This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2001. It was reprinted in this lightly edited form in the September/October 2018 issue.
Asirihan discarded the start to his memoirs for the fourth time.
He had never imagined it could be so difficult a task. He paused again to gather his thoughts. Twenty-four years ago he would never have guessed he would be asked by the emperor, himself, to write memoirs of a mission gone wrong. He had lived the experience but still could not believe what he had seen. The retired scout had never considered himself a hero but now the title of hero had been thrust upon him. Sighing, Asirihan Sirhanisirerem sat again and reactivated the interface for his computer. It was time to try again.
I was completing the 20 year survey of this sector. Five others assigned to this survey had resigned due to boredom. I had finished my study and found three friendly systems that were willing to discuss alliances with the 3rd Imperium. Lendisa is at the far end of this sector so I had a long way to go to reach home. Home to me was a Rich Water world in the Glimmerdrift Reaches. Those of us that live there call the world Esmerelda’s Heart but most listings just call it 0635-B88A873-C.
I joined the scouts so that I could go far away from my backwater home on the edge of the Imperium as I could. I specifically requested an assignment away from the Glimmerdrift Reaches. They assigned me to Vleeman in the Old Expanses. I served four years of running messages across the sector and conducting surveys of the non-Imperial worlds there. I heard constant rumors of Solomani threats that never materialized. I did well enough for my superiors to assign me to survey the Hinterworlds. They instructed me to survey the trailing/rimward quarter and then report back to the scout base on my home world for re-assignment. With 115 systems, many of them hostile, it had taken me over four years to complete the survey mission. Now I was ready to head for home and start my third term.
I prepared my scout courier for the jump to Cyveel. This should have been a standard four-parsec jump. I had completed my refueling and moved to a position to make the jump. I signalled the starport of my intentions to depart. They responded with a go-ahead signal. Then it happened. A flotilla of lancers, probably from Pru-pasch, arrived in the system. A squadron of Solomani Destroyers and destroyer escorts also arrived. The lancers first took a course toward the merchant ships near Lendisa’s orbiting high-port but they soon turned to confront the Solomani fleet. I became caught in the middle of a shooting match and had to take evasive maneuvers to stay alive. As the action heated up and lancers started shooting at me intentionally, I realized I would have to jump if I was to escape. So I raced away from the gas giant until I had reached the safe distance for jump and I triggered my jump-drive. With their drives limited to Jump-2, the lancers had no chance of catching me.
I had misjumped 3 times in the last 8 years. I spent my week in transit trying to prepare my ship to orient itself when I came out of my jump. My ship’s sensors easily found my position but they also found conflicts with the known data. The star positions matched what was known for the spinward/rimward part of the Hinterworlds, but the star types—and the system data—did not match. The giant and super giant stars all matched but the Main Sequence stars did not match at all. Places that my library said should have white dwarfs had vibrant yellow stars and parsecs that should have had one star had two or three. The sensors had me positioned in the Irdikur system. The number and type of planets matched my library data but instead of a G4 star, I was reading a K2. Communication traffic suggested a type B starport, with an early stellar technology and a minor scout base. My communications gear analyzed the data and did not find any recognized languages from the current library. I had it scan the archives and it came closest to matching a version of Anglic used during the Rule of Man. Had I misjumped backwards in time? The star positions said I had not.
Four destroyers spotted me before I could hide. They identified themselves as the Cumberland, Niger, Seine, and Danube. They also identified themselves as belonging to the “Earth Alliance”. They asked me to identify myself. I froze. How was I supposed to answer?
When they signaled me again, I responded that I was Asirihan Sirhanisirerem of the Imperial Scout Service. I told them I was on independent assignment for the 4th Old Expanses Squadron. The captain of the Niger identified himself as Commander Jiao and explained that they did not recognize my ships markings or my government so would I allow them to escort my ship to the starport for routine security checks and other “First Contact” dialogues that may be appropriate. Still uncertain of what exactly had happened, I agreed.
The destroyers were wedge-shaped and looked as if they mounted bay weapons—three each—and turrets—ten each. Two of them maneuvered like they had experienced crews aboard. They were mostly gray with blue highlights and an emblem consisting of a circle with sixteen stars decorated each ship. I saw similarities to the Terran Confederation Seal but the differences were enough for me to attribute these similarities to chance.
