The Space-Time Chronicles
A collection of tales spanning across the multiverses of time and space. Read the prologue at this link.
Time Enough for Living
By John J. Joex
Copyright © April 2018
Jorret studied the planet that filled the viewscreen before him. It reminded him of his own world, though he could see the clear signs of the years of war through which it had suffered. His own planet was gone now, incinerated after the Redeemers had caused the sun to go nova. He still felt the pain from his own scars he had suffered when he escaped the planet’s destruction on the space-time ship Abraxas. He was not fully recovered from his injuries nor did he know if he ever would be. But he had to carry out his mission to observe and collect information. The planet on the screen before him had suffered from its own struggles, but perhaps there was much to learn from it.
“The planet is name Relegar,” the voice of Abraxas commented. “According to the data collected, it has been in a constant state of war for over one hundred years. But the nations have reached a point where they are ready to return to peace negotiations. I believe the expression ‘they have lost their appetite for war’ applies in this case.”
Jorret smirked at the computer’s use of the phrase. It was a powerful artificial intelligence, but it still needed to learn how to analyze the situations it would encounter. How to see beyond just the facts and develop understanding.
“All too often the intelligent races find war much easier than peace,” Jorret noted. “If these people have found a way to put war behind them, perhaps we have something to learn from them.”
“They have also developed space fold technology,” Abraxas continued, “that will allow them to jump to a planet in another system. That will give then the opportunity to replenish the resources that have been exhausted on the surface below.”
“What about these gamma ray readings?” Jorret asked noting the levels on the monitor.
“Perhaps related to their space fold tests,” Abraxas suggested. “I am running an analysis now.”
“Keep an eye on it,” Jorret ordered, “and let me know if anything changes. In the meantime, we will continue our observations.”
Yoshi Lar stared through the viewport at the scarred surface of the planet below which laid bare the years of war it had suffered. The sight saddened her, but she could not dwell upon it as he turned back to the matter at hand. She looked at her control panel and noted the gamma ray count again. It still bothered her, but she could find no source for the abnormality.
“Status of the dimensional couplers?” Brek Nell’s voice broke the silence and diverted Yoshi’s attention to her main station.
“Unchanged,” Yoshi replied. “Primed and ready to go. The gamma ray levels remain abnormally high though. Not certain what’s causing it.”
“What?” Brek asked as he moved over to Yoshi’s station.
“Here,” Yoshi said pointing at the readouts on the screen. “I’ve not seen them this high before without significant solar activity, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary there.”
“Could the Daelus be causing it?” Brek asked as concern shrouded his face. “Perhaps some sort of attack?”
“Unlikely,” Yoshi replied.
Brek studied the screen for a moment then asked: “Will it affect the launch?”
“At these levels, it shouldn’t,” Yoshi replied. “I just don’t understand what is causing it.”
“Keep an eye on it and let me know if there is reason for concern. Otherwise stay focused on the system checks. With the possibility of Daelus attack before launch, we have to stay alert.”
Yoshi looked down at the readouts one more time then glanced out the opposite viewport. The Arria lay waiting for its maiden voyage. Within a short time, it would execute a space fold and travel over a thousand light years across the galaxy in a matter of minutes. It would be the first manned flight of this nature, following the path that several successful automated probes had previously paved. She felt a sense of pride at her involvement in this historic moment, knowing that it would certainly bring some hope to her war-torn planet, though a tinge of uneasiness still tugged at her.
* * *
“Urgent delivery for Marshall Lenn Duran,” the courier announced as he handed the package to the soldier on duty. The soldier accepted the parcel then turned to complete the delivery. With a hurried pace, he entered the Marshall’s office in the next room and presented the package.
“The reports you have been waiting for,” he announced.
Lenn turned away from the geo-terrain table he studied and snatched the package, removing the papers it contained as the soldier quietly exited. He scanned the analyses for several minutes and began to nod enthusiastically as he saw the conclusions. He reached over to his com and fingered one the buttons.
“Commander Marryn here,” the voice came from the communicator.
“Yann, have you received the latest report?” Lenn queried.
“The high-level reports just arrived,” he responded.
“I have the detailed analyses here,” Lenn noted. “Looks encouraging. The Daelus resistance is on the verge of yielding. Once they fall, intelligence believes their support will quickly fade. It appears that no one has the stomach to continue the war without the Daelus leading the charge.”
“That is the conclusion that I read from my report said as well, sir.” Yann confirmed.
“The end may be near, my friend,” Lenn said almost to himself as he allowed a slight smile of relief to lighten his demeanor.
“We can only hope,” Yann said matter-of-factly. “What are your next orders, sir?”
“Stay the course. Prepare Commander Dieth’s group to move into the Melan territory. Their alliance with the Daelus was tenuous to begin with and I don’t believe that they will give in as easily in their attempts to establish autonomy. The fighting there could be protracted, but at least it will be isolated to one region.”
“Yes sir, anything else?”
