The sky was filled with a rainbow of dust. Grains of dust Jacob's new eyes told him were made of copper, nickel, iron and chromium. The words didn't do justice to the beauty.
The gas giant the moon circled was large and oblate, and around it's equator stretched a rainbow ring of metallic dust. In his mind, a warning flashed, telling him of the danger of the rings. If he ventured too close, the nanobots that surrounded the ring would attack his vessel, tear it to atoms, and separate the atoms into their appropriate band within the rings.
Digging deeper into the library Jacob's new vessel contained, he discovered that the rings were an alien artifact, at least a million years old. The sight fascinated him. The Black Acropolis Dysons were bigger, but this was by far more beautiful.
Maybe I will take Watson's offer of a job, Jacob thought.
Below him, the moon of Isotope receded quickly, the titanic structure of the Black Box first filling his entire view, then slowly taking up less and less.
Jacob turned his attention to the rings of the gas giant Rangar. The nanobots that contained the ring were slowly causing the ring to build up an electrical charge. Power from the sun and electricity from magnetic inductance were being stored in the rings, waiting for the day when enough energy was collected so the rings could once again blast out a radio message that lasted for roughly ten hours. This message was simple - the ratio of a circle's diameter to it's circumference. The purpose of this titanic engineering feat was still unknown. What was known was that the radio blast was fairly tightly directed towards space not currently occupied by terragens....the signal was aimed to intersect a spot roughly 2,000 light years spinward from the STC.
"So that's what Doc Watson wants me to investigate," Jacob smiled.
Eventually, Rangar was simply a small dot in Jacob's view, and then it disappeared all together. He thought back to the first time he had seen such a site - when he and Krissa had boarded the tiny vessel he had built and left Sufficiency for the rest of the galaxy.
"What kind of power source are you going to use for this thing?" Mother asked Jacob, tapping the engine pod for his half-complete vessel.
"I had wanted a monopole conversion reactor, but...as it turns out, there are no monopoles on Sufficiency. I've searched all the villages, and both cities. I've posted on the networks, asking if anyone has a monopole power source they'd be willing to trade. Turns out there aren.t any monopoles on Sufficiency. And a human can.t create a stable massive monopole. It takes one of...them...to do it." Jacob waved his hand vaguely in the air, "If I had the monopoles, I could create the reactor. But getting the monopoles is the problem." Jacob said.
Mother nodded, looking at the engine pod a little more closely. She inspected the magnetic field generator, and Jacob was sure she was calculating its power to make sure he had designed it right. "So, without a monopole conversion reactor what are you going to use?"
"Amat catalyzed fusion...at least in the beginning."
"Amat catalyzed fusion? Where are you going to get the amat?" Mother asked, inspecting the active shield generator - a huge electromagnetic pump that would constantly cycle a cloud of nanobots several kilometers thick in front of the vessel to gather up any debris that might be in the flight path.
"Oh, I've got the amat," Jacob smiled proudly. "Everywhere I went, I had people giving me amat. They'd disassemble machines they've had for a century or more to give me what little amat was left. I'm sort of a celebrity, I guess."
Mother was well aware of Jacob's fame, and was quite proud of him. He took after his father - at least a little, and that made her happy. "Big enough for two in there," Mother remarked, pointing to the crew cabin. It was sitting on a silicon frame about ten feet behind the engine pod.
The cabin was big enough for two people - barely. Not that much room would be needed. Once inside, the crew would be put into nanostasis for the duration of the journey. The mind of the pilot would direct the craft from a virtual environment into which the crew's consciousness would be uploaded.
"Is she going with you?" Mother asked, a smile on her face, her eyes not leaving the mechanism that operated the carbon nanotube cable winch to bring the craft closer or father away from the engine.
"I haven't asked her yet," Jacob said with a smile.
"She's going to say yes, you know," Mother still didn't look up from the winch.
"You...You didn't ask her about it, did you?" Jacob was incredulous.
"The suspense was killing me," Mother said, looking up at her son. She was smiling.
"You! I can't...." Jacob was dumbfounded.
"I'm just teasing, Jacob. Of course I didn't ask her if she would leave her home with you. My son is man enough to ask a woman to elope with him, I don't need to do it for him," Mother said with a laugh.
