For days, the Admiral had sat smoldering at his desk. Rumors in the barracks said he hadn’t moved from it at all, but one Lieutenant swore she’d seen him praying on his knees. The idea was treated with a great deal of skepticism, but as the days dragged on without orders, some began to wonder. Finally, the Commander received a summons. As she walks down the hall towards the Admiral’s office, one of the janitors tugs at her sleeve, causing her to stop and look back at him.
Janitor: Is it true what they’re saying, Commander? Has Reliant returned?
The Commander hesitates a few moments.
Gwynne: I don’t know, Mike. I don’t know.
She continues onward, but pauses mid-step, suddenly confused.
Gwynne: Wasn’t that guy the scientist who discovered the wavefunction thing? Why’s he suddenly a janitor?
It makes no sense to her, but after all, so few things do these days. She continues onward, finally entering the Admiral’s office with more than a little trepidation.
Admiral: I don’t suppose you have another report, Commander.
Gwynne: No, sir.
Admiral: Well, I do. Someone upstairs finally got their wires uncrossed and started sending me the reports directly. Here, have a look.
He tosses the notepad to her, and she frowns at it.
The Reliant has been spotted.
It’s far off in deep space, so close to the edge of the maelstrom that used to be our universe that we don’t dare approach. From what we have been able to determine, the ship is a wreck. The weapons systems have been torn away from the hull, or possibly dissolved somehow, and what’s left of the warp engines are almost certainly leaking dangerous amounts of radiation for kilometers around. The ship’s scanners have definitely been totally destroyed. If anyone’s left alive on board, they’re deaf, blind, and lame. Intermittent emissions indicative of minimal shield function suggest a possible reason for the ship’s survival, though even that is uncertain, as the energy signature is completely unfamiliar. One thing is for certain: The computer systems are still working. The garbled messages we’ve been receiving are definitely coming from Reliant. Her coil emissions are normal. More of the message can be understood now.
Starship Reliant calling yrvmHChNJ3M9/JjcU9WtZkdjUCn43u6I47fTOO+ desperate need of help QuzczHqWgxKBFPA288wqJe
QUVFNM Doctor Vadu Stene Huzge vanished with the K988YvtKiUmm7ka86v+3kDzRNHFiyjbvClYgoEK4xdDOu4eQJyyH9/4XoLLHqL4W
V+gJWYOzRO9RzNdICdTT trying to restore the timeline, but before we could TAa6QPVE8S8iUNf4mUMLgYv4LFVem3BCVHDF7OU6
DwTdymUu/ug7T3Rvg7k2bJAvcw9pY6bUk5uQKn3OzcG4d Janitor R9Z4uJynqbd was reponsible for it all! He tampered with the
l/mSYsJSRqHmOCDgU1K7Pk to undo this, the wv8QFvQpRDgctrLJ5hj6b must be repaired. The captain has ordered that we
gGcorYxBUHF3fQdSCqe8oO3tQeW+MqayKm9ORYfeSayHqycsirZ1Qlo9qkvqv973FZranVcvT so that someone can try again if we
fail. T0T3U5Bi5MIbNg6GhRL+kUN3sH97Zok1DMB9F3PARLMJ0O2Kk0sMJTW2LRH2I2/vrl3UdMDKTHD+ Good luck.
We dare not make too many guesses about what it means. Too many pieces are missing. We can find no record of a “Vadu Stene Huzge” anywhere in the Alliance database, though we no longer trust our records. Professor Thobbes is of the opinion that this janitor must be the key to it all. The only janitor we have on record as being on board Reliant at the time it disappeared is one Michael Rubin, and-
Gwynne stops reading there.
Gwynne: Michael Rubin!? I just passed Mike in the hallway, and…
Admiral: And he was mentioned as a scientist in your first report to me, yes, I know. Speaking of which, I owe you an apology, Commander. I threw you out last week because I thought you were playing practical jokes, but now I can see that there’s something very strange going on.
Gwynne: Yes, sir.
Admiral: This has all been classified top secret, Commander. What I’m about to tell you is even more classified; not a word to anyone.
Gwynne: Yes, sir, but sir, if it’s so classified, why tell me?
Admiral: Because, Commander, there’s something that isn’t in the report. We don’t dare write it down. We received one more transmission, but it wasn’t from Reliant. We don’t know where it came from, or what it means.
The Commander waits as the Admiral takes a deep breath.
Admiral: Commander, the message read, “Commander Gwynne Raskind must deliver Michael Rubin to us in the Reliant or you will all die.”
Gwynne takes a step back, her face paling slightly.
Admiral: You, Commander. Nevermind that we don’t even dare approach Reliant, or that it needs a year of drydock to be flyable again if we ever do reach it, but we don’t have a clue whether Michael is even guilty of anything. Without knowing who we’d be delivering him to, even if we had the means… Commander, consider yourself under orders to find out, from anyone and anything, whatever you can. You’re authorized to use any means whatsoever in doing so. Even the President has agreed to answer any questions you ask. Until we find out more, it’s up to you.
Gwynne: <in a very weak voice> Understood, sir…