Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Star Trek Communicator

I had been thinking about writing an article about the vision of the year 2000 as it appeared in books and movies of the middle 20th century. Show, for example, that 2001: A Space Odyssey was not very predictive. There are no bases on the Moon. There is not regular travel between Earth and the Moon. And our exploration of the Solar System is limited to robotic probes.

On the other hand, the world of the 22nd century, as shown in the original Star Trek is badly behind the power curve.

Here’s why. In one episode, Spock is on a planet’s surface and he is attempting to fool a computer by loading into it small snippets of Kirk’s speech to answer questions. He’s standing there with a handful of colored objects and when a reply is required, he pushes one into a slot.

And now a little history. Back in the old days of the home computer, information was written to large black things called floppy disks because they were, well, floppy. They were about eight inches square.

Eventually these were replaced with smaller versions that were more rigid and those were replaced by little plastic squares about three and a half inches on a side but still called floppy disks. They originally came in black, but finally they came in a variety of colors. I still have a box of them. They were useful but only held about a megabyte.

But while watching Spock, I realized that he held floppy disks with wave files on them. A technology that was advanced in 1995 but now hopelessly out of date. Computers now have DVD drives that take silver disks and not little drives that take plastic squares.

And we can get so much more on a thumb drive including hours and hours of music and still have space from lots of other stuff. Thumb drives that I never saw in a science fiction movie or on Star Trek.

Those little plastic floppy disks were one thing that came and went long before Spock was on that planet with his wave files.

Here’s something else. I have a communicator. Oh, I don’t call it that. I call it a cell phone, but it really is a communicator, only better.

While we were at Fort Riley preparing to deploy to Iraq, our battalion commander didn’t want us to use the cells phones to communicate... his reasoning was that he didn’t like us spending our own money to communicate and he knew that when we reached Iraq we wouldn’t have that ability. Iraq had no cell phone infrastructure. That has changed.

Anyway, the Enterprise would carry it’s own cell phone infrastructure with it. And it would have access to all the data in the world in the computer. I know this because we can cram so much into a thumb drive and our cell phones have access to the Internet which gives us access to all the data in the world.

We have our communicators and they’re much better than those postulated in the 1960s by the science fiction writers on Star Trek. Who would have envisioned a world then where you could carry access to the knowledge of the human race in your pocket?

These are just two of the things that we achieved before we got to the turn of the century and long before the 22nd arrived. I just thought I’d mention it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Travel Guide

It was Professor James Johnson who made the incredible statement during a sophomore philosophy class that caught the fancy of one of the students. Standing on a raised stage in the huge lecture hall, Johnson, waving a hand as if to emphasize the point, said, "Time travel cannot exist because if it did, we’d already have it."

David Alexander, sitting in the back of the auditorium where he could hide from the prying eyes of the professor and his teaching assistants, thought, "That’s was an interesting philosophical theory."

Alexander was a science fiction fan who spent his spare money, such as it was, on conventions and fandom, which meant he thought understood the concept of time travel a little better than most of the other students in the class. Time travel, he believed, could solve some of the great mysteries of the past like what color were the dinosaurs and it could prevent the great disasters because to be warned about them meant they could be avoided.

Back in the dorm later, lying on his bed, his earphones on so that he didn’t have to listen to the music of a dozen other students, and staring at the ceiling, Alexander thought more about Johnson’s time travel comment. Alexander was well aware of the alleged paradoxes. He knew that going back in time and killing your grandfather which, some believed was the paradox to prove time travel couldn’t exist, meant nothing of the kind.

How could you kill your grandfather and not wipe out your own existence as those skeptics often said? Simple. The killer, as the instrument of the change, would still exist because he was the instrument of the change. His siblings probably wouldn’t be so lucky because the loss of the grandfather meant the loss of one parent and so his siblings would no longer exist, at least as he knew them. But he could go back and kill his grandfather, not that he ever would.

What troubled him the most now was the idea that if time travel were possible, then it would already exist. His descendants, or someone else’s descendants would be traveling in time and the historical record should show it. Somewhere, someone would have screwed up and left a sign of an advanced civilization in the middle of a primitive one. Someone would have left a clue, probably unintentionally, but the evidence would have to be there. If only he could figure out how to find that evidence.

And that, he thought, was the problem. What would be the evidence and where would be begin to look for it? He needed to find something that existed where it didn’t belong or something found where it didn’t belong. Something that shouted time travel to the enlightened researcher who was looking for evidence of time travel but that might only confuse and confound someone who was looking for something else.

Now he was beginning to get excited about it. He sat up, swinging his feet off the bed and looked at the computer sitting on his desk. He thought about going to the library, but why? The computer gave him access to everything in the world he needed and had more resources than the largest library ever built.

He moved to the desk and heard someone knock at the door. It opened a moment later and Sara stuck her head in. She waited until he reached up and pulled the earphones off his head and the she asked, "You going to eat?"

Ignoring that question, he said, "I was thinking about what Doctor Johnson said today. About time travel not being real because it would already be invented."

"Yeah," she said. "Stephen Hawking wanted to know where all the tourists were."

Alexander looked confused.

"Hawking thought that if time travel were possible, there would have been tourists from the future already. We’d have seen them."

Alexander grinned broadly, believing at that moment he was nearly as smart as Hawking because he’d thought of the same thing. He said, "Yeah, there should be evidence of it."

"Unless they have a prime directive a la Star Trek."

