Part 0 (Prelude)

CHAPTER ONE

Del Peres Prison, Fort Worth, Texas

A small light bulb hang dangling in the middle of the cell, spreading a weak light around the naked room. A bed, a toilet with a broken lid, and a table and chair were the only furnishing. A dark-haired man sat on the chair, leaning his head on his hands supported by the table. His back was against the door, and he moved just as much as a still picture.
A clanging noise was heard from the hall outside, but the man still did not move. Suddenly, there was a knocking at the door, and the man sat up straight. Turning around, he shouted “what?” with a distinctly annoyed voice. His face was unshaven and his appearance was filthy and unorganized, but his blue eyes shone brightly, revealing a kind but tortured soul beneath the rough exterior.
A key was turned, and the cell door swung open with a loud, squeaking sound. In strode two prison guards, one of them with a pistol in his right hand.
– Stevens? said the second guard.
– Mr. Paul Stevens?
The prisoner stoked his moustache.
– Last time I checked, he said with a dry, horse voice.
– You’ve got company, the armed guard shouted..
– Please turn around with your hands on your back!
Stevens obeyed, knowing right well that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to see his visitor, and visitors were few and far between at a high security prison. After clearing his throat, his mouth opened.
– Who is the visitor?
– Some high shots from the Texan Army, I think, said the second guard.
The first guard, still with the pistol in his hand, barked at the other guard.
– Shut up! Don’t tell him more than he has to know!
The second guard lifted up his eyebrows.
– That’s all I know. Why, do you know something more?
He fastened the handcuffs on Stevens as he waited for an answer.
The first guard remained quiet, putting his pistol away. He pushed Stevens to the door, pausing a bit as he passed his colleague, looking at him with angry eyes.
– Never you mind!
The second guard just shrug his shoulders, throwing a glance at the prisoner now halfway out the door.

In the visitation room, two men in were sitting waiting, papers in their hands and on the table. A small computer were also in front of them, casting a pale blue light on the wall behind them.
Paul Stevens stopped in front of them and waited patiently. There had been much waiting lately, so he was used to just that. He studied the two men in front of him. One was a general, and the other was dressed as a civilian. It looked like the civilian was a secretary of some sort, because he was righting and sorting papers as the general was merely reading. The general was bald with thick bushy eyebrows, probably in his fifties. His face was wrinkled and serious. The other guy had a crew cut and a goatee, looking very smart in a 1000 dollar suit. He was most likely in his thirties.
Finally, the general looked up at Stevens.
– Mr. Paul Aaron Stevens? he said, taking off his metal framed glasses. His brown eyes were intense and sharp.
– I have somewhat of a proposition for you.
– Sir?
Stevens eyes widened up.
– What kind of a proposition, Sir?
– Please, have a seat!
Stevens sat down, scratching his head for puzzlement.
– Allow me to introduce myself, the general said, raising his voice.
– My name is Howard T. Benson, general in the American Space Forces. By
my side is my aid Alan Carper Baines junior. He is a lawyer.
Stevens sat up with a surprised look on his face.
– American? he said.
– But we’re in Texas!
A reserved smile tried to make it’s way to the general’s face.
– I realize your puzzlement, but America and Texas is cooperating these
days.
The general nodded to the lawyer.
Alan Carper Baines junior cleared his throat.
– You are currently serving a life sentence for murder, is that correct Sir?
Stevens sank down in his seat with a reserved nod.
– We want to offer you a job on a star ship, captain Stevens.
The two visitors watched as Stevens’ eyes seemed to get a new sparkle.
– How is that possible… he started, not believing his ears.
– Allow me to explain this for you, the lawyer started.
– For a long time now, space has been colonized as far as we possibly can
travel with our current stutterwarp technology.
Stevens made an almost unnoticed nod.
– Well, Baines continued.
– We have found a way to enhance the stutter warp technology so it will be
more powerful and last longer. That means we can reach further into space
where we have been unable to reach before.
Stevens now sat at the edge of his seat. General Benson smiled.
– We are preparing to do just that, but we realize that this is a one-way
journey. We don’t expect the ship or crew to return. It will continue beyond
the American Arm in space and send home data of planets and
constellations beyond our known space with further plans of future
colonization.
Baines junior spoke again.
– It is considered a suicide mission because there is no return planned. We
Have talked to the proper authorities, and we are happy to offer you the
position of captain on the star ship “Firefly”. It will be the finalization of
your death penalty your currently serving. It will mean that you will never
see your family again, except from videoed messages sent to you. Then, on
the other side, you will be able to see brave new worlds, and possibly
encounter new aliens in first time encounters. You will have five other
people on the mission, not too much unlike your own situation. All
sentenced to death, but clever people who is very unlikely to do the same
crime twice. It’s all up to you, sir. Would you like to fly again?
Paul Stevens could not believe his ears. Imagine a chance to get out of his
tight confinement. But would a starship just be a different sort of prison?
– How soon do you need an answer? He heard himself say hoarsely.
The general and the lawyer looked at each other.
– Well, the general uttered surprised.
– We thought you’d jump at the idea, so we have already booked a shuttle to
take into Texas Spaceport pretty much straight away.
Stevens smiled.
– Thank you, gentlemen! I do believe you’re right. It would be fantastic to
be working again! Thank you very much for the opportunity! Can I go
pack?

