The Orion War, Page 6

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“Commodore Matheson,” Judith said, “release the controls.”

“Not yet,” Isaac answered, switching to topographical view.  Maybe one of the continents would look like a cross or a dove or something.

“You goddamned traitor,” Paul said.

Isaac stopped.  He glanced at Paul over his shoulder.  “What did you call me?”

“A traitor,” Paul said, quivering with righteousness.  “You’ve always been a traitor, weeping for dead Hykonians while our brothers and sisters are murdered.”

“A traitor,” Isaac repeated, feeling excitement blossoming inside him.  “I am a traitor.”

“Isaac,” Judith said, “what are you doing?”

“Pilot,” Isaac said, crossing the room, a dozen pairs of nervous eyes observing him.  “Step away.”

“Y-yes… Commodore, sir.”

Isaac entered his password and began to activate the deceleration program.  The bulk freighters hadn’t been designed for travel near the speed of light, so stopping would be even more dangerous than starting.  The ship trembled, inertia compensators absorbing and discarding momentum at a rapid pace.  The rate of time dilation began to drop.  Thirty years per hour.  Twenty years per hour.  Ten, five, one…

“Inertia compensators are overloading!” a technician yelled.

“Traitor!” Paul said, grabbing hold of the captain’s chair as the Faith spun out of control.  “The enemy won’t have to kill us!  You’ll do it for them!”

Even as artificial gravity failed, even as the ship bucked hard and the number four inertia compensators exploded, Isaac remained calm.  He’d rebuilt the Faith’s engines.  He’d written the deceleration program.  He knew how much strain the ship could take as one by one the safety systems went offline.

“I’m detecting a ship ahead!” a crewman yelled.

Isaac looked up, ignoring Judith and Paul’s venomous glares.

“No, wait!  Ten ships.  They’re huge!”

“A trap,” Paul said, his voice oozing accusation.

“When did the Hykonians get ten ships?” Judith asked, turning toward the viewport.  “They never had more than five.”

Inexplicably, the rattling stopped.  Isaac lifted his hands off the controls, puzzled by the Faith’s now smooth deceleration.  A massive ship, far larger than the old bulk freighter, loomed ahead, holding its position relative to the Faith.

“I think,” Isaac said, watching the dial as time dilation approached one hour per hour, “we’re in a tractor beam.”

The communications panel beeped.  A transmission came through on one of the few channels the antennas still received.  “Starship Faith,” a human-sounding voice said, “this is the Orion Defense Force.  We’ve been waiting a long time for you.  Welcome to New Eden.”

* * *

Isaac felt vindicated at first, but as he traveled down to the planet, the memory of all his sins reemerged.  He’d led the Community to the Orion Nebula, and most of his brothers and sisters had died there.  He’d helped kill Hykonians despite the protest of his conscience.  In the end, he’d betrayed Judith, placing his faith in a vague hint from Talie rather than trusting the high priestess’s judgment.  Even though Isaac’s hunch proved correct, he’d taken a terrible chance and could easily have been wrong.

Judith and Paul were strapped into seats opposite him.  Paul alternated between glaring at Isaac and staring blankly at his own hands.  Judith hung her head in quiet meditation.

The shuttle hit the atmosphere, rumbling in the turbulence.

Perhaps Talie was waiting down there for her third interview.  Isaac wondered how often she meddled with history.  How often did she make a “mistake”?  Was she really an impartial observer reporting the news, or did she help people in subtle ways, so subtle they might not even notice?  Angels never whispered in Isaac’s ear, but Talie Tappler had given him clues.  When he’d needed a sign, Talie had provided it.  Unbeknownst even to her, perhaps she’d acted as God’s messenger.

* * *

When the shuttle landed, four soldiers were waiting.  Two were human.  Two were Hykonian.  They all knelt before the newcomers, greeting them with military honor.

In the streets outside the landing complex, more soldiers stood dressed in ceremonial white, their blaster rifles raised, their helmets marked with both a cross and a geometric Hykonian totem.  Festive banners fluttered overhead.  The crowds cheered, and a group of dignitaries rushed toward the three bewildered travelers.

“Greetings!” a stumpy, lime green Hykonian said.  “I am President Bollo of New Eden.  On behalf of the entire Orion Alliance, I welcome you to your new home.”

Bollo explained that thousands of years ago, when the Hope fell out of time dilated flight, the crew came into contact with one of the Hykonian ships.  Both were damaged, trapped in normal time and unable to rejoin the war.  High Priestess Magdalene—the surviving crew had voted to promote her in Judith’s absence—spoke to the Hykonian chief elder.  They made an arrangement, and through cooperation the two crews survived and prospered, their descendents continuing the search for a new home together.

“In the writings of St. Magdalene of the Hope,” Bollo said, “she called you, Isaac, and you, Judith, her greatest inspirations for it was the two of you who said our species had similar religions and could find much in common.”

Judith shook her head, tears gathering under her eyes.  “Maggie was too generous,” she said.  “Yes, I thought such a thing might be possible, but I led my followers to war anyway.”

“And I built weapons to fight that war,” Isaac said, the weight of his shame increasing.

President Bollo placed a three-fingered hand on Isaac’s shoulder, another on Judith’s.  “My ancestors were as guilty as anyone.  They fled the endless war with Earth yet brought their ancient hatred with them.  But this is New Eden, a new beginning for us all.”

“Even the Garden of Eden had a green-skinned serpent,” Paul said, inserting himself into the conversation, his voice loud enough for some in the crowd to hear.

President Bollo regarded Paul, the expression on the Hykonian’s face indecipherable.

“You are the one called Paul,” Bollo said.  “St. Magdalene wrote about you as well.”

Paul opened his mouth, but his retort died on his lips.  Awkwardly, uncomfortably, he took a step back.

A human and another Hykonian joined the President.  They introduced themselves as the Archbishop of the Community of Christ and the Chief Elder of the Cult of the Twin Gods.

“Commodore, High Priestess,” the archbishop said, “we have waited thousands of years hoping you would find your way here.  Please join us at the cathedral.  We’ve prepared a special service in your honor.”

“Afterward,” the Hykonian chief elder added, “I would like to invite you to a peace ceremony at our Temple of Enlightenment.”

An aid leaned forward, whispering something to the President.  An annoyed grimace passed over the stumpy Hykonian’s face.  “Before all that,” President Bollo said, “a member of the media is waiting to speak with you, Commodore.  She promised to keep it brief.”

Standing apart from the dignitaries and soldiers, separated from the crowd, Talie Tappler watched this moment in history.  Her cyborg cameraman stood nearby, filming it.  Isaac grimaced.  He noticed Talie’s wicked smile, the same smile he’d seen once on the viewlink.  Somehow, Isaac suspected this interview would not be brief at all.

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