Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Doc sighs. "Why don't we just mark this spot with a time hole, jump into the Brother Pear and come back when we can fix things? Wouldn't it be more important to save the universe and then come back for these folks? Honestly Steve, unless you or Veronica can come up with something, I'm tapped out."

"I guess you're right," Steve answers. He finishes up his tea and puts a wormhole in the cup. "This cup was manufactured on Earth and transported to the Marriott while in orbit getting outfitted. If we time it right, we can get back on before she departs for Saturn and infiltrate the crew. Maybe then we'll have time to rewire the control systems or something, or maybe from there we can go back even further to the Vesta Shipyards and sabotage the ship from the start."

"Sounds good. We need to get back on track."

"Agreed." Steve puts on his HUD glasses. "Veronica?"

Steve pauses as she answers.

Doc puts on his glasses and joins the conversation. Her ghostlike face appears in the middle of the living room.

"We're getting off this ship. Can you-," Steve starts.

"We can't leave now! I've got to stop these bastards from kidnapping all these people!"

"I've established a wormhole. We can come back and save them later. Right now we need to get-"

"Later hell! Any later and they'll all be slaves! I shot my own squad mates to get this far!"

"Earlier. We'll come back earlier and stop the ship ever leaving drydock. We can even save your squadron. But right now it doesn't matter, since the galaxy will be destroyed anyway."

"What do you mean it doesn't matter?! It matters to me!"

"We're time travelers, remember? We can rescue your squad and everyone on this ship anytime we want. But it doesn't matter now because no one, not you or I or anyone on this ship, will continue to exist if we don't go save the galaxy."

"Fine," She says, dejected. "It's the first thing we do after we save the galaxy. I'm not going to allow any universe to exist in which these people suffer and that fucker Spaaz gets infinitely richer off of their misery."

"Don't worry about it. It will all be okay. We can fix the past, but we've go to make sure we have a future, first. Now, can you get us access to the Pear?"

"I'd like to get our equipment back as well," Doc interjects.

"Yes. Those weapons are future weapons to this era." Steve adds.

"What weapons?"

"Two railgun assault rifles, two Pulse ION pistols, Mark's cutlass, and a woodaxe," Steve replies. "I bribed the porter to stow them for us."

"Well," Veronica answers, "assuming the porter wasn't a pirate, they'll be in the hazardous cargo storage locker in the passenger bay you boarded from. If he was, they're long gone already. Do you still have those uniforms and access cards?"

"Yes," Doc answers. "The uniforms are in the laundry, though."

"I can get you access to the Pear with those key cards. You'll have to go through the maze. If you're going after those weapons you'll have to take care of it yourself. I can't help you there. Contact me again when you're headed for the Pear and I'll meet you on board."

Veronica's ghostly head disappears. Doc and Steve remove their glasses.

"Should we go after those weapons?" Doc asks.

"I don't know. If the pirates get hold of that kind of technology it might have dire consequences on the future we're proceeding to. That might be a risk we'll have to take, though."

"Well, how dire of consequences are we talking about?"

"Well, they're not that far advanced from now, maybe thirty or fourty years out. Worst case scenario would be like the Confederacy got hold of bolt-action rifles."

"That would be a significant advantage."

"If they had the means to produce them. The powerpack manufacturing process is complex. It might not even be possible for them to replicate it, yet. Hell, they might blow themselves up trying to reverse engineer it."

"So what happens if they can produce them and use them to their advantage?"

"Well, if they get lucky, they might be able to capture a remote colony, and from there expand their resources and take a planet. I doubt they'll ever have the resources to defeat the EDF outright, but they would be a much more significant threat, possibly weakening the EDF and allowing the Exkoreans to gain more territory."

"How does that effect our goals in the future?"

"The warship we have to stop is a Saliesk Warcruiser on its way to assist the Exkoreans, by then I guess they're the Saettans, in a skirmish against the Gallactic Alliance. If the Saettans have more territory than they should, the battle might not even take place. I have no idea, though. This is all pure conjecture. Maybe the pirates get too ballsy and are completely wiped out and the EDF winds up with more advanced weapons. We won't know until we get there. What we have to decide now is if it's worth the risk to get the guns back, or simply deal with the future as it comes?"

A Mess of Plans

Doc and Steve return to a flooded apartment. The water is only a couple inches deep outside the living room pool, but smells of rotting food, whiskey, and general befoulment. The video screen is playing a terrible porno at full volume. Two extremely large gentlemen are having their way with an impossibly larger female whose clown makeup does nothing to diminish the pimply, freckled horror beneath. The funky jazz-metal soundtrack, poorly composed and played with heavy distortion to cover up for a lack of musical talent, scratches the eardrums like a dentist's ultrasonic probe against silver filled molars. The smell is fantastically horrific, like one would imagine a Lovecraftian horror would smell after a three day bender. It even feels bad. The air is swampy and sticky, and the water is a putrid flavor of lukewarm.

Mark and Thunderhorse are not to be found.

"VIDEO OFF!!" Steve shouts. The television mercifully complies, and the exterior view takes its place. The stars turning inside out and spinning in incomprehensible dimensions beyond the window does not in any way help slow the exponentially increasing sense of nausia.

"Close the window," Steve asks, holding back the burger they stopped for on the way home.

Doc, still filthy from battle, volunteers to inspect the damage closer. It appears the drains and overflows on the living room sauna are clogged with various articles of clothing, wigs, and stuffed animals. At least Doc hopes they're stuffed as he yanks them out of the drains. With a hideous sucking sound, the water level begins to recede.

After that it's a long overdue sonic shower with as much antibacterial mist as can be withstood by human skin, followed by eight hours of peaceful sleep. So peaceful, Doc does not hear the cleaning crew Steve had summoned, or Mark and Thunderhorse stumbling back home in the wee hours of the morning.

According to the bedside clock, it's now six in the morning ship's time on "Threeday," which the holographic cruise director floating out from the round, flat device has designated "Hawaii Day." Doc swats her away and gets up to grab a cup of coffee.

Steve is already up. The television is a wall of schematics and information. He's staring at it blankly.

Mark is passed out on the couch. His shirt and jacket are stained and he smells like vomit. Thunderhorse is face down in a corner, snoring loudly.

Doc has a seat next to Steve as far away from Mark as he can get.

"I see the kids made it back okay last night."

"Relatively, I guess," Steve replies.

"Working on a plan?" Doc asks, sipping his hot coffee carefully. It's a wonderful Kona blend in the spirit of today's holiday.

"This ship is impossibly huge. I don't see how we're going to capture it. We can't exactly storm it. There are more than three million people on board. About three hundred thousand of them are crew members, and about ten thousand of those are security personnel. So unless we incite a total riot and accept that many, many innocent people will be shot, there's no way we're going to take the bridge by force."

"How many of them are pirates?"

"I asked Veronica that question earlier. She says that most of the crew are just regular people, including the security guards. The pirates are all upper rank commanders. The entire raider fleet is pirates, of course. The heads of every department including security, PR, engineering, even science and medical are all pirates. The entire command crew are pirates, as well. The only exception is Captain Hosep Jazelwuud, the ship's pilot, who was planted here by StarScape's investors. According to Veronica, though, he doesn't actually have any command over the ship. The helmsmen only follow orders from Spaaz. Jazelwuud is always too drunk to notice, anyway."

"Can it be controlled remotely? Can you hack the system and take over?"

"If only. The ship is just too complex. At most I can control one system at a time, and even then there are redundant systems that can override whatever I'm controling. For example, if I got access to the XD throttler, someone else could simply shut that throttler down and use a redundant one. There are about twenty of those. The computer system is fundamentally designed to not allow access to more than one controller from one terminal at one time. To even think about taking direct control of the engines, I'd have to spend a week hardwiring together the twenty seperate servers in twenty seperate datacenters which are scattered over the engineering deck. Even then I would only have control over how fast we go, not where we go or even stopping the ship."

"How do they control the ship then?"

"Seperate operators confirm each other's commands from seperate terminals on seperate hard-line networks in seperate parts of the ship. Only Admiral Spaaz has the authority to command them all at once. Although, Captain Jazelwuud's control pad may be pre-programmed with certain orders from Admiral Spaaz. It's more than likely locked down to only accept certain inputs at certain times. There's a slight chance it has emergency override capabilities, but I doubt Spaaz would give that kind of authority to Jazelwuud. Maybe someone else has override authority."

"Spaaz's first mate?"

"I thought of that. Veronica doesn't know who it is. None of the pirate commanders know, at least none of them say they do. This is all conjecture. It's possible there's no first mate at all and anarchy will rule in a power vacuum."

"In that case, if we take out Spaaz the ship is dead in the water."

"And if there's a secret first mate then it isn't. Hell, Spaaz could be a puppet himself for all we know." Steve takes off his glasses and massages his temples.

"I think we're getting needlessly paranoid," Doc says. "Can't we just get everyone into their ships and fly off this thing?"

"Not while we're moving. The Pear is the only ship with an XD drive. Every other ship would be trapped in FTL forever. And again, there's the problem of getting three million people to risk death to storm the command deck."

"But that means that we have a way out. What about calling for help? I know they're blocking radio transmissions from the ship. Can we leave on the Pear and call in the EDF or something?"

"There's no FTL communications in this era. It would take years for the signal to reach anyone. We could theoretically warn Selph of impending attack, but not until we're there and it's pretty much too late."

"What's Veronica's plan?" Doc asks.

"Her plan is to wait until we arrive at Selph, go out with the raiding party, split off with the group, and bomb the hell out of the command deck while the rest of the fighter defenses are occupied while somehow avoiding getting blasted to shreds by the ship's batteries. Once the ship is disabled, she radios for help. Failing that, she launches all her warheads into the Bussard ramjet intakes and hope for a chain reaction that destroys the ship."