“We may be close to ending this war, but make sure we don’t lose our will to fight just yet. We strike hard and quick and hopefully they will buckle. And we also must go forward with the strike on the Daelus base at Prath to assure that they cannot sabotage the Arria project. Understood?”
“Yes sir. I agree, sir. Over and out.” Yann said as his transmission disconnected.
* * *
Yoshi watched anxiously through the viewport as the Arria prepared for launch. Her section had checked all of the secondary systems and there was little more for them to do. Daelus ships had been spotted on the scanners, so security was high and the military fighters had been scrambled for a counter-attack.
“All systems are go, Arria,” the voice from the command center declared. “You are cleared to activate the space fold. Good travels and we will be in contact with you soon.”
“Transmission confirmed,” came the response from the Arria. “We are initiating shift now.”
Yoshi held her breath as a shimmering enveloped the ship. She had seen this several times previously as the test probes had completed successful space folds, but now lives were at stake. Five people, three men and two women, had volunteered for the first manned flight. They would jump to a system that one of the probes had discovered, a potentially habitable planet with plant life. The probe had been surveying that planet for two weeks, and as soon as the Arria arrived, it would make contact and download the probe’s complete findings.
The shimmering intensified to a bright glow and the features of the ship seemed to distort like the stretching of a piece of rubber. Then, with a flash, it was gone. In a matter of seconds, the Arria had flung itself across the galaxy.
“The Arria is away!” A voice declared triumphantly as the sounds of cheering in the command center erupted from the com. “We will establish contact in approximately one hour, once they have recharged their dimensional generators to re-open the portal.”
A sense of elation came over Yoshi. The launch had succeeded without any attacks from the Daelus. Her part had been small, but she had participated in a pivotal moment in history. If the reports were correct and this system was habitable, it would mean exploration and discovery. And perhaps a new focus for the population of a planet that had suffered under the yoke of war for too many years.
At that moment, an alarm sounded, tearing Yoshi’s attention away from her thoughts.
“Alert! Alert!” A voice shouted over the speaker. “Two Daelus ships have moved within range! We are receiving a communication.”
Yoshi’s heart sunk at the announcement. She felt sure this was the attack they feared would come. She turned and looked at the monitor as the Daelus commander appeared in full uniform.
“I am commander Synh Farusk of the Daelus ship Sarshi,” he said in a direct manner over the speaker. He paused for a moment, then a slight smile came over his face and he continued. “I wish to congratulate you on the successful space fold. This is a great day for our world and perhaps a brighter future for us all. We hope to put aside the ways of war and work together with you as we take our next step out in the galaxy.”
With that the transmission ended and a notice came over the speaker that the Daelus ships had turned away. After a wave of relief passed over the room, all stood up and cheered.
* * *
Lenn entered the medical facility and approached Dr. Smol. He had briefings to attend and planning sessions that required his attendance, but he allowed himself just a few minutes for this detour.
“How is she, doctor?” He asked with a slight trepidation.
“No change,” the doctor replied. It was not the best of news, but at least her condition had not worsened.
“She’s still weak,” the doctor continued. “But she seems to be responding to the treatment. Hopefully she will regain some of her strength in the next day or two.”
“Can I see her?” He asked, noting the doctor’s consternation.
“For a few minutes. I believe she’s awake now.”
Lenn entered into the small, sparse room to see his wife laying with her eyes closed. He moved to her side and stroked her hair gently. With his touch, she drearily opened her eyes and vaguely smiled at him.
“Hello, my dear,” he said softly. “I told you I would not be away long.” He took her hand and she softly squeezed it in lieu of a verbal reply.
Lenn looked at her quietly for several moments, cherishing this brief peaceful respite he shared with her. It pained him to see her this way. But at least he had been able to keep her close by his side. She had given him strength despite her weakened condition and he stole any chance he had to be by her side.
“The news from the front is good, my dear.” He said as he continued to caress her. “The Daelus are on the verge of surrender. Once that happens, the others will lay down their weapons. The fighting should be over in a day or two and the armistice talks will begin. Very soon, we will be at peace. It’s true that the Melans may still have some fight left in them, but that will only be a minor distraction.”
He stood and walked over to the window to open the blinds. The city outside was in ruins, but the rising early morning sun seem to deliver new hope. He turned back to look at his wife whose beauty to him glowed in the sunlight.
“Imagine what this means!” He said with enthusiasm. “This planet will finally be almost completely at peace. We have fought for so long that I believe that most people have forgotten what we were fighting for in the first place. It’s almost as if we were fighting only because we believed we had to fight. But maybe, just maybe, the appetite for war has finally withered.
“I have been in the military now for more years than I recall, but I have lost my desire for this profession. I joined because I felt a duty to serve, and I believed it was an honorable path. But no civilized soldier wants to see war unending. We must know that war is only a necessary evil and that peace is our true goal . . . There’s been enough killing.”
