Chapter 21

There was a time when just having faster than light technology meant you got to hang out with all the really cool kids in the galaxy. Time goes by, in some cases, a staggeringly great amount of time. Still some things stay just like they were in High School.

It's not so important you have a car as what kind of car you drive.

Fundamentally, there are several ways that a civilization can go about getting from here to there. The most pedestrian form of such travel is the creation of mighty generation ships. Heroic members are sealed up in these very long haul cruisers knowing full well that their grandchildren will be the only ones to see the tiny speck in the night sky. Centuries pass and eventually the mighty ship arrives, only to forget the original reason they went there to begin with.

This usually isn't a big problem as the well established colony created by the original voyager's younger (and somewhat more impatient) brothers and sisters happily send their welcomes, congratulations, and requests that the weary voyagers keep going because this chunk of debris is pretty well packed and the prospect of getting a couple of thousand backwoods yokels isn't really as idyllic a proposition as you'd think.

A surprising number of bloody civil wars arise because of these incidents. So many in fact that the creation of these mighty arks usually results in the lesser civilization being visited by a significantly more advanced one who happens to be towing back the aforementioned ark, along with the not so humble suggestion that they either keep working on the FTL problem, or that they add a checkbox to the list of things to ask the next set of voyagers: "Do you mind being reduced to quarks by long range tracking missiles launched by other races who value their peace and quiet above your need to grab another damn planet?"

One of the first ways that civilizations determine that they might be able to get from here to there (and be able to do something other than fertilize it) might be to follow the easy example that already existed. You could take the shortcut provided by a wormhole. Unfortunately, one of the problems with doing such is that wormholes have a few rather nasty issues associated with them. The first being that in order to make a wormhole big enough to actually fit something other than a photon through, you need quite a bit of energy. Depending on how you acquire the resources to do so, creating a wormhole might not be a bad thing since there probably won't be much left after you've converted all of the available mass of your local system into a directed burst of energy to create the wormhole.

For those civilizations with more than six or so surviving members (or ones a bit more concerned with their power bill) a more "eco-friendly" solution might be to reduce the size of the wormhole. Instead of sending the ship through, you simply use quantum mechanics to replicate the ship at the remote location. Fortunately (or un- depending on your point of view and philosophy), the original ship is converted to energy in the transfer process. This, of course, was done mostly at the bequest of the presiding insurance agencies.

Some time after that, some bright soul would figure out that one way to bypass the problems inherit with trying to go faster than one of the stricter limits of this realm of existence is to simply bypass this realm of existence.

Of course the obvious problem with ripping holes in the fabric of space-time is that it's tricky at best, and rather detrimental to the universe at worst. Thus a rather large number of rules, regulations and requirements eventually arose to address any such venture. These strict guidelines are overseen and enforced by the officers of the Galactic Transit Gate Corporation, who maintain and oversee transit gates and allow safe transit through them, for a reasonable, non-negotiable fee. The rumor that a secret organization of GTG infiltrate and sabotage civs that are attempting to build their own transit gate systems is strongly denied, and the disappearance of those other civilizations was undoubtedly due to other unfortunate accidents.

Civilizations not willing to provide most of their gross product to the GTG usually continue the weary road of progress and develop warp drive. This simply uses the engines to scrunch space between here and there making the distance the ship has to travel greatly significantly smaller. Unfortunately this technique is limited both by the amount of space the engines can squeeze together and the amount of time that the engines require to "recharge". For the most part ships can't make the journey in one squeeze. Instead, they squeeze smaller jumps rapidly together and effectively skip across the surface of time and space. One other small problem is that warp ways have to be carefully controlled lest they accidentally cross the path of an inhabited planet. Granted, the planets and populace would survive, however several early warp drive manufacturers were run out of business from the wrinkle removal dry cleaning bills they got.

More advanced cultures would take advantage of taking shortcuts through the dimensions above the normal four that they usually exist in. The process is reasonably simple, you get going, then turn... well... it's kind of hard to describe, but basically you just start going "that" way for a bit then turn back again and return to traditional space. The problem with this technique is that it's immensely difficult to figure out how far to go in the other dimension. It's also not like you can roll your window down and ask for directions either, as was discovered by several early and fondly remembered explorers.

There are other older means used by other older races, such as the fabled Jelvan drives that use a means so ruthlessly clever and efficient that not even they are certain exactly how it works. Surprisingly this does not disqualify them from continually winning a spot in the top five "Best Looking Engine Room" competition held by Better Planets and Quasars magazine.

