrol cruiser carried the necessary equipment! It’s theoretically impossible!”
“Maybe Sam had a different theory…” Jon was able to whisper. No, he didn’t hurt right now, but he didn’t like his body being so far away, regardless of the pain. He was going to have to get Ross to change the allowable drug dosages specified in the Sit Code D program.
“I’ll have to figure that out later!” Ross was excited at the thought of examining technology heretofore unknown to human science, but right now his latest discovery was tops on his mind. “Anyway, the neutrino capture scans show that Krypton was about to explode. Deep in the core of the planet, a nuclear reaction began. It was virtually undetectable for the first half second, but it grew exponentially, doubling in power every few microseconds, and in just under two seconds, it would have blown the planet apart!”
“But?” Jon wanted to know.
“But, someone anticipated it. Close to the site of the initial reaction in the center of the planet, someone had placed some kind of power siphon. It is hard to tell looking at pictures made over 300 years after the event, and from over 300 light years away, but it seems to have been surrounded by some kind of force field. As the reaction grew in power, this device siphoned some of that power away. I thought initially it had been designed to siphon enough power to dampen the reaction, but that would have been impossible.”
“Apparently the genius who designed it was at least as smart as I.” He said with a smug shrug. “Instead, the siphon sent was powering to another device, set atop Krypton’s highest mountain. And some kind of white field emanated from that device, and Krypton faded from our universe.”
“If you slow the recordings ‘way down, like several million times, you can actually see the planet fade from view! Almost like a phantom…”
Jon forced himself to speak again. “Why?”
“I don’t know, for sure.” Ross looked frustrated. “Obviously, someone on Krypton knew the explosion was coming, and had some kind of plan to save the planet. But I can’t tell any more from the recordings. We’re just going to have to visit Krypton’s stellar system if we want to learn more.”
Feeling was returning to Jon’s body, and it was now easier to talk. “Once we get our base set up, Krypton will be high on the mission board!”