Chapter 2

Leaving Earth — Main Pioneer Fleet at Galaxy Five

Caitlin was on her hands and knees behind her work station. She was busy cleaning up spilled lunch. Her young son, Juan, had come to visit her at work. They had played a little too roughly and she was cleaning up the resulting mess after finding other children for him to play with. She was grumbling cheerfully to herself about the trials of parenting when she heard the door latch to the distiller room softly click. Caitlin was instantly alert. Her work area was a small alcove just across the hall from the distiller's door. Silence suggested stealth and she listened to it.

Peeking around her desk, she did so just in time to see a shadowy figure slide quietly through the outer door and be gone. She slowly raised up and looked around for other intruders. But for the silence she was alone. She walked over to the distiller room door and opened it. Everything looked as it should. Even so, something must have happened, there was no reason for anyone to be in there alone with the distiller. The cold chill of stealth was still crawling her spine as she pushed the emergency call button and whispered, “I need to speak with Shawn in the distiller room, hurry.”

Time passed slowly, though what seemed long was no more than a minute or two before Shawn burst through the door. Although he and Caitlin had allowed their exclusive togetherness contract to expire more than two years ago, they shared a son, had a good family agreement, and were best of friends. He saw Caitlin standing white-faced but steady in front of the distiller and felt his panic about her personal safety fade away. He glanced at the power light and saw it was still green. “You look like you've seen a ghost,” he said and led her to a chair. “What happened?”

Caitlin saw his concern for her on his face and assured him she herself was okay. She told him everything that happened. "As you can see, " she said, “the green power light is still on. Someone was in here though, and I'm worried about the distiller. I called you immediately and haven't touched anything.”

Shawn pulled out his pocket knife and opened it. He then pushed a button labeled “system check” with the knife point. The green light instantly turned red, flickered, and went dark. “Do you smell anything?” He asked.

“If I do, it's faint,” she responded. “I may be smelling a burned wire.”

“I smell it too,” he said. “Something is very wrong. I'll call for the technical crew and get them started. This couldn't have happened at a worse time.”

Shawn saw her questioning look. “The planetary analysis is complete and a decision has to be made about what to do next. It's time to pick a planet. One planet is young and it's quite volcanic. The other two have highly evolved life forms, one of which has reached human level.”

Caitlin watched him stride to the porthole window. He stared at the stars and the planet around which they orbited. The entire pioneer fleet, except for the survey that had gone on to Galaxy 6, had been assembled for this decision. Use of the distributed intelligence distiller for an instantaneous feedback loop from every pioneer's best thoughts was crucial. The distiller had an almost lifelike ability to expose unanswered questions, so much so, that many people had begun calling it “Distiller,” as if that were its name. The distiller had been sabotaged.

“Your silhouette at the window looks just like your brother, Walker," she said. He turned from the porthole and she turned to solving their problem, “Why would anyone want to do this to the distiller?” She asked.

“This isn't the first suspicious incident,” he answered. “What has been suspected but had no proof has just been proven, at least in my mind. There must have been spies who came aboard with the last-minute unregistered arrivals; they were probably working among us on Luna and reporting back to their leaders on Earth.”

“So that's how the United States of Earth knew when to attack us.”

“Yep. But they were blind to our plan. They thought we advanced our science to gain power and control. The attack from Earth failed so utterly because it didn't occur to them that we would use the joy generators to escape rather than attack and take over. They moved against us before they were ready in the hope our science could be taken from us. If they had waited they would have had equal opportunity to use our discovery of joy-powered spacecraft.”

“Why didn't they wait then?” Caitlyn asked.

“My guess is they want the power we've invented and don't want anyone else to have it, including us.”

Caitlin took a deep breath and feigned a blank look. “No matter what, we need to make a move in this stupid game. I'll assemble all the group coordinators so they can activate the old representative decision-making system we used before the distiller was perfected.”

“Let's keep quiet about suspected sabotage for a while,” Shawn said. “There is no use alerting the spies that we are onto them.”

When she passed the arriving technical repair crew they glanced at her with unspoken questions. “Distiller has broken down,” was all she said, hurrying by.