I landed my ship at the starport and was escorted to a conference room. The guards carried weapons that looked like improved versions of the gauss rifle commonly used by mercenary troops. I noticed, too, that these weapons were designed to have a bayonet attached to them, which I thought odd for a high-stellar civilization. I did not inquire, though.
The guards took me to a conference room that had a table made from real wood. A large screen on the wall displayed a three dimensional map of “Known Space”. A nearly circular territory marked “U.E.A.” dominated the center. Some of the sector names looked familiar but I noticed they were not where they should be. It took me a moment to realize the map was upside-down as compared with what I was familiar with—coreward was to the bottom, rimward the top, spinward to the right, and trailing on the left.
I could see that the Earth Alliance occupied about nine sectors. Other states spaced around it were colored either green, yellow or red. The larger ones were marked with names, such as Draconia, Mentar, Sauria. A good portion at the bottom, which I knew as Imperial territory, was a red area marked “The Combine”. Several clusters of small to medium sized territories were shaded red and marked “The Hive”.
A map key allowed me to select from several conflicts, including the Saurischi border war, the Trilarian War, the Frontier war and the Hive war. Selecting a conflict displayed the area covered by the conflict and provided a summary as far as colonies established, colonies lost, colonies gained and the ultimate winner. The largest of these was the Hive War. This conflict covered almost one third of the map, including the Alliance capital, Sol. The colonies lost by both sides were staggering. Five major territories and almost all the smaller green territories took part. The Combine fought the Hive but also fought the Earth Alliance, and the other races involved in the conflict. The Hive and the Combine ended the war as the two losers. The Human Alliance wound up on top. The Saurischi fared the worst of the winning side. Nearly two-thirds of their colonies were lost. This war lasted for over 250 years! According to the date in the lower right corner of the map, this war had ended at a time just before the Second Frontier War occurred in my own universe.
My own universe. It finally sank in what had happened. My ship had misjumped into another universe! Here, my race and history did not exist. I suddenly felt very much alone.
Three officers entered the room. The first I recognized as Commander Jiao. The second was a woman wearing what looked to me to be similar to a Psi helmet. The third was a very big African man wearing a uniform with different and more elaborate rank symbols than Commander Jiao’s. I saluted him when I recovered from the shock of my situation. He returned my salute and asked me to sit, then introduced himself as Commodore Nasqa and his aide, Commander Naguma. He also reintroduced Commander Jiao.
Commodore Nasqa tried to assure me that this interview was not meant to make me uncomfortable. They just had to do this for their colonies’ security. I told him I understood and I would answer any questions.
They asked me about who I was and where I was from. I sighed and told them I was Asirihan Sirhanisirerem of the Imperial Scout Service. I was on a survey mission in the Hinterworlds when I misjumped and I wound up here. They asked me about the Imperium, the Hive Federation, the Solomani Confederation and the various client states that were between their borders. Commander Naguma watched me intently as I spoke. All three of the officers took notes.
When the interview was over, Commodore Nasqa asked me to wait while they reviewed their findings. The guards escorted me to a cell, where I spent the night. It felt like I spent a good part of the next day there as well. I thought about that map on the wall of the interview room. I could not remember all of the territories displayed but I think that 16 were important enough to be named. This more than doubled the seven major races of my own universe. The curiosity that caused me to join the scouts made me want to see more of this universe and meet these other people.
Commodore Nasqa returned by himself. He told me they believed my story, as astounding as it was. He told me that the alliance did not currently have the technology required to send me home but they might develop it in time. He also told me the only reason I was being released so soon was that Commander Naguma had done a deep scan on me and determined I was not a threat. With no other reason to hold me, I was being allowed to go. He said that they would need to keep my ship so they could copy it to try and recreate my ordeal. I wanted to protest but he assured me that I would be paid the full market value for my ship so that I could either by a new ship or use the money to establish a life her while their scientists tried to figure out how to send me home. I realized I had no choice but to accept. Nasqa asked if they could make use of the data in my ships computer to try and recreate the experiments required. I thought about it and agreed because I knew that any information they extracted would not be of use to them. He handed me an ID card. It looked much like my own Imperial ID card. The commodore explained that security could not allow a “ghost” to be travelling their space lanes. He also told me that since nobody heard of the Third Imperium, most people would assume I was an “Outie”, from a human colony that lost contact with Earth during the Hive War. He recommended a hotel that would give me enough of a personal storage space to keep my personal belongings while I sought a permanent place to stay or arrange transport out of the system.