"Sounds risky."

"Sounds impossible. Assuming she survives the turrets and disables the magnetic shields, no amount of nuclear warheads to the bridge will disable the ship entirely, not with all the redundant systems in place. And a nuclear blast in a ramjet intake will only disable the intake. The thing is designed to absorb that kind of energy and feed it into the core."

"Can we help her out? Maybe disable the weapons systems or sabotage something for her?"

"It's a possibility. While we can't control all the turrets at once, if we can get control of a torpedo bay I might be able to program them to hit the ship's other turrets or even the bridge. If we can get to a magnetic projector array, we can create a weak spot in the shields. But still the redundant systems problem remains. If we wipe out the bridge, command control will continue from elsewhere. The best we'll get is a temporary disabling."

"That might be all we need. So what about the final option? If all else fails, how do we destroy the ship?"

"Well, releasing the core contaiment will allow the fuel mass to expand back into our dimension, crushing the ship in the gravity field and creating a brand new neutron star between Sol and Alpha Centuari, which will then explode as it reacts with the anti-matter core trying to do the same thing. The resulting gamma ray burst and neutrino shower will be harmful to both Earth and Centuari ecologies. Not totally devastating, but very harmful. Imagine a Chernobyl event across an entire hemisphere on both Earth and Selph. We will be instantly killed unless we're lightyears away when it goes."

"Okay, before I ask how to release the core containment, are there any less utterly devastating ways to destroy the ship?"

"If we had any way to override the XD throttling, we could release the core into the second tier dimensions, flinging it wildly and hopelessly forever into the oblivion of intergalactic space. We could escape on the Pear and leave the pirates and everyone on board to slowly freeze to death as power runs out over the course of centuries."

"Doesn't sound great, either."

"That's why they have such strict controls over that kind of thing."

"Can we disable the control mechanisms for the core without losing containment?"

"Hmm. Possibly. If we can gain access to Primary Core Engineering it's a simple matter of cutting the fiberoptic feeds from the datacenters. Simple is understating the matter, actually. There's probably redundant lines and local manual overrides, but if we can find all of those and disable them, the Core should lock to it's current state. We wouldn't want to do it until we're stopped, though."

"But then people could get out safely."

"As safe as the riot on the way out could possibly be."

A lazy, half asleep voice emerges from the vomit stain on the couch. "I say we jes sneak off. I don't want nothing to do with no pie rats. We get to the Pear and giddiup!" Mark groans at the effort to speak, then rolls over and buries his face in the cushions.

Thunderhorse continues snoring loudly in the corner.

"Are there any other possible ways to stop or destroy this ship?" Doc asks.

"Besides hundreds of high yield nuclear warheads in strategically placed to completely disrupt the superstructure, no. " Steve answers.

"Veronica said they're going to scrap the ship when they're done. They must have a plan to disassemble it. If that's the only way to tear it apart, maybe they already have a system like that in place."

"It's definately possible, but I can't find any evidence of it on the schematics. This is just brochure information, though. I need access to a real terminal again. There's probably a thousand safety systems in our way of detonating that, though."

"Hmm." Doc sips his coffee some more. Steve sips some of his own. They sit a while and ponder their options.

Steve breaks the silence. "Any ideas yet?"

Complex Causal Chaos

The noise of the pneumatic ratchet subsides as the mechanic working on the gunship puts down his tool in exchange for another.

Doc changes from a shout to a whisper. "I'm sure Steve can doctor up some X-rays. Don't worry about it. Just meet us later at our room and we'll make plans."

"I'll need access to a terminal, and you'll have to come with us so it at least looks like this is legit."

"Come on, my office is this way." Veronica leads them across the deck towards the large building inset in the walls of the cavernous hanger. They pass the gunship captain, who grins smugly at Veronica through his cigar-clenching teeth.

"Who's that?" Doc asks.

"That's Captain Dodridge. He's the wing commander. That big gunship, the Terrasque, is his."

"That doesn't look much like a defensive ship," Doc comments. "Unless they plan on being attacked by a city. Those are some pretty hefty bombs mounted on the wing. They didn't mention that in the brochure."

"No, they didn't. Admiral Spaaz is the most powerful pirate in the galaxy right now. No other pirate fleet would even dream of attacking his flagship. This is a raider fleet. It's designed to hit a large ship, space station, or city fast and hard, wipe out its defenses, bomb them into sumbission, and then snatch any cargo and 'passengers' we can find."

"So where are they taking this ship really?" Steve asks.

"Alpha Centuari B. Specifically, Spud, the fourth moon of Mackenzie. After a stop at Selph in AC-A for a quick raid."

"Wait a minute." Something is puzzling Doc. "If we're going to arrive at Alpha Centuari four years before we left, how are they going to ransom anyone who hasn't been kidnapped yet?"

"Once we arrive at the base they'll take a head count of all the prisoners and send a courier ship back to Earth, which will arrive four years earlier than that. The courier will contact everyone in custody and ransom them from themselves. Then, eight years later, they simply know not to get on the ship and avoid ever being kidnapped in the first place."

"But then they're never kidnapped and won't have to pay the ransom."

"Not in this universe, no," explains Steve. "But the prisoners are transferred along the causal loop along with the pirates? What happens to them?"

"Highly disposable slave labor. Spud is ripe with uranium deposits, and why buy a lot of respirators and radiation suits when the people who are working there also live happily somewhere else?"

"Wouldn't the people who paid their own preemptive ransom tell everyone about the Marriott?" Doc asks.

"It's part of the ransom agreement that they never talk about it. Besides, Spaaz has an incredible PR department. Some of them are rich and stupid enough to ride again."

"Why do they scrap the ship? Why not build up a fleet of ships over time- er, dimensions?"

Steve answers Doc's question. "Because if you condense the pan-dimensional existence of matter into a single dimension, it can have wildly unpredictable effects. Same matter in the same time tends to want to occupy the same space, and such intense existence collisions tend to resolve themselves by throwing the subject (or subjects) into a dimension where they do not exist. This could be the one it came from, thus undoing whatever causal paradoxes were created, or it could be one in which the subject never existed, which presents a whole different set of problems. The same-matter attraction phenomenon is subject to physical forces like magnetism and gravity, but the more same-matter that exists at one time, the stronger the attraction. A ship this size could not share the same orbit with its self, but the prisoners in the mine can exist four light years away from the passengers they were before. If there were many more that that, I'd say billions, the prisoners would experience causal resolution effects.

"Oh, that reminds me. If you ever meet yourself while time traveling, do not under any circumstances touch your other self."

"Like that time we met ourselves on the Pear? That would've been good to know then."


They arrive inside the administration building. Veronica shows them through the halls to her office.

"Hey, Autopilot!" shouts a violet lieutenant commander. "Heard you got grounded! What are you gonna do with all that free time?" he joshes hurtfully. "Think the Admiral is about due for another spit-shine?"

"No, I'll be thinking of ways to punish you for insubordination, you little shit," she barks back.

"Oooh, we'll just see what Dodridge thinks of that!" he laughs and continues on his way.

"Not much respect for authority around here, is there?" Steve comments.

"It's a pirate ship. The ranks are mostly for show," Doc answers.

They arrive at Veronica's office. It's small and undecorated. It's perfectly spotless, not a pen out of place. Doc closes the door.

Steve sits at her holoterminal and brings up the medical database. He opens up a random human female's file and copies the medical scans over to Veronica's. He changes the timestamps on everything, and has Doc sign off on the report.

Veronica is not yet satisfied. "Dodridge is not going to let me be flight leader anymore. He's hated me from the start, since I only got the job by sleeping with the Admiral. The only way I can get my position back is if we can put Captain Ritchie out of action. Can you sabotage his records?"

"Sure thing." He opens up Captain Ritchie's records and gives him syphilis. "That ought to do it. Doc, you'll have to convince Dodridge to put Veronica back in the lead."

They find Captain Dodridge on the flight deck chewing out the mechanic who is still trying to work on the Terrasque. "And you better get that damned CO2 converter back in there somehow. I ain't ridin' around in no damned monkey suit." He turns his attention to the approaching party. "Well, well, well. If it ain't ol' spit shine. Get your x-rays taken, then? You want your flight status reinstated?"

"I'm fit to fly," Veronica replies.

"Okay, toots, you got it. You're Richie's wingman."

Veronica is upset, but still smug. "I'm the best pilot you got. I want point. And I want Starling on my wing."

"Tough shit, sweetheart. Richie's up front now. You get to suck his exhaust."

"Uh, sir," Doc steps in. "I've reviewed the medical records for all of your pilots. It seems Captain Lyle Richie has a... condition which invalidates his flight status."

The Captain's smug grin turns to a toothy frown. His still unlit cigar droops a bit. "And what might that 'condition' be?"

"Well, that's subject to doctor-patient confidentiality."

"Bullshit. I'm his fucking commanding officer. I get to count the corn in my pilots' shit if I damn well please. Now spit it out."

"Syphilis, sir." Doc hands over a datapad queued up to the record in question. "Blood tests are confirmed."

Dodridge pauses a moment. "Well, if that ain't some shit. Richie!" he yells into his collar.

"Yes, sir?" Captain Richie is right behind him. He's a shortish man, red hair, young, well built and healthy looking.

"The Doc here says you got the spoils. Were you gonna tell me about that or just shed your infected pubes all over my cockpit?"

Richie is incredulous. "What? Sir? I don't have anything? My medical report came up clean!"

"This says different." He shows him the datapad.

"But- but, there must be some mistake..."