Jacob felt like his guts had turned to jelly. His knees were weak.
"Of course he's man enough. He's my son too," Father said, strolling up beside mother and putting his arms around her. "Don't trouble the boy, my love. He's designed this vessel well. It's spaceworthy. And he has the young lady's heart. And he has a plan."
"Of course I have a plan, father," Jacob said. He inspected the progress of the nanoassemblers as they worked on the shielding and the attitude control rockets. When he found the progress to his liking, he looked to his parents and announced, "And my plan is this: I'm going to Krissa's house right now, and I'm asking her right now....so both of you can get off my back about it, alright?" Jacob said with a smile. Though the words were somewhat harsh, he said them as a joke, and it was taken correctly.
Jacob ran into his house and cleaned himself up, changed his clothing, and straightened his hair. Then he stopped at the mirror next to his front door and looked in it. "She's going to say yes, I promise," He said to himself and smiled. "How could she resist?"
Something came into Jacob's field of view and brought him out of his musings on the past.
It was a planet, with two moons. The world was blue, so it was most likely covered in oceans. And it was screaming radio noise into the night. Broadcasts of entertainment. Broadcasts of satellite control signals. Broadcasts of some sort of buoy system.
Out of the noise, Jacob heard one transmission that troubled him. It coming from behind him - coming from the moon Isotope. It was a warning, telling all enforcement personnel to stay clear of Jacob's vessel.
Why would Watson fight so hard to keep him on Isotope and then just let him go? Jacob was puzzled. But, he realized, puzzled was better than being shot at.
He passed by the world of Arius in a few hours, speeding on his way towards the wormhole that would take him towards his meeting with the Lord of Rays, Daniel Borde.
Oddly enough, travelling through that wormhole would take him to the Black Acropolis dyson he had surveyed 7000 years in the past.... The one with the strange black spire on it's surface.
Jacob was 14 years old when he first got to visit one of the two cities on Sufficiency. He, father and Schwee loaded two hounds into the truck and left for the city early one morning. The trip there had been a big game to Jacob. He and Schwee had eaten the nuts Schwee had brought along and thrown the hulls out the window. All three of them had played twenty questions - father stumping them all with a misleading answer to "animal, vegetable or mineral?" when his topic was the security bush he had planted outside Schwee's daughter's window.
They landed the truck outside of town and took it into the city on the ground. Father said it was polite to do it that way. They found a place to park the truck and quickly unloaded the dogs, Jacob checking their collars and leashes. They were trained well enough to not run off, but they had never been in such a crowd of people before.
Neither had Jacob.
He was completely in awe of the city. He saw many sights his father had prepared him to see: Prostitutes selling their wares openly, public fights where the combatants put up objects of value and the winner took them, booths on the streets selling all manner of goods and services - both the imaginable and the alien.
The buildings and streets of the city ranged from nanofac fabricated silicon and carbon to hand-made adobe. On some portions of sidewalk were embedded maglev rails, other were paved with broken stone or gravel...or mud.
Musicians played on the street, and Jacob heard one of his favorite groups playing in front of a restaurant. He had found that particular band one night while exploring the planetary computer network. Father and Schwee were easily convinced to stop and listen for a few songs, and father purchased a round of beer for the band - father's name was big enough for that.
Minutes later, they were back in the crowd, making their way towards the home of the man that had ordered the two hounds from Johnathan.
Jacob staggered through the crowd, trying to look at everything. The most people he had seen in such a small place was at the last party at home - something like 200 people. There were hundreds of times that many people in his field of vision at the time.
Just ahead of him, the crowd began to swell, people jostling and shoving, and Jacob found himself on the edge of a clearing in the crowd. Ahead of him was a relatively empty spot on the street and sidewalk, and the crowd was all anxiously watching a scene take place.
A man had grasped a young girl by the hair, and was lifting her off the ground. Before those two, lay another man in the gutter, holding his stomach as blood seeped from a wound. Behind the man and the girl were two more men, both of them laughing.
The man that held the girl off the ground by her long, blonde hair was shouting at the man in the gutter, "Reyus, you've been warned! You've been threatened! Now you've been stabbed in the stomach! When are you going to just do what I tell you? Am I going to have to start in on your little girl here?" The man gave the girl - Jacob guessed she was about 11 years old - a vicious shake, which made her scream and grasp his hand even tighter, trying to relieve the tension off her scalp.
