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Returning Excerpt No. 1





Preparation

Captain Kimewe Romiwero leaned forward, her hands resting on the weathered stone rail bordering the stone-flagged terrace of her family home, looking out over Tufaria Bay. The moonlight reflected in the gently-undulating waters. In the distance, she could see the lights of the great naval anchorage of Koril Harbour. Once, it had been the main anchorage for the Eastern Sea Fleet. Now, after 139 years of peace, it was more museum than anything else. The great capital ships were carefully maintained, but seldom left the harbour, unless it was to participate in some mock battle for a motion picture.

Even that was rare now. It was easier to recreate the battles in a computer these days.

Behind her, the party noises grew suddenly louder as someone opened the terrace door. She heard soft footsteps approaching. Romiwero straightened and turned. An attractive, middle-aged woman, wearing a dark-green party dress, was making her way across the terrace.

“I thought I’d find you out here,” her mother said. “You always used to come out here when you were little, any time you wanted to get away from people.”

“I like the view,” Romiwero replied.

“Having second thoughts, Kim?”

“Not exactly. Just thinking about all the things I’ll be leaving behind. All the people.” She smiled wistfully. “You and Dad, for instance. For thirty years, you’ve always been there for me, and in another day or two you won’t be, ever again.”

  Korasi Romiwero nodded. “We’re astonishingly proud of you, Kim,” she said. “You, and everyone in your crew. You’ll see things the rest of us can only imagine.”

“I know.”

She thought of her ship, Warrior, parked in orbit some 400 kilometres above them. The lead ship in a class of three, she was 5.2 kilometres long, with a 450-metre beam. Her range was presumed to be essentially unlimited. No one knew for sure. Jump drive technology had been developed 40 years ago, and first tested in 486, with a relatively modest jump of five light years.

In 496 they had discovered two things. That the jump drive worked, and that it worked only if you were aboard the ship using it. The crew reported enthusiastically of being instantly transported to a point five light years from Barzak, spending a week exploring the vicinity, and then being instantly transported back to where they’d come from. They’d been away for a grand total of seven days, six hours.

They had been a bit taken aback to discover that, so far as everyone on Barzak was concerned, they’d been gone for ten years. The light speed barrier, it seemed, remained unbroken except in a temporal bubble around the ship, where time simply ceased to exist. In jump space, the ship travelled precisely at the speed of light, so time stopped for everyone aboard, but continued for the rest of the universe.

Even that shouldn’t have been possible, Romiwero thought. Griisniskirian Physics argued that an object gains mass as it approaches the speed of light, and at the speed of light its mass becomes infinite. That shouldn’t have allowed travel at light speed.

Avigor Arkhgaizim, until 497 head of the physics department at the University of Balin, had found a way around the problem. The jump drive he developed might move the ship at exactly light speed, or it might simply draw one location in space-time into proximity with another location light years away, allowing the ship to pass instantly from one to the other. Either way, the ship had traversed the distance, and the same amount of time had passed in ordinary space-time.

Romiwero knew what was planned for Warrior. In another two days, the ship would leave orbit, travel a safe distance from the planet, engage the jump drive, and make a 200 light year jump. When the ship emerged into normal space, everyone they’d left behind on Barzak would have been dead for more than a century.

They could return to the planet, but never to the people they knew.

Her mother looked up. “Is that yours?” she asked, pointing.

Romiwero raised her head and looked. The shape was indistinct, but discernible, and the polished metal skin made it relatively easy to see even at 400 kilometres. “Could be,” she said. “I can’t tell at this distance, but it’s certainly one of the three Warriors.”

The three starships, Warrior, Aspirant, and Exultant, were all parked in the same orbit, spaced more or less equally around the planet. Externally, there was no way to tell one from the other unless you got close enough to see their names. They would all depart over the next week, setting out to explore different galactic quadrants, perhaps plant Barzakian colonies on suitable, uninhabited planets. A Warrior class starship carried a crew of 318, with room allotted for an additional 800 potential colonists.

Eventually, they expected to return and report what they had seen. Romiwero wondered if anyone would care. Thousands of years would have passed by the time they returned. Would anyone even speak their language? It was difficult enough understanding Old Gehunite, and there had only been a few centuries of linguistic evolution since that was spoken. Long enough, though, for “grachzich,” to turn into “grosh,” and “noravionish,” into “norish.”

When they returned, they’d announce themselves plainly enough using their radios. She was fairly sure no one would know what they were saying.

“Oh, well,” she said, “the computers can handle it.”

Her mother looked at her curiously. “Handle what?”

“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking out loud. When we get back, well, it’s going to be so far in the future I don’t imagine anyone will still speak the way we do.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Romiwero gazed up at the ship. I think that one’s mine, she thought. If she’d remembered the orbits right it should be Warrior passing overhead about this time.

“The moons are nice tonight,” Korasi said. Emthemlu, the smaller of Barzak’s two moons, was just rising. Nakli had been up for some time.

Romiwero nodded. She found Nakli, with its scarred surface always so suggestive of a human face, more aesthetically pleasing. It was much bigger, a pleasing white globe in the night sky. Emthemlu was only 60 kilometres at its widest point, shaped like a ragged, diseased kidney. It hadn’t even begun to take on a globular shape.

“I suppose I should go back inside,” Romiwero said.

“People want to see you,” her mother said. “That’s why they’re all here.”



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Excerpt No. 2