tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 17

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 17

bybradley_stoke©

Chapter Seventeen
Feynman - 3754 C.E.


Jaden was in love with the wrong woman. By rights the one he loved the most should be Michelle, but it wasn't his long term partner whose mere presence shortened his breath and excited his heart however much he wished otherwise.

Instead, the chief object of his lust was Svetlana.

This was an utterly futile love, of course Not only did he not have the courage to confess the strength of his feelings to the exquisite freckled woman whose slender legs and sinuous neck his eyes followed guiltily whenever she walked by. Nor was it merely because she was already answered for. His love was most doomed because it was women and not men that Svetlana loved. Was there no Saturnian woman who broke the lesbian mould?

Jaden had been foolish enough to hint that he was attracted to the slender Saturnian, but what annoyed Michelle wasn't so much his eyes should wander but that they should be drawn to a white woman.

"What could possibly be the appeal of such sickly pale skin?"she retorted indignantly. "What's wrong with black women?"

Although Jaden knew that it was wrong to discriminate on the grounds of skin-colour, he understood Michelle's concerns. In a Solar System where ethnic identity had been irreparably compromised over the centuries, there were now as few naturally black people as there were purely white. It was only by virtue of their respective ancestors' marital prejudices that either Jaden or Michelle had retained any degree of ethnic purity. Of course, skin colour wasn't determined by birth alone. People could decide for themselves what skin pigmentation to adopt and these included very unnatural choices such as green, blue, orange and even striped or spotted.

Jaden and Michelle were clasped together in coital embrace, Jaden's penis deep inside his partner and their skin streaming with mutual perspiration, so it was easy for Michelle to dismiss her lover's tactlessness as the loosening of sexual fantasies that accompanied lovemaking.

As there were so few people stationed on the Feynman Space Observatory Jaden was in Svetlana's company on virtually every day. In fact, he often had to work with her. They were all professional astronomers, so there was much they could discuss. Jaden's tour of duty on Feynman was his first not on the surface of Triton, the moon where Michelle and he had been born. Svetlana and her wife had previously been stationed in an observatory around Saturn where they'd been studying the planet's rings and its swirling helium clouds.

Jaden was astonished when Svetlana casually mentioned that she'd been married for over twenty years. Jaden calculated that she was old enough to be his mother, although such was the quality of regenerative surgery that it wasn't at all obvious that she was any older than Jaden's twenty-five years. Her relative seniority in years didn't diminish her beauty although Jaden now felt even more gauche in her presence. She treated the dark-skinned Neptunian kindly although his lovelorn glances almost certainly betrayed how besotted he was.

The Feynman was one of the most distant observatories in the Solar System. It wasn't the most distant, of course. Several observatories were stationed beyond the Kuiper Belt and some beyond even the Oort Cloud. The space observatory furthest from the sun was also the most distant permanent settlement in the entire Solar System, well beyond the heliopause and nearly half a light year from Earth. It was every astronomer's ambition to be stationed there although Jaden knew, as did everyone else, that its isolation was so extreme that no-one ever chose to renew their tour of duty. Feynman was one of very few observatories not in the Solar System's ecliptic plane. It was two light weeks from the nearest planet or Kuiper Belt Object. Not many observatories on the ecliptic could boast that degree of isolation.

There was very little economic or scientific justification for the Feynman's existence when it was built in the thirtieth century. The construction had been punitively expense as the building materials all had to be transported a truly immense distance. It was more a statement of power by the Union of Democratic Planets which, at the time, was one of the two main economic and political unions in the Solar System. It was a demonstration of how far its sphere of influence exceeded that of the competing Solar Nations which in those days represented the most Solar System's democratic and capitalist economies, including most of those on Earth. The Union of Democratic Planets, on the other hand, represented political systems that on the whole weren't even remotely democratic. Several revolutions and civil wars later, the space observatory was now firmly under the aegis of the Interplanetary Union. Few expected that the discovery of the Anomaly in the thirty-sixth century might propel the Feynman to the status of the most significant observatory in the entire Solar System. However, this was an honour that would only remain until the construction of another space observatory, the Hawking, a further light week distant from the ecliptic plane. The Feynman had been assigned the highly classified mission of observing the Anomaly and the progress of the Space Ship Intrepid. The observatory was circled by a small flotilla of battle cruisers that would fly to the Intrepid's aid if needed. It was only prudent that a mission of such colossal expense and political significance should have some kind of military backup.