The man was tall, and quite muscular. At a guess, Jacob made him for a combat-oriented tweak. He slurred his words slightly and had a glassy look in his left eye - either brain damage or a genetic engineering flaw. His two friends were both armed, one with a rifle - a small caliber slug-thrower that was easily downloaded and manufactured from the worldnet - the other with a pistol of a type that Jacob was not familiar with. The pistol did appear to be a medium caliber slug-thrower, probably plasma-powered. Both of the friends appeared to be simply nearbaseline humans. It was the man that held the little girl that troubled Jacob.
Jacob turned to the old woman that stood beside him and spoke quietly, not wanting to break the silence that had suddenly erupted around the gathering, "What's going on?"
"The big guy, Erlun, he's the leader of a gang. And Reyus," she indicated the man bleeding in the gutter, "didn't give them what they asked for. They don't have big enough names, and they have nothing to trade..."
"So this Erlun stabbed Reyus and has taken his daughter hostage?"
"Nothing like that...This is just a simple beating. It's more for everyone else's benefit than to get what they want from Reyus," She explained. "Reyus is the lesson, and all of us are the pupils," The old lady pointed her finger around the crowd.
"Why doesn't someone stop him?" Jacob asked.
"Some have tried..." The old lady said.
Out in the middle of the empty space, Reyus was gasping for breath, begging Erlun to put down his daughter. He was dying, Jacob could tell. His cries were weak, and the blood that was running down the gutter was beginning to slow to a trickle.
Jacob took a step forward into the open space, and he felt all the eyes on the street turn their gaze towards him. Erlun had been speaking, but he stopped mid-word and turned to look. Momentarily, Jacob felt an intense desire to take a step backwards. What would he do against a combat-tweak and two armed men? Just as he was about to step backwards, the man armed with the pistol raised it and pointed it at him.
"What are you going to do, boy? Get out here in the middle of this and get yourself hurt?" The man asked, slowly pointing his pistol at Jacob's face.
"I..." Jacob stammered, preparing to apologize and step backwards, when he heard the sizzle and thunderclap of a weapon discharge mere centimeters behind him.
The man that was holding the pistol at Jacob lurched backwards and fell to the ground, his weapon clattering into the gutter. The echo of the weapon blast died down, and before Jacob could turn, he heard his father's voice, "Put down the rifle. This doesn't concern you yet."
The man with the rifle dropped the gun and put his hands on top of his head.
"You were going to say something, son?" father asked, behind Jacob.
Jacob looked up at the tweak holding the girl, confident that father would keep the other man from shooting him, and spoke clearly, "Put down the girl and prepare yourself," Jacob said, raising his hands in a sloppy version of the ready-stance most martial arts used. He hoped Erlun would notice his seemingly careless hand placement and react appropriately.
The tweak laughed, "Big boy, going to dish out a beating while you daddy holds me at gunpoint?"
"You'll notice the gun isn't pointed at you," Johnathan's clear voice came from behind Jacob. "That is between you and my son. I'm busy with your friend over there. You two settle up, and then your friend and I will settle up."
The tweak opened his hand and the girl fell to the ground. Before her feet touched the pavement, Jacob was moving. He rolled to the tweak's left, hoping to take advantage of the tweak's dodgy-looking eye on that side. He brought a textbook-perfect kick to the tweak's solar plexus, but was surprised to find that it felt much the same as kicking a rock.
Jacob continued moving to the tweak's left, forcing him to circle into his bad eye. He would have to switch tactics, he knew. It wouldn't be possible to take the tweak down with a rapid series of blows, like it would a normal neb. He had been genetically engineered against just such a tactic.
Just as he was about to launch a second offensive, this time aiming for the tweak's face, he felt a blow to his side that seemed to stave in several ribs. He felt his feet leave the ground, and for a sickening moment he was airborne. His vision blurred for a moment.
Jacob hit the ground and his knees buckled. His vision cleared and he rolled once and came to his feet, raising his hands just in time to block a blow that would have taken his head from his shoulders. As it was, it only severely strained the tendons in his left arm and gave him a bruise that would take hours to heal as he deflected Erlun's arm over his head.