Alexander chuckled. "Even with their prime directive they were always interfering with someone. Even when they tried, they left behind clues..."

"That doesn’t tell me if you’re going to eat or not. I’m hungry," she said.

"You’re not worried about the freshman fifteen?"

"That was last year and I only gained five pounds. I needed those five pounds."

Alexander turned to face the computer, signed on, and then brought up his search engine. He sat with his fingers on the keyboard and stared out the window, into the deepening green of a late spring evening.

"Food?" she said.

"I don’t know what to search for," he said.

"Gees, David, what does it take to get through to you? I’m going to eat."

He was about to tell her to go on without him but he couldn’t think of a way to phrase his request. Time travel was too vague. Time travel facts would probably bring up scientific papers on the reality of time travel. He realized that he needed more information to make the right search but he didn’t know how to get that information.

He stood up and asked, "What’s the weather like?"

"Getting cool," she said.

She was standing there wearing shorts and a light jacket. It wasn’t getting very cool.

They left the dorm, walking along the tree lined street and turned into the downtown area. There were a dozen small places that catered to the college crowd which meant they sold beer, cheap fried food and had a sound system that threatened to create earthquakes.

They took a booth in the back corner, away from the bar, away from the speakers, and away from the entrance. It was slightly quieter and when the music stopped, it was almost peaceful. They ordered both beer and hamburgers and then waited for the food.

Jason Davies, a graduate student who didn’t mind talking to undergraduates came over, inspected the food and then dropped into the booth next to Sara. He grabbed one of her fries, ate it, took a sip of her beer and then sat back.

Alexander was slightly annoyed but didn’t want to offend Davies because he was a teaching assistant. He just said, "Make yourself comfortable."

"Always do. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you what to study for the next test."

Sara said, "Sure you will.

The waitress appeared and Davies pointed at the glasses and said, "A round. Bring me a beer too." When she was gone, he asked, "What are you two talking about?"

Alexander didn’t really care to tell him so, instead he said, "Why we haven’t seen the time traveling tourists."

Davies grinned and said, "You’ve got Johnson for philosophy. He thinks he’s quite clever with that and never mentions that Hawking came up with it first or that Fermi said the same thing about alien creatures. Fermi wanted to know why we haven’t been visited yet, if there were other intelligences in the galaxy."

"If you’re going to keep eating my fries," said Sara, "get your own plate."

"I’m not hungry," Davies said.

Now that he had thought of it again, Alexander wasn’t willing to drop it. He said, "I was trying to think of a way to prove the point. I mean, I would assume that these travelers wouldn’t want to announce themselves. They’d be human so they’d look like us and I suppose they would have records so their clothes wouldn’t stand out."

Davies waved a hand to indicate the room and then the rest of the city, "I have heard that this is the only town where you could rob a bank carrying a sword and wearing a cape and disappear into the crowd. Clothing here certainly wouldn’t stand out."

"So," said Alexander, "we’d have to look for some other sort of evidence. Something that didn’t belong in our time, or something that didn’t belong in another time. Something that was out of place in time."

The waitress appeared with the beer, set it down and then disappeared quickly. She didn’t ask if they wanted anything else or if the food was good. She was just a college student trying to earn a couple of bucks and didn’t want to make a career out of waiting tables. It showed.

Davies took a sip and said, "You’re talking about Out of Place Artifacts."

"Yes," said Alexander enthusiastically. "That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Out of Place Artifacts."

"Well, all you have to do is type those words into your search engine and you’ll find dozens of web sites telling you more than you care to know about them."

Alexander sipped his beer and then said, "You already know about them."

"Of course. You’ve heard of the ancient astronauts. You know, the space travelers who came down to build the pyramids and leave drawings on the ground?"

"But that proves nothing. The Egyptians had the technology to build the pyramids," said Sara.

"I’m not advocating a point of view here," said Davies, "I’m merely providing information. He wants to check this out. I’m giving him a starting point."

Alexander leaned back, against the wall and put his feet up on the bench. He held his beer but didn’t drink any of it. He said, "You’ve checked this out."

Davies shrugged. "Some of it. Others have done it too. Johnson makes a good point and we’ve all come up with ways to search for the proof."

"These Out of Place Artifacts don’t do it?" asked Sara.

Now, like he was in a lecture hall, Davies began to pontificate. "Not really. Take the Baghdad Batteries. They’re about two thousand years old. Here are earthenware jars with copper and zinc rods in them and some kind of sealant on top. Fill it with a liquid like citrus juice and you’ve created a type of battery. Not one with much voltage, but a battery none the less. What did they do with it? I don’t know, but the existence of the batteries is well known. You can find pictures on the web."

"But from what you’ve described," said Alexander, "you’re talking about something that could have been made in Baghdad back then. It’s not like a double A battery I put in the remote control."

"Your point?" asked Davies.

"The Babylonians had the ability to make the batteries so it proves nothing."

"Precisely. They prove nothing."

"What we need is something that clearly doesn’t belong where it was found. Not some bizarre aberration in history."

"Now you’re talking," said Davies. "You mean like a molded metal bowl that was found inside solid rock. Something that had to be dropped before that rock was rock. Something that would indicate it was millions of years old."

"Exactly," said Alexander.

"It happened in 1852 in Massachusetts," said Davies. "Some kind of an metal bowl inlaid with silver that was found as workmen quarried rock."

Alexander looked at Sara who raised her eyebrows in surprise. He said, "You know about it?"