In addition, there's also a small and quite pedantic race called the Nivenians, which have managed to create a rather unique method of transportation. Their system apparently describes the method they use in such detail to the universe that eventually it just gives in and moves them just to get them to shut up about it.

Sadly most of the wonders and history related to galactic use of Faster Than Light transit were completely lost on both Chris and JB. Which is only to be expected since they were far too busy screaming incoherently at the time.

Zrng watched one of the side monitors. A talking head reported about the efforts of one of the inhabitants of a city called San Francisco. Zrng froze the frame to study the technology. It was an impressively designed regeneration system. It was primitive and unfortunately it was severely damaged but Zrng could see that the system was very close.

Of course, the creator of the system was killed by local authorities, but that's typical for this civilization.

Zrng pushed away from the console and poured himself a cup of taj. It's fragrant scent assaulting his olfactory cavities as the bitter tang ripped bits of flesh from his tongue. It was a perfect cup.

The "humans" were a frustrating lot. They were competitive, and clever but were obsessed with conspiracies. Zrng took another sip and winced. They were warlike too, of course, but most civ's at this stage were. The real trick was to give them someone else to worry about. He paused by a view port to watch the huge red storm swirl its endless way around the largest planet of the system.

War-like. That was an understatement. At least this group wasn't as bad as the Doomians.

Zrng stared at the bottom of his cup. The taj was good, but he looked forward to getting to the main course. He made his way to the hold. It was one of the nicer benefits of watching the humans. He had access to human goods. Most of it was horrible some of it was recognizable, but there was one golden beverage that made sitting in this desolate backwater system more than worthwhile.

Zrng knew that he had really just started the program, and he was already behind. There had been an unauthorized invasion. Zrng had filed his complaint, but that wasn't going to get one of his probes back, which means that he was going to be out his deposit. He wished that he'd gone with the less expensive "Yugo" version, but Zrng knew that would have raised too much suspicion. Particularly since it had a pantomime pirate driving it.

Plus he found the Lycra clad probes, intriguing...

Things were going reasonably well though. He had the subjects he had picked up earlier were spreading the proper level of paranoia and suspicion and maybe he could make "the announcement" in just ten years instead of the usual twelve.

Heck, he might even get them off that stupid rock early and get that bonus. Zrng started singing a bit at the prospect of leaving early and spending his bonus on a delightful little kovik ranch.

Perform a reduced set of terpsicarian maneuvers,
Fabricate small portions of procreation,
Receive the under feathers of waterfowl this evening,
Receive the under feathers of waterfowl this evening.

Zrng pressed the hold panel and the airlock slid open. He quickly joined the chorus of screams coming from inside the suddenly very crowded bay.

Neither Chris nor JB were willing to open their eyes. JB remembered seeing a bright flash and a weird tingling feeling but that was about it. He remembered bob's advice about emptying his lungs and figured screaming was as good a way to do it as any other. It wasn't until he had taken his second lungful that his curiosity finally got the better of him and he slowly opened his eye to peek.

What he saw looked nothing like what he felt he should be seeing. Instead of the great ringed giant he saw something that looked like it could have come off the set of Red Dwarf. Pipes and walls were covered with a strange scrawl. Except for a large stack of drums that looked suspiciously like beer kegs.

The prominently displayed brewers logo indicated that what looked like beer kegs probably were.

"Chris? You can stop screaming. I don't know where we ... Chris?" JB turned to look at his brother who had already opened his eyes and was already busy reacting to the next item. JB cautiously turned to see what Chris was reacting to.

There in the newly opened hatch stood a squat green creature with the arms and legs of a body builder. Fortunately, they were attached. Possibly the most striking thing about the clearly inhuman being was it's choice of flowered shorts, thongs and Yahoo! Travel t-shirt.

Well, that and the fact that it was handling the situation about as well as Chris was.

The creature disappeared back down the passageway and the heavy door slammed shut behind it.

Chris replaced his screaming with simple hyperventilating. JB sat in confusion trying to figure out what had happened.

Chris wasn't feeling quite as quiet. "What the heck was that?!" Chris yelled in a near panic.

"Probably the being that owns this ship." JB replied calmly.

"You mean an alien?" Chris continued to inch his way toward full on panic.

"Well, I suppose you might say that, but right now that would include us too, you know." JBs years of deep immersion into sci-fi calmed his voice and trained him well to react to such situations.

"Well, it's not eating MY brain." Chris said as his taste in movies made itself known as well.