"Well, now, you're going to have to get that taken care of. Report to the medcenter for vaccination. And next time you're up decks to go downtown, keep it wrapped up. Wear your goddamned flight suit if you gotta. Christ, man, I ain't your fucking high school gym teacher! You should know this shit, you stupid fuck! Hit the fucking bricks already!" He sighs and pouts and rubs his temples. Richie runs off. "Autopilot, you got your damn ship back. Fucking hell." He climbs up into the Terrasque mumbling and cursing. There is a loud clanging and clattering of tools as he kicks the poor mechanic's kit aside, yelling "Get that shit out of my way!"

Veronica turns to Doc and Steve. "Okay, get the hell out of here now. I've got work to do."

"Meet us or call us when you can," Steve says. "We're in room 4.16.2028. Here," he hands her his sunglasses. "Put those on and download the encryption codes for our com system."

She does. It takes her only an instant.

"Keep us updated on what's happening. Let us know if we can help."

"There's not much you can do. Not until we arrive at Alpha Centuari."

"What then?"

"Then the raid starts. Selph will be bombed to hell and back, and that's the only opportunity we'll have to take control of this ship. If we can't do that, we'll have to blow it up."

Veronica Autopilot

Name: Veronica Autopilot
Race: Android
Occupation: Pilot
Origin: Taiwan, Earth
Era: 2348 CE
Sector: E669-41.5

Veronica Autopilot was originally assembled as a MaidBot 9.3.1 and placed into service onboard the Younger Brother Pear. After years of misuse as a pleasure bot, her programming was burned out and her structure worn. When Dr. Ritenrong rebuilt and reprogrammed her to replace his malfunctioning autopilot, she became self aware. She spent three hundred years learning Earth culture from a lightyear away, before coming to Earth to live amongst humans.

Level 4 XP: 6000 Next: 10000 Skill: 0
Str: 18 (+4) HP: 20/20

Dex: 20 (+5) Pow: 4/4 used
Con: 12 (+1) Ref: 1(6) Fort: 0(1) Will: 0(-2)
Int: 10 (+0) Atk: 2 Melee: 6 Ranged: 7 (8/8)
Wis: 06 (-2) Def: 11 Dodge: +5 Armor: +1 (helm)
Cha: 08 (-1) Init: 1 (+6/-1) Move: 5

Driving 6 (+13)
Pilot Aircraft 18 (+25)
Pilot Spaceships 24 (+31)
Electronics 5
Mechanics 5
Computing 10
Navigation 2
Spot 0 (+8)
Pistol Proficiency (+2 pistols)
Master Dual Wield (-1/-1)
Combat Reflexes (6 AOA's per round)
Counter-Attack (AOA when opponent misses)

Victim of Abuse
Conscious Android

Wireless Adapter: Remote communication with wireless devices
Computing Interface: Computing +10
Advanced Visual Scanners: Spot +10
Tactical Maneuvering Processor: Init +2, Bluff +5 while Driving/Piloting


SF-112 Starfire Maria Bochkareva


Android Conditions:
Programability: No natural weapon skill or occupation, but starts with Training equal to intelligence score
Chi Free: No chi points. Immune to psychic detection & effects. Unable to use psychic powers.
Power Points: Instead of Chi points, androids have Power points. Genetically evolving power management subroutines increase power points at the same rate as Chi (1/level + wis bonus, min 1). Power points that are used up can are regenerated after refueling.
Expansion Slots: Androids can use Power points to power modular components like cellphones or laser cannons. These equipments require different amounts of Power points, possibly ammunition or even supplemental power supplies. Some devices simply require an open slot to function, others will use up power points, potentially disabling other devices until recharged.
Extreme Skills: Can have stats exceeding 18 but at the cost of other skills
Ambidextrous: Balance dual wield penalty
Synthetic Organics: Immune to biologically targeted poisons, disease, etc.
Regenerative Nanotech: Heals minor damage normally, but critical wounds must be repaired
Temperature Resistant: Unaffected by extreme cold, can survive high heat for a short time
Overheating: Will overheat if unable to radiate internal waste heat.
Extended vacuum Survival: Doesn't require oxygen replenishment, but will overheat after a while.
Weakness to Magnetic Fields: Strong magnetic fields cause disorientation or possible systems shutdown. EMP deals damage
Sleepless: Does not require rest
Fueled: Requires 1 liters water for fuel for 6 hours operation and occasional operating fluid replacement (lubricants, coolants, hydrolics, cleansers, etc).
Power Supply
Main: Hydrogen fuel-cells. "Lung" capacity lasts up to 36 hours. Waste steam must be exhaled.
Secondary: Solar Fiber Array (hair) for electrolysis process; can be tied to primary circuit for low power emergency operation. Consider character at HP 0 while in direct sunlight (Sol at 1AU)
Backup: Micro-RTG array for emergency electrolysis and long term memory regeneration during extended hibernation.

Vulnerable to Hacking:
Add 5 to DC for wireless intrusion.
DC30 = subliminal suggestion
40 = non directive violating free action order
50 = disrupt minor functions (speech, comlink, etc)
60 = Information access
70 = any free action order
75 = non directive violating move action order
80 = any move action order
85 = disrupt major functions (movement, low-priority memory)
90 = non directive violating attack action
95 = any attack action
100 = disrupt critical functions (power core, OS, long term memory)
120 = Overload power core

Veronica's Adventures

"I can't tell you how glad I am to see you Captain Autopilot! Is there somewhere we could talk for a few minutes? I think can clear this up very quickly and you can return to duty." Doc practically shouts over the pneumatic ratchet.

Veronica leads them over to one of the lead interceptor. It's a ship similar in shape to the Python but smaller, sleeker, and bristling with weapons. She takes them to the front of the ship, opposite the noise.

"What are you doing here?" She demands of them.

"We're looking for you," Doc responds.

"Where have you been?" Steve demands back. He lets the stress get to him. "You were supposed to meet us at Orbital University. What happened? Where's the Younger Brother Pear?"

"Did you really expect me to hang around at the edge of the solar system for three hundred years waiting for you men to show up for a ride?"

"That's what you're programmed for! I built and employed you to do so!"

"You may have built me but you are a terrible employer. 'Oh, hi! Welcome to existence! Now excuse me for three hundred sixty years while I dick around with time!'" She's had plenty of time to learn of sarcasm and mockery, apparently.

Steve removes his glasses and massages his sinuses. "Okay, fine. I didn't realize you could experience boredom. I thought you would just shut down for a while. I should've had you out asteroid mining or comet farming or collecting artifacts from Earth. I'm sorry. Now, please, where is my ship?"

"Port bay, dock 15."

Steve sighs in great relief.

"So how did you get here?" inquires Doc.

"I waited a while," answers Veronica. "I waited nearly two hundred years listening to Earths radio broadcasts and watching TV. When the media changed to satellite-relayed interactive digital communications, I had to launch a quantum relay probe to establish a real-time connection."

"Oh, God," says Steve. "Tell me you didn't."

Veroncia looks ashamed. "The Americans captured it. I disabled the quantum router but they could still reverse engineer it, so I had to get it back. I couldn't get the Pu through past the radars so I launched myself to Earth in a torpedo I rigged up. I broke into the research facility and destroyed it, but they captured me while I was trying to grab one of their orbital transports. They thought I was some kind of terrorist."

Doc is incredulous. "You were captured as a terrorist in the mid 21st century? My god, how did you survive?"

"Fortunately it was during the short lived torture ban. They didn't even touch me for the decade they held me captive. When they couldn't find out anything about me, the CIA had me released and followed. They expected me to head straight for North Korea or something. Instead I went to New York. I got a job in a cafe and an apartment in Harlem. After twenty years, the CIA gave up on me. I dropped out of sight and moved to Arizona. I went to night school and got my pilot's license. I flew commercial sphere-hoppers for about a decade, until the North Korean war. I was recruited into the USNA Aerospace Force and flew mission support craft for the duration of the war. I was able to fake my death when my transport was destroyed in lunar orbit. I managed to survive in the vacuum long enough for the Pear to pick me up.

"I stayed on the Pear for another 30 years. When the Exkoreans attacked Ceres, I decided to join the EDF and wipe out those masocistic patriarchal bastards once and for all. This time I joined as a fighter pilot, and worked my way up the ranks to lead my own squad, Pink 5. My girls were the best of the best, and we pretty much won the war single handedly when we blew up the Exkorean capital shipworks on Ceres.

"I stayed with the EDF for another decade defending the shipping routes from Exkorean raiders and pirates. The male-ocratic fuckers in command quickly forgot about Pink 5 and our super-womanly efforts, and started putting us, the star squadron of the entire fleet, on bullshit patrol duties. I got sick of their shit really fast. So I rammed my patrol craft into an asteroid and got back on the Pear.

"I spent another twenty years in space. But then I was used to Earth, even though it's swarming with men. I started to miss my girlfriends, who were all either dead or too old to remember who I was, or would be too frightened to learn what I was. I went back. I worked on the Antarctic Launch Loop for a while, driving cargo into space. I worked that job until my boss tried to grab my ass and I got fired for trying to bring a lawsuit against him. It was about then that the Martian Treaty was signed, so I got another job with the EDF. This time it was just escorting cargo ships to and from Mars.

"When the Exkoreans finally left the Solar System, the EDF started merc-ing us out to the highest bidder. I got signed on as fighter escort to the Queen Beatrix."

"The ship that was captured by pirates?" Doc asks.

"Captured? Ha. It was run by pirates," she replies. "Just like this one is."

"What?!" Doc and Steve shout simultaneously.

"Yes. They convince everyone they're a trustworthy, reliable cruise line, take all their money, then kidnap everyone on board to hold for ransom. They'll grab everything of value, scrap the entire ship and everything on board, and jettison anything they can't make money off of into space, including people whose ransom doesn't get paid.