K.C.C “Lincoln” – 25 B

Less than an hour later, the space shuttle “Lincoln” took Paul Stevens to Texas Spaceport, in orbit around the earth. In his lap was information about the scientific space ship called “Firefly” that he was to command. There was also a detailed map on each of the crew members he was to work with. As “Firefly” was at Alpha Centauri, he would have two weeks travel before he got on board. That would give him plenty of time to get properly briefed. An implant in his head would tell the military exactly where he was at any time, and at any deviation from the plan in store, a button could, if pushed, cause Stevens head to explode. Paul also knew that the other chosen would have similar implants. There was therefore no option but to follow the planned schedule and follow up on the military’s plans.

Stevens, the captain to be, looked out the window from the space shuttle. The earth was already getting smaller, like a great blue balloon with lots of white clouds round it. Paul wondered how long it had been since he had been travelling to outer space last time. The moon was on the far side, the earth were getting smaller, and outer space was all around the shuttle, dark and cold. But Stevens didn’t mind. In spite of the small space available, he was feeling free like a bird. Maybe the space shuttle was as small as a bird’s cage, but he was still out of Del Peres Prison where he had spent a whole five years rotting away in his cold room. His walks in the yard had been short and uneventful…mostly…and he had only found joy in training at the gym, something he had been allowed to to about an hour every day. Now these days were over! More dark, cold, empty space was waiting for captain Stevens, and right now he didn’t care if it was a one way trip. In his mind, he was already dead. The family left to him lived far away, and only came to see him about once a year. It was only his daughter Carrie he would truly miss. Gathering his thoughts again, he decided to send Carrie a video message as soon as possible telling her what had happened. Then he lay his head down to catch a power nap before arriving at the spaceport.

Texas Spaceport, American space

The “Lincoln” shook as it bumped into the attachments of the Texas Spaceport. Groggily, Stevens picked up his bag of clothes and his laptop given him with all the info he would need for his journey, at least the start of it. He zigzagged towards the exit, said a quick “thank you” to the stewardesses, and left the shuttle. Texas Spaceport was one of the largest spaceports ever made, and Stevens had to follow several conveyorbelts and lifts before arriving to the reception part of the station. There he had to take a train that took him to the cargo area of the station. After yet more walking, he finally found the gate for “ACV Ohio”, an Ajou-class cargo vessel heading for Tirane in the Alpha Centauri. Stevens dug out some papers including an interstellar passport and made his way to the cargo vessel. A bearded man with dark , curly hair was standing on the gangway smoking a cigarette whilst scratching his head. He looked very tired as he lifted his eyes slowly up from the floor to eventually fix themselves on Paul Stevens.

– Are you captain Shilton? Stevens asked as he climbed up gangway. The other man shook his head and spat some chewing tobacco. He was wearing a sailor’s uniform, dark blue with some markings on it that was too faded to read.

– My name is Barry! he said slowly, -Barry Cartwright! I am one of the four engineers who work on this bucket!

Stevens said he was happy to meat him, but he thought that his fancy name was not fitting for the scruffy looking character who bore it. However, as this clearly was the welcoming committee, Paul followed him into the cargo ship. As they went into the belly of the whale, Stevens saw a canteen on his right and a meeting room on his left. In a crossing long hall they turned left, and Stevens’ room was the second on the left. Mr. Cratwright turned the light on for Stevens, flicked his sigarette and went out the door. Then he turned in the doorway with his bushy, wrinkled eyebrows.

– Oh yes! he said. – Breakfast is at 07:00, lunch at 11:00, dinner at 17:00 and supper at 22:00. Local time on the ship is now 4:42 (he looked at his wristwatch). – That means you will get to meet the captain at 07:00 in… (he paused as he was trying to calculate the times) – Two hours and seventeen minutes. You can sleep if you want to. There is an alarm clock by the bed with the local time already set. Bye now!

Stevens sat down on the bed and looked at his watch. 16:42 shone up in his face with bright, blue colours. That meant that local ships-time was 12 hours off earth time. What to do, what to do? He decided to take another nap. He set the alarm clock for 06:45 and pulled his feet into the bed. The shoes, jacket and all the normal clothes he had worn on his journey stayed on. He had been wearing prison clothes for so long! Now he wanted to keep his own clothes on for a while longer…just because he could! Paul Stevens closed his eyes. The pillow was nice and fluffy. Before he could think any more thoughts, he had drifted off to sleep on top of the duvet on his bunk.