I returned to my scout. I would spend one last night aboard it before cleaning out my personal items. I would pack them into the air raft and either go find a new ship or hire myself on as a navigator to a free trader—if there was such a thing here.
I located the hotel recommended by Commodore Nasqa. I moved my personal belongings and then turned my attention to finding employment. I found several lists of employment possibilities and went about investigating them. I reached dead ends with all of them. I went to a cantina near the hotel to take a break. I asked the bartender if he had any advice for finding employment. He asked what sort of employment I sought and when I told him about looking for work on a free trader, he told me he knew a subsidized freighter that was looking for a navigator. The ship’s medic was a friend of his. He said she usually came in the afternoon and that I should come back around 1500. He told me that working for a big corporation, like Terran Industries, might not be my style but the benefits were great so maybe I should come talk to her. I told him that I would. Since this would give me two hours, I decided to go back to the hotel, take a shower and hope to make the best first impression that I could. I also used the terminal in my room to learn about Terran Industries. From the information available, they seemed a decent enough company. Given the small amount of time available, I did not have time to research them as thoroughly as I would have liked, but at least I didn’t find anything bad about them in the time I had.
I returned to the cantina shortly before 1500. I sat near the bar and waited. The place was busy enough that I could not watch everybody that came through the door. I saw an Asian woman in a yellow and black jump suit enter, but I soon lost track of her. I found her again when she stood next to my stool and said “I hear you’re looking for work.”
This woman had a face that even a Zhodani telepath could not make me forget. I guessed her to be about forty. When I managed to bring myself back to my senses, I extended my hand and introduced myself. I told her it was an pleasure to meet her. She told me that she would give me a short interview and then take me to meet her ship’s captain if I was interested.
The woman’s name was Laura Tanaka. She was the medic aboard a merchant ship subsidized by Terran Industries. They usually followed the established trade routes in the frontier sectors but occasionally travelled back to the Sol Sector. Joseph Kessler was the ship’s captain. He had worked for Terran Industries for over 25 years. If I were to hire on I would have to agree to work for Terran Industries. I told her that I would be willing to work for them, if they would accept me.
Laura asked me about my past. Remembering my last encounter with Commodore Nasqa, I told her I was an Outie and that we called our territory the Third Imperium. I told her about working for the scouts and my survey mission and my misjump. I left out the interuniversal travel. My answers satisfied her and Laura asked me to accompany her to the ship.
We talked as she piloted my air raft to the docking bays. Laura went to Terran Industries Merchant Academy and excelled in the medical fields. As much as she enjoyed being the medic for the Tom Bowline, she hoped to someday be a ship’s doctor on a passenger ship or even a hospital ship. I wondered about the name Tom Bowline. It seemed such and odd name for a ship.
The first officer was an Ursan—not quite the same as the Ursa I knew—named Korj. Laura advised me that no matter how fierce Korj looked, he was really just a big teddy bear. JNR-0506 was the sales manager. Laura told me that “Jenner” looked like a robot but still had flesh and blood under her exoskeleton. Her race was actually little more than a head and four tentacles. They were almost wiped out by the Hive. When the Alliance made contact with them, by accident, the cyborgs changed the shapes of their exoskeletons out of thanks for saving them and because they hoped that humans would find them less alien. The last crew member was a Cetaci named Hesperia. She handled ship security and fired the weapons when the ship had to defend itself. Laura also warned me that Hesperia, like most Cetaci noble women, was a psionist. Laura told me that Hesperia doesn’t read minds very often because she doesn’t like to. She only reads minds when she is curious and that if I was alert, I would notice a symptom, unique to me as a person, that would tell me when Hesperia, or anybody else, was trying to read me.