"Chris, look what ever that was, probably is responsible for saving our bacon. I'm pretty sure that if he was intent on sucking out our brains, we wouldn't be having this discussion right now."

"Oh yeah? Well, he's probably looking for the right sized straw."

"That's it, when we get home, you're banned from watching 'Aliens'"

"Hey? What are you doing?"

"I'm getting out."

Chris grabbed JB's arm. "Wait a minute! You don't know what it's like out there! It could be deadly gas that we can't breath!"

"Oh, like you after Tres Amigos Burrito night?"

"JB, I'm serious! Don't open that door!"

"Chris? If this hold was filled with deadly gas, don't you think that we would be dead by now? You've got the fan going."

"Oh." Chris said as he switched off the air vent. "So there's no filters for stuff like that?"

"Filters yes, Mach Five style underwater equipment, no. Be happy that the engine never cranked or else we would have filled this room with Carbon Monoxide. I'm getting out."

JB popped the door open with no ill effects. "See? I'm fine. Whatever greenie breathes, it's close enough to what we use to be useful. Pop the hood will you? I wanna see what our buddy Bob did."

Chris popped the hood and JB looked at the modifications. At first, he didn't even see it. Most everything looked like JB had assumed the engine would look like. "I don't see anything here."

Chris got out and looked himself. "JB? How do you replace the oil in the car?"

"Take it to Jiffy Lube?"

"You're never touching anything other than the steering wheel of the car. Maybe if you're lucky, I'll let you touch the ignition key too."

Anyone other than JB (who, say, was slightly more familiar with general engine mechanics in a way that involved actually looking at an engine) would have instantly noticed the minor modifications. Primarily since a rough three by four foot cube of metal had replaced the engine. It was covered in wires and small indicator lights as well as the prerequisite duct tape. It looked as if it was very carefully thrown together, as if a supercomputer had imploded. It was held fast by several straps of metal fastening tape. However it worked, it certainly didn't operate by actually providing any sort of physical pull or push. Well, not by any traditional application of Newtonian physics at least.

"Coolies!" JB said, "Look, it's got a RJ-11 port. Hang on, I think I've got an adapter in my bag!"

JB raced around to the trunk to get his wiring supplies and his laptop. He was back nearly as quickly and had plugged one end of a null modem cable into the block with the other going into his laptop. His hands were a flurry of activity as he brought several terminals and port sweepers on line trying to figure out how to hack into the device.

"Uh, JB?"

JB grunted, "Hang on a second,"

"No biggie, I can wait, but I don't think greenie can."

JB looked up to see Chris staring down the business end of a long, reasonably lethal looking device. JB followed his brothers example and slowly raised his hands in surrender. "Uh.. Klaatu Barrada Nikto?"

"V'ungr gung zbivr. jub ner'lbh naq-Jung gur urpx ner-lbh qbvat ba zl fuvc?" the alien said incomprehensibly. He produced a small scanning device and pressed a button. He stared at the readout, his eyes growing a bit larger than they were before. "Human?" It said in surprise. " bX punatr gung, ubj qvq-lbh trg Vagb zl fuvc?"

"Good going, JB, you ticked him off." Chris said in an annoyed tone. Then smiled to the alien and moved in slow reassuring movements. "Me, Grayhound, Him, Idiot."

"Hey!" JB protested. The alien raised a bit of an eyebrow. "Well, at least that got his attention, Tarzan. Should I start swinging from the pipes by my toes?" he added sarcastically.

The alien spoke into the device and a few seconds later it responded in a synthesized tone. "Yes we have no bananas."

Chris and JB looked at the alien in a bit of shock.

The alien's translator spoke again. "Let me make a hypothesis. This reduced sized portion of traveling was an unexpected occurance."

"Holy Crap!! It speaks English!" Chris exclaimed.

"No on two counts." JB replied.


"First, I'm willing to venture 'he'?" JB sort of asked the alien who gave a brief nod, "and secondly, it's his translator that's doing the talking."

"Ok, 'he'", Chris said back a bit annoyed with JBs pedantics, "but he still understood what we said right?"

"Yeah, I guess so. I mean the joke was kinda lame, but the timing worked."

The alien grunted harshly into the translator. Fortunately for Chris and JB the device removed much of the anger. "Please close vertically ascending. Inform me which of you individuals of reduced mental facilities fabricated the device."

"Uhm..", JB began a bit nervously, "well, you see, neither of us really. The guy who built it wanted to use it to try and kill us. Fortunately you arrived to save us, for which we're very grateful." He smiled warmly.