"When they took off with the QB, I was on board with the rest of my squad. They were going to execute us all, but I was able to convince Spaaz that I hated the EDF and that I wanted to join him. I had to execute my own squad mates to convince him. I had to sleep with him to keep him on my side and the other captains at bay.

"I've been working for three years to get on board this fucking ship as one of them, and you two jerks with your stupid story about x-rays has totally fucked my position here! It took me forever to infiltrate these fuckers, and now you've put me in a dangerous position. If you don't get some x-rays on my record, all the lying and fucking I did will be totally wasted!"

On The FastTrack

The FastTrack station on the top floor of the Admiral's offices looks a lot like a subway station. When Doc and Steve arrive, they find themselves amongst a body of Indigo-clad officers milling about, waiting for the next train.

"Gonna catch the game this afternoon?" asks one of them, idly.

"Which one?" Doc asks.

"Haha, which one!" snorts the man, who adjusts his magnifying specs. "The Freeball game. You know, red shirts versus yellow shirts?"

"Ah, yes. How could I forget."

"I'm bettin' on red this trip. That Alphred MacDonnel may be a ringer, but hot damn can he smack those balls. You ever freeball?"

Doc resists a snicker. "Occasionally."

"Yeh, I freeballed a lot in school. Never got me any notice, even though I was a starting thruster."

"Sorry to hear that."

"Hey, you got a little brains in your hair."

Doc swipes at his head, feeling around for anything disgusting. He knocks a slimy bit of something out of his bangs. "Thanks," he says. He looks at the small spot of blood on his fingers before wiping them on his already stained uniform. I need a shower, Doc thinks. A sonic shower, with bleach.

"No problem. Happens to everyone. Well, not everyone, just the ones that survive, and even then only sometimes. You get the idea. I mean it never happened to me, it's just that it's not an entirely uncommon occurrence. Getting brains in your hair, I mean. Pirates, was it?"

"Three of them."

"Three! Well, good for you surviving that! Excuse me," he coughs as he decides to wait for the train somewhere else.

The train arrives, mercifully. Doc and Steve get on last, taking seats far from anyone else. It's a lot like a subway train, except there's only one car, no driver, and it doesn't smell like sewage, just bureaucratic taint. The seats are at first comfortable and welcoming but then sink in to the cold, hard chunk of congealed support gel.

The ceiling dings and the doors close. The train rockets off down a dark tunnel, maintenance lights blurring across windows. The train comes to a stop in a heartbeat. A sea-foam of white and indigo uniforms splashes into the car. The lights streak again. Thirty seconds later, the foam washes back, and the process repeats its self.

The FastTrack trip takes some time.

Doc has to relieve the monotony. "I can't believe the size of this place."

"It was carved out of an asteroid," Steve replies. "Well, more like extruded. They melt down a dense iron asteroid, or in this case several, shape the superstructure magnetically, infuse it with carbon, then dip it in Titan's atmosphere to cool it down."

"So it's almost a whole planet?"

"Well, think of it more like a whole city, about the size of Manhattan, except one giant, porous hunk of city."

The track takes time.

The trolley stops. The door lights up a lavender circle. Doc and Steve disembark. The stop is within a series of alphanumerically labeled hallways and overpriced concession stands, much like an airport. Doc and Steve follow the little purple circle of light hurriedly, as if late for a flight.

The Starboard Bay is a cavernous kilometer tear in the side of this hollow asteroid, symmetric to another port-side. The floor is twenty stories below them. The ceiling is up thirty more. The purple circle leads them up a spiraling mezzanine overlooking the parking garage of thousands of bourge-mobiles all hovering in a geometrically arranged pattern.

The purple light leads them further up the mezzanine to a glass elevator, which takes them closer to the ceiling. Up here is a smaller shelf of the bay, inset and well beyond the line of sight from outside. The Interceptors are on the deck in formation; five groups of four, each backed by a commanding gunship not mentioned on the brochure. It strikes Doc as something a bit more than a defensive force.

The purple light leads them on a path they wish they had a car to take, or at least bikes. Doc toughs it out, but Steve needs a breather.

"God, why didn't I buy those jetboots?"

"Do you really need a reason not to buy jetboots?"

"$20 billion dollar vacation cruise?"

"Point taken."

They continue the hike up the spiraling mezzanine. The Fighter Bay is busy with technicians cleaning and preparing their ships. The lead group in the formation has the largest, heaviest armed and armored gunship of all of them. Steve and Doc head for it.

A violet-uniformed captain is tearing apart one of his mechanics. "Whadd'ya mean you can't install a modular expander? Damnit, I want that field modulation unit up and running before lunchtime. I don't care what you have to pull. Tear out the CO2 converters if you have to. I'd rather ride around in a monkey suit than wind up with hot plasma in my ass."

The mechanic goes away and the Captain turns his attention to the approaching visitors. He's far from a clean cut uniformed officer. He's wearing a leather jacket over his grease-stained uniform. He's face is covered in a forest of stubble which looks to have been burned down by the unlit cigar he turns in his mouth.

"What the hell do you want?" he asks, blowing a small dustcloud of unfragrant ash.

"We're looking for Captain Autopilot," Doc answers.

"And why the hell would she want to see you?"

"The Admiral has cleared us to ammend her medical report. We're missing a few x-rays."

"X-rays? Really?" He grows a tight smile, as if it's the best thing he's heard all day. "Autopilot!" he calls into his collar. He listens for a moment. "You're grounded, that's what." Another pause. "Got a couple'a meds down here say you don't have your x-rays." He almost laughs at what is surely some swearing on the other end. "Well, get down here and talk with them about it. You ain't flyin' until you get this cleared up." He seems to be ignoring more comments as he returns his attention to Doc and Steve. He smiles at them. "She'll be right with you boys." He makes another collar call as he turns to leave. "Ritchie? You're flight leader until urther notice. Get on station."

Doc and Steve wait around the command gunship. The technician earlier chewed out returns with a hovercart full of tools and equipment. He begins tearing into the side of the ship with a loud pneumatic ratchet.

"What the fuck is all this about? My records were signed off by Admiral Spaaz himself!" They hear from behind them, surprising them over the ratchet racket. Doc and Steve turn to see Veronica standing behind them. Her expression turns to total surprise as she recognizes them. "You?!"

Admiral Spaaz

"Pardon me, but I am looking to locate a Veronica Autopilot and I seem to keep missing her on official channels. Is there some way I could contact her as it is very important or perhaps you could lead us there? There seems to be a glitch in her safety reports and we need to clear this off our desk before the flight goes much further. Could you help us?"

The young Spaceman before Doc nods in understanding, smiles and spins round on a toe. He returns to his station, activates his headset and holomonitor, and looks her up.

"Okay, sir, and what exactly is this glitch?" he asks after a moment of digging through records.

"Well, I can't find any of her x-rays on file. She can't fly if we don't have a complete medical report. If they're not in the system we'll have to get new ones."

"Just a moment, sir." The secretary digs back into his computer. "You are right, sir, there are no x-rays or MRIs on file for Captain Autopilot. But her medical report was signed off by Admiral Spaaz."

"That's very strange." Steve chimes in. "Shouldn't the Chief Medical Officer be the one signing off on medical reports?"

"It is strange, sir," replies the secretary. "Her's is the only report he's signed off on. It looks like he's signed off on all her forms. Security clearance, employment contract, liability waivers, flight license, everything. Perhaps you should speak to Admiral Spaaz himself if you have any concerns."

"Really, we'd rather go straight to Veronica," Doc replies. "I'm sure the Admiral just wanted to ensure she got on board and operating quickly without any red tape, but if we could just find her and grab a couple quick x-rays for the record, we'll be done."

The secretary thinks about it for a moment. "Sorry, sir. Admiral Spaaz will have to clear any amendments to records he's signed off on. I'll schedule an appointment for you, though. Who may I ask is calling?"

"Lieutenant Shaw, Medical Technician, and Lieutenant Ritenrong, Radiation Safety Officer."

"Okay, I can get you 5 minutes with him in an hour twenty. Have a seat anywhere. There's a cafe just around the corner, if you like."

Doc and Steve are actually very hungry. It's been a quite a few hours since they ditched the tour group. They're still rocket lagged from the trip to Saturn. According to the ship's clock, it's seven in the morning. They grab cups of coffee and some omelets. It's an enjoyable breakfast, and they finish up just in time for the secretary to page them.

"Top floor, center room," he points them towards the elevator. "Can't miss it."

And they cannot. It's an office more ornately adorned than their own apartment. Doc and Steve feel like they're walking into a Roman temple light by fiery orange sunset. The lighting reflects off the flakes of gold marbled into the white columns, causing the whole room to glow.

The Admiral greets them, temporarily parting from his bustling entourage of white clad Captains and Lieutenants. He's a tall, rough man, late fifties, with greying hair and beard. He looks like a salty old fisherman, spit shined and polished and stuffed into some Class-A'. He's got a rough but experienced look about him.

Doc salutes him with the same gestures the secretary greeted them with. Steve attempts the same, but has much less snap and it shows. The Admiral notices, but doesn't say anything about it.

"At ease. Well, you two look like you ran into a couple of pirates." The Admiral says.

"Three, sir," Doc responds.

"All dead now, are they?"

"Yes, sir."


"Thank you sir."

"Now what is this all about?"

"Captain Autopilot's medical records, sir. She doesn't have any scans on file. I understand you signed off on her report, I'm sure you just wanted to dodge some red tape, but we absolutely need those x-rays for her own safety. We just need your approval to ammend the record so we can do some quick scans and be done and out of the way."

