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...From the Machine - Chapter One

This chapter originally appeared in Issue 005, May 2010, of the downloadable magazine.

IMS CHAUCHAT, En Route To Jupiter

Eneri Ochoa, port side laser gunner and communications geek, was monitoring visual and voice broadcasts from Terra when noticed something. He immediately brought it to the attention of the captain and his niece.

“Boss,” he said, “I just saw something weird.”

As if the present situation wasn’t weird enough.

“What is it?” said Dennis.

Eneri replied, “I caught part of an analog television signal from a North American commercial station; it’s part of a classic flat movie, but it doesn't match the original version we have from the C-JAMMER archive.”

Eneri played the video file. It was the scene in the fourth episode of the Star Wars series where Darth Vader confronts Obi-Wan Kenobi aboard the Death Star. The familiar voice of James Earl Jones spoke the classic lines as both Eneri and Dennis remembered them.

What stuck out like an exploding star was that the actor playing the role of Kenobi was not Sir Alec Guinness.

“Well, Vader…” said Obi-Wan, with a clearly mid-west American accent, “you’re only a master of evil.”

“That not the right actor!” said Eneri. “Who is that?”

Dennis, being a Terran history geek, recognized the actor immediately. “That’s Ronald Reagan,” he said. “He was the President of the United States at this time. And he should have retired from acting at least a decade before this movie was made.”

It was at this point that Ditzie spoke up.

“It means that we’re not in the past of our own tine line,” she said. “We’re in someone else’s past. What we do here won’t affect our history in any way.”

“So its possible that we can go home?” Dennis asked.

“Yes,” Ditzie replied.

Dennis looked at her.

“I’m on it!” she said as she turned around and departed to her private space on board.

West of Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

The Chairman adjusted his fur hat and cinched in his overcoat against the deep chill of a cloudless and moonless Mid-September night. It was truly a rare occasion when The Chairman could go out for a quiet walk by himself. Of course there was always a bodyguard, who in this instance shadowed his charge from a discreet distance. One was never truly alone in the Soviet Union. Especially at the top.

The Chairman followed a path through the small pine forest, planted by captive German soldiers after the Second World War, almost by memory. The only source of light being the sea of stars beyond the tops of the trees.

He came to a small clearing. There he found a fellow member of the Politburo, identically dressed, with his face raised to the sky.

The Chairman spoke: “You should not be out walking alone in the woods on a night like this, Yuri Alekseyevich.”

“Absolutely correct, Mikhail Sergeyevich,” the other man replied, “I should be walking on Mars.”

Even if Yuri Gagarin had not been taken off cosmonaut flight status as a result of injuries from an attack by the aliens seventeen years ago, a walk on the Martian surface was still out of the question. A manned expedition from the Earth, coasting along on a transfer orbit, would be absolutely defenseless against the aliens who marauded the Solar System.

With space denied to him, Gagarin embarked on the only other path of advancement for an ambitious man in the Soviet system: the path of politics.

Gagarin officially sat on the Politburo as a minister without portfolio. In fact, he was the Soviet representative on the secret world council that conducted the war against the aliens. And he wasn’t happy about the present conduct of that war.

And when Gagarin had a bout of frustration he would go out at night meditate under the ocean of stars.

“It’s Straker again, isn’t it?” said Chairman Gorbachev.

“Yes,” Gagarin replied.

“He still won’t listen?”

Gagarin was silent for a moment, and then he replied, “Straker is effective at defending the Earth with the available tools. But he still doesn’t understand that a war cannot be won solely on defense. We have to locate the alien base in the Solar System and take it or destroy it. He won’t take the first step to do that.”

“Is that even possible?” asked Gorbachev. “Overwhelm the aliens in their own home base?”

“We have to,” said Gagarin, “therefore we will. Like our fathers’ generation had to overwhelm the Fascists.”

Gorbachev nodded. Both men had the unpleasant experience of being boys in the German occupied zone of Russia during the war. They were fully aware of the price paid by the older generation, in blood, to destroy the German Reich.

“So Straker must be replaced?”

Gagarin nodded in affirmation.

“He has powerful friends in the American nomenklatura,” he said. “Especially his patron.”

Gorbachev could only nod in agreement.

Boston, United States of America

In his sixty-eighth year the former president John Fitzgerald Kennedy still thought of himself as a vigorous man. He was in the process of proving this to his latest mistress when the telephone rang in her apartment.

“Oh Bloody ’ell!” the young and nicely filled out blonde squeaked in a British accent. “It’s probably me Mum!”

Kennedy could only grumble as the young woman shot out of bed and charged into the living room to answer the phone.

“Family always comes first,” he said.

The woman who presently called herself Nell Roche grabbed the receiver and spoke.


The voice emanating from the other end the line was not her mother.

“We need to talk,” said a male voice in the accent of the Highfolk. “At the usual place.”

“Right,” she replied.

One of the things the Highfolk had not brought to the Solar System was tradecraft, the body of knowledge of the conduct of espionage. It was one of the things that the Highfolk had to acquire from their Terrestrial victims.

Nell silently cursed.

It was a clear violation of tradecraft to call an agent at her home while she was “working” the subject. That was bad enough.

But as Nell personally studied the history and craft of espionage it became very readily clear that Mata Hari, whose tactics she attempting to emulate, was not an effective operative, but was more of a scapegoat for the gross incompetence of the French High Command. Had the head of the infiltration group understood this she would never had to put on weight in order to be attractive to the bloated idiot presently occupying her bed.

Nell looked at herself in a mirror.

She thought of herself as being too fat. But perhaps her idea of what constituted a right weight and appearance was influenced by the effects of the meager rations she was fed while growing up in the habitat.

Nell steeled herself to go back to work.

Alien Strike Force, En Route To Jupiter

The Commander of the strike force had to wonder, before he was slammed by the extreme acceleration of the landing craft, if their prey was in fact the ancient enemy who drove them from their home system.

Could it be someone else?

It was another long trip, and having to breathe through fluorocarbon fluid wasn't going to help him think at all.