"Don’t take my word," said Davies. "Look in the Scientific American in June, 1852. The article is there."

"You’ve seen it?" asked Alexander.

"Of course." He drained his beer and stood. "It’s been real. See you later." He disappeared quickly.

"He didn’t pay for his beer," said Sara.

"No, but he never does."

* * *

The main library was nearly on the way back to the dorm and Alexander pulled Sara along with him to the front entrance. They climbed a set of stairs that looked as if they lead to the second floor at Tara and then took another set of stairs, as dirty and grungy as any in any other downtown building to the fourth floor where the bound periodicals were housed.

They entered, walked down a hallway that was lined with work stations that held computers tied into the main library index so that they could search for information on anything in the libraries massive holdings that included almost a complete set of government records.

Alexander always expected an old, musty smell in a dim cavern, but the truth was that there wasn’t a hint of dust anywhere, there were banks of windows along the walls and overhead lights that might have been useful in an operating room.

The stacks were marked, but there were three separate rows and Alexander had never figured out exactly how it worked. He could follow the alphabet back until he came to the "S" section and then worked his way along the shelves until he came to the right place.

The old Scientific Americans were bound in volumes that were a foot high and four inches thick. The dates were noted on the spine so it didn’t take him long to find what he wanted. He pulled the volume out and then walked back to one of the many tables available for use.

"You know you could have done this on line?" said Sara.
He grinned at her. "Sometimes it’s just more fun to look at the original. The book is over a hundred and fifty years old. It came from a time when there were no airplanes or electric lights or radio. It’s from a time when you could argue that the Earth was hollow and people would believe you."

Sara pulled out a chair and sat down. "It’s cold in here."

"It’s always cold in here," said Alexander.

On page 298 in one of the June 1852 issues, he found a story entitled, "A Relic of a By-Gone Age." It told of a metal "vessel" that seemed to come out of the rock in the quarry. But reading it carefully, he noticed that the "vessel" could have been lost in the dirt on top of the rocks and didn’t necessarily come from inside the rock.

To Sara, he said, "This isn’t quite what I thought it would be."

"Make a copy and let’s go."


"Because, tomorrow, you’re going to wish you had a copy and then we’ll have to come back here. This way you’ll have it and not have to find it again."

* * *

The physics building was a new structure that stood ten stories high and was set on the perimeter of the campus. Across the street were a couple of bars, a laundry, a restaurant, and several office buildings including an attorney. When they built the physics building, they were careful not to damage the trees that looked to be a hundred years old.

Alexander had taken several classes in the physics building including two in psychology and one in Spanish. Ironically, the astronomy class was held in one of the older buildings that was the home to the anthropology department.

The only physics professor he knew was Robert Carpenter, and Alexander only knew him because they both played pinball at a small hamburger joint. It had one machine and no one ever put money into it because they all knew how to beat it. They took turns at the pinball, drank Pepsi continuously and sometimes ordered food. Carpenter almost had a second office there.

Alexander knocked on the door and was told to enter. Inside was a small room of cinder block walls, yellow paint and more of the operation room lighting. Carpenter had his desk pushed up against the single narrow but long window so that he could look out. There was a chair for a visitor, a book case that held neatly arranged volumes, a small round table that held journals and a small rug on the vinyl floor.

"David, what can I do for you? Thinking of taking my physics class?"


"Well, have a seat anyway. I was trying to write an exam that I need to give this afternoon."

"I just have a question, but it can wait."

Carpenter grinned. "So can the exam."

Alexander sat down and suddenly felt a little foolish. Discussing time travel with friends was the sort of intellectual masturbation that all students engaged in, but now he was about to talk to a professor about something that belonged in the realm of science fiction.

He hesitated and then asked, "Can we travel through time?"

Carpenter laughed and said, "Johnson’s lecture?"

Alexander nodded. "Yeah."

"Hawking, I think, views time as a continuum," said Carpenter. "You can enter it at any point, not unlike a movie on a continuous loop. When you walk in has no real relation to the beginning or the end of the movie. You can leave when you want and walk in later finding yourself nearer the beginning of the movie, or the end, depending."

Alexander smiled, not sure if he really understood, but, at least, he didn’t have to take notes and there would be no test to worry about.

"Others think of it as more like a hose that you need to wind into it’s carrier. In other words, there is a specific beginning and an end and you have to move forward just one way. You might say that you’re always moving into the future and you have no control over it."

Carpenter held up a hand and said, "I know what you’re thinking. Einstein and time dilation. But that is still a one way trip. You just move forward faster than your fellows and you can slow down to join them."

"Which tells me," said Alexander, "that you don’t think we can travel into the past."

Carpenter leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. "A couple of years ago I would have agreed with you, but there has been some thought, based on new theories about gravity, that suggest it might be possible to travel backwards."

"So then Doctor Johnson’s comment doesn’t make sense, or does it?"

"If you think of time as a continuum and that the future to us already exists in some fashion, then the question could easily be, ‘Where are the tourists?’ But if it is more linear, then the future where they might invent time travel hasn’t arrived yet, so the answer is, the tourists haven’t left yet."

"Unless, of course, this isn’t our first go around," said Alexander, not sure exactly what he meant.

"Well, we know that time dilation works," said Carpenter, "and as we learn more about the nature of gravity, we begin to alter our concepts of time and travel through it. But as it stands right now, we have no evidence that travel back works and certainly no evidence that anyone has."

"What sort of evidence would you look for?" asked Alexander.

