the deep dark secrets of the human soul are nothing when faced the with needs of a true friend
Lillian and Madeline reached the observation lounge with only a few minutes to spare before the gate was scheduled to be activated. They weren’t the only ones either. Hans and Jacobs had already claimed one of the tables on a raised platform in the center of the room. Jacobs was waving his arms wildly at the girls.
“I think he wants us to come over,” Lillian said lightly.
“You think?” But she followed Lillian over without complaint.
“Best seats in the house,” Jacobs said when they got there. He pulled out the chairs for Madeline and then Lillian, and then took his own seat. “I never get tired of watching this.”
“Isn’t it amazing?” Lillian asked. “Two points, light-years apart. And with this ship, we can make a bridge, however fleeting.”
The others nodded; they’d heard Lillian gush over the gates before. Hans asked, “Do you know who we’re connecting with?”
“Titan Station, I think,” Jacobs answered him. “We’re supposed to get a new load of hydrogen for the reactors. And new parts, I guess. Now that we’ve gone through half of our backups.”
“And new crew!” Madeline added.
“And new crew,” Hans repeated. He didn’t sound quite as thrilled as she did.
“What do you have against new crew?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just that it won’t be engineering with the new faces. Everyone here has at least a year to serve. Except Lillian and we all know she’s never going to leave.”
“Hey,” Lillian said. But she knew it was true. They all did. Serving on the gateships was her life.
“Still,” Madeline went on. “It’ll be nice to see new faces around. I wonder if there’ll be a new cook.”
There was a moment of silence. Jacobs was the first to answer, “I think I’m going to miss Jenkins. He made a mean pot of chili.”
Hans laughed. “Even if he was a Sympathizer?”
“Even then.” He was smiling, but Lillian saw that the smile didn’t reach his eyes. Lillian made a mental note to ask him about that later.
Hans laughed. “You know, I think you’re right. I am going to miss Jenkins' chili.”
Lillian looked over at Madeline and was amused to see her face mirroring her own emotions. Both amused and slightly horrified.
There were spared continuing the conversation by the flicker of the lights that always announced the gate drawing power. Some of the gateships had tried to buffer the power supplies so that the system could operate even when the gate was activating, but there was an outcry from the long time crew. Turns out, they actually liked the effect. It made the entire thing more real. So every time the gate was activated, the rest of the systems on the ship were set to a lower power level for just a moment.
Once the gate had drawn enough power, a bluish glow began at each of the gate generators along the inner ring of ship. From their vantage point, slightly above the ring, they could see all but the nearest. As the glow grew, streams of lightning began to arc from one of the points to another. It was a spectacular sight, seeing the raw discharge of energy. Some of the bolts actually jumped off onto the ship’s hull, but there were systems in place designed to dissipate the extra power.
Lillian suddenly remembered back to her training on the Daedalus—unless you want to end up well done, stay out of an opening gate–and smiled. Seeing that display, who’d want to fly into it?
Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash of light and the gate snapped into being. There wasn’t really a moment when one could actually see an opening gate, it merely went from arcing lightning one moment to open gate the next. Any intermediate steps were invisible to the naked eye. The open gate resembled a pool of shimmering water, nearly white with faint blue highlights on the edges. A series of ripples were spreading out from each of the gate generators, perturbing the otherwise completely smooth surface. Then white faded to black and star began to wink on. But not the stars they had been seeing through the ring of the Borealis. The stars they would have seen had they been sitting on Titan station.
It actually looked like nothing had changed at first glance. There was an occasional electrical discharge along the edges, but otherwise there was a smooth transition from the Borealis on one side to the Titan station on the other. The effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that the Titan Station’s gate was much larger than the Borealis'. The wormhole the gates formed always had to be the same size on both ends, so it formed based on the size of the smaller gate–in this case the Borealis. So although they could see the Titan Station, it was far away through the open wormhole.
They could see a series of shuttles lifting off from various points along Titan Station. Most would carry cargo and supplies–fresh foods from the hyrodroponic bays, mechanical gear that they’d requested during their last check in, and the new crew members. Any other things that had come up more recently, such as the replacement conduits and panels, would come later. For a supply run like this, the gate would be open for 4 or 5 hours. Theoretically, they could keep it open as long as the fusion reactors kept running, but then the Titan Station couldn’t connect to anyone else. So they never did.