A flood of relief swept over me when I saw that her ship looked nearly identical to an Imperial “fat trader”. It was mostly yellow with black highlights. The most prominent emblem consisted of sixteen planets connected by lines and surrounded by a solar corona. I felt a bond form between me and that ship before I even got to meet the captain.
Laura introduced me to each member of the crew. Korj looked like a giant teddy bear that was about to lose his temper. He was the tallest member of the crew. I still believe that he could have taken on the rest of the crew in a wrestling match.
Jenner was the shortest of the crew. Her shiny exoskeleton with pink overtones resembled a feminine humanoid robot. She spoke with a gentle synthesized voice. The lenses of her eyes changed colors as she spoke. They presented a soothing visual experience and I suspect that contributed a great deal to her success as a sales manager.
Hesperia took me by surprise. I expected her to be a lizard person but instead she looked like an elf. She was almost as tall as Korj. She had blue gray skin and lavender hair. She proved her ability as a psi by telling me that no, she didn’t look like a lizard, and I wasn’t the only one that said she looked like an elf. Her hair color was real and she didn’t think her race was related to the Daryen. She also suggested to me that I tell Korj he looked like a teddy bear that was about to lose his temper.
So I turned back to the Ursan and told him “I hope that doesn’t offend you.” He glared at me and said, “no, it doesn’t, but that’s a Theodore bear to you, mister!" Then Korj laughed. So did Hesperia and Laura. Jenner had a synthesized “Ha! Ha! Ha!” that passed for laughter.
I suddenly felt better about Korj, but Hesperia gave me the creeps. I tried to remember what I had felt to see if I could identify my unique sensation. I decided it must have been the itchiness I felt in my eyes. I recalled feeling that also during my interview with commanders Jiao and Naguma. It frightened me to think that psionics seemed to be so accepted here.
Laura took me away from the ship to a starport lounge to meet the captain. The lounge had a dark ceiling with small lamps lighting the individual booths. Laura inquired if Joshua Kessler had arrived. The waitress answered that he had and took us to a booth in the back of the lounge. A middle aged man with greying hair scrutinized a readout on a notebook sized display screen. He looked up as we approached and gestured for us to sit across from him.
“Hello, Asirihan.” He extended his hand in greeting. “I’m Captain Kessler of the Tom Bowline. Would you like something to drink?”
“Thank you,” I answered him then turned to the waitress. “What do you have that is really good?”
“We got some new stuff in yesterday, a spice pop. A Gnolam brought it in on his ship and sold a whole cargo hold of it. The owner said it’s really good.”
“I’ll try that,” I told her. “I’ll try it, too,” Laura said. The captain shook his head. “I’m all set.” The waitress nodded and went off.
Captain Kessler put his screen down and looked me straight in the eye. “I understand that you are looking for a job as a navigator. Is this true?”
“Yes, sir, it is,” I answered him. The waitress returned with the beverages. The herb-flavored sodas came in green bottles with twist-off tops. The flavor reminded me of the Glimmerdrift sodas I used to drink back home. This made it easier for me to relax during the rest of the interview.
Captain Kessler asked me about my past, what I had done for the scouts, and how I got to be here. I told him as much as I could, leaving out the part of being from another universe. My answers seemed to satisfy him. After two hours, the captain stood up and extended his hand to me. “You’ve convinced me,” he said. Turning to Laura, he told her, “Take Mr. Sirihanisirerem back to the ship and have Korj assign him some quarters. I want you, Korj, and Hesperia to help him load his belongings and find whatever other equipment he might need. Jenner and I are going to go and get our next assignment. I’ll see you all back at the ship,” and then he was off.
This seemed simple enough. I couldn’t believe that it was over so fast. I held my breath long enough to thank whatever deity had suddenly taken upon itself to watch over me.
Laura, Korj and Hesperia helped me get my few belongings to my quarters. I had only brought my personal effects so there was no trouble getting my stuff all into the quarters.
Korj examined my laser carbine and commented that it appeared to be a bit fragile. “Would you like to get it exchanged for a sturdier weapon?”
