104 Days have passed since the Pathfinder Ship Pegasus left the Fallon System.
Aves Zilla – “In nine days time, this entire planet will become a molten sphere of fieryhot magma,” said Tactical Lieutenant Commander David Alkema.
Commander William Keeler pondered the enormity of what he had just heard. He could not help butfeel a note of sadness about the destruction of this planet. As the shadow of his Aves flashedover its indigo seas and golden sands, he determined it was one of the most beautiful planets Pegasus had visited in all its journeys. Finally, he breathed a heavy sigh and rendered hisdecision. “All right, shore-leave is limited to one week for everybody. No exceptions!”
“Excellent command decision, sir,” Alkema assured him.
“That’s why they made me Commander,” he reached under his seat and opened the cabinet he hadrecently had installed on Zilla , which he had designated his Supreme Executive Commander
Hands-Off This Means You Aves. In the custom-designed cabinet was a selection of brown liquidsin glass bottles. He selected a fermented grain blend from the Hardscape of Aurora colony andpoured a glass for himself and his Executive Officer. Keeler raised his glass. “To doomedplanets.”
Alkema returned the gesture. “To doomed planets.”
Keeler downed his shot and spared a glance at the ground monitor as he poured another one. “Ofcourse, all planets are doomed, in the long run.”
Their Aves passed over an archipelago of tall, tiny islands that rose high over the sea like arow of pillars.
“You’re certain there’s nothing we can do?” Keeler asked him.
“The rogue planet is too large, too close, and moving too fast. Even if we pulverized it withNemesis warheads, the debris would still pound the planet to bits.” Alkema seemed disappointedthat, for once, he would be unable to pull a miracle out of his pants. His reputation aswunderkind was fading. He had begun his tenure on Pegasus as an underage officer, rising
through the ranks by cleverly getting his ship out of one predicament after another. Now, inhis mid-twenties, he seemed older, even a little tired, a little puffy around the edges of hiseyes. The black curls of his hair seemed to have lost some of their luster. Keeler attributedall of this to Alkema’s four kids and “fish-mongering wench of a wife.”
The Commander himself had never had children, and was increasingly grateful for it as heobserved the effects of family life on his young Executive Officer.
“What if we opened a hyperspace portal in front of it?” Keeler suggested, and as he did so,realized he had suggested this before, when Alkema had first explained to him the planet’spredicament.
“That only works in science fiction, sir. We don’t have the power to open a portal thatbig,” Alkema explained, for the second time. He offered a promise, “I’m going to keepworking on it, sir.”
Keeler took this news as an occasion to drink again. “Maybe if we had gone directly hereinstead of Crotoan, we would have had time to figure out something.”
Pegasus had headed directly after leaving the Fallon system, hadThe Croatoan sytem, to which
proved to be a small dusty system of four barren, beaten up planets huddled around a cool, redstar swathed in a cloud of interstellar debris and a massive asteroid field.
“I don’t know that it would have made any difference,” Alkema said.
“True, but I will always wonder if we could have saved the planet if we hadn’t wasted threeweeks in that hell-hole of a star-system,” Keeler said.
“There was also that… Thing,” Alkema reminded Keeler.
“We agreed we would never discuss the Thing again,” Keeler snapped at Alkema.
“We agreed that would be best,” Alkema conceded.
“I hated that… Thing,” Keeler went on.
“We all did, sir,” Alkema replied.