“Another successful connection,” Jacobs sighed. “I wonder if there’s any news from home.”
Hans already had the faraway looking of someone focusing on a display only he could see.
“Go ahead,” Lillian said. “Let us know if there’s anything interesting.”
“Sports, weather–sandstorms still covering the University of Mars, politics–apparently the mining colonies in the Asteroid Belt are pushing for full rights again…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Lillian was barely listening. Instead, she was watching the shuttles fly through the gate in careful formation then lining up at the Borealis' shuttle bay. She’d mostly zoned out when something in particular caught her attention. “Wait. Say that again?”
“What?” Hans looked startled at the sudden strength in her tone. “Oh, the bombing’s already on the news. And they said that there was a similar attack on the Atlas. No one’s claimed responsibility yet.”
“Yeah, it’s completely new design of starship. It has a gate, but it’s tiny. Only about 3 meters across. And it’s designed purely for speed. They say it can get within one percent of the speed of light.” He turned to focused completely on Lillian. “I’m actually a little surprised you haven’t heard of it.”
“They actually built one?” Jacobs cut in. “I thought they were still only theoretical.”
“Yeah. Some private company built one. Out in the Kuiper belt, if you can believe that.”
“Who?” Jacobs asked. Lillian turned to watch him. There was a curious intensity to his voice.
“Um. Dark Sun, I think they said?”
“Are you sure?”
“Hey, I’m just reading the press release. You can see for yourself if you want.”
Jacobs had grown pale. He turned to look out the windows. As he did, Lillian caught sight of his eyes. They had grown wide with… She wanted to say fright. “Excuse me. Please.” He turned and, without waiting for a reply, strode quickly from the room. By the time he’d reached the door, he was almost at a run.
“What do you think that was all about?” Madeline asked.
“Heck if I know,” Hans replied. He started reading again.
“Do you want to go check on him?” Lillian asked.
“I’ll go with you,” Madeline volunteered.
“I wasn’t…” she started. Hans waived a hand at her and Madeline as if he’d expected them to go. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. Go ahead if you want.”
“Fine. Come on Madeline.”
It wasn’t hard to find him. He was standing half in his room, rapidly tearing through a series of binders. A few torn sheets already littered the ground around him.
“Jacobs?” Lillian called.
He started. “Oh, Lillian. Hi.” He started to shove the binder he was holding back into room, but Madeline deftly snatched it from his hand.
“Please don’t…” he started and then sighed.”I guess it doesn’t matter anymore."
“These look like photocopies of business logs.” Madeline was thumbing through the pages. “For… Dark Sun Corporation? Why do you have this?”
“I’m guessing you wouldn’t just drop it if I asked, would you?” he asked, almost pleading.
Lillian shook her head. Madeline was still skimming the binder. “And employee logs. I didn’t know things like this were publicly available.”
“Strictly speaking, they aren’t.”
He looked up and down the corridor. There wasn’t anyone near enough to overhear them, but they could hear approach footsteps from around the bend of the ship. “Not her.” He gestured into his room. “Come in.”
“In there?” Lillian gazed with distaste into his room. It was just as small as her own, but somehow seemed even tinier. Paperwork was scattered all over his desk and several discarded jumpsuits lay in a pile. She shuddered. “How about my room?”
“Fine,” he replied. He gathered up several more of the binders and swept the torn sheets into his room. Before they could slide back out, he slammed the door on them.
They walked down the hall to Lillian’s room, Madeline still reading whatever she had found in the binder and Jacobs looking slightly sick. “After you,” she spread her arms in a welcoming sweep. Her own room was as tidy as she’d left it.
Once there, Madeline plopped down on one end of the bed and Jacobs took the other, laying his binders in a rough pile in the center. After a moment’s consideration, Madeline tossed the one she was holding on the stack as well. Lillian pulled out her desk chair.
“So,” she began. “Spill.”
He took a deep breath. “I was a Sympathizer.”