Jaden was on observation duty for only a few hours a week. The rest of his time was occupied in trying to interpret the huge mass of data that was constantly being gathered by the observatory's automated systems. Every day the newly discovered exoplanets from the outer regions of the galaxy was catalogued. Every day several hundred new stars in distant galaxies were added to the billions already known. The observable universe was so vast that it simply wasn't possible to complete the task of identifying, cataloguing and analysing all the objects it contained. Jaden's expertise would only really be required if a phenomenon was identified that couldn't be automatically classified. This might be when its status was so ambiguous that an expert had to determine whether it was a planet, a brown dwarf or some other cosmic object.

Inevitably, what most arrested the astronomers' attention were the Anomaly and the associated strange apparitions being monitored by the space observatory's thousands of radio, electromagnetic and gravitational telescopes. In itself, the Anomaly was weird enough. Telescopes that could analyse a grain of sand on Mars or a meteorite over Jupiter still couldn't properly view the Anomaly. It radiated no light. It exerted no gravitational distortion. It interacted hardly at all with the stream of neutrinos or photons that passed by it. It was more a visible absence of matter, baryonic or otherwise, than something explicable or concrete.

And then, just as exciting because of their bizarre nature and their utter unpredictability, were the thousands of odd apparitions that occurred every day but in their greatest number within less than a light day of the Anomaly. Just what were they? Could what was observed really be a space ship that travelled for no more than ten seconds and boasted military insignia that couldn't be matched to any nation within the Solar System? Was it really a swarm of bird-like wraiths that fluttered and swooped in airless space for as long as twenty seconds before they too vanished? What was the bipedal figure in a space suit that hovered in the vacuum of remote space before it too vanished leaving not even a gravitational ripple in the cosmos? And did the flashes and explosions that took place spontaneously and briefly so close to the Anomaly really leave no trace other than the stream of photons that were intercepted by the Feynman before they sped onwards to the space observatories two light weeks closer to the Solar System's ecliptic?

Jaden had seen some of these apparitions. They alarmed and fascinated him, but he was frustrated that he was prohibited from telling anyone other than his fellow astronomers of what he'd seen, not quite with his own eyes, but very nearly so through the Feynman's powerful telescopes.

The Interplanetary Union's powers didn't extend to being able to halt the pulse of photons on their journey to the Solar System's many amateur observatories and research institutes, but they could at least disguise the worrying extent of these observations. The mountain of news stories that was gathered and disseminated every day on these exotic astronomical phenomena was easily obscured by the greater volume of stories of warfare, political intrigue, human interest and celebrity that mostly clogged up the Solar System's media coverage.

"I swear it was some kind of a dinosaur," Svetlana remarked the next time Jaden shared a duty roster with her. "It wasn't one of those big ones, like a sauropod or stegosaur. It was human size and covered with a gorgeous feather coat that was all golden and yellow. It was only there for ten seconds and looked alarmed in a sort of intelligent way—not like a scared rabbit but more like a human. It had a peculiarly expressive face."

"Where did you see this dinosaur?" wondered Jaden, whose mind was still distracted by the memory of seeing Svetlana kiss her wife, Rika, just before they parted at the viewing chamber's door. Rika was as bald and hairless as Svetlana, but she was peculiarly thin and had a flattened oriental face. With their lips and bosoms pressed together, Jaden felt a wholly inappropriate swelling in his crotch that Michelle aroused far less readily. He would do anything to swap places with Rika—even if it meant a change of gender—for the opportunity to share the pleasures of Svetlana's freckled small breasted body: preferably unclothed and expressing the same desire that she showed her wife.

