Parting Ways

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Erin Locke sat alone on her cot on the Excalibur, black leather bound book in hand: the bible given by Ambassador Primakov. As for Erin's concerns about the missing Dragoon, there was nothing she could do but wait for word from captain Anna RaskStål of the BlackRay, so she was left to read the bible. She'd been poring over its pages intermittently for the past week, hoping to glean something useful about the Catechumen. She flipped a page and read: But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

She had her doubts there was much value in the ancient text. The style was bizarre and meandering. There was no obvious message, no clear narrative. She spotted apparent contradictions and factual inaccuracies from the very first page. Without an idea of how it was meant to be interpreted there was little way to discern the intended meaning, or more importantly, how the Catechumen might interpret it, assuming they still relied on the book at all. But there was not much else she could do, having exhausted other research materials. There was little information on the group, which had left Earth eight centuries ago; they were a historical footnote, at least until their recent reemergence.

She was interrupted by an announcement over the speakers. "All crew be advised we are now approaching the wormhole." Erin recognized the voice of Head Secretary Calvin Campbell. "ETA fifteen minutes."

The next stop was the Avalon's departure point, and the end of their escort. From there, the Avalon would head to their research site, and the Excalibur would make its way to Clarion and the Catechumen.

Erin threw the book down and headed to her desk, taking a seat and activating the communications panel.

Ambassador Primakov's face appeared on the screen. "Ambassador Locke, how can I help you?"

"Looks like we're about to part ways," Erin said.

"Time flies. Is there something you needed?"

"I wanted to let you know my thoughts on the Dragoon, this being our last chance to talk."

"Last chance?" Primakov raised an eyebrow.

"After the jump our comm' signal is gonna drop. The spatial anomaly at your research site is gonna disrupt your comms. There's a good chance you'll be in the dark while you're there. No one told you?"

"No, I didn't know." Primakov shook her head.

"If I understand it right, your tech crew is gonna be working round the clock just to keep up a comm-link signal to Alliance command. Ship to ship comm's are gonna be out of the question, unless someone works out the interference."

"It never came up. It doesn't affect my official duties."

"I suppose not."

"So." Primakov leaned back. "You have information about the Dragoon?"

"Nothing confirmed," Erin said. "Just a theory."

"Well, I'm listening."

"Have you heard of singularity injection?"

"No." Primakov shook her head.

"It's a concept in theoretical wormhole dynamics: a method of disabling wormholes -permanently. The idea is to place a singularity inside the wormhole. Any ships passing through would be destroyed, and there'd be no way to tell by scanning the hole from either end."

"So what does this have to do with the Dragoon?"

"I think they've built a singularity injection device, and he's here to use it."

"Really?" Primakov looked skeptical.

"It's a real possibility."

"Based on what?" She lifted an eyebrow.

"My research."

"Research?" Primakov raised an eyebrow. "You tapped the Vizier, didn't you?" She leaned forward. "You psy-scanned his ship?"

"I can't tell you how I got the info. But I thought I should let you know, just in case."

"In case what?"

Erin shrugged. "Like I said, it's just a theory."

"Let's say you're right, and they've developed that technology. Why would he be all the way out here? And what exactly do you expect me to do about it?"

"You've got seven Alliance senators on board the Avalon."

"That sounds right."

"I checked their public profiles. They've got at least one thing in common: they're all non-human."

"The Avalon is a very diverse ship, even among Alliance vessels"

"What if those senators didn't make it back?"

"What are you implying?"

"Counting Senators from Sol -Earth, Venus, Mars, Luna- the Black and Teals, the colonies on Arcturus, Sirius, and Lalande, there's a potential bloc within a few votes of taking control of the Alliance."

"You're suggesting a conspiracy to destroy the Avalon on return? Just to gain a controlling vote in the senate?"

Erin nodded. "Maybe."

"Why? And orchestrated by who?"

"I don't think I need to remind you about the prevailing political view on Sol. And the Black and Teal's are just as xenophobic."

"I don't buy it." Primakov shook her head. "There are more than three thousand people on board this ship, most of them civilian: researchers and their families. As xenophobic as some factions are, I don't think they'd go so far as to kill three thousand innocent people just to further their own political agenda. People aren't that monstrous."

"I agree that most people aren't, but it would only take a few."

"But why? The Alliance stands for equality among races. It is premised on the idea that we can all work peacefully together, explore the universe together. The very core of the Alliance is the ideal of multiculturalism."

"Whatever ideals are supposed to underwrite the Alliance, the fact remains that it is a political institution. It is whatever the constitution says it is. It's a tool, and different people will want to use it differently."

"Okay, Ambassador. I see your point of view. But without any actual information, there's really nothing I can do."

"Maybe not." Erin sighed. "But I thought you should be aware. At least now you can keep your eyes open."

"For what?"

"I don't know. Anything out of the ordinary."

"Such as?"

Erin shrugged. "I can't say for sure. But I didn't want to lose contact without letting someone over there know what might be going on. You're my only contact on the Avalon."

"Alright." Primakov nodded. "Well, thanks for the concern. Anything else?"

"No." Erin shook her head. "Safe travels."

"Safe travels." Primakov nodded. "And good luck with the Catechumen."

The communication console blinked off. Erin swiveled on her chair and stared out through the comm' window to the stars, where the Avalon drifted by their side. Her mind wandered as she gazed at the spectacular ship, filled with aliens from the neighbouring stars. More than just a research vessel, it was a symbol. Erin watched the Avalon twist and contort in space as it entered the wormhole, warping into a translucent, multi-coloured phantasm, then fading rapidly to nothing. They were gone, and Erin could only hope it was not forever. As for the Excalibur, their next stop was Clarion, where they would meet with the Catechumen: the first diplomatic contact with the starfaring religious cult since they left the Earth eight centuries ago.

Erin glanced at the black leatherbound bible on her cot, and a shiver ran down her spine. Who are these religious cultists, Erin wondered, and why have they been attacking defenseless colonies? How has their culture evolved, after escaping to the stars to be alone with that one book? She looked away from the bible out towards the stars. The answers to her questions lay ahead, at Clarion.

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