"For time dilation, the experimental evidence already exists. If you are looking for something more tangible about time travel into the past, I would think you’d want to examine archaeology. That might turn up something."

Alexander thought, "We’re back to the Out of Place Artifacts." He said nothing though, just nodded.

"Anything else?" asked Carpenter.

Alexander stood up. "No. I’ll let you get back to writing your exam."

"If you have any other questions, let me know."

* * *

Alexander walked slowly back to the dorm, thinking that he was just wasting time. He allowed an off-hand remark by a professor in a core course distract him. He shouldn’t be chasing information on time travel, or attempting to search for evidence of it. Instead, he should be doing research for a paper or studying for one of his classes, or finding out what Sara was doing. Time travel should stay in science fiction where it belonged, not dogging him on campus.

When he got back to the dorm, his roommate was gone, but he had left on the TV, the DVD, and the coffee pot, not to mention every light in the place. The man never turned off anything. It was almost as if he owned stock in the power company.

Alexander turned it all off and then sat down in front of his computer. He typed in Out of Place Artifacts and came up with all sorts of hits. There were iron nails found in granite, but the circumstances suggested the nails might have been hammered into the stone rather than the stone forming around it. There were links of a gold chain found inside coal which was interesting until he learned that a coin, dated 1397 had fallen out of a lump of coal in England. It was clearly a manufactured item and it was found inside the coal, but the date didn’t suggest anything extraordinary.

He learned of a road found in Colorado under ten feet of sand in a region that hadn’t been inhabited by anyone who would have been building roads, but the "road" looked more like the remains of a dried up river bed than something of human construction.

With some excitement he read about a bullet hole in the skull of an long extinct beast. This was the sort of thing he had been wanting to find. Evidence of a technology that was far beyond that of the time when the animal was killed. Hunters from the future playing out their blood lust in the past. This was the stuff of science fiction but it might also be the stuff of science fact in the future.

But he learned that not everyone interpreted the hole in the skull as a bullet hole. There were more mundane explanations for it, and those explanations were more logical and more likely than a bullet hole.

There was something that looked like a sparkplug found inside a geode. If true, then the sparkplug was half a million years old. The problem was that the sparkplug was identified as having been manufactured in 1920 and the geode might not have been a geode. In other words, Alexander realized, it wasn’t the proof for which he searched.

After hours on the Internet, looking at site after site, after seeing the same items written about endlessly, he realized there was nothing definitive in what he found and therefore no proof. If the proof existed, he would have to go into the field to find it and an undergraduate didn’t have the money to make those sorts of trips even if he could figure out where to go and what to look for.

He stood up and looked out into the growing darkness of the late evening. There were students walking between buildings and a game of rugby going on in the field across the street. The lights were just coming on.

The door opened and he expected his roommate but Sara walked in, glanced at him and then moved directly to the bed. She sat down, looking shaky.

"What’s the matter with you?" he asked, somewhat annoyed.

She looked up at him as if surprised to hear his voice in his room.

She said, "I’ve just come from the library. I was in the Special Collections section."


She stared at him. "I think you should come with me. I think you need to see this."

Without a word he walked to the door.

* * *

The Special Collections were held in a large room on the top floor of the library. In the hallway outside the room were display cases showing some of the more interesting items such as a Civil War journal by a soldier killed on Little Round Top that had a hole in the top of it, photographs taken by a student who had served in the First World War and a large collection of NASA materials that demonstrated the university’s participation in space exploration.

Sara grabbed the door and pulled it open. Since she worked, part time, in the Special Collections, no one stopped her to ask her reason for being there. She took Alexander by the hand, lead him through the large reading room and into the back which looked like a smaller version of the Bound Periodicals but that didn’t have the windows or lighting. The air conditioning was set to maintain a temperature of 72 and the humidity was regulated.

She stopped near a small table and pulled on a couple of cotton gloves. She said, "You’ll need to wear gloves if you want to touch anything."

Alexander took a pair of gloves but didn’t put them on.

She directed him to a small work room in the back. There was a table in the center of it, a light on a long pole that could be moved around and directed at a specific place, a magnifier and a stack of old books.

She pointed and said, "Willed to the university. We have to look through them and supply the estate with an estimate of their worth."

"You do that?"

"No, I just catalog the books, give a description, and then one of the librarians looks at the lists to see if there is anything unusual or rare on it. Most of the time it’s just old books that have no real value other than sentimental for the owners."

"I didn’t know this place existed," said Alexander.

"Not many do. Over in the vault area there are some books of real value. I mean one of a kind type things that are hundreds of years old and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to collectors."

Alexander pulled out one of the chairs and dropped into it. "What have you got?" he asked.

"I know that you’ve been searching for proof of time travel," she said.

He laughed and asked, "And you found it in this library?"

She didn’t like his tone and shot him a look. Then she said, "We got a collection in a couple of months ago and we’ve just gotten around to looking at it. Nothing spectacular, though I think there is a first edition of Poe that is worth quite a lot of money."

Alexander looked at the stack of books. They had gold-lined pages and the spines on some were broken and flaking. He saw one that was set aside that looked old but did not fit in with the other books.

The cover was colorful but the pages were stained with age.

Sara touched it with a gloved hand and pushed it toward him. The title was A Brief History of the 21st Century.

"Look at the copyright date," she said.

Alexander did and said, "It’s a typo."

"They don’t make typos like that," said Sara.

"I saw a book once called The Galactic Silver Star and they had misspelled galactic on the spine. Two Ls."