"It's a bit presumtious to suggest that I, the Admiral, skipped the official proccess of signing her onboard. But I like your style. What was your name again, Lieutenant?"

"Shaw, sir."

"Shaw, eh? And your partner?"

"Ritenrong, sir, from Radiation safety."

"And he's here, why?"

"He runs the x-ray equipment, sir. I'm guessing Captain Autopilot has a ...resistance to having x-rays taken, and I wanted to have an expert run the scanners to help alleviate any concerns she has about the process."

"I see. Well, if you agree to drop any more questioning my decisions after this, I'll approve the ammendment."

"Agreed, sir. We just want to be out of your hair."

"Appreciated. And, Lieutenant?" The Admiral turns to Steve, "Report to calesthetics at 17:00. You need to exercise your saluting arm."

"Aye, sir." Steve replies. He tries the salute again.

The Admiral returns the salute and dismisses them. They head back downstairs. The young secretary greets them again.

"Okay, sirs, if you'll just wait while the request for approval processes, we'll have you ready in no time."

"Is there a terminal nearby I can access?" Steve asks. "I need to check on an experiment back at the lab."

"Sure, there's a media display just over there between the restrooms. Access override code is 6126."

Steve and Doc go over to the terminal, which is currently floating a picture of the ship and some brochure information. Steve opens a small hatch along the chrome post onto which the display is mounted, revealing a numeric keypad. He enters in the code, and takes control of the display.

Doc can hardly tell what Steve is doing, but he's able to see a few words as they flit by as fast as they appear. "Network Discovery," it reads for a while. "Personnel Records," it says momentarily. "Security Zones" apparears briefly. After that Doc stops paying attention.

Steve completes his task in short order. "I've added our names to the system. It won't stand up to much scrutiny, but we should be okay if he just checks our names against the system. Hopefully I got it done it time."

"Lieutenants?" calls the Spaceman.

They approach.

"Okay, the ammendment is approved. Here is you access pass." He hands it to Doc. Their names are both on it. "It will get you to the starboard fighter bay and Captain Autopilot's office for the next six hours. The Admiral has authorized use of the FastTrack system. Take the elevator to the top floor, then turn left past the Admiral's office. The station is at the end of the hall."

Any Which Way...

"Let's follow the Quartermaster path," Doc says as he wipes his face down with an alcohol pad. "With any luck we'll find the armory, or Veronica, or both."

The path to follow is an indigo circle. For a short while it follows the same path as the VIP tour, but then breaks off and goes it's own way. The further through the maze they get, the more the other paths merge. Eventually, there are only two ways to go: forward or back.

They see a new set of lights appear on the wall, and hear a path open behind them. A yellow uniformed engineer carrying a toolbox rounds the next corner. He smiles and nods politely as he passes by them, indifferent to their presence.

At length the guiding lights lead them to a door. It is marked only by a series of letters and numbers.

"What is it?" Doc asks.

"No idea," Steve replies. He holds the orange keycard to the scanner. The door opens.

Inside is a spectacularly furnished office building. It's several stories tall, made of glass, chrome and blue steel. Doc counts six mezzanines with cascading stairways like a fountain. A bank of white uniformed secretaries sit behind a thirty foot glass desk, each working furiously to answer calls on their headsets, enter information into the holographic computer displays in front of them, and keeping up the appearance of being well kept and busy.

"Admiral Spaaz's Office, how may I help you?" echoes across the room once every two seconds in a variety of voices, followed shortly by "Please hold."

One young man looks up at them, stands, and approaches. The three black stripes across the torso of his white uniform denote his rank as Spaceman, First class. "May I help you, Lieutenants?"

Attack of the Space Pirates!

Doc whispers, "Hold up Steve, we've got company."

Doc and Steve both ready their Pain guns. Doc grips his switchblade tightly, his thumb on the release.

"Oi, maets, theres a fakin ferk intha road ahed!" One of the pirates says.

"Bout fakin taime. Letsch goe!"

"They're comming this way," whispers Steve.

"We should go back," insists Doc.

"Too late," Steve responds.

Doc watches the three men get to their feet and come around the corner. The red and blue superimposed blobs become flesh and blood faces. Three rough-looking characters who look like they were just tossed out of a bar, not for brawling but for fighting dirty. They have the surprised look of rats in a corner.

Doc fires his pain gun at their leader almost instinctively. Steve follows suit and hits the one to the left.

"FAK ME RUNIN," screams the leader. He tries momentarily to block the pain but finds all he can do is run back down the hall they came from. His right hand man does follows him, hunched over in pain as he goes back around the corner. Their other friend remains stunned in suprise.

But only for a moment. The pirate reacts with fighting instincts. He draws his own pain gun and fires it at Doc. The new armor helps, but that unfortunately familiar sting stabs him in the face like an elephant wearing golf shoes standing on his eyes. He has no choice but to back off and try to recover.

Steve turns his pain gun on the last pirate. His gristled five o'clock shadow mug gets assaulted by microwaves. He runs off with his friends. Steve backs off and joins Doc.

The leader of the pirates comes back around the corner, drawing his peculiar pistol from his leg holster. There is a lound blast as a lead slug breaks the sound barrier as it exits the muzzle of the weapon. The bullet whizzes overhead as Doc and Steve instinctively duck down.

Steve hits him again with the pain gun. Again he screams. He drops his weapon as he ducks back down the hallway. His buddy appears in his place, also wielding his pistol. He fires at Doc, but the shot goes wide and ricochets off a wall behind him.

The pirate that stunned Doc comes back around the corner, machette drawn. Doc sees him going after the fallen pistol. It's a race. Doc dives across the hallway and snatches up the weapon just as the pirate reaches for it. Suddenly, he's back in the holobooth playing Shootout! Doc turns the gun on the pirate and pulls the trigger.

There's no smoke or gunpowder, but the little thing has quite a kick. The bullet slides easily out of the muzzle, into the pirate's gut, and out the other side. The machete falling towards Doc head slumps weakly to the ground. The pirate doubles over, clenching his gut.

Meanwhile Steve keeps the second pirate back by hitting him again with the pain gun. The gun wielding bastard is again slammed with radioactive pain and is forced back around the corner.

The pirates' leader comes back around the corner an throws his fist at Doc's head. "Yeh fakin shot Donneh yeh faken mathefaker!" His rage amplifies his strength, and Doc takes it full on the temple like a wrecking ball.

Doc ignores the wounded pirate's pathetic attempt to avenge himself. The machete falls weakly against his armor, not even cutting through his uniform disguise. Instead, Doc turns the gun on his attacker and plugs him. Pirate leader's chest explodes against the back wall, and he falls to the ground to quietly bleed to death.

Steve attempts to kick the wounded pirate in the head, but he's still got enough faculties about him to move out of the way of the thick rubber lab boot.

The remaining pirate, the one who still has a gun, appears back around the corner. "SHAIM!" he yells as he levels his gun at Doc. His eyes are red with tears from the pain of loss and microwaves. The gun goes off wildly before his aim is anywhere near complete. The recoil removes the weapon from his shaking hand, flinging its self backwards down the hall. He slumps to his knees before his fallen comrade.

It's not long, though, before vengance returns to him. He draws a combat knife from his belt and charges at Doc. The blade sings past Doc stomach as he jumps back out of the way. Doc pops off a round at him instinctively, but it misses as his aim moves during the dodge.

"Ye killed Shaim! FAKER!" Yells the wounded pirate as he swings again with the machete. This time the blade connects. Doc feels the impact reactive gel stiffen up as it absorbs the blow.

Meanwhile, Steve runs down the hall for the gun. The knife wielding pirate takes a wild swing at him as he passes, but fails to accomplish anything. The wounded, machete wielding pirate named Donneh is unfazed by his inability to wound Doc, and takes another miserable swing, missing by a long shot. Steve reaches the gun. The unwounded pirate slashes at Doc.

Reacting on instinct, Doc catches the cold blade with his naked hand and immediately regrets the decision. The cut goes deep, but Doc holds on. He uses it to pull the pirate right into the muzzle of the gun. He fires. The pirate releases his grip on the blade and slumps to the floor.

"GAFF!" Yells the last pirate, Donneh. "Ye killed meh maits! YE KILLED MEH MAITS!" He raises the machete with a newfound well of strength and determination. He releases a warcry and begins to bring it down upon Doc. His brains leap from his skull and splash across Doc's face. The pirate falls to the ground, his weapon clanging to the floor beside him.

Steve holds the gun in his shaking hands. "I've never done that before," he says, shocked.

"You saved my life," Doc replies, nearly out of breath. "He was going to kill me. You had to do it. You saved my life."

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I did."

Doc takes the satchel from him and digs out the medkit. He disinfects his cut, wraps it up, pops some pain pills, and does his best to wipe the blood off his face and uniform.

Steve inspects the bodies. Each of them were carrying InstaCredit cards, which are in essense miniature, portable electronic banks with no identification information attached. He also finds a keycard.

"Here's how they were getting around in here. Looks like they got a card off of some poor, probably dead staff officer. CPO Noel Peterson, QM. No idea where it leads. He could be a secure data courier, he could be in charge of laundry."

"QM is Quartermaser."

"Still, he could be in charge of handing out firearms or potatoes at lunchtime. Then again there's always the slim chance it will take us directly to Veronica. Should we follow it?"

Strange Encounters

Doc thinks a moment. "We'll follow the path to QFM. It sounds like the best bet and the least populated."

"Sounds good," Steve replies.

The hallways are poorly lit, but clean. Ambient white noise floods each modular section of hallway, but if they stay quiet Doc and Steve can barely hear the movement of the walls just beyond their range of vision. At all times remain the options to follow the red, blue, or yellow lights.