"Stop playing, Jacob. This isn't practice in the yard," Jacob heard father say coolly, using the same tone of voice he used when he found the kennels slightly sloppy.
Jacob was astounded. What could father possibly expect from him? He felt that he was doing his best. What more could he do?
And that was when he stepped on the dead man's pistol. It nearly turned his ankle, but he managed to scoop the gun up on top of his shoe.
Erlun charged him, intent on ending this and then attempting to deal with father. Jacob flipped backwards, his left hand darting down to his feet as he did so to grab the pistol.
Jacob came upright, no care given to his own balance - he was slowly falling backwards. He brought the pistol up and saw realization dawn on Erlun's face. Erlun would never get the chance to deal with father - Jacob was going to kill him.
The pistol crackled as the iron projectile exploded from the barrel, riding an expanding cloud of superheated plasma. The recoil pushed Jacob farther backwards, and he brought his right hand back to catch his fall and turn the momentum into an awkward capoeria-style roll that would have gotten him a slap to the face and extra chores if he had done it in practice with father.
Jacob ended in a low squat, pistol in his left hand, pointing at Erlun. Erlun was still on his feet, holding his forehead. Blood oozed between his fingers, but from the howls of pain, Jacob knew the tweak wasn't mortally wounded.
Erlun took his hands from his face, exposing a section of his forehead that had the flesh stripped away, laying bare his woven buckyfiber skull. Jacob knew the little pistol in his hand had no chance to penetrate that barrier.
The tweak howled and Jacob could see his shoulders dip back. He was preparing to launch himself through the air at the boy. Jacob pointed the pistol at Erlun's throat and fired again. He quickly aimed for Erlun's good eye and fired a third time.
Erlun crumpled, landing on his hands and knees in the street. Blood poured from his ragged throat and his pulverized eye.
Someone was screaming, and Jacob looked first to the little girl Erlun had just recently dropped. It wasn't her - she was with Schwee kneeling over her injured father. He looked at the crowd, but they were all backing away silently. He knew father wouldn't be screaming.
Father's pistol discharged again, and the last of the thugs went down in a heap in the gutter. That's when he realized the person screaming was himself.
Father lowered a hand to Jacob, who had gone silent and fallen to his knees on the street. "Next time," Father said, "just shoot him in the back. Don't even let him know you are there." He hoisted Jacob to his feet and tucked the pistol Jacob had taken from the dead man into Jacob's belt. "I mean it. Don't be a hero - just do the job." Father wasn't angry, he was using the same voice he used when teaching Jacob how to prune the hambush.
Schwee spoke from overtop of the wounded man in the gutter, "Johnathan, Jacob, this man needs medical attention very soon."
Father picked the man up gently as Jacob asked the little girl, "What's your name?"
She looked up at Jacob and though he could see fear in her eyes, she smiled and said, "Krissa."
That day had been one for beginnings.
On that day, Jacob had begun the romance of his life. He and Krissa spent quite a bit of time together while they still lived on Sufficiency, and eventually Jacob convinced her to climb into a block of diamondoid and fly off to distant stars with him.
On that day, a nine-year-old girl began something that an entire planet would continue. She wrote on her public log on the networks a short entry about Jacob, "Today, the nicest boy in the world saved me and my daddy from an ugly, mean man that hurt my daddy. He said if I need anything, all I had to do was ask. If any mean men try to hurt me or my daddy again, I'll ask Jacob to kill them."
On that day, Jacob began a 57 year killing spree, hunting down one hundred and thirty six different pieces of walking, thinking filth and removing them from his home. Sometimes father helped him. Sometimes Schwee helped him. Even mother helped him once or twice.
Jacob slowed the vessel he had stolen from Isotope as he approached the gravity well of the wormhole. Shooting through the wormhole throat at relativistic velocity would induce so much tidal stress on the vessel that it would exit the wormhole throat as a cloud of superheated plasma. The gravity well was enormous, much larger than a similarly massed star. Spacetime engineering wasn't Jacob's most intense field of study, but he knew a little about that magical science.