Madeline swung her head fast enough the Lillian could hear her spine creaking in protest. “Say what?”. Lillian just watched him, trying to tell if he was being serious. Jacobs was well known for his practical jokes, but this didn’t seem the sort of thing that he would make up. Particularly when combined with his panic earlier. Although that had been Dark Sun–was there a connection between the two?
“No lie. But wait until you hear the whole story before you judge me.”
“That’s a heck of an intro,” Lillian muttered.
“I guess,” a small smile lit up his face and a flash of the boy Lillian had known all those years ago shown through. “It was worth it to see your reactions though.”
He took a deep breath and then continued. “Like I said. I was in the Sympathizers. They approached me shortly after I finished my degree. Of course, I didn’t know they were Sympathizers at the time. All they said was that they had this wild idea that was going to revolutionize space travel, even more than the gates had.”
“There are always people with ideas,” Lillian countered. “But what matters is if they can actually follow through with them.”
“I thought the same thing. But they showed me the calculations. The initial designs. What they showed me sounded good, at least in theory. They sent a ship to take me out to their facilities in the Kuiper Belt…”
“Wait,” Madeline said. “You don’t mean…”
“Yes. The company that had approached me was Dark Sun.”
“I thought you said you were a Sympathizer,” Lillian cut in.
“Don’t worry, I’m getting there.”
She shook her head. “And this revolutionary idea?”
“Half-gates. Gates that would only need a generator at one end and could be pointed virtually anywhere.”
Even as he finished explaining, Lillian could feel the surprise creeping into her face. She looked over at Madeline. Curiously, she didn’t look nearly as surprised as Lillian felt. But why not? Surely she realized as well as Lillian did that if anyone could perfect that sort of technology it would make the gateships obsolete. Such a gate would completely revolutionize interstellar travel.
Seeing Lillian’s expression, Jacobs paused. “No kidding, right? They sent me out to work on their prototype and I could tell that they might actually be on to something. They had a gate built–small but plenty big for a shuttle to fit through. And it could generate a gate, without a second gate to match it. But they were unstable. They connection always broke. Sometimes… energetically.” He winced. “That’s why they wanted me. My master’s thesis.”
“Something about using quantum field fluctuations to stabilize a collapsing wormhole?” Lillian ventured.
“You read it?” He sounded shocked.
“Skimmed it. I don’t think I understood one word in ten.”
“The title sounds useful though,” Madeline added. She looked over at Lillian. “Right?”
“It was,” Jacobs said. He was starting to get a real sense of enthusiasm in his voice. It was clear that he’d really been into the project. “At least theoretically. The wormholes between gates are actually really stable. They can stay open essentially forever as long as both sides remained powered. But when one side loses power, the wormhole will start to destabilize. If you don’t get power back, you either have to shut the gate down on both ends or there’s a chance it will implode.”
“Isn’t that why there was so much political tension about building the first gate stations in orbit around Earth?” Lillian asked.
“Exactly. That’s why the first pair were built in orbit around Mars and Europa. But with my equations, that unstable period could be radically extended. Hours, maybe even days, even with only one of the Gates still active.”
“And that’s why Dark Sun hired you,” Lillian finished.
“But that still has nothing to do with the Sympathizers.”
“Well, no. Not yet.”
Madeline made a ‘well, go on then’ motion with her hands.
“It was a great job actually, a dream job. The pay was good and the work was interesting. It always felt like we were on the verge of a breakthrough.”
“And?” Madeline asked.
He shrugged. “And then it worked. We got a stable wormhole. The other end was around a star thirty or forty light-years from Sol.”
“No way.” “Surely we would have read about it?”
“Nope. It worked. We got a stable connection. And just as we did, a bunch of men in dark suits came into the room and ushered us all back to our rooms. They must have been waiting outside the doors to get there so quickly, even though we’d never seen them before.” As he talked, his voice dropped so that he was almost whispering. “As we were being led out, another group of technicians was prepping some sort of device to go through the airlock. I only got a quick look at it, but if I had to take a guess? It was a bomb.”
“A bomb?” Lillian asked, unable to keep the shock out of her voice. “And they sent it through the gate?”
“I don’t know. They didn’t let us out of our rooms until the next morning. By then the wormhole was closed and there was no sign of either the men in suits or the mysterious device. The project leads told us to try again.”