"They don’t make typos on the title page. Look at it."

He slipped on the cotton gloves and opened it to a color picture of American soldiers standing beneath the crossed swords of the Baghdad parade grounds. He recognized the picture from the news.

He saw a picture of the twin towers on fire and another of a space craft on Mars with a caption about it’s construction in California. There was a picture of a smoking downtown San Francisco that was reminiscent of the 1906 earthquake but the picture was in color and was dated 2025.

He looked up at her and said, "I don’t get it."

She rolled her eyes as if he was being obtuse. "That book reports on what happened in the 21st Century."

"So someone put out a book of predictions about what would happen and included stuff from the beginning of the century. Stuff that already happened."

"No, they didn’t. Look at the pages. They’re aged. The paper is old. This book was in with other books that were more than a hundred years old."

"Someone was playing a joke like those newspapers you see at fairs. Put a fake headline on it. Hell, today anyone with Photoshop can fake pictures and make them so real it’s impossible to prove they’re faked."

"You don’t get it do you?" she said.

"Get what?"

"That’s your proof. It’s not a book of predictions of what’s going to happen. It’s a book about important locations where things have already happened."
"It’s just some gimmick that was put together for a joke."

Sara shook her head sadly. She glanced at him and then the book and said,"This is what you wanted. This is your proof."

He looked at her astonished. "How is it my proof?"

"It’s a list of historic places to visit. It’s what those tourists that Hawking and Johnson and you have been talking about need. A way to find their way around in the past. It’s the Triple A guidebook from the future. It’s your proof."

He looked at her and then at the book. He felt chills along his spine as he reached out to touch the book. She was right. Time travel did exist and the tourists had been spotted.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

On the Second Tuesday of Next Week - Chapter 1

(Note: This is the first chapter of the time travel novel, On the Second Tuesday of Next Week. The rest of the book is available only on Amazon's Kindle. You can find it there using the novel's title. If you decide to purchase the rest of the book - Why thank you. If not, you have a sample of it here. Thanks for dropping by. KDR)
Chapter One

Captain Jack Ellis stood at the hatch leading to the darkened, empty hangar deck and was overwhelmed by a feeling of deja vu. He thought that he had done it all before, and, of course he had. First in training, and then on active missions, and now, at the beginning of a combat patrol with the enemy ships out there, somewhere in the night.

Like most of his fellow pilots, both male and female, Ellis was young, just barely twenty-six. Unlike them, he was burly and tall, almost six three, which made it a tight squeeze into the cockpit. His hair, like that of his fellows, both male and female was cut short, only about half an inch long, which meant the helmet, with its electrodes, was a tighter, better fit. He didn’t like his hair cut so short, but longer hair sometimes interfered with the contacts, shorting them out in high stress situations when the perspiration soaked him and he needed the best the combat computers had to offer.

As he stood there, looking at the single and dual seat craft, the overhead lights suddenly brightened. Now, at the far end, tucked into a corner of the hangar bay near the main battle door, the lights of the control room came on. Behind the thick, debris resistant glass, were the men and women who would control the launch. They were all dressed in light gray coveralls and all wore tiny headsets with almost invisible thread microphones. They began to take their places behind the main consoles that held view screens and computer readouts, and sensor arrays.

A voice behind him asked, "You going in, or are you just part of the hatch?"

Ellis recognized the voice of Jim Jensen, a Navy pilot who Ellis didn’t like very much. Jensen had a bad attitude, thought that only the Navy knew how to operate in space, and often expressed his feelings that Air Force pilots should have stayed on Earth where they belonged. After all, there is no air in space.

He turned. As usual, Jensen’s gray Navy uniform was sweat stained under the arms. Jensen’s head glistened with sweat and his hair, short like everyone’s, was damp. He looked as if he had come from the shower and hadn’t bothered with a towel. Even the climate control on the ship couldn’t defeat Jensen’s perspiration.

"No," said Ellis. "I was just about to enter."

"Well, have at it, my man. There is fighting to be done today."

"You don’t have to sound so happy about it," said Ellis.

"Why not? This is what it is all about. This is what we’ve trained to do. This is why we joined up. I’m glad to get the opportunity. Finally."

Ellis shook his head in disbelief. Jensen sounded like the officers from the old Civil War. On for a promotion or a grave. On for a brevet or a coffin or on for the glory of the unit, at any cost. He had hoped that his generation was more enlightened than those of his great grandfather’s great grandfather. He hoped they had discovered that there rarely was glory in war, but the lesson had gone unlearned.

Before he was forced to reply, the other pilots swarmed onto the flight deck through a variety of hatches. He watched them move among the craft of dark composition materials, absorbing some of the sound they made.

Jensen slapped him on the shoulder and said, "This is it."
Ellis shrugged off Jensen’s hand and stepped forward, through the hatch. He walked across the hard metal of the flight deck and reached his fighter. It was a small ship, only about fifteen feet long, four or five feet wide, and made of a dark composition of carbon, plastic, and very little metal. There were no sharp angles on it to reflect radar, no shiny surfaces to pick up and reflect starlight, and baffles around the engine that dispersed the energy to reduce the heat signature, though in the cold of space, that was nearly impossible.

The canopy stood open so that he could climb in. His helmet was hung on the back of his seat. He grabbed it, fitted it to his head carefully, feeling the electrodes as they touched his scalp along the top and sides of his head.