Caitlin laughed at the thought that anything at all could be kept even half secret aboard a spaceship where everyone knew everything about everything; as soon as the technical crew left for a repair with their tools they became a topic. It wouldn't be long before everyone knew the Distiller was broken and whoever the spies were would soon know that the old group discussion system was going to be used instead of the distiller.

She stopped in her tracks with that thought; she realized the spies would try and control group discussion and that was why they had sabotaged the distiller. Quiet resolve flowed through her, “It's my job to make sure we reach a unified logical decision,” she thought. “I know that Distiller was sabotaged and those who did it don't know I am aware of that.” This knowledge gave her a slight edge over whoever was behind all this even though she had no idea who they might be.

Caitlin spent the rest of the afternoon hours visiting the workstations of group leaders. Although they had no real control over their groups, each leader had been selected as the contact person just in case something like this were to happen to the distiller. In better circumstances the leaders also acted as moderators during formal discussions prior to individual input into the distiller.

After she finished alerting everyone on the upper deck, Caitlin went below to the docking port for smaller ships. She walked into an unexpected buzz of excitement there. She couldn't see over and around all the equipment but she could see the backs of people bending over something and working on it as fast as they could, like a group of emergency room surgeons working at an operating table. She hurried to see what was happening.

In front of her was a joy-powered communications torpedo able to surpass the light speed barrier many times over. About ten meters in length and a meter and a half in width, it looked like a small version of their ship. Ice covered the entire surface except for two areas where heat lamps were shining.

“Where did this come from?” She asked.

“It’s our communication torpedo from the survey fleet at Galaxy 6.”

Caitlin looked at the person who had answered. It was Gail. Her voice was slightly muffled by a protective hood. “Why is it covered with ice?” She asked.

“It arrived less than fifteen minutes ago,” Gail answered. “It's been in deep space and is cold enough to freeze the moisture in the air.”

Caitlin watched as Gail opened a small door which had been warmed by one of the heat lamps. Inside was a data plug receptacle. A technician reached past Gail and plugged a line from a computer into it. Gail pushed a small button next to the plug and a wall screen monitor in front of them lit up.

After a brief moment, Gwen appeared on the screen and told them about the sighting of alien spaceships. “There isn't much detail yet,” she concluded, “additional torpedoes will follow this one when we know more.”

A slightly larger door had been opened while they listened to Gwen's report. Inside was another data plug.

“That's the data from their sensors,” Gail said.

One of the technicians bending over that data port said he would call the science deck and alert them to an incoming data download. He turned toward the intercom. Caitlin noticed that the man's mouth smiled but his eyes didn't look up to meet the others. The back of her neck tingled a warning chill. “I'll come with you,” she said to him. He turned and looked at her questioningly and she saw a flash of anger in his eyes before his face became expressionless. “I need to inform the communication center,” she said.

He nodded his understanding. “I am Ernest Wranker, what's your name?” he asked.

She looked into dark eyes that seemed to scan her image like an unblinking machine. “Caitlin,” she responded. “I work in the communication section. There's been some technical problems in the distiller development lab and my job is to keep everyone posted and up-to-date on this. The communications group will want to keep in touch directly with the science deck.”

“Oh?” He questioned, with a raised eyebrow. “What's happened in communications?”

“Distiller is broken down,” she said without a moment’s hesitation, using the familiar nickname as a purposeful test. She kept her eyes on his watching for response. His expression didn't change.

In that brief split second she became convinced he was indeed a spy, anyone else would have shown some concern. The ability to distill each and every pioneer’s individual thoughts into a coherent line of reasoning and formulate unanswered questions was considered by most everyone to be as significant an invention as the joy generators that powered the ships.

“You call first,” she said, hoping her expression showed him less than his did to her. She could feel her heart pounding as she spoke. “The science deck needs some time to work before they have anything for communications to use.” She leaned casually against the bulkhead; close enough to hear yet far enough to appear unconcerned.

When her turn came to call she watched him hurry back to the torpedo and then abruptly leave. Caitlin walked back to the technical team working on the still frigid intergalactic communication torpedo, without making a call. She had no proof but was convinced she had discovered the identity of one saboteur. Though more curious than afraid, her heart was still racing.

continue to Chapter 3