“Seb–he was the project leader–demanded to know what was going on, but they wouldn’t tell him. They just insisted that we get back to work, but he kept pushing. Eventually, they led him off and put me in charge of the project. I never did see him again.”
Madeline was shaking her head. Lillian almost cried out, “That’s horrible! They shouldn’t be able to do things like that!”
“All the rest of us were so terrified that we just stopped asking questions. No one knew who would be the next Seb. We just went back to work. The next several wormholes didn’t take. But finally, about a week later, we got another connection. To another star system, nearer to the previous star system than to us. Again, the men in suits came in. We knew they drill. I didn’t see a device that time, but they kept us in our rooms until the next morning. Who knows what they did in that time.”
“But what was in those systems?”
“No idea. We didn’t even have time to send any instruments through. That night though, I was contacted by a man that said he could help.”
Lillian and Madeline looked at each other. Lillian had a feeling that she knew what was coming next.
“Turns out, he was with the Sympathizers. Not that I knew it at the time. Ever since that rock came hurtling into our solar system, they believed that it was some sort of alien weapon. They said that they thought it had been sent as some sort of a warning. A warning with a terrible cost. And they thought that maybe, just maybe that whoever had sent it was right. And you have to give them some credit; nothing in the history of the human race has pulled us together like that. If not for that one event, I doubt we’d be sitting here, halfway between stars.”
“But my father would still be alive,” Lillian spoke softly. “And your parents. They would be as well.” Growing up, he’d spoken only rarely of his parents, but by the way he spoke she could tell he had loved them dearly.
His head sagged. “I know. I know that now. But you have no idea what it was like. Living under the shadow of those men in their dark suits. Knowing that if we pushed too hard, we might be the next ones to disappear.” He took a deep, shuddering breath before continuing.
“The agent from the Sympathizers had a plan. They were going to stage an attack on the Dark Sun lab. But they needed someone on the inside. They needed me. And I agreed to help them. I thought they were just going to send in a few ships, take control of the base and destroy the research…”
He looked back up into Lillian’s eyes. She could see that his were glistening. “The attack was perfect. With my help, they connected to the gate we’d been using in our tests. They flew in a squadron of attack drones. It was quick. Lethal. In minutes, everyone but our research team was dead.”
“They sent through a shuttle after that. They said they could take us somewhere safe. We really didn’t have a choice. As we left on the shuttle, I got one last look at the place. It was horrible. The shuttle was on autopilot. It left us on a slow course in to Titan. We got there about a week later.”
“We heard about it later on the news. They said there’d been some sort of terrorist attack on a research outpost out in the Kuiper Belt. Only a small team of researchers had escaped on an emergency shuttle. Of course it was during the elections. Big year for Parliament, they’d just admitted those crazies on Io as full voting members. So there was basically no coverage on the attack.”
He was quite for so long that Lillian was sure that he’d finished. When she opened her mouth to speak though, he’d beater her too it. “Well. Now you know how I joined the Sympathizers. And why I know so much about Dark Sun.”
“But why did you freak out so much when you heard about the Atlas?” Lillian asked.
“Oh, I haven’t quite finished my story just yet. See, after we landed on Triton we were interesting for a few weeks. After that, no one cared about us. That’s when the Sympathizers visited me again. They said I owed them one for getting out of there in one piece. Personally, I thought they owed me for opening the gate, but they were–how should I put this–persuasive.”
“They hooked me up with a special communication chip and told me to go back to work for Dark Sun. No one had gotten a message out during the attack, so as far as Dark Sun was concerned the public story was correct–rather than a traitor, I was a survivor.”
“They took me back without question. Over the next few months, I moved from project to project at my own request. Never anything as interesting as the half-gate project, but plenty of cutting edge stuff. And I always kept notes for the Sympathizers.”
“Thus the binders,” Lillian said.
“Exactly. It all came to a head about a year ago. The Sympathizers had sent me one final mission. I was to join the crew of the Atlas. Once it had left the system, I was to destroy it. Make it look like an accident. Only, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill innocent people. Not again.”