The alien looked rather confused. "I did not rescue you."

"Pardon?" JB said.

"Your vehicle appeared here by itself. You are a fortunate male offspring of a female t'bq."

"Sorry, I don't think I got that last bit." JB said politely.

"I did" Chris said quietly.

"Ah, well, thank you anyway. We come in peace and mean you no harm. My name is Puppyboy, and this is the Grayhound. Pleased to meet you." JB extended his hand in greeting.

The alien looked at it a bit suspiciously. It was an uncommon experience for him. Generally whenever he met folks they were strapped down and screaming for him not to give them an anal probe. He still wasn't sure if the two humans standing in his hold were telling the truth. He was positive of one thing, though, they were definitely human. Only humans could be that confused and confusing all at the same time.

Zrng realized that even if they were going to do anything rash, they would have already. He took JBs hand and shook it in human greeting. He didn't understand the tradition, but it was better than the forehead lick that the Praglaa used.

How the heck did these two manage to get their vehicle into his hold. He set aside the broom he was defending his craft. "So how does it work?" Zrng knew full well that they would have less of an idea than he did. He stared at the device and tried to decipher it himself.

The one called Puppyboy typed away on the primitive console. He seemed to be making some headway, he guessed, mostly because of the intense look on his face. The other one poked at the device with a tentative finger. Zrng decided to watch the brightly clad one. Then gave up as most of the screens displayed a near blur of scrolling information.

Zrng walked around the vehicle to examine it. It appeared to be a modified ground effect vehicle common among humans. They really needed to get fuel cells and repulsor fields working, these things were going to kill them. The "engine" looked like absolutely nothing Zrng had ever seen before. For one thing, it was significantly smaller than anything he had seen. Bits of it were hastily constructed, and honestly Zrng would never believe that this would do anything if it weren't for the fact that it was sitting in his hold.

A sudden startled cry startled both Zrng and Puppyboy. The Grayhound was staring out one of the ports. Zrng was a bit confused why anyone would worship excrement, but was equally afraid to ask.

"JB! That's Jupiter!" the Grayhound said returning to a near panic.

"What?" Puppyboy, or JB (great, apparently these two humans also have the habit of switching names) said with a bit of annoyance. He walked over to where his companion was and looked out the window. "Hmm, we were supposed to have been sent around Saturn, it's the sixth planet."

"It is a good thing that your enemy has poor aim."

"Or gets the planets confused."

"That too. Please tell me what you know about the device" the translator said as JB and Zrng walked back toward the car.

"Sure thing Dr. Hawking." JB said in his best junior lab assistant voice. Whatever joke he was trying to make was lost on the alien.

"I'm not really sure. There was a loud whining noise, then a bright flash and a weird tingling feeling. Next thing we knew we were here."

"Do you remember any additional items regarding your journey? Did you see anything such as swirling patterns or feel like you were moving in an unusual direction."

"I don't know. We were busy screaming bloody murder at the time." JB said honestly. Zrng remembered his first time through a Slip drive and sympathized. It's totally disorienting even if you know what's happening. You are fully aware that you're falling, but you have no idea in what direction. For these two it must have been terrifying.

It didn't make sense though. They couldn't have used something like warp drive, because they got in here somehow and there wasn't hole through the hull. And they couldn't have used a slip drive because the ships sensors would have picked up the displacement and bunted the vehicle a safe distance. There was no way that these two could have used magic. Likewise since this was a ground effect vehicle that meant there was no way that they could have opened up a wormhole and still have a planet to speak of.

Zrng was stymied how the drive worked.

The only way he could think would be sheer lunacy.

"Hey! Another ship just appeared." the Grayhound said as he looked out the window.

Another ship? The supply vessel wasn't expected for another two cycles.

Chris and JB had no idea what they were hearing. To them it was only something that sounded a bit like a cat making love to a sea cucumber in a helium tank. Zrng was not as lucky.

"Attention! This is GTG council ship 941/B. You are in violation of Hypergate Transit Protocol 5091 Section 2. Prepare to be boarded and destroyed."

Something about frying pans and fire came to Zrng's mind. "Sacred excrement. We are fastened."

Is this the end of Chris and JB?

Has the Author once again written himself into a corner?

Will there be any more fascinating discussions about
made up technology?
Because if there are, I've really got to get some
stronger coffee.

Tune in next time for

Battle of the Baliffs
Judgement Frey

Previous Chapter Next Chapter