Situated almost three hundred million kilometers away from the wormhole throat was a space station. Even that far away the station was deep in the wormhole's gravity well.
The station blazed out radio messages into surrounding space, attempting to direct the traffic around the wormhole. All the messages that Jacob could decode and understand were warnings, warning other vessels out of the area and giving a cryptic reference to a dangerous vessel.
Better they think I'm a danger than get in my way, Jacob thought, I'd rather not have a confrontation with some random traveler.
A radio transmission directed at him caused Jacob to turn his attention towards the station. The transmission simply said, "You may safely enter the wormhole now. The path is clear."
Jacob directed a transmission back at the station and simply said, "Thank you."
The vessel slowly sank into the gravity well of the wormhole on a controlled descent. Jacob gave his vessel a little nudge every now and then to slow it down.
As he got closer to the wormhole beneath him he slowed even further. The stress on the vessel was immense, but Jacob was confident it could take the punishment. Suddenly, there was a lurch, and gravity reversed, now pulling the vessel the other way - he had crossed the throat of the wormhole and moved to the other "mouth" of the wormhole - hundreds of light-years distant.
He pushed with the vessel's engines and accelerated away from the wormhole. The position of the stars were entirely different, and the vessel's navigation library told him that he was in a system now called Frontier's Edge. He knew it as X1-997. When he had last been here, the system was uninhabited and the gigantic Dyson sphere sat abandoned of sapient life.
Now the system teamed with radio noise. Other than that, it was exactly as he remembered it. In Jacob's mind, that memory was fresh. In his mind, he had only left this system at most a week ago. That week had turned out to be slightly more than seven thousand years.
Far in the distance, looming black against the glowing spray of stars, was the titanic tower that stretched out into the night... A huge black obelisk that extended out from the surface of the Dyson shell almost a thousand kilometers. At the very top of the obelisk was a small room, roughly 12 meters square, and a 'height' of ten meters. Windows looked out from each side of the square, featureless room. It was on the floor of this room that Jacob found the small, rounded device that he had tucked under his pillow in the nanostasis tube on his doomed expedition ship.
"What is it? Did you find something?" Krissa asked, her voice coming over the communications relay in the helmet of Jacob's vac-suit.
"Yes. It's a...I'm not sure. It looks like it might be a small, handheld computer. But I think it's broken. I'm going to bag it and send it back," Jacob dropped the palm-sized chunk of purple...substance... into a mylar bag and handed it to the small bot floating next to him. "Take this back to Krissa, please," he told the vec, and it took the bag from him with one of its metallic arms. The little round vec floated away on a cloud of nitrogen.
What had this chamber been used for? An observatory? A mounting point for a titanic antenna array? Maybe it had been full of machinery and not a proper 'room' in the first place? Maybe it had been a weapons platform?
Everywhere Jacob looked he could see the HUD in his helmet displaying the progress of his scanning microswarm. He had poured out a huge handful of microbots he had built for the purpose of getting a nanometer-accurate virtual model of the entire top of the obelisk. The microbots wouldn't be able to penetrate the substance of the obelisk, but they would be able to give him a three-dimensional model of the room and an accurate chemical analysis of all surfaces in the room.
The microbots detected a powerful electrical field inside the wall farthest from his vessel. Inside that wall was a conductor, still carrying power. Jacob's eyes widened. That meant that some of the machinery of the black Dyson sphere must still be in working order!
"Oh...wow." Jacob said, looking at the numbers his helmet's HUD was showing him. The potential on that buried conductor was in the terravolt range. Something that had existed at the top of this tower had required enormous voltage.
"What?" Krissa asked.
"This wall, the one on the other side of the tower... There's a conductor inside it that is charged...The potential on the conductor is something like 10 terravolts," Jacob said, trying to envision something, anything, that would require that kind of potential difference.
"Damn! That wall's only just over a meter thick. Whatever it is made of must be a nearly perfect insulator." Krissa said. "Is there some kind of elevator in there? Something to take you down the tower?"
"No. I don't think this is a 'tower', exactly. I think this space had been full of machinery of some kind. Something that required a lot of power," Jacob said, checking the progress of his microbots. They had finished mapping the room, so he reached for the magnetic scoop that would pick them all up at the touch of a button. "Let's go check out the base of the tower," Jacob said, stowing his container of microbots and reaching for the vec that would carry him back to the vessel.