“So I ran. I cashed out everything I had and signed up for the next gateship I could get a job on. Turns out, Borealis was looking for 2 new engineers. I’d tinkered enough in college to pass through their interview.” He looked up. For a moment, there was the faint glimmer of amusement in his eyes. “And there aren’t many people crazy enough to take the job.”
Madeline nodded. Whispering to Jacobs just loud enough that she had to know Lillian could hear she added, “Particularly those that sign up for the entire trip.”
Lillian just waved it off. She knew that most people thought her crazy for her choice of career. But she enjoyed it. “So that’s how you ended up on the Borealis?”
“You had to know that we’d be taking on crew again eventually. And that if the Sympathizers are as entrenched as you say, they’d find you.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. The attack on the Atlas just brought it all home. If they manage to sneak another agent on board, I might just end up like Jenkins.”
“Wait,” Madeline broke in. “If Jenkins actually did plant the bombs, then you’d think he was working with the Sympathizers. Why didn’t he go after you?”
“He probably didn’t know about me.”
“But it would have been a simple matter to sneak a transmission to him in one of the supply runs. We’ve had one every two weeks, like clockwork since you arrived here.”
“I don’t think Jenkins was a Sympathizer,” Lillian interrupted. “I think he was set up to take the blame.”
Both turned to stare at her.
“What makes you say that?” Jacobs asked and Madeline followed right on his heels. “But they found him with the plasma gun.”
“But the gun’s power canister was left outside the kitchen. If he killed himself with the gun, how did it get back there?”
The both looked at her blackly.
“It’s not like he was in any shape to walk it over after…” She pantomimed a gun to her own head.
Jacobs was the first to respond. “Huh. How about that?”
“But surely Johnson’s thought of that by now…” Madeline continued. “It is his job after all.”
“Unless he’s the one that killed Jenkins,” Lillian responded.
“No way. That’s just paranoia talking,” Jacobs said. “There’s no way Johnson is working with the Sympathizers.”
“Actually, it’s probably not him.”
“What? Why not?”
“He’d have even more chance than Jenkins to get rid of you. Every supply run, he makes and receives a set of encrypted transmissions from Parliament. Security precautions and the like. It’d be even easier for someone to sneak him a message.”
“And if he wanted to make you disappear,” Madeline said, catching on, “it would be easy. He’d just have to arrest you on some trumped up charge and send you back through the gate on special order. Then some Sympathizer agent on the other side could pick you up and deal with you.”
It was Jacobs' turn to look back and forth between the two girls. “Thanks,” he said. The sarcasm light in his voice, but definitely there, “that makes me feel a lot better.”
“So what can we assume?” Lillian asked. “That there is another Sympathizer here, maybe more than one with the new crew. That it probably isn’t the Head of Security, although I guess we can’t rule that out. That they’re probably looking for you, or at least for those binders you have.”
“Check, check, and check.”
“Well it’s simple then. We hide the binders and make sure that you aren’t alone–there’s no way they’d try anything with a witness around. At least until we can figure out who the Sympathizer is.”
“Lillian, you have a warped definition of simple.”
“Come on. We can hide the binders under my bunk. They wouldn’t have any reason to look through my room, would they?”
“No. No-one ever asked about my personal life so far back as grade school. And if we have any sort of permanent record from then, I don’t know about it.” The faint smile was back.
“What if they search all of the rooms?” Madeline asked.
“The room security is pretty decent. I bet you could rig something up to make mine even tougher without being too obvious.” She paused. A horrible thought had occurred to her. There was one person that Jacobs was always alone with. One person that would have easy access to kill him if everything went wrong. “You don’t think its Hans, do you?”
Jacobs was silent for a few moments, then shook his head. “No. I don’t. I only met him on the shuttle over to the Borealis, but I think we can trust him. And if not, we’ll know soon enough.”
Lillian shook her head at that, but continued. “With a bit of extra security, the only way they should be able to get in her is if they have me or either the Commander’s or Head of Security’s override code. If they have that, we’re screwed anyways.”
Jacobs nodded. “And how do you plan on making sure I’m not alone?”
“Well, we can get your room some extra security same as mine. During the work day, you’ll be with Hans…”
“And most of the off hours as well.”
