CHAPTER 1: SENT TO KALE
Sevan opened his eyes. He didn’t know how long he had slept for. At first, he wasn’t really sure where he was, but he soon realised he was in the crew quarters of the Republic scout vessel that Ay-ttho had stolen on the Doomed Planet.
He wondered how far they had travelled and how much further they had to go before they arrived on Kale. According to the experts on the citadel, Kale was the nearest system to wherever the president’s great space folding experiment had deposited them.
At least they had some idea of where they were in space, even if they weren’t sure where they were in time. Although, of course, even Sevan knew that if they were at a different point in time, then Kale probably wouldn’t be where they expected it to be.
He felt he should probably see how everyone was, especially his aunt, who would have a complaint or two. When he emerged from his room, he found Ay-ttho, Tori, and his aunt laughing and joking in the common room. The joviality ceased as soon as they saw Sevan.
“Are you okay?” asked Tori. “You’ve been asleep for a long time.”
“What about Kale?” Sevan asked.
“What about it?”
“Are we getting closer?”
“Oh, we’re definitely getting closer,” said Ay-ttho.
“Any idea when we will arrive?”
“Your guess is as good as ours. We’ve turned on the proximity sensor alarms, so we should get a warning when we are approaching the system.”
“What are we going to do on Kale?”
Ay-ttho considered the question beneath her, so Tori answered.
“We are going to confirm exactly when and where we are and see whether there is any way to get back to our own place and time.”
As if on cue, the proximity alarm sounded.
“There you are,” said Ay-ttho. “We are approaching Kale now. According to these charts, the only habitable planet in the Kale system is Chaldene.”
“I thought they always named systems after their habitable planets,” said Sevan.
“Usually, but not always,” said Tori. “In this case, Kale is the star and Chaldene is the planet.”
“How long will it take us to get to Chaldene?”
“Are you in a hurry?” asked Ay-ttho. “Is there somewhere you need to be?”
Sevan bit his tongues but couldn’t suppress his curiosity for long.
“What is on Chaldene?”
“We are about to find out,” said Ay-ttho.
“I already have it within scanner range,” said Tori. “There doesn’t appear to be any sign of life. We may have had a wasted journey.”
Sevan’s hearts sank. He was going to be trapped in deep space with his aunt forever.
“No, wait. There is something there. Very feint. Must be a tiny community, perhaps even just one individual.”
“What can one individual do?” Sevan complained
“You never know,” said Ay-ttho. “It might be God.”
“I thought you said the giant cup doesn’t exist?”
“It doesn’t. I never said God doesn’t exist though.”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
Ay-ttho steered the vessel towards the signal on Chaldene and they waited with expectation.
What they found was a relatively large complex, with hangars and buildings which had all manner of technology attached to the roofs.
They landed at the entrance to one of the hangars and waited for Tori to finish scanning the site for signs of life.
“The signal is coming from that building over there,” he said, pointing to the largest block. “Looks like it’s only one individual.”
“Let’s go out and have a look,” said Ay-ttho, double checking the atmosphere was not harmful.
They descended from the vessel and began walking towards the building. They were about halfway between the two when a shot ricocheted off the ground beside them.
“Don’t come any further,” someone shouted from one of the windows. “The Republic has no business here. Get back on your ship and leave.”
“We are not Republic troops,” Ay-ttho shouted back.
“You look like you are Republic troops.”
“He used to be a Republic security clone, I’ll give you that. But we are corporation clones, I stole this ship on The Doomed Planet.”
“Uxclod! A Republic scouting vessel does not have the range to travel that far. You must have a battle cruiser nearby.”
“We came from the citadel.”
“More uxclod! The citadel is in orbit around Future, again much too far for a Republic scouting vessel.”
“The Republic has discovered how to fold space. They deposited the citadel relatively close to here.”
There was a long silence.
“What do you think he’s doing?” Sevan asked after a while.
“I think he’s thinking,” said Tori
“What are you doing?” Ay-ttho shouted.
“What are you thinking about?”
“The Republic does not have the technology to fold space.”
“It does now.”
There followed another long silence.
“What do you want?” the individual asked at last.
“We want to find out how to get back to the Republic. We are not even sure what time this is.”
“So you are from the Republic.”
“Yes, we are from the Republic, but we are not from the Republic, if you know what I mean.”
Another long pause.
“You may proceed, but leave any weapons you have on the ground beside you first.”
Tori and Ay-ttho removed their hand held weapons and placed them on the ground. Sevan did not carry a weapon. He was always worried it might go off accidentally.
“What about your weapon?”
“I don’t carry one,” Sevan explained. “I’m always worried it might go off accidentally.”
“Very well. You may proceed.”