Jacob passed by the tower at a velocity of 29 kilometers per second. His powerful sensor arrays told him that the conductor buried in the wall of the tower was still carrying a massive charge. Doubtless, some transapient mind had discovered the purpose of the tower, but he didn't know it. He resolved to return here and study it further once time permitted.
He drove the big, black vessel on a parabolic course around the black sphere at a velocity greater than orbital mechanics allowed. The vessel was exerting quite a bit of lateral force to bend it's flight path around the Dyson sphere. Jacob couldn't feel the acceleration on his physical body inside the vessel. Evidently the vessel was equipped with some form of nanostasis.
"So, what is this thing going to do to us?" Krissa asked.
"Well, first the nanostasis tube is going to take a reading of our consciousness. Then, our consciousness will be transferred to the computer network," Jacob indicated the huge gray box in the front of the crew compartment. "Then the stasis constructors go to work on our bodies. They take control of our nanoimmune systems. Those systems go about finding and cataloging all the cells in our bodies. Then they kill all the microbes in our body, everything from beneficial intestinal bacteria to any virii you might have, to any fungal infection. All of it. Then each cell of your body is deactivated...."
"Wait!" Krissa interrupted. "'Deactivated'? Isn't that just a euphemism for 'killed'?"
"Well, yeah, sort of, I suppose." Jacob said, cocking an eyebrow.
"And this doesn't bother you?" Krissa asked.
"A little, yes. But I built the thing. I know how it works, and I know that it will work flawlessly," Jacob said, wary that this little wrinkle might give her a reason to say no.
"And you want me to get in a machine that's going to kill me...? You freely admit it's going to kill me?" Krissa asked.
"Well, not the words I'd choose to describe the process, but yes. Your physical body will be preserved on a cellular level in a diamondoid matrix for the duration of the trip. Then it will be revived and you'll be fine. We both will," Jacob said. "I promise nothing bad will happen to you."
"You want me to trust you when you say you'll be able to raise me from the dead?" Krissa asked.
"Also, not the words I'd choose to describe the process - but essentially yes." Jacob said with a smile.
"That's all you had to say, love. I trust you entirely and completely. Of course I'll go with you. Of course I'll marry you. I'm yours - do with me what you will," Krissa said, spreading her arms and quite literally offering herself to him. He took advantage of her offer, both immediately and in the long term.
Had Jacob not been locked in nanostasis, his dead body frozen in a block of pure diamond; his mind existing in a virtual environment that overlaid the vessel's sensor input on his mind as sensory input - had he been a living, breathing man at that point in time, he would have wept.
As it was, he took the pain he felt at the loss of his wife, his family, his friends - his entire universe! - as proof positive in the spiritual existence of the sophonts that existed in this universe. Was there a God? Probably, Jacob thought, and I hope that God has a sense of humor. Was divinity to be found in a complex physical machine? Definitely not. Was there something waiting for him on the other side of death? He hoped so - whether it was paradise or torment - he feared cessation of thought more than eternal torment.
He considered briefly his chosen course of action. Was he doing the right thing? Was his quest for justice - no, call it what it was, Jacob thought; this is vengeance! Was his quest for vengeance morally acceptable? He thought about his views on the universe. He had spent most of his adult life learning about the past; about things that had already happened; learning about what others previously had thought or done.
Was vengeance morally acceptable? The opinions varied wildly. In some historical religions vengeance wasn't just acceptable it was required. In others, vengeance was to be performed by the divine spirits. In some of the oldest religions from Old Terra, their divine spirit had chosen men and women to be the agents of vengeance. Some men had been tapped to go amongst the enemy and wreak divine havoc on them. He recalled one instance of such a man taunting priests as they sacrificed to their false god; the man then called down fire from the sky and it burned the evil men alive.
"Am I arrogant enough to think I have been given a divine license to kill?" Jacob asked himself. And that was the crux of the problem. He was slightly more arrogant than was required to believe that.