Ellis put his foot up, into the small cutout on the side of the ship, and stepped up and in, onto the center of the cockpit seat. He then moved forward and sat down, struggling to push his body into position so that his feet were against the thruster pedals and his hands could reach the various electronic, radio, sensor and weapons controls. He wiggled a couple of times until the seat seemed to mold itself to his body and he was comfortable in his fighter.

The heads-up display, the HUD, setting directly in front of him, brightened, seeming to hang in midair. The holographic images were color-coded to show his own fleet and its swarm of tiny craft, and that of the enemy, still several hundred thousand miles away, but closing fast.

Ellis touched the trigger that would ignite the engine, but didn’t pull it. He moved his hand and allowed the canopy to close so that now he was encased in his ship, almost as if he was wearing it. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned back, against the soft, yielding mass of the head rest and waited for the rally signal.

The lights on the hangar deck dimmed and then slowly turned to dark red. It changed the look of everything around him, making the other ships into dark gray lumps that seemed to have no shape or design. Tiny lights, red and green, flashed on as the ships began to start their engines. The main battle door shimmered and disappeared, revealing, beyond it, a sea of stars, and to the right, low, almost impossible to see, the crescent shape of Pluto and near it, Clarion. The other two, smaller moons were lost in the distance or the glow of the dwarf planet.

Ellis touched the switch for the flight command frequency. "Give me a quick commo check."

"Two," said Linda Schaffer, who was about the same age as Ellis, but had spent an extra year in civilian training so that she understood more about aeronautical and electrical engineering than he did, as it applied to space flight.

"Three." That was Jason Horn, a very young man who had finished flight training and had only just completed his combat check ride. He seemed immature and Ellis had to remind himself that Horn was only twenty-two.

"Four." Karen Davis who had been transferred over from another flight so that Ellis didn’t know her all that well. She was nearly as tall as he but was much thinner. She didn’t have to struggle so hard to fit into the fighter.

"Five." Tom Williams was the old man of the flight at twenty-eight. He had started out in a civilian college but then had decided that the military was for him and switched over losing a couple of years of credits. He was a small man with dark hair and large ears that stuck out like jug handles.

"Six," said Roger Douglas. He was an old pro of twenty-five who was given the last slot so that he could watch what the others were doing and offer them criticisms. No one liked him because he was too good at the job and let everyone know just how good he thought he was.

Ellis switched to the company frequency and said, "Raptor is ready."


With empty minutes to fill, Ellis closed his eyes and thought about the final briefing held late the night before. It had been a grim affair with the commanding general standing to one side of the podium as expert after expert had provided the bad news about the enemy. The normal joking disappeared as the facts and figures had been presented. The Denebians had them outclassed and outnumbered in every category. Their big fleet carriers were larger than those of Earth, carried more fighters or attack ships, and had better overall protection. They were almost impossibly difficult to detect in space because of their stealth capabilities. They were faster and better armed. Although, according to the experts, the enemy force wasn't absolutely overwhelming, it was close enough that no one in the human fleet was expected to survive to the end of the week. This included those who would not be taking a direct part in the fighting, but those who remained on the fleet carriers in various support capacities. Although no one said it, it was clear the brass hats were thinking in terms of a suicide mission that might dely the Denebian invasion long enough for the Earth to prepare a better defense.

Ellis, with the other flight commanders, sat around the huge table that looked to have been made of the finest mahogany and inlaid with dark marble. There had been a bottle of beer at each place, a PDA that no one was expected to use and roster of the replacement pilots available in case a flight commander was short a crew or two.

Over the center of the table, in a huge holographic display were pictures of the approaching enemy taken by remote controlled drones and tiny cameras scattered in their path as they approached the Solar System. It showed the enemy ships in a spherical formation that allowed them to create interlocking fields of fire and to protect one another during an attack. An assault on one ship would draw the fire of half a dozen others, reducing the chance of success for the attacker, not to mention the chance of survival.

At the center of the fleet, screened by smaller, dark ships that were probably little more than weapons platforms were the equivalent of the Earth’s fleet carriers. These were large, oval-shaped ships that could hold a hundred or two hundred of the smaller fighters used to break up the formations so that the destroyers or cruisers could get into attack the main body of the fleet. Ellis wasn’t so much intimidated by the size of the fleet carriers as he was by the number of ships in the formation. The foe had spent a great deal of economic wealth in creating the fleet and then sending it so far to attack Earth.

Once they had gotten a good look at the size of the enemy fleet, the leader of the free Earth had appeared in the holographic display. She stood about three feet tall, and was framed by the commanders of the Combined Headquarters and the Ground Assault Force. Her voice was high and annoying as she said, in her recorded, holographic message, "We are expecting great things from you all in the next few days. Never have so many owed so much to so few. Thank you."

She winked out of existence as Ellis identified the quote as a paraphrase of Winston Churchill made during War Two and said at the conclusion of a success rather than as a prelude to a failure.

The end of the briefing had been classic. The commanding general, his head bowed and his voice choked with emotion told them of the great defenses of history. The Spartans at Thermopylae, the Texicans at the Alamo, the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. All had been heroic holding actions that provided time for those at home to create an army or assemble reinforcements. What the general didn't mention was that the Spartans and Texicans had been massacred, and the 101st had been so badly mauled that they had operationally ceased to exist. Death was the reward for those who had been placed on the firing line.