"I really don't get this," Doc asks as they get ever deeper into the bowels of the labyrinth. "Why build a ship this way?"

"It's pretty damn secure, isn't it? The walls know ahead of time whether or not to even let you go through. An can be totally isolated or even be lead straight into the brig, minimizing the need for security forces on the command deck. I actually doubt we'll run into any security officers on duty in here."

"But we may be being led straight to the brig?"

"Possibly, but I'm sure if that were the case they wouldn't bother giving us options."

"Still, why the cards and not biosensors? It really doesn't make any sense to go through the trouble to have moving walls and then give your personnel something they can easily lose."

"I don't know. Perhaps they're cutting corners. Even at five billion a pop for the cheap seats I'm sure there's not much profit margin on a ship this size."

The path twists and turn. Sometimes they're wide open corridors, sometimes they're tight, angular halls. It seems to go on endlessly. There's not another soul in sight.

"What about officers?" Doc asks. "Maybe I can understand emergency services being assigned to a single sector, but wouldn't a commanding officer need to get around the ship quickly and easily?"

"My guess is they're kept close to the sections they command. Plus they can do a lot remotely. Command is not usually very hands on."

"Well, what about the admiral or the captain? Don't they have to attend dinner functions and crap like that? Wouldn't they want a fast way in or out?"

"You've got a good point there, maybe there is something. We won't know until I can get to a terminal, though."

As they walk a little further, Doc hears something different through the white noise. It sounds like voices.

"Hold up," he tells Steve. He activates his glasses' X-Ray function (which is a misnomer as it is actually an infrared sensor with an active low level radar). There are three figures just around the corner. One of them is slumped sitting on the ground, the other two are leaning against the walls. They're armed. Two of them have guns of some kind. The other has...a machete?

"They're armed. I don't think they're crew members."

Doc listens a little harder.

"Oi, Gaff, why'n fischle didja think twas a gud idee ta breng us en this vessa? Shesa godham dethtrap."

"Fak yeu, Donneh, twas yur idee. 'Les goa cut-persin ona theis ol shoabote.' Yeh daft faker. We ha'ent founda penneh."

"Fak both eyeh. Yeu dronk taits both thaut twas a gud idee. Naw shot up an les kiep muvin. Thair's get tabee awahy offa dis faker."

"Peshoff, Shaim. Yertha onat godus lost in th's fakin plaise."

"Yeh, an eyel betha onet braings allhe fat lute bak tethe Cap'm. So ofyer arses, yeh fakin' pansies. Letsch goh or well ne'er findeh deim."

Which Way?

"Steve, if Veronica can do what Alyss can do, I'd like to schedule a short vacation. I'd like three days to visit a friend in Milwaukee, 'cause I owe her a slice of a good life and to make sure her dolls made it in one piece," Doc says as they finish getting their uniforms together.

"That could be arranged, I guess. We can talk about it later. Right now we need to prepare some lies," Steve says.

Doc is way ahead of him. He hands him the duffel bag. "Say we met at the Office of External Vehicular Interception as we both trying to get in touch with Veronica and hadn't been able to get ahold of her through normal channels. I need to schedule her physical exam as she is way, way past due and you've got some of her clothes from the Laundry Department by mistake. You only know their her's because she put her name in the waistband of her panties, not to mention he has a safety report that she signed off on that isn't even a part of the ship she is responsible for and you need to know if this is just a glitch or what.

"If that doesn't work, fess up to being old friends of hers and we did something silly to see her because when we used to work together years ago she was a hell of a prankster and would enjoy the joke of it all. With any luck, this will be a lie we don't have to tell."

"Hmm. Quantum Flux Monitoring is responsible for ensuring that there are no entangled particles in the plasma transfer to the fighter's fusion cores, so that if a fighter's core is breached it doesn't effect the mother ship's core and vice versa. There would be some interaction between our departments. It sounds like a plausible story. And the only way anyone would think she's still human is if she's been dodging medical exams somehow. Very good. I don't know about the panties, though. If anyone notices the clothes in the duffel bag they're going to notice they're not women's. How about we've just got back from some leave time and the lockers in the bathroom were broken?"

"That might work. Okay, where are we headed?"

"I don't know. There are two fighter bays, one port, one starboard. She could be in either, or neither. According to Schrodinger she's in both and neither simultaneously until we collapse the probability wave."

"That doesn't help. According to the map the tour guide gave us, the command section is nearly three miles across at the widest, and it's a fucking labyrinth."

"I know. I guess everyone is assigned a daily route to memorize and their keycards only opens the doors along that route."

"If I'm an EMT won't my card open up any door?"

"I would hope so, but it might only open doors in your assigned sector, or only during an emergency situation, maybe both. We don't even know what that sector is. The only map I can get is the one I recorded while on the tour. I'm not picking up any signals from the mainframe, so it must all be hardlined. We'll have to find a terminal if we're going to find a map. If I can get into the system, I might also be able to find out where Veronica is."

"Well, we know where the bridge is and there's terminals there. Do you think that would work?"

"It's the best chance we've got."

They leave the bathroom, disguised and ready. Immediately, there is a problem.

Doc realizes it immediately. "The fucking walls have moved."

"Shit," says Steve. "That's how everyone finds their way around. They don't. The computer only lets them go where they need to be by re-arranging the walls. Hell, the rooms themselves might even move around. We'd never know because of the gravity controls."

"Well, there's three ways to go."

"I expect one is your authorized path, another is mine, and the last is the VIP route out of here."

"How do we know which is which? "

"Look, those lights on the walls? Let's see your card."

Doc's card is medic blue with his rank's stars and stripes. At the bottom, there's three red dots in a triangular pattern. On the wall of the hallway across from the bathroom are three dim red lights matching the pattern. Steve's keycard has four green lights in a diamond pattern, the pattern to which is matched on the wall to the left. Their VIP cards have two yellow dots which match the lights to the right.

"Which way should we go?" Doc wonders. "The medical center might have patients with passcards we could use to get to the fighter bays. It might have computer terminals, too."

"The QFM office will definitely have terminals. I may be able to give our cards access to Veronica. If not, we'll definately have to find some cards that do. Which way do we go?"


Doc quickly delves into the surprised crewman's psyche. It's a fairly easy read; he's caught in a sudden situation where he might have to get security involved, and he's not wearing any pants. Also, he's somewhat homophobic.

Doc smiles at him. "Hey Sailor, need someone to scrub your back? If not, I'll just take a pee and be out of your hair."

"Uh, no thanks. Sorry, I thought you were someone else." He steps back into the shower and begins singing loudly to himself, trying to make the rest of the world disappear.

"That was close," says Steve. He goes back to the lockers with his multitool.

"Damnit, Steve, it's not going to work. We've got to find another way before you get us into deep shit."

"I've almost got it this time..." PZZT! A spark flares briefly, and all the electronic locks on all the lockers disengage. "Hah!"

Doc looks around. The crewman's loud singing has covered up the shocking sound. No one reacts.

"Okay, lets be quick. Here's a duffel bag for our clothes, 'cause, well, we can't leave them here in the lockers. I wonder why the hell all those locks are on the same circuit, anyway? Weird." Steve hands Doc a shirt and pair of pants, blue silk and nylon weave. As they change, Steve explains the rank and color system. "The color of the shirt denotes your job category. Blue is science and medical. Security is red, staff officers are orange, engineers are yellow, docking operations are green, warrant officers are indigo, pilots are violet, and commanders are white. Rank is denoted by the black stars and stripes on the shirt. It looks like we're junior lieutenants."

They're dressed now and their other clothes are in the duffel bag, which contains medical supplies. Steve hands Doc a passcard. It's also blue, and there's no picture on it, just a bar code and text: LTJG Antonio Sanchez, EMT. Steve's says: LTJG Horatio Zonk, QFM.

"What's QFM?"

"Quantum Flux Monitoring, I presume."

"Why on such an advanced ship with tight security controls do they use something as low tech as bar-coded passcards and RFID? Why no biometrics, or even a picture on the card?"

"Probably because they don't want pirates pulling out eyeballs and ripping off hands just to get through a door. Seems kinda pointless, though, they'll probably kill everyone they see, anyway. Maybe they just don't want a mess to clean up afterwards. I have no idea why there's no picture on the card, that seems kinda silly. Further, why don't they have a computer controlled bio-monitoring system that opens the correct doors for the correct people automatically? Those exist in this era, the DataPlex in Milwaukee had one. They're not even that expensive, really, just a lot of cameras and biosensors."

"Maybe they have a high rate of personnel turnover."

"It would still be easier to make a change in a database than to hand out new passcards."

"Perhaps they don't want a central database, in case it gets hacked by the pirates before they board."

"It's possible. Well, whatever the reason, it works to our advantage. C'mon, we've got to figure out how to get to Veronica."

A Philosophical Moment and a Trip to the Bathroom

Doc opens up his comlink to the Office of External Vehicular Interception. An automated response asks him to leave a message.

"Veronica, it's Doc. We're here on board the ship and we need to talk to you right away."

The automated secretary tells him that his message has been logged and to expect a response within 3 to 5 days.

"There's got to be another way to get hold of her," Doc tells Steve. "Doesn't she have a communicator in her head?"

"I already tried that. I think she may have disabled it, maybe to get by security devices, maybe to be more human. She wouldn't get very far in the EDF if they thought she was bugged. I can't imagine how she's avoided an X-Ray all this time, though. Her components may be organic, but one look at her internal structure and you know what she is."

The tour group continues forward. Lt. Roeker continues babbling on about everything he finds great about the ship's self contained food service industry. Doc and Steve fall farther behind. Steve keeps looking all the locked doors that they pass.