Lenn returned to his wife’s side and took her hand again.
“We have a chance now!” He declared. “We have a chance for a new beginning! The Arria should begin her journey soon, she may have already left by now. There are other worlds out there, and now we can travel to them!” He fell silent for a moment.
“Who knows, perhaps we could have traveled to them years ago if we had not put so much of our resources to these god-forsaken wars.”
He looked into her eyes for support. She managed to return a weak, yet encouraging smile.
“It all changes now,” he whispered, seeing that she needed rest. “And perhaps we will learn that there is indeed time enough for living.”
A faint smile remained on her face as she closed her eyes. He said no more as he held her hand and caressed her forehead while she drifted off to sleep.
He stood and turned to leave. He had to attend to his duties now, but he would return to her side and remain with her until she was strong again.
* * *
“The Arria should establish contact within twenty minutes,” the voice from the command center boomed. “All personnel, please stand by.” The station crew waited anxiously for the moments to pass. Some believed the communication from the Daelus commander was a diversion and still feared a potential attack.
Yoshi was oblivious to this, though, as her hands danced across her keyboard and she shook her head furiously in denial.
“Is there a problem?” Brek asked as he approached, noticing Yoshi’s agitation.
“It’s the gamma rays I detected earlier . . .” Her words trailed off as she continued to glare at the monitor.
“Have the levels changed?” Brek asked. “Is it a Daelus attack? Will they affect the transmission?”
“You don’t understand!” Yoshi hollered in anger as she stood with a look of horror on her face. “They have increased, and the pattern matches that of gamma ray bursts that we have previously monitored.”
“Gamma ray bursts?” Brek repeated the term, standing dumbfounded as others in the section approached.
“They are sudden gamma ray explosions caused by a star going supernova then collapsing into a black hole. We have monitored them before and the energy they release is on an apocalyptic scale. Up to this point we have only seen the activity occur outside the galaxy but there is no reason to believe they could not occur within the galaxy.”
“And if they did?” Brek asked. “What would happen?”
“Based on observations, the affects could be . . . devastating. Depending on how close to the nucleus of the burst, it could threaten life in any system within a thousand light years, if not completely eradicate it.”
“How would you know it’s coming? How quickly would the devastation occur?”
“The gamma ray patterns I am seeing mirror the advance warning,” Yoshi answered grimly. “Again depending on the vicinity, once the burst occurs, within seconds it could potentially melt a planet to its core.”
“How close would you estimate it is?”
“Based on the simulation,” Yoshi said with a shudder, as if the words were her last, “five to six light years . . .”
* * *
Lenn stepped outside and felt the cool, late-morning breeze. He knew that he had pressing duties, but he still allowed himself a moment to enjoy the pleasant weather. For the first time in weeks or perhaps months he did not hear the distant thunder of artillery. He longed for that silence to continue. He hoped that the Daelus would indeed surrender and the armistice would be agreed to by all sides. He had grown increasingly weary of the fight and felt he did not have the strength to continue for much longer.
He stood silently and allowed himself a moment to enjoy the warmth of the sun. He closed his eyes and felt it comfort him. Then, even as his eyes were closed, a brightness permeated his eyelids and brought intense heat. He opened his eyes to see its source, but it was too late . . .
* * *
In a lonely, scorched point in space, a brief flash indicated the opening of a dimensional portal followed by a transmission.
“Command center, do you read? This is Arria transmitting. The space fold went off without a hitch and we have made contact with the probe. We have retrieved the full analysis of planet designation 56×3 and it is indeed habitable. The damned thing is covered with plant life, just teaming with all types of vegetation! The botanists back there will be lining up for the next trip out here. And get this as well, the probe found evidence of animal life! We have found exactly what we were looking for! A habitable planet with plant and animal life, are you getting this command? Do you read? Please acknowledge. Command center, this is Arria transmitting. Do you read? Please confirm that you are receiving . . .”
Jorret stared silently at the control panel in front of him as the message faded away. Abraxas had executed a dimension split before the gamma ray burst hit and had now returned to survey the situation. Jorret found himself with no words.
“It is a very unfortunate circumstance,” Abraxas broke the silence with an observation. “The data collected suggests that this planet could have achieved the technology for the space fold many years prior to this. But the constant state of warfare delayed that substantially. They could have begun their exploration of other planets and likely colonization years ago. Many specimens from this planet could have survived this destruction.”
“They didn’t understand,” Jorret said after a moment, almost in a whisper. “They didn’t understand something we had learned long ago, the fleeting nature of life in this universe. We have seen it, we have the perspective, for whatever good it has done us. But they were too busy with their petty squabbles. Races exist for a few hundred thousand years, maybe a million. But that is only a blink of the eye to the universe. Their existence was dominated with war while they did not realize how cruel the universe can be and how quickly their existence could be wiped out. Life is such a rare, precious, and fleeting thing in the cosmos. So much lost to dedicate it to war.”
Next: A Question of Loyalty
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