I seldom had need to fire the carbine so I agreed to their suggestion. We returned it to the air raft. Since they already had the full allotment of ship’s vehicles, there would not be room to keep my air raft so I agreed to sell this, too. I had to laugh to myself a little. I may have been a man without a home, but at least I was approaching the status of being a wealthy man without a home.
Korj took the air raft; Laura, Hesperia and I rode the rocket tubes. This mode of transport got us there so quickly that we passed Korj as he sped along the transit tubes. He parked the raft in from of a transportation dealer near the exit of the rocket tubes. We took the slidewalks to the dealer and joined up with Korj, who had already rejected the dealer’s first offer. Korj argued as to the quality and unique alien manufacture of the particular air raft. The salesman claimed his son could produce a better made up alphabet. Korj looked directly at the salesman and dared him to check the VIN in his computer. The salesman took bet and scanned the VIN with his datapad. The query returned the complete information about my air raft, including the manufacturer and the world it was manufactured on. This surprised me as I would not have expected their system to be able to correctly translate the codes. The salesman looked back to Korj. “Okay, if this is a phony, it’s a good one.” He quoted a second price. Korj rejected it and named his own price. They haggled until Korj got the full list price for my air raft when it was new. I could now understand how he got to be the first officer. I wondered how he compared with Jenner at haggling.
Korj handed me my updated credit chip.
The arms dealer seemed fascinated by my laser carbine. He regretted, though, that there would probably be no market for such a fragile weapon here. He suggested that we offer it to a museum. The right museum should be willing to pay good money for it. We agreed to his suggestion. Not wanting to lose any business he asked if we were interested in buying any weapons to replace the laser carbine. I asked him to show me what he had available.
The salesman explained that since Beatrice was a frontier world that did not get full access to the best technology, most of what he had for sale were slug-throwers. He had gyroslugs, needlers (chemical and gauss), tanglers, gauss slugthrowers, and a single force beam rifle. The force beam rifle fascinated me. It hurled a “kinetic fist” at its target, knocking down even an armored soldier and breaking its targets bones (if it had any). I did not know of any Imperial weapon that could compare to it. I purchased this and a gyroslug pistol, which fired rocket ammunition like a accelerator rifle but was easier to fire accurately. I chose that weapon because I could use it in a vacuum or under water. Then he started showing me the melee weapons they had for defending oneself at close quarters.
He had vibro weapons, electric weapons and force weapons. Nothing the Imperium had compared to these weapons. I had to ask why anybody would create so many hi-tech melee weapons. They gave the standard answer about being easy to hide and being legal on all but the most strict worlds. But they had two other reasons that my universe did not have: the Saurischi and the Hive.
The Hive and the Saurischi lived underground. They were masters of ambush. Soldiers that fought either often had only their wits and daggers to protect them at close range. That also explained the bayonet fittings on the guns. The Ursans, and almost everybody else, used fast assault shuttles to breach the walls of enemy ships or stations and soldiers would board the vessel to capture or cripple it. If the boarding happened quickly enough, the defenders did not always have time to prepare so these actions often occurred at close range as well. It sounded reasonable but I wondered how often armies really clashed at such close range. The only close range fighting I had ever done was in tavern brawls where I used my fists. Occasionally fights with melee weapons occurred but not with the frequency they seemed to here. I tried several weapons and proved myself incompetent with all of them. I finally settled for a vibrodagger, since I at least showed enough proficiency with it that Hesperia, Laura and Korj felt they could train me to use it better.
We made several other stops. Here we purchased a variety of small personal items to improve my personal comfort on the ship. Probably the best item we got was an interactive history chip that would allow me to learn fully about this universe and the histories of the people in it. I only hoped that it would be as fascinating as the symbols on the map had promised.
Now we returned to the ship. Captain Kessler and Jenner had not returned yet. Laura contacted the captain and learned they would be out for several more hours. They had not found enough cargo to fill the hold yet. Jenner was negotiating with somebody to transfer some ore to an industrial world we would stop at after two more jumps.
“What do we do while waiting for them?” I asked.
“We just wait,” Korj answered.
“Well, I am going to get some sleep.” Laura stretched and went to her quarters. I decided this would be a perfect time to read the history crystal.
I went to my quarters and put the crystal into the viewscreen. It was time to learn about my new home.