tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 21

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 21


Chapter Twenty One
Intrepid - 3754 C.E.

There is almost no incident more serious than when the space ship of which you are captain has been attacked and boarded. And as captain of the Space Ship Intrepid, Nadezhda Kerensky knew that what was required was an emergency meeting for everyone aboard. It wouldn't be enough to simply broadcast a statement. There had to be a full and proper discussion of everything that had happened. But this was also something that the captain had never had to do before. It was several centuries since civilian space ships had been the target of military assault. Space ships might expect to encounter serious hazards like meteor showers and radiation blasts, but this was an event of an entirely different order.

The obvious place to hold such a convention was the stadium on the ninth level. It could be transformed from a rugby pitch to a concert hall and then to an athletics stadium in a matter of minutes. Invitations were issued and the stadium re-assigned to its new function. The captain's seat was raised above the atrium and the Intrepid's senior officers were assembled around her.

Captain Kerensky couldn't resist scanning for her lovers amongst the passengers gathered ahead of her. Yes. There looking very much in her element amidst a crowd of burly uniformed soldiers was Colonel Vashti. She was joshing and laughing in the company of men and women who viewed adversity as a challenge to be welcomed rather than as a threat to be avoided. And where was her other lover, Beatrice? The captain scanned the passengers' sombre and even nervous faces for the Venusian. She was there, of course, sat next to Paul who couldn't have looked more out of place if he tried. The captain was sure that Beatrice's gaze was returning hers. It was all she could do to resist waving at her lover.

Captain Kerensky addressed her duty in a brisk professional fashion. She was fully conscious that she was addressing not just the several thousand people ahead of her, but the countless others throughout the Solar System to whom her address was broadcast as a matter of routine. She began by reassuring her audience that there was no further risk to the ship or to its passengers. Those hostile forces that hadn't been killed in the defence of the Intrepid were now in secure detention. There hadn't been a single casualty amongst the passengers, the military or the crew. The Intrepid's outer hull was being repaired by the ship's capable self-renovation system which had sprung into action from the very first moment of intrusion. The few surviving invaders were being held in custody in the outermost level which, understandably, was now out of bounds. This would cause inconvenience to those previously quartered on that level, but accommodation had been found for them on other levels that was of a comparable quality.

The captain then gave a comprehensive account of how the invasion had been repelled and the damage that had been inflicted.

"We shall learn much more when the prisoners are interrogated," the captain announced, "but a preliminary analysis has already established a number of significant facts. The Intrepid's assailants all come from space colonies and communities which enforce the practice of a fundamentalist and ascetic religion. These include various forms of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It appears that these would-be invaders are all members of a previously unknown coalition of ultra-orthodox religious communities. The Interplanetary Union's intelligence services based both here on the Intrepid and at Mission Control on the Moon are making investigations and further details will be made known when they are available. What we know for certain is just how fanatical our assailants were. They must have been to pitch themselves with such inadequate resources against an Interplanetary Union space ship with a superior defence capability such as the Intrepid. Beyond that, we don't yet really know for sure what the motive for attacking the space ship might be."

Well, that's a relief, thought Paul. He and Beatrice sat halfway up the auditorium where they gazed down at the captain's holographic projection which was much easier to see than her actual person. Although both Paul's possessions and his person were undamaged, he was upset that he would never return to what so recently had been his home. On the other hand, the new villa to which he'd been assigned was just as luxurious and Beatrice had taken to it with great enthusiasm. It was almost as if she'd enjoyed the upheaval.

Like everyone else on board, Paul was able to view holographic images of the outermost level where he used to live. He could smell the drifting smoke. He could look straight into the Holy Crusaders' faces. He could look through the doors of his now abandoned villa and observe the behaviour of the religious fanatics who now occupied it. The Intrepid had recorded every detail of the battle as a matter of course, so Paul was able to review and replay the systematic slaughter and immobilisation of the Holy Crusaders at his leisure. He could slow down the pace of the carnage. He could zoom in on the crusaders' dismemberment. Although there was nothing to hear as there was no medium to carry sound waves through space, Paul could imagine the reverberation of the explosions and the shrill shrieks of pain in the unlucky assailants' last few moments. Brains were splattered against the glass of shattered spacesuit helmets. Faces were swiftly drained of oxygen and blood as bodies flew through empty space away from their shattered space ships. Radioactive waste was still smouldering as it hurtled by.

After these few moments of one-sided warfare the Intrepid's probes swooped about the debris and collected raw material to be processed by the space ship's antimatter engines. At the same time, the space ship's hull was repairing itself at almost the same rate as it was being breached. The scars on the surface were soon barely visible at all. This was done quickly, efficiently and without fuss, as was necessary in a space ship that had no opportunity to pause in its long journey.

Paul was aware that there were people throughout the Solar System who held perversely unbalanced opinions. After all, he was the survivor of many mercifully unsuccessful attempts on his life during his inward-bound journey through the Solar System. As an anarchist—or at least someone who'd lived all his life in an anarchist colony and had never questioned its values—Paul had no comprehension of how a person could hold an opinion that had no rational foundation. How was it that a religious fundamentalist could hold firm to views that were based entirely on unreliable written evidence? It was one thing for two people to disagree with one another. It was another thing when both persons held fixed and equally nonsensical views. And it was utterly incomprehensible to Paul that a group of people should agree to hold very similar beliefs that contradicted all historical, scientific and even logical sense. It was perplexing that there should also be other groups of people that disagreed violently with the first group but who had a similar fixation on self-evident nonsense. There was quite simply nothing on Godwin that could prepare Paul for the phenomenon of mass conformity of belief in the patently ludicrous. Did these fanatics really believe in miracles? Did they really suppose that the universe was just over seven and a half thousand years old? Did they really and truly believe in an afterlife whose nature was determined by one's behaviour in the current life? And just where was this afterlife supposed to be?

Paul had never previously been exposed to religion. Although there were those on Godwin who belonged to one religion or another, Paul had never crossed their paths. And now, thanks to people whose understanding of the universe was essentially absurd, Paul was at risk of discovering first-hand just which (if any) of the various afterlives he might ascend to.

Captain Kerensky's address wasn't especially long. She gave a concise account of all the known facts. She restrained from indulging in speculation except where it was needed to quash any rumours or misinformation that might be circulating. She was effusive in her praise for those who worked in the emergency services. Paul was surprised to discover that Beatrice was amongst those that the captain commended. Apparently, she'd been astonishingly active in helping to bring to safety those who'd been stranded in the outermost level.

In fact, Captain Kerensky was no less surprised by this than Paul. She hadn't expected to see her lover's name in amongst the list of heroes, but there was mention of Beatrice's bravery in dozens of the independent commendations the captain had received and they all praised her for her selfless bravery during the attack. The only person to get more commendation was Colonel Vashti. How could it be that Nadezhda was now sharing her bed only with selfless heroines? It was almost to be expected that the colonel should be active, given her reputation for self-sacrificing heroism in the Martian wars, but Beatrice?

After the conference, Nadezhda was sufficiently intrigued to conduct her own independent research through the historical archives and it was here that she discovered for the first time that Beatrice was employed by Emergency Rescue Services on Venus before she'd left the planet to live on Ecstasy. It made sense that someone who'd been so active in saving lives might have worked as a rescue worker on Venus' extraordinarily inhospitable surface. It made rather less sense that the heroine in question should be Beatrice. Although she was intelligent, elegant and self-assured, she much more resembled a bimbo than a fire-fighter. Captain Kerensky could never in her life have imagined that, amongst the lovers and partners she'd known over the decades, she would one day fall in love with a woman like Beatrice.

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