"I saw it, too," remarked Ali, a tall ivory-skinned Uranian whose tight-fitting clothes were stretched to the limits by the exaggerated contours of his muscular body. Jaden was slightly ill at ease as Ali was at least as homosexual as Svetlana and he didn't want to give the man the wrong impression. "Beautiful it was. Where do you think it came from? If it came from another star I'd love to go there. The only aliens I've ever seen were smaller than a speck of dust."

"We don't know where these weird things come from," said Vanity, the fourth and final astronomer on their watch. "If they're aliens, why don't they hang around longer? I think they come from a parallel universe."

"Pah!" said Svetlana, who was the most sceptical. "I think it's all just a kind of mirage. They're just images that kind of bounce back to Earth from a hundred million years ago. I go along with the theory that the Anomaly is nothing more than a kind of mirror that focuses reflections back to the Solar System from far out in space."

"How does that work?" wondered Ali.

"I don't know," admitted Svetlana airily. "But it's more plausible than some of the other theories going round. Space and time is curved and maybe images are brought together by some unknown kind of dark matter and radiate out again from the Anomaly. My guess is that some time in the future we'll discover that space is littered with these phenomena and all they do is relay distant images."

"Aren't these apparitions actually solid and real?" Jaden commented, although his attention was principally focused on Svetlana's thick lips. He was fascinated by the way they shuddered when she finished each sentence. "Although they don't leave gravitational ripples they interact physically with whatever they touch. Remember how that metal sphere bounced on the surface of Pluto and left an impression on the surface."

Svetlana considered Jaden's counter-example. "Maybe it wasn't a proper apparition," she said. "It seems that almost everything weird is now explained by reference to this bizarre hole in space. That was probably just a military experiment of some kind. The Plutonians don't get on very well with the Charon colonies, do they?"

The four astronomers had little else to do while on duty other than chat over cups of coffee and fruit juice. The real work was done by robotic hardware that was tirelessly cataloguing and steadily increasing human knowledge of the vast universe. Usually the most exciting event was to observe yet another apparition and these weren't usually as intriguing as the dinosaur. No one could get very excited by a small uncharted meteor or an unexplained burst of plasma radiation.

The only other object of interest was the daily account of the Intrepid's journey as relayed by the space ship's bank of sensory equipment and the captain's log.

Captain Kerensky was another Saturnian woman, but not one Jaden found nearly as attractive as Svetlana. She was also slim, bald and pretty, but her imposing demeanour was too intimidating. And anyway she was several times his age, although nothing betrayed this other than her self-assurance and air of experience. Her reports were generally rather dull and routine. They mostly consisted of nothing more than an account of what Jaden could already establish from the data routinely broadcast by the Intrepid. In truth, Space travel was extremely boring and nobody expected much from the report of an uneventful journey across empty space.

Occasionally, the captain enlivened her dispatch by the account of a sporting or theatrical event on the space ship, but these were just larger scale versions of similar events in the Feynman's social calendar. The hundred or so astronomers on the observatory had their own occasional five-a-side football competitions and amateur concert recitals. However much Jaden looked forward to the weekly dance or lecture, these were scarcely so exciting that he'd choose to relate more than a very brief account to his friends and family on Triton. Although Jaden would have been happy to be amongst the select few astronomers on the Intrepid, it wasn't because he expected the voyage through empty space to be exciting.

Vanity stood up and strode towards the coffee machine. Like Jaden, her skin was black but this was more by choice than ancestry. She'd adopted the Uranian fashion of unnatural skin colour, though at least she wasn't purple or silver. She had a thick frame with a full bosom and a delightfully proportioned arse that was set to its best advantage in the nearly transparent platinum shorts that was almost all she wore.

Jaden scrutinised Svetlana's eyes as they followed Vanity's sensual step. He was troubled by her attraction towards other women ever since Michelle unexpectedly discussed Svetlana as the couple lay together in bed the night before.

"I can see why you like Svetlana," Michelle said with a rueful smile. "I spoke to her today in the gym. She's a fascinating woman."

"You think so?" wondered Jaden, who was now reflecting on whether he should also visit the gym in the hope of encountering his Saturnian object of desire.

"We had ever such a long chat about Triton," said Michelle. "She was stationed there a few decades ago. She used to be an astrogeologist before she specialised in pure astronomy. She was very chatty."