"Steve, I just had a thought. Forgive me if this sounds stupid, but do we need Alyss? Could you program Veronica with all the skills, memories, and reflexes of Alyss? I'm sure it would be complicated, but you are a smart guy. Couldn't we replicate her and save ourselves the trouble of chasing all over time looking for a woman who doesn't exist? We wouldn't have to get her exactly right, I mean what does it matter if we get her favorite color wrong, just as long as her piloting skills were complete. Besides, Veronica would be faster than Alyss ever could be as she can interface with the ship itself. There have to be detailed records somewhere of her flights. We could use those as a jumping off point. What do you think?"

"I think you're right. I've got a theory about this. It struck me the instant I found out Alyss Valia didn't exist. The fabric of space-time is incredibly complex, and our consciousnesses are tied in with it. Veronica's sentience forms from this relationship just as much as ours. But when she was activated, that consciousness had to come from somewhere."

"Are you saying she is Alyss Valia? That we inadvertently trapped her soul in a robot three hundred years before she was born?"

"It's just an hypothesis. Since she was programmed to pilot a very complicated ship and the nature of her brain was to remain open to heuristic learning, perhaps she was the perfect vessel for a certain consciousness waiting to be released into the universe. She no longer had to wait for Alyss Valia to be born. Perhaps we created the conditions which drew her out."

"You're talking about an afterlife. By proposing this hypothesis, you suggest that you can perform an experiment to prove the existence of life after death."

"I guess that's one way of putting it. I wouldn't call it that, really. I suggest that we exist as a potential for consciousness in a quantum particle-field energy which interacts with space-time in the sixth dimension. When the conditions are right, that field energy manifests its self as consciousness, just as particle interactions with the Higgs field creates mass. Think of it like an hourglass. Except this hourglass only allows grains of a certain size and shape to fall through. The grains in the top of the hourglass, field particles in the sixth dimension, have a potential energy to fall through the gap, which in this case is the material form; the physical shape of the universe, into the bottom bit, which represents our energy interactions with the physical universe. The shape of the gap is determined by quantum fluxuations of probabliltiy and causality, which we know can be manipulated from the bottom of the hourglass by our own actions. The question is, can it be manipulated from the top? Can we call ourselves into existance, and is that the case with Alyss Valia? Your extrordinary abilities seem to suggest that it is possible to freely exchange energy between the two sides of the hourglass, and that the physical universe can be manipulated not only physically, but mentally."

"So Alyss is a psycic potential that either called herself into existance, which affected the universe, or we affected the universe and called her into existance?"

"Probably both simultaneously. It depends on the observer. Since we cannot prove that Alyss intended to exist, or indeed that consciousness potentials are even capable of intention, we must assume that our effects on the universe called her into existance."

"But doesn't my ability prove that a consciousness can effect the physical universe?"

"It does, but since you already exist in the physical universe, we know you are capable of intent. What we don't know is whether potentials that don't exist phyisically are capable of manifesting themselves on their own, or if they experience consciousness while non-existant. Thus, we still don't know if there is an afterlife. Besides, we've no way of knowing whether Veronica is really Alyss Valia or another consciousness entirely. I just find it a fascinating coincidence that in a timeline where one exists, the other does not, and that they're both so similar in character."

"So do we need to continue after Alyss Valia? Can Veronica get the job done?"

"It's entirely possible. We won't know until we find her, though. Aha!"

Steve has stopped at a door. Like all the others, it is distinguished only by a series of letters and numbers which make little sense.

"What is it?" Doc asks.

"The only door our VIP cards can open." Steve opens the door. It's the bathroom.

It's a large bathroom with lockers and shower stalls, some of which are occupied.

"What are you doing, Steve?"

"We need some better security badges. And uniforms." Steve goes over to one of the lockers. It's a simple electronic combo lock. Steve pulls out a tool from his lab coat. It looks a bit like an electronic leatherman. He sticks a screwdriver end between the lock and the frame. He hits a button on the tool and jiggles it around in the lock. Nothing happens.

"Damn. Let's try another one." Steve says.

"Maybe we should try something entirely different," says Doc, unsure about this course of action.

"I have every confidence in your ability to talk us out of trouble," Steve replies.

"Paul? S'at you?" calls someone from a shower. Getting no response, the crewman continues humming and bathing.

Steve moves to the next locker and uses the tool again. Again, he can't get it open. "Shit!"

"Paul? I know it's you." The shower stops. "You tryin' to put itching powder in my suit again?" The crewman steps out of the shower wrapped in a towel. "Hey! You guy's ain't Paul."

The Nickel Tour

Just as Doc and Steve get up to leave the Paper Doll Casino, a rowdy countdown begins. All the view monitors switch to an external view from the bow of the ship. Saturn is in her full glory, the small moon Pan ferries the glittering Cassini Hotel through the beautiful river of the icy rings, and Titan is shinning gibbously beyond. The passengers all begin shouting out the numbers, like a New Year's Eve party.

"Ten! Nine! Eight!" Doc and Steve join them, swept up by the excitement. "Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! ONE!"

Silently, magically, Saturn and her moons begin to grow, slowly at first but then at an alarming rate. After a moment, when it seems they are not but motes of dust among the rings, the growth slows and begins to reverse. In an instant, Saturn shrinks away to nothingness.

The passengers cheer. Champagne is uncorked.

The stars beyond begin to lengthen and distort, turning bright red, then blue. They change shape and turn inside out, and then turn yet another, deeper inside out. They shift and dance as if the ship is inside a clear crystal disco ball looking out. Every now and again, the perception reverses as if the universe is inside the ball and they're looking in. Doc finds he can switch perspectives at will, meaning neither view of this crazy optical illusion is correct.

"Don't try to wrap your mind around it," Steve advises. "You could give yourself an aneurysm. C'mon, let's go find Veronica."

Just as he says that, a message arrives in Doc's glasses. The ship has just distributed the last transmissions received from Earth. It's from Nadine. She's sent him nude pictures.

"Welcome to the Central Engineering!" Lt. Roeker announces their arrival as the elevator doors open. He leads the small band of a half-dozen tourists out into an astoundingly huge and rather bland looking hallway. Doc and Steve keep to the back of the pack.

"The Marriott has two power cores. The primary is nearly two kilometers in diameter and contains a 5 solar mass neutronium core. The secondary is only a kilometer in diameter and contains a 2.5 solar mass anti-neutronium core. Matter and antimatter can be exchanged between the two cores via the central plasma conduit, and the energy of their annihilation reactions can be vented via the main engines, the retro-engines, or the main particle cannon. The antimatter core can be replenished by using converters on the main core, and the main core can be charged by the two Bussard RAM-Jet scoops on the wings. The wings are not just for style, they also provide a stable surface during atmospheric breaking and..." It's obvious he loves his job.

He leads the party down the hall, which is more like a highway, along the large cylindrical condiuts he pointed out. The area looks a lot like a small, enclosed city. Office buildings and factories line the main road while trucks and personnel carriers zip back and forth through the street.

"The buildings you see here keep the ship running smoothly. These buildings, or bulks as we call them, are administration buildings. They are departmentalized to handle all ships functions: Atmospheric and Aquatic Processing, Environmental Health and Safety, Hazardous Waste and Recycling Operations, Roads and Grounds, Structural Integrity Maintenance, Cosmetic Maintenance, Nuclear Engineering, Manuseisium Refinery, and many, many others. Behind these buildings are the associated facilities, and beyond those are employee quarters."

Lt. Roeker steps onto a waiting hover platform and allows the others to do the same. He guides it down the miles long corridor, pointing out points of interest which disinterest Doc and Steve.

"This is the secondary power core. It's main role is to power all low-level systems, but it can also act as a backup for the engine core. It also powers all weapons systems."

"What kind of weapons systems are on board?" Doc asks.

"Good question, always a favorite of mine to answer. Our primary particle cannon can fire a one gigaton pulse every thirty seconds, or a sustained 10 megaton beam. There are one hundred and twenty railgun batteries, thirty on each flank of the ship, as well as 30 torpedo tubes placed strategically around the hull. There are two fighter bays on the forward port and starboard sides, which we will pass in a moment. Each has a full compliment of twenty interceptors apiece. In all we can engage over two hundred targets at once. The hull is made of crystalized titanium, carbon nanofibers, ionized lead..." he goes on and on.

"So how do you think Veronica got involved with this ship?" Doc asks Steve.

"I'm not sure. I'm wondering why she's not with the Pear."

"They certainly are prepared for pirate attack. Is that common?"

"It's hard to say. Piracy is a strange thing to calculate, probability wise. Each dimensional sector we travel to by moving backwards or forwards in time has its own, lets call it a threat grid. A hot spot on the threat grid is a high probability of pirate attack, depending on environmental circumstances. Is there a good hiding place nearby? Is there a suitable fence on a nearby planet? Is there a good amount of high wealthy traffic? The distribution of these hot spots remains the same, usually. However, the intensity of the hot spots changes dramatically between causal dimensions. The only correlation I can find is the mean temperature of the interstellar medium. The colder it is, the more pirates there are. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but it is an interesting relationship."

Doc stares at him a moment. "You really enjoy thinking deeply about these kinds of things, don't you? Solving puzzles?"

"Oh, yes. I've always loved diving deep into these kinds of problems. It's how I wound up inventing the Q-TIP. And I don't so much enjoy the solving of a puzzle as much as finding all the pieces, and even better, finding a new puzzle on the shelf."

"Do you ever cut loose? Relax? Forget all the crap log-jammed in your brain and just lose yourself in a moment?"

"Yes. Well, once or twice. In college."