He came to this conclusion just as the station for the wormhole that would lead him into the heart of the Keter Dominion came into view around the curvature of the Dyson sphere. It was still 250AU away, but he would be there shortly. Now that he no longer had to go around the curvature of the Dyson, he could accelerate to even greater speed. Jacob did a quick calculation and formed the halo that surrounded the ship into the optimum configuration. 500 gravities of acceleration for half the trip, then reconfigure the halo for 500 gravities of braking for the other half, and he would arrive a half million kilometers before the wormhole station at a velocity of 29 kilometers per second with plenty of time to slow for wormhole passage. Within twenty minutes, he would be at the wormhole station. The drive-motes swam through space around him, twisting the universe with their warp metric and dragging Jacob's vessel with them.
The station seemed to explode into view, going from nothing to a sparkle in the night to a real, solid object in less than a second. The swarm of drive particles around Jacob's vessel pushed against the universe itself, and Jacob's vessel rapidly came to a halt less than a kilometer from the station.
Jacob accessed his vessel's transmitters and spoke one simple message directed towards the station, "Request permission to transit the wormhole."
Immediately, a response was sent, "Please hold."
Jacob waited, evidently on vessels currently in transit. A vessel carrying sensitive cargo would take quite a long time to pass through the throat of the wormhole. Jacob realized, he could be waiting for days.
An alarm sounded, and Jacob's attention was directed towards the station. A mass driver - a large, electromagnetic cannon - had just fired on his vessel. He had detected the energy buildup in the cannon a microsecond before it fired. Now, a thousand-ton block of ultradense massive monopolium was closing the distance between the station and his vessel at nearly half the speed of light.
He reached for the projectile, but couldn't seem to get a good grip on it - the drive particles weren't reacting fast enough! He couldn't bring enough of the particles to bear against the projectile. The ones that were close enough to interact with the projectile he pushed beyond their limits, warping space beyond their ability to control - and many of them winked out. The projectile's course altered, and Jacob's vessel began to slide forward at it's maximum acceleration. It was a titanic release of energy, and it almost succeeded.
The projectile struck the aft struts of Jacob's vessel at a shallow angle. The entire universe seemed to explode, and Jacob had the sensation of spinning madly. With a panic-induced scream, Jacob sent the drive particles towards the mass driver battery in the space station. Once there, the tidal forces they induced shredded a huge chunk of the space station.
Suddenly, Jacob found himself back in his own body, floating in space. He was without any external protection from the vacuum - with only his onboard nanosystem to sustain him, he would only last for a minute or two on the outside. How had he gotten outside of his vessel?
In front of him, he saw a tiny sparkle in the night, a small, flitting source of light that seemed to bend the images behind it. It was one of the drive particles from his vessel, with a small, glowing accretion disk swirling around the microscopic warp metric. Jacob almost laughed when he realized how like the ancient legend of fairies this technology was. What was he supposed to do? Think happy thoughts, he remembered, think happy thoughts and the magic of a fairy would let you fly.
He had a moment of panic when he realized how hard it is to think happy thoughts while floating in the vacuum of space with no protection... but the gaping hole in the side of the space station grew in his field of vision. The drive particle was dragging him towards the station!
He grabbed a jutting piece of carbon fiber and saw a strange distortion, a roundness in the space in the wreckage in front of him. It took him a moment to realize it was a membrane of utility fog particles sealing the hole he had torn in the station - keeping the atmosphere from rushing out.
This place was equipped with an angelnet. Yet again, he was faced with the technology his mother had also described as - in her words - "The ultimate affront to personal sovereignty, all done in the name of safety and convenience". The angelnet on Isotope had posed no threat to him at all. According to Dr. Watson, Jacob had managed to subvert it. Then again, Watson had seemed to be only playing with him. These people were shooting at him!
He kicked off the frayed carbon fiber strut and hit the utility fog barrier with moderate force. For a second it seemed to push against him, but then he slipped through.
The interior of the station was broken and bent. He was standing in a long, narrow corridor - one that previously had led to the mass driver cannon battery. The habitat wasn't spinning, so the interior was just as much in free-fall as the exterior. Jacob pushed off the floor, bouncing from floor to ceiling along the length of the corridor. Each bounce brought him more and more horizontal, until he was flying up the corridor toward the door at the far end.