"Was she?" asked Jaden, who never found Svetlana especially forthcoming. Perhaps the Saturnian had a particular passion for black women. At the moment this hypothesis was very plausible, judging by her appreciative gaze of Vanity's ebony skin. This was especially so when she bent down to throw a plastic spoon into the recycle hatch.

"Fuck!" Vanity suddenly exclaimed as she glanced up at the monitors trained on the Intrepid. "There's some kind of fucking war going on out there!"

Almost before she finished her sentence, there was a sharp trill as the astronomers on duty were alerted of the emergency. Jaden had been drilled for such an eventuality rather more often than he'd have liked so he knew exactly what to do. He jumped to his feet, as did Ali and Svetlana, abandoning his unfinished glass of warm blueberry juice, and rushed to his station.

Vanity wasn't exaggerating. There, two light weeks away and, therefore, about a fortnight ago was a real space battle. Where the fuck had that flotilla of space ship appeared from? Only the most sophisticated modern hardware could have hidden such a fleet of ships from the Feynman's sensors. These could spot a bonfire on Earth, a metre-long meteorite circling Jupiter, and the magnetosphere of a space shuttle. They most certainly should have noticed several hundred space craft, especially ones that were so nearly obsolete, in what was otherwise completely empty space. Whatever the space fleet's provenance, it had access to camouflage technology that was advanced enough to evade the Feynman's sophisticated equipment. And this was despite the lack of any other evidence that the enemy fleet possessed high quality military hardware.

"Shit! Look at the sheer number of those invasion pods!" Ali yelled. "There must be thousands of them! What hope has the Intrepid got against them? "

"All the hope in the world," said the voice of the Senior Astronomer, whose avatar suddenly appeared in the midst of the chamber. "The Intrepid is very well defended. It was always anticipated that there might be some attempt to sabotage the mission."

Jaden wasn't so sure he could share Professor Manchu's optimistic assessment. The Intrepid's image was still obscured by a huge invasion fleet that was settling on its surface like an infestation of flies.

Then an array of portals suddenly opened all along the Intrepid's hull and there erupted an equally impressive outpouring of missiles, whilst nearer the ship vast laser beams swept back and forth over the exterior surface. All this was as visible as if it were only a few kilometres away, but as Jaden reflected, if there were a need to launch a rescue mission towards the Intrepid, it wouldn't reach the space ship for several months and then only if the ship also stopped dead in its tracks. If it continued its current progress towards the Anomaly, there was no space fleet in the Solar System that could travel fast enough to intercept it.

"Fuck!" Vanity exclaimed. "It's a real fireworks display."

But much quieter, Jaden guessed, as there was no medium through which sound could travel. But silent though it might be, the Intrepid's response was deadly. The antimatter warheads promptly exploded into dazzling fireballs when they hit the larger space craft. From the moment the space fleet had made its sudden appearance in distant space the individual craft increased the thrust of their engines to escape the oncoming missiles.

But this was all in vain.

The Intrepid's defensive missiles were much faster and had no difficulty in finding their targets.

The attackers fought back as best they could. They let loose a retaliatory stream of laser beams and missiles, but the missiles were so devastating that even an explosion hundreds of kilometres from a space craft was enough to cripple it. There were no missiles on the Intrepid's surface of the same destructive capability as those decimating the space flotilla. Even a conventional nuclear explosion from a neutron device was too perilous at such a close proximity. Instead the Intrepid relied on a battery of laser and electron beams to incapacitate the infestation of invasion pods, together with an infantry of robots that scurried over the Intrepid's surface to disable the mushroom shaped vehicles as they attached themselves to the hull.

"They're getting inside!" said Svetlana with agitation.

Jaden magnified his view of the Intrepid's hull and examined those invasion pods whose fragments weren't floating off in a cloud of debris behind the space ship. The surviving pods were rapidly retracting into the Intrepid's hull like collapsed umbrellas, using their mushroom-like shells to plug in the holes. The ship's hull gradually smoothed off as one by one the remaining pods no longer spotted the surface and the ship automatically began repairing itself.

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