“…And you think you can trust him. Other than that, I think that either Madeline or I could walk with you to and fro without arousing too much suspicion.”
“You know, I think this might just work.”
“Yes?” Her voice was quieter than normal.
“Are you ok with this?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You always have a choice.”
“But people have died. And if we don’t do something, more people might die. And one of them might be Jacobs. I really don’t think we do have much of a choice.”
“When you put it that way…”
“I’m in.” He voice had regained some of its former strength. “Do you want to grab the binders now, while everyone’s stirred up because of the transfer?”
“Let’s do it.” Jacobs said and started to rise. “And both of you…” He turned to look each of them in the eyes. His gaze lingered on Lillian. “Thank you.”
Madeline was right. With the hubbub of the transfer, they moved all of the binders without anyone even paying them a second glance. They’d grabbed some extra boxes from the engineering lockers so it just looked like they were carrying around equipment. At some point, Jacobs must have called Hans over, because he showed over and helped them move the boxes without asking a question. Jacobs said that he’d explain everything to him if it came down to it, but for the time being, he’d just make sure that Hans was around if he needed to go somewhere. They almost always were anyways, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Once they were done, a curious feeling had settled over Lillian. She looked over at Madeline who was stowing the last box of binders under her bunk. “You know, it’s really nothing like the vids.”
“Being a spy.”
“We’re not really spies. More like, helpers to a spy. Spy secretaries.” Lillian couldn’t help but snort at that. Madeline was back to being her usual chipper self.
“You know,” Madeline continued. “Now would be an excellent opportunity to check out that briefcase you thought you saw earlier.”
Lillian’s grin faded. “You do believe that I saw it, don’t you?”
“I’m not sure what to believe.”
“You know, neither am I. But I’m pretty sure that I saw something.”
“Well why don’t you go check it out?”
“What if it isn’t there?”
“Then it isn’t there.”
“And if it is?”
“Then you’ve found something very interesting. Want some company?” She sounded hopeful.
“Sorry, but I think this is something I have to do by myself.”
Her face fell.
“But if it is there, you’ll be the first to hear about it. Heck, if I can get hold of it, I’ll even show it to you.”
Immediately, she brightened back up. “That’d be something. The mysterious vanishing briefcase.”
Lillian sighed. “If it’s there.” Somehow, she knew it was going to be though. “Wish me luck.”
She left Madeline in her room and walked back to the store room. The room where she hoped to find a bit of her past. The room where a man had died.
When she got there, she almost couldn’t open the door. Not because it was locked, but rather because she was worried about what she might find. Or what she might not. What if it’s gone? she thought to herself. But she’d come this far. She entered her access code, and once again the door slid open. One step down.
The first thing she noticed was just how surprising white and sterile the room was. It was just the same as it had been that morning. That morning? Wow, it’s been one heck of a day. The second was the silver briefcase.
This time, there were no flashbacks when she caught sight of it. It just sat there on its table, gleaming slightly in the light of the room. There were a few scuff marks around the edges and a long dent on running down one side that she hadn’t noticed earlier. It looked like it had been through a lot.
“So what’s your story,” she said out loud as she walked up to the table. She half expected it to vanish, to fade into mist as she approached, but it remained as solid as ever. She tentatively reached out a hand to touch it. Her finger came to rest on the cool steel of its handle. “You’re real. You’re really real.” She felt a surge of emotions running through her. All the emotions she’d felt on that Squill ride so very long ago. All the emotions when she arrived on Gemini Station and couldn’t find it. All the emotions of her years on Mars and on the Daedalus. All the emotions of a lifetime.
It took several minutes for her to take control of her emotions, but take control she did. She went through several of the exercises her mentor on the Daedalus had taught her. Some combination of mental gymnastics and carefully controlled breathing. She could feel herself calming. She looked down again. The briefcase was still there. She was still holding the handle.
She couldn’t wait any longer. “So what secrets are you hiding?” She clicked the latch. And it stayed stubbornly shut. It was locked. She couldn’t help but scream in frustration. All this time and she couldn’t even get the damn thing open. She almost slammed it on the table when she heard a voice from the door.
“Um… excuse me miss. Are you quite alright?”