The door opened, and through it Jacob could see a small swarm of armed humanoids - some wearing body armor, and all of them armed. It was going to be a fight. Jacob thought back to their two week stay in father's home-built orbital habitat in the skies over Sufficiency, and his first experience with zero-g combat.
"We'll be here for three weeks... Or until Neah is done with her experiments," Johnathan explained as the rocket motors went silent. "You should be able to learn zero-g hand-to-hand in a week or so, and then your mother wants to show you some astronomy. If we have time after that, we might go over tactical space combat. Maybe run a few simulations."
Jacob checked the displays on the panel in front of him. Father's orbiter was working perfectly. They were in a high, geosynchronous orbit almost directly over their house. When he was satisfied with the readings, he turned to look back into the crew compartment of the orbiter.
Mother was bouncing from station to station in the rear of the compartment, activating controls that would extend the solar cells, open the cargo bay and extend the habitat module to full size. She seemed to be in perfect control of her every movement - lack of gravity made his mother, who was already a proficient ballet dancer, even more graceful.
Neah, Schwee's oldest daughter, on the other hand, looked like a pitiful lump of fur. Her eyes were squinted shut, her ears lay flat against her skull and her whiskers were drooping. Her tiny fists were tightened around her restraint harness. She looked exceptionally ill. If her musculature had allowed her to vomit, Jacob feared she would have done so by this point.
"Neah, honey? The vertigo is worse with your eyes shut. If you open your eyes, you'll feel better," Father said, laying a hand lightly on her head between her ears.
"Looks like everything deployed correctly. The gym is pressurizing right now. It'll be habitable by the time you get there," Mother said, tapping a few of the controls "You boys have fun, and I'll see if I can help Neah." Once the orbiter was in the correct position and configuration, father took Jacob from the bridge down to the large open space father had designated as the gym.
"Now, as you can probably imagine, traditional martial arts are pretty unsuited for a free-fall environment. Strikes are roughly half as effective as they are planetside, and everything you know about Capoeria would just send you spinning around uncontrollably. So now, we learn Vuelo Muerto, or just Vuelo. In the old Earth language known as Spanish, it means, roughly, 'Flying Death'. Vuelo is based on several differing martial arts you have already studied - Judo, Jujutsu, and the entertainment-focused Mexican form of wrestling known as Lucha Libre. Be warned this is a brutal martial art. Few of it's classic techniques will accomplish anything besides a broken bone, a dislocated joint, or death." Father said, stripping off his shirt and shoes as he floated into the padded room. "To be good at Vuelo, you must be fast, coordinated and you must understand Newton's Laws of Motion very well." Father smiled and threw his shoes behind him, causing him to change direction and drift slowly back towards Jacob.
Jacob entered the room with the soldiers as fast as he could. He got one last good kick off the floor before he shot through the door. Jacob moved perfectly from man to man, landing feet first and grappling with his legs. He seemed to flow from one to the next, getting amongst them before they could safely fire on him. Some time later, he couldn't tell how much later, he was the last living man amongst a floating pile of corpses. He had taken one of their sidearms, inspected it, and was ready to continue deeper into the station.
Somehow he knew that his vessel would be able to repair most of the damage on it's own, given enough energy and raw materials. He just had to make sure that the vessel wasn't fired upon again. He was going to have to take control of the station.
At the far side of the room was another door, and Jacob pushed off from the dead man he had last grappled, moving towards it. As he got within a few meters, the door opened and Jacob saw a man, dressed in a nicely cut black business suit. He was just over two meters tall, and solidly built.
The man spoke, "I was afraid I wouldn't find you here. I was afraid the shot from the mass driver had hit you."
The voice seemed to stick in his ear. He had heard that voice before....and the face! Almost - but not exactly - Jacob was looking at his father.
It wasn't Johnathan Montgomery, but it was close. He was taller than father, and his eyes were the wrong color, his voice was slightly deeper. But it was very unnerving. Had they made a nearly correct copy of his father to further torment him?
"You don't know who I am, do you?" The man said. "How could you? You and I have never met."
"Who are you?" Jacob demanded savagely, hoisting up his stolen pistol and pointing it at the man.
The man that looked amazingly like his own father had a shocked look on his face as he said "Father, I'm your son. I am Martin Montgomery. And I'm here to help you."
- Table of Contents