As they had filed from the briefing theater, the general had reminded them that the contents of the briefing were highly classified. In the past Ellis had laughed at that. How would they tell the enemy even if they had wanted? But this time the general was telling them not to discuss it with the rest of the flight crews. This was a secret to be kept from their own people or the morale would plummet because it was clear that no one expected them to survive, let alone win.

Then, in another gesture of support, the general stood in the hatch and shook the hand of every one of the flight commanders as he or she left the conference room. That was almost as frightening as the facts given during the briefing.


The company radio crackled suddenly, breaking into his thoughts. "Let’s get ready to launch."

Near the main battle doors, the first flight lifted to about two feet above the deck and as one, slide forward. The lead ship jumped ahead, and disappeared out the battle door, the five other ships assigned to him, following. A second flight fell in behind the first.

Ellis said, "Raptors," and lifted his ship carefully. He slide toward the door without glancing at his display, knowing that his flight was behind him. As he crossed the threshold, he dived, relative to the big fleet carrier, and then broke down and to his right.

Spread out behind him, almost invisible to him, was the rest of the Earth Fleet. The ships had been called in from all parts of the galaxy, leaving human colonies on Tau Ceti, Epilson Eridani and Groombridge 1618 unprotected. Not that the fleets there had been particularly big to begin with or that they had been there for the protection of the colonists.

Around him, the other flights, made up of small craft, some that carried a single nuclear weapon, winked out as they turned off their lights and began masking their intentions. Stealth became the way to work as they searched for the enemy ships which would be surrounded by clouds of fighters.

They raced through space, the signals on the heads up becoming stronger. Ellis glanced out the cockpit window. His flight was still strung out behind him, right where it was supposed to be, just as it was displayed on the HUD.

"Check your heads up," said Schaffer in Number Two.
The Denebian fleet seemed to come apart at that moment. The huge, flashing red shapes of their fleet carriers fragmented as hundreds of smaller craft were launched. No where around him were the comforting orange of his fleet or yellow of the his fighter cover. He was facing the might of the Denebian invasion force, apparently alone.

As they closed on the enemy fleet, the Denebian fighters dived on them from above the plain of the ecliptic. Schaffer spun the control on her laser cannon, aligning her sights on the lead fighter. She keyed the mike. "Here they come."

Number Three, Jason Horn, echoed her words, "Here they come."

Ellis ignored them both, now concentrating on the gigantic enemy carrier in front of him. He scanned the heads up, checked the range and heard the warbling tone that told him his missiles had found a target, barely in range. To himself he kept repeating, "Keep them off me. Keep them off me."

"Let's hammer them," said Horn.

Almost everyone in space around him opened fire at the same instant, the beams flashing. An enemy fighter exploded into a short-lived ball of orange fire. The rest of the enemy swarmed around, firing rapidly, but failing to stop the attack.

"They're on us."

"I got one."

"Coming in from the twelve o'clock relative. Half dozen. Turning to engage."

"Negative," said Ellis. "Maintain unit integrity."

Ellis shifted slightly, pushed forward on the controls. Enemy fighters filled space around him, firing at his flight. Ellis shot back, launched an anti-ship missile and saw it spiral out of control.

"They're coming in from behind," said Schaffer. Her voice was high and tight.

Ellis ignored that too, twisting in the seat so that he could look behind him. The heads up was showing enemy all around. Bright spots sparkled and disappeared as individual ships were destroyed and pilots died.

The heads up was filled with enemy fighters. A half dozen of them swooped in. One of them disappeared suddenly, and then a second. Schaffer was using her laser cannon effectively, as were others in the flight. Space was filled with the bright beams as they danced around like the colored spray from a fire hose.

"We'll take the center carrier," said Ellis. "Concentrate on the center carrier."

Ellis touched the controls, spinning his ship on its axis so that he was now flying backwards. He used the thrusters, slowed the sudden retreat and then accelerated. One of the enemy fighters passed in front of him and Ellis snapped a shot at him. The beam sliced through the enemy ship like a knife taking the top off a soft boiled egg. There was a brilliant shimmer as the fuel exploded and the enemy was gone.

Spinning again, Ellis tried to find the remainder of his flight, but they were now scattered through space. The furball grew around the enemy as the ships engaged one another hiding the small, individual battles. The lights on the HUD were mixed. The pilots of the fighters and attack craft searched for one another as the Earth force tried to penetrate the Denebian outer defenses, taking the attack to them rather than waiting for it to near them.

Now the weapons on the Denebian carrier opened fire, the whole side seeming to erupt. Missiles and beams slashed through space. The Denebians were attempting to create a wall of hard radiation to kill Ellis' pilots and disrupt and detonate anything they tried to shoot through it.

The wave of radiation passed them but the shielding of the ships protected them. The Denebian fighters turned on them again. At the edge of his flight, two ships vanished in bright flashes of flame. A third was crippled, the ship dropping away from the flight, spinning wildly. Someone had squeezed a mike button and broadcast the scream until it was abruptly cut off. He thought it might have been Horn, but he didn’t know.

Now there was no chatter among the Earth ships. Each of the pilots was too busy trying to stay alive. Each engaged in tiny battles. Ellis felt his vision, and attention, narrow to a tunnel directly in front of him.

From far on the left appeared another flight. Space seemed to explode in that direction. A bright expanding cloud flared briefly and then disappeared. There was a single scream, like a war whoop, as the ships appeared, and then vanished in brilliant flashes of flame and light.

