Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter twelve, part one.

“What do you mean, Ishmael?” Andrea asked, “Are you suggesting that I can’t offer these aliens the same courtesy they offered us? What does that say about us as a species?”

“No, Admiral. That isn’t what I said. What I said is that the MTS pods, as configured, can only call back those they transited down. You are aware we use the undo function to bring you back up?”

“Yes, of course.”

“All I’m saying, Admiral, is they can’t undo what they didn’t do in the first place.”

“Can’t they be reconfigured to be able to do that?”

“I can’t see how, but I’ll put it on the list to discuss next time Kala Kodash is here.”

“Do that. Meantime, I want to give Fronglad and Granhalf a tour of C-pill. Find me a landing site; I’ll take shuttle one.”

“Of course, Admiral. Meantime, a message came in from Packway during your absence.”

“Any idea what it’s about?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Okay. I’ll take it in my office. You stay here, I’ll call if I need you.”

Andrea left the bridge and made her way to her office. Although she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to bring the Xhwntradin up by MTS, she was secretly excited at the prospect of taking another trip at the controls of her SOPT; something she hadn’t done since coming aboard C-pill. That was less than a decade ago, but it seemed like an eternity, so much had happened since then.

Once in her office, she instructed the ship’s AI to play the message on her wall-mounted monitor. Meredith’s face appeared. Andrea immediately thought her boss looked older than when she last saw her, barely half a year previously, as though the heavy weight of high command was beginning to take its toll.

Meredith started her message. “A lot has happened since you took your ship and crew out of the solar system. The combination of threats from rogue asteroids and from dissident groups mining in the asteroid belt and prospecting on the outer planets’ moons prompted the International Space Council to mandate the formation by the Regiment of what it called a Space Defence Command. That has been done and I have put Rear Admiral Weinberg in charge of it. Near Space has been farmed out to the private sector. The science and technology cadres have done a first-rate job and major developments in spaceship, weapons, AI and cybernetics have come out of it. Things are quiet here now and are predicted to remain so, thanks in large part to the presence in the system of an SDC policing and enforcement wing of seventy MX-class attack fighters equipped with CAG, SEP and MTS, as well as some weaponry you’d need to see to believe.

“Some of the advances we’ve made also have potential to benefit your operation. I have in mind to upgrade your ship’s AI to QBE – quantum based engine [pronounced cube]. It can be given a group of quantum processors, which will offer numerous benefits, not least of which will be the ability, through what they call entanglement – although don’t ask me what the hell that means – to communicate instantaneously with other QBEs with which it will have a special connection. These will be, initially, here in Packway and in Joan’s flagship and its entourage. There are also, linked to that, major advances in scanning technology, which I know you’ll find useful.

“I’ll leave Joan to fill you in on the other advances this alert has prompted when she arrives with you, which is projected to be tomorrow, at around eighteen hours your time. Enjoy, and I hope to see you soon. Transmission ends.”

Andrea sat for a while and tried to assimilate all that Meredith had said to her. Conflict risks in Earth space? That had all been resolved and put to bed almost a century ago, surely? But some of the advances she mentioned were exciting. She determined to find out more about quantum theory and especially entanglement, but…

“Commodore Al-Kawazi to the Admiral’s office,” she announced over the ship-wide comm. Moments later, Ishmael walked through her door.

“You rang, Milady?” he asked nasally.

“When did this message come in?”

“Yesterday afternoon, Ma’am.”

“Why didn’t you tell me it had arrived?”

“Your orders were that you were to be treated as incommunicado except in an emergency.”

“And you didn’t think a message from the Admiral’s office qualified as that?”

“Only if it’s marked urgent. This may have been on a personal matter, Ma’am.”

“Which you would have known it wasn’t, had you opened it.”

“And you wouldn’t have thanked me for opening it if it had been, though, would you?”

“Okay. I suppose not. What’s the time now?”

“Just after seventeen hours.”

“It’s just become urgent.”

“Ma’am?”

Andrea played the message. The last part caused the colour to drain from Ishmael’s face. He put his wrist comm to his mouth and started barking out orders. At the end of it, he turned to Andrea and said, “We’ll be ready, Ma’am. However Admiral Weinberg chooses to come aboard, we’ll give her an appropriate reception.”

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