They trudged towards the building and when they reached the entrance, they saw a figure in the entrance, pointing a weapon at them. He had a bulbous head, a long beard, and wore a long cloak.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“We already told you,” said Ay-ttho. “We are here because the Republic folded the space around us against our will. We want to get back to our own place and time. What time is this?”
“But it is always now.”
Ay-ttho sighed. This wasn’t how she had hoped the exchange would develop.
“You had better come in.”
They climbed the steps to a large reception hall.
“Who are you?” Tori asked.
Some call me the Hermit of Chaldene, others that knew me a long time ago called me Witt. You may call me what you wish. It doesn’t really matter. Follow me.”
Witt led them through the vast entrance hall to a side room littered with equipment in various states of disrepair. In the middle sat an assortment of chairs. Witt invited them to sit down.
“What is this place?” Ay-ttho asked.
“It’s an old corporation research station. I and my team were researching the multiverse but after the incident they closed the station.”
“I lost the rest of my team while conducting an experiment at the edge of the universe.”
“So, the universe has an edge?”
“Of course it does.”
“So we could have fallen off the edge of the universe?” asked Sevan.
“Don’t be silly. The universe is expanding at speeds way faster than the potential of that little scouting vessel of yours. You would need an anti-matter drive in something the size of a freighter to catch the edge of the universe.”
Tori, Ay-ttho and Sevan all glanced at each other.
“Doesn’t the Mastery of the Stars have an anti-matter drive?” said Sevan.
Tori and Ay-ttho gave him a hard stare.
“You have an anti-matter drive?” asked Witt with sudden excitement.
“We had,” Ay-ttho corrected. “That is why we are trying to get back to the Republic. To find it.”
“Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place?”
“You can help us get back?”
“Of course I can. Folding space is easy. All you need is an enormous source of energy and we have an enormous source of energy right there.”
He pointed outside, at the star of Kale, which was sending beams of dusty light through the dirty windows.
“We’ll need to make some modifications to that vessel of yours, but it shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Witt rested back in his chair.
“I will do it on one condition.”
“What’s that?” asked Ay-ttho.
“That after you find your ship, we use it to recover my colleagues.”
“Where are your colleagues?”
“That’s not important.”
“It might be.”
Ay-ttho thought about it for a moment. She looked at Tori, who shrugged. Then she looked at Sevan, who was looking at her in expectation.
“Okay, we’ll do it,” she said.
“Excellent,” said Witt, who leapt to his feet. “We must start straight away. Come with me I’ll…”
Witt could not finish his sentence because of an ear-splitting shrieking noise which was being emitted from a control panel in the room’s corner. Witt took a small device from his pocket and pressed a button. The shrieking stopped with a beep.
“What in the worst place was that?” Ay-ttho asked.
“It was the perimeter alarm. Is there someone else on your ship?”
“Aunty!” Sevan exclaimed.
Witt was already halfway to the door with his weapon in hand.
“She’s harmless,” Sevan shouted after him.
By the time Sevan, Tori and Ay-ttho reached the hallway, Witt was already coming back inside.
“I thought you said she was harmless,” he complained.
Not far behind him was the diminutive figure of Sevan’s aunt, who was marching towards them. She was clearly annoyed and Sevan braced himself for the impending onslaught.
“What are you doing abandoning me?” she launched into a tirade. “What if I had been eaten by tronqaks? You have no sense of responsibility. That’s your trouble.”
“I don’t think there are troqaks here,” Sevan tried to defend himself. “There aren’t, are there?”
“There are actually,” said Witt. “They brought them here to hunt the cukids which were out of control. They brought the cukids here as a food source for the staff on the base but, with no natural predator, they ran amok.”
“Good to see you, Sevan’s aunt,” said Ay-ttho, who still hadn’t bothered to learn her name. “You were resting, so we thought it best not to wake you from your beauty sleep.”
“Is that meant to be funny?” she snapped. “What are we doing here, anyway?”
“This is Witt. He is going to help us get back to the Republic.”
“Why would we want to do that? You should see the mess they made on The Doomed Planet.”
“I did. I was there, remember? Witt is going to help us get our ship back, the Mastery of the Stars. You will like it, it’s much more comfortable than the scouting vessel.”
“That’s not difficult.”
“So, what do we have to do?” Ay-ttho asked Witt.
“First, we have to equip your ship with extra heat shields.”
“Heat shields? Why? We didn’t detect much heat on any of the occasions we’ve witnessed folding space.”
“How many have you witnessed?”
“There was the time that Barnes destroyed Atlas, then the Republic experimented on us and then the citadel was transported here, so, three. But on none of those occasions, did we need extra heat shields?”
“You will now.”
“You see that star?”
“You’re going to fly into it.”If you are not ready to leave The Hermit of Chaldene, you can get the full book here.