Ellis wasn't sure what happened. His attention was on the enemy ship directly in front of him. The sides of it were sparkling as it fired and took hits from beams and missiles. And then, suddenly, he was back in range, good, solid tones on all weapons. Ellis fired four nuclear tipped torpedoes, hesitated and then slavoed his missiles. As the weapons jumped clear, Ellis pushed forward on his control, looping down and away from the enemy.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a flash and knew that another friend had just died. Ignoring that, he spiraled down as one more of the ships with him exploded. He knew that many had died, he just didn't know it had been almost all of them.

Schaffer, watching the scene on her sensors, suddenly screamed, "We hit him. We hit him bad."

Ellis glanced at the heads up, changed channels and focused on the Denebian carrier ahead of him. Torpedoes somehow jinked their way through the enemy defenses, hit the front end and crushed the big hangar doors. One of the torpedoes flew through the wreckage there and exploded inside the giant ship. The carrier stopped for an instant, shook itself like an overweight, drunken dinosaur and then flew apart in a brilliant flash of bright red light and a spreading cloud of glowing, twinkling debris, bodies, and broken equipment.

"That's it," shouted Schaffer. "We got him."

But Ellis didn't feel the joy. He had realized that he was nearly alone. His flight was long gone. "Forget it, Linda," he said tiredly, ignoring standard radio procedure. "It doesn't matter now."

Denebian fighters swarmed around the fleet carrier wreckage like angry bees from a ruined hive. They were targeting everything larger than a snowball. They were going to destroy all the Earth Defense Force craft and kill every human they could find before attacking the rest of the Earth fleet.

Ellis kept his camouflage on flat black, and then turned off all the internal equipment that could radiate any type of signal. He cut the engines to reduce the infrared signature and to disrupt the ion trail. He let the ship drift away from the battle, masquerading as another dead hulk.

From nowhere Denebian fighters appeared, angling down toward him. It was obvious that he had been found, and he fired his engines, kicking the ship back, toward his own fleet and apparent safety.

A bright red laser beam flashed, hit the rear of his ship, and cut through the armor plating near the thrusters. It felt as if he had been hit with a brick thrown by a hurricane. Ellis was slammed against the seatbelt and shoulder harness in the sudden acceleration. Instinctively he grabbed at the instrument panel to brace himself.

Ellis scanned the instruments. A single warning light was blinking. He punched a button and the light winked out. All systems and weapons were still operational, but the ship was slowing rapidly. Forward momentum had been absorbed in the energy of the hit.

He drifted to a stop, momentarily dead in space. The Denebians, closed for the kill, buzzed him as if examining him, and then broke off the attack. They passed without firing again, leaving him alone, far below the plane of the ecliptic.

For a moment Ellis sat quietly, his eyes on the heads up. His flight now gone but Denebian fighters were everywhere. They were attacking the various flights from the Earth fleet. The small yellow lights were winking out rapidly. Much too rapidly. The enemy fleet dominated the heads up.

Adding power, Ellis began to limp away from the point of attack, lost in the confusion of the fight. Ellis dropped down, relative to his ship, away from the enemy and the plane of the ecliptic. He tried to understand what was happening behind him.

A Denebian caught him about a thousand klicks from the battle. He made one pass, firing rapidly, and then spun away. Ellis fought to control his ship. Something exploded behind him. He was slammed forward again as another explosion rocked the front of him. Something slashed into his shoulder and pain flared hot and bright. He tried to turn and was unable to do it. A red fog grew in front of his eyes and he could see nothing around him.

The heads up was blank. He didn't know where the enemy was or where safety was. He shoved the throttles and felt a rumbling behind him that was not quite right. His speed increased slightly and he turned, trying to find his way clear.

Outside, the battle seemed to have ended. Ellis didn't know what had happened. The heads up was blank. He was flying blind, moving away from the enemy. That was all he knew for sure.

Again he tried the flight frequency but there was no response. When he tried to twist in his seat, he thought he would pass out. He sat up straight, not moving, trying to find the fleet. He squeezed the mike button tightly, cracking it and then shattering it. He whispered into the radio but there was no answer.


Ellis was now afraid to move. The pain in his shoulder grew, burning hot and flaring brightly so that it affected his chest and upper body and made him dizzy. He wanted help, needed it badly, but couldn’t raise anyone on the radio. He wasn’t sure where he was, where the fleet was, or where the enemy was. He was disoriented, sick, and almost unable to think.

Then, as the ship rotated slowly, he spotted Pluto, now a giant glowing ball rising from the left. Without thinking, he touched a pedal, felt a slight vibration, and watched as the nose of his fighter came down, centering on Pluto. Without thinking about it, he leveled the ship, bottom toward the planet’s surface, and tried to enter orbit, flying almost as if he was in an airplane.

As he entered orbit, he flipped on the nav aids, but there was no response from them. He punched the emergency transmit button, hoping that its signal was strong enough to be detected. Hoping that there was a signal to be detected. Then on the horizon, he saw the bright lights of the human outpost. He pushed the nose of the ship toward it, cut the power and tried to drop the several thousand feet to the ground.

He saw the outpost rushing toward him but it looked unreal, ghostly and tinged with red. Suddenly it seemed he was standing in a deep cave staring up, into a cloudless bright sky that was slowly changing to overcast.

He lost sight of the outpost, of the lights and even Pluto. To him it was strange because they had been there only minutes before. He looked around wildly, or thought he did, but saw nothing. Now there was only blackness, but not of space because he could see no stars or planets, or even the enemy fleet.