C.V. “La Triviata” Anjou-X9

The alarm made a very annoying buzzing sound that made Stevens sit quickly up in bed. He fumbled in the dark to find an off button. Finally he managed to hit the alarm clock in the right place, and the horrible sound subsided. His eyes were burning for lack of sleep, and he seemed even more tired now than when he ha gone to bed. He found a small bathroom and threw some water in his face. A short glance into the mirror told him that he could have done with a shave, but right now he couldn’t be bothered. His clothes were sticking to him after sweating in the bed, and he decided to change his clothes. On the back of his cabin door was a map of the rooms, and Stevens noted where the mess hall was. Slowly, he stepped out of his room and made his way to get some – breakfast,was it? He wasn’t sure anymore. He was too tired.

The mess hall was not a very big room, but it was clean and spartan. On the far end was a big counter, and the smell of eggs and bacon had already spread all around the room. Four men were sitting at a table, busily talking about something at one of the our tables that were put up there. When Stevens came in, the humming of voices stopped, and all the eyeballs were aimed at the intruding visitor. A cook appeared behind the counter with a fag in his mouth.

– Stevens, was it? he mumbled.

Stevens just nodded in reply.

– What can I get you?

Stevens pulled up his shoulders.

– What have you got? Egg and bacon and some toast?

The cook smiled. He grabbed a plate from the side and threw a pile of bacon and a couple of eggs on it.

– How about some fried tomatoes on the side? he asked.

– Please…

– What about some beans or hash brown?

Stevens shook his head.

– No thanks, he answered.

The cook threw a couple of fried tomatoes on the side, then topped it up with some fried bread.

– Butter’s on the table…. he mumbled.

Stevens thanked him again, then went to an empty table and sat himself down. Only now did he discover how hungry he was. He devoured the food with great appetite. The people round the other table shot the odd curious look at him. As Stevens was finishing up, a big, old man with big, grey whiskers that curled round and up to his big, red nose. His hair was thin and grey, and he wore a captain’s uniform. Ray Norris Shilton had worked in the space for three decades representing the United States of America. Since then, he had worked almost two decades transporting different things from planet to planet in outer space. It was rear that he was back at earth, but somehow he had some dealings with the Brazilian colony on Tirane in  the Alpha Centauri-system.  The trip normally took about a week from earth, but the captain Shilton’s cargo ship would take two weeks to complete the journey.

– Captain Stevens?

Captain Shilton had a dark, rumbling voice that cut through the room like a knife.

– Yes, Sir! Stevens replied.

– You must be captain Shilton!

The two men greeted each other, then sat down  and exchanged pleasantries, talking about the journey and what there was to do on board “La Triviata”. There was a library on board, and also an activity room. There you could play pool, poker, air-hockey and fussball, just to mention a few things. Captain Shilton invited Stevens to visit him on the bridge, but he took a rain check, saying he needed some more sleep. After talking for about 15 minutes, they broke up. Captain Shilton went to get his breakfast whilst Stevens went back to his room to catch up on his sleep.

CHAPTER TWO

Chicago, USA

Stevens leaned back in his decliner, watching the flames dance around inside the hearth. It had been so hard to recover from the automobile accident that had so brutally torn away Caroline and Sarah. For ages now, he had tried to erase the bloody pictures from his mind.The worst part had been Caroline’s empty, peering look. Stevens had known that she was dead, but had refused to accept it. The pain from his broken ribs and the deep cut in his forehead had seemed so remote. Only Caroline was on his mind. Several times, he had heard himself shout “Wake up,Caroline!” He never saw any sign of  Sarah. The blood loss must have been too great for him, because he fainted shortly after, sitting on his knees between the steering wheel and the back of the chair. He had not regained consciousness before he woke up in the hospital, hours later. They had waited a while before they had informed him that his wife Caroline and daughter Sarah had died in the collision. The guilt had weighed heavily on Stevens for ages. The only thing that had made him want to go on living, was the fact that Eileen, his younger daughter, had not been in the car. She would need his dad to get through the hard times that were to come. Eileen had been so strong, supporting her dad through the hard times. Maybe she had been the strongest one? Stevens knew he had a lot to thank her for.

In the warm glow from the fireplace, a smile could be seen, spreading across his face. Finally, the bad times were over. Now, the nightmares were gone, and he could finally sleep at night. For the very first time after the accident, things were actually brightening up. Stevens sipped a glass of white wine and leaned back, feeling his eyelids getting heavier and heavier.

Suddenly, the front door slammed shut, making Stevens jump,  spilling the wine on the expensive wall-to-wall carpet. Eileen came in crying, bleeding from her forehead, her jacket torn.

– Daddy! she sobbed.

– Oh daddy!

Stevens grabbed her and held her tight.

– What’s the matter, pumpkin? What’s happened?

Eileen tried to speak, but couldn’t get a word out, choked by tears. After what seemed ages, she managed to squeeze out a few words.

– He…. raped me….

Stevens hands tightened