Lt. Roeker stops going on about the intricacies of composite hull plating design and brings the hover platform to a stop. They've reached the end of the corridor where a large bulkhead separates the engineering section from the command center. It says so in large neon letters. The entrance to the command center looks a lot like a shopping mall.

"This is the Command Center! This area is restricted, but since you're all such great folk, we've got special VIP passes for you to get a secret look behind the curtian!" He hands out all the passes. "Now I've got some quick rules for you all, to make this tour as safe and fun as possible. Rule One, stay with me! Rule two, if you get lost, stay put and hit press the 'Help' button on your badge. Rule three, if you see red lights flashing while you're not with the group, lay down on the ground against a wall, and try not to trip anyone running past you! Rule four, touch with your eyes, not with your hands! Rule five, there's no rule five! Now let's have an awesome time!"

They enter the building. It's a maze of strangely angled corridors and dogleg turns, designed to protect against intrusion and internal nuclear detonations or other radiological incidents. Lt. Roeker continues babbling about how wonderful their security personnel are, and that there's openings in the HR department. "We're also looking for a new Psychological Councilor if you know of any licensed professionals on-board."

"Will we get to see the fighter deck?" Doc asks.

"Sorry, fella. That area's restricted, even to us VIPs!" The Lieutenant replies far too entheusiastically. "We do get to see the Command Bridge, though, how 'bout that?"

"Great." Doc replies, less enthusiastically. "Will we get to meet Veronica Autopilot?"

"Got a little crush on our star pilot, do we? That's okay, lots'a fellas do. Unfortunately, Captian Autopilot is always very busy and doesn't take visitors. She works so hard to keep all our pilots trained and ready, she hardly even sleeps! Now that's dedication. We will get to meet Captain Hosep Jazelwuud, the commander of the Marriott, as well as the head honcho himself, Admiral Spaaz! Isn't that great!"

"Wonderful. Can't wait." Steve says.

"Awesome! Come on, gang!" The guy either physically or psychologically immune to sarcasm.

Lt. Roeker keeps them on track through the winding corridors. They pass uniformed officers and personnel carrying datapads, smiling politely at them as they meander through the halls.

"So," Doc says, "I gotta know. How did you come by twenty billion dollars in the first place?"

Steve looks a little embarrassed. "Well," he starts. "I kinda, sorta, stole it."

"Really? You don't seem the bank robber type."

"Well, it wasn't a bank, actually. It was ideas. Patents, mostly. For little things. According to the recordbooks, I've invented a minor component of every major appliance from 1910 to the end of time, which is regrettably near. I change the name all the time, of course, but the royalties all funnel into the same account. Every so often I head out to the year 2400 and withdraw a few billion. I put half of that into my active account, and put the other half back into the main account sometime before Q-Net is invented, but after the collapse of the banks in the 21st century, of course. The interest on that is compounded, and by the time I return to 2400, my account doubles in size. Usually. Bank collapses are like pirate attacks, you can never quite predict them, dimension to dimension."

"So you have an infinite fountain of money?"

"Well, not entirely. Q-Net banking restrictions are wildly complicated. It's very difficult to compound interest annually when your information is stored atemporally. Every once in a while they catch on to the re-compounding scheme and destroy those funds and the interest, but the flow of patent royalties always ensures there's something in there. I try to keep ahead of them by maintaining several accounts but that just leads to complications. Quantum fluctuations of causal dimension jumping cause randomization of certain numbers, like bank account numbers. I probably have accounts out there I'll never find."

"Sounds complicated."

"Just the way I like it."

The tour comes to the main bridge. It's the most exciting thing they've seen on this trip, and that's not saying much. It's a very large, wide open area with a view-screen miles wide. Aisles of computer banks and their operators sit amongst the ant-like scurrying of gofers and their commanders. Personal hover vehicles zip around overhead, overseeing the activities on the bustling floor. Lt. Roeker directs them all to another hover platform charging along the wall.

While the lieutenant flies them up towards a particularly important looking cluster of scooters, Doc makes the mistake of looking out the window. The wild vortex of trans-dimensional travel combined with the flying of the hover platform makes him a bit dizzy. He puts it out of his mind.

The Admiral greets them warmly with a prepared speech about how grateful he is that they're traveling with him and how they've taken an interest in how the ship operates, and that he has every confidence in his crew on making a safe, relaxing, and exciting voyage.

The Captain follows up with a brief and fully uninformative description of how he pilots the ship with his little command pad there, the command structure of the crew, and a dulled version of the finer points of XD drives. Essentially, he presses a little button and a thousand other people do the jobs of calculating things he doesn't quite understand and applying physics he cannot comprehend. The meeting is brief, as apparently he's got a lot of hovering around to do, but the other tourists are glad for the opportunity to meet him and express their gratitude.

As the group prepares to depart from the bridge and wrap up the tour, Doc tries again to get hold of Veronica. "Are you sure we can't arrange a meeting with Veronica? We're friends of hers."

Lt. Roeker is getting a little tired of Doc. "I'm sure you are, buddy, but Captain Autopilot is a very busy lady. Besides, she doesn't like men, in fact, she hates them. Sorry to burst your bubble, there."

"No, I know that, and I know why. I don't want to sleep with her, I want to talk to her. Like I said, she's a friend of ours. Now, maybe she is very busy, and I understand that. What I want to know is how can we let her know we're here so she can call us when she's not busy?"

"She's never not busy, fella. The woman never sleeps. She like a machine. You can submit a meeting request to the External Vehicular Interception main desk, but don't expect a response. Now, our time is almost up and we've got to get back to the lifts. If anyone has any more questions about the ship, please, ask away!"

Lets Dance!

"See this guy sitting next to you? The politician drowning himself in scotch?" Doc asks Steve, nodding his head subtly towards the man.

"Yeah, okay. Should be an easy target."

Doc focuses his mind on the guy. His mind is wide open, uninhibited by alcohol. He's feeling very depressed about something; a sense of isolation and loneliness flavored with anger and jealousy; it's definitely a woman. A woman who left him for another man. There's another sharp, serious pain of stress and fear. A divorce is still in the works. Children are involved, as well as a lot of money and estate. Yet another twinge of stress appears, although this one is almost absorbed. He's not going to be re-elected. He's accepted this, but is still upset by it.

Doc tries thinking happy thoughts at him: The relief of not having to deal with paperwork. Happy moments with children. The freedom to sleep with any woman who will have him. The enjoyment of being on this marvel of engineering and crossing the stars. The beauty of the planet they now orbit. The joys of music.

That was it, music. He starts looking up from his glass. "Fuck it all!" He shouts to the ceiling: "Play music: Big Band Brothers' 21 Drum Salute!"

The ceiling complies. A rowdy big band tune comes pouring into the casino. Everyone turns briefly to watch as he gets out of his chair and dances terribly to the music. He dances over to a lady playing mahjong with her friends and tries to entice her to dance with him. He is unsuccessful. He dances away over to the pachinko machines and tries again with someone else. He's getting some giggles and polite smiles, but not much else. He is unfazed by his failures and continues dancing.

"Holy shit," Steve says, astonished. "That's incredible."

They watch him a bit longer. He's convinced a woman to get up and dance with him. It looks like they're having a good time.

"I just hope that sleeping with her doesn't fuck up his legal position on his divorce," Doc comments, turning back to his beer.

"You know he's getting divorced? You could tell that?"

"Yeah. That's more of a deduction than straight knowledge. I can't read thoughts, just feelings. His were pretty easy to read, and the way they all added up could only mean one thing. Although, there's always room for the inexplicable."

Steve nods in agreement. They both dig into some spring rolls.

A drink or two later, a voice comes on the intercom, interrupting Happy's increasingly irritating music. "Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, and others and welcome aboard the Indestructible Ship Marsaille Marriott . I am Admiral Jack Spaaz from StarScape Voyages, LLC. I will be guiding this voyage to Alpha Centauri A system and points beyond. According to the manifest all passengers have now boarded and we are on schedule to depart in 10 minutes. We will be travelling at over two hundred times the speed of light, the fastest of any non-military ship in the galaxy. We will be arriving in six days, twenty two hours. The local time will be 43rd of Cyk, 1,278,410. On Earth, for those of you who don't speak Centauri, that's about October 3rd, 2195."

"Damnit!" says Steve. "I knew that brochure didn't sound right. I should've checked the math myself, but I didn't have time. We're only going back four years, not forty."

The Captain continues. "We are now recieving the last data package from Earth and you will be recieving your mail shortly. As some of you already know, we maintain radio silence throughout the voyage in order to minimize the risk of pirate attack. To further disuade attack and to ensure the comefort and safety of all our passengers, this ship is fully armed with the latest in military defense systems, on loan from the EDF. Also on loan from the EDF, Captain Veronica Autopilot; our fighter defense fleet commander."

Doc and Steve exchange suprised glances.

The captain goes on. "In the highly unlikely event of a boarding, please exit all open public spaces and hallways and get into the nearest store or restaurant or your own quarters. Our security forces, under the command of Captain Hal David, will be able to repel any invaders with minimal casualties, but only if you help us and yourselves by keeping yourself secured until the threat is abated. Again, these are highly unlikely scenarios, and we expect no trouble at all during this voyage. StarScape Voyages, LLC has a 100% passenger safety record."

"Yeah, since they changed their name after they lost the Queen Beatrix," remarks the woman to Doc's left, cynically.

The captain cant' hear snide comments. "All facilities are currently fully operational and will remain so throughout the duration of the voyage. Lieutenant Kal Roeker will be happy to answer any questions you have about the ships systems and defenses, and also offers regular guided tours of the vessel. Please relax and enjoy your trip, and plan your next escape with StarScape!"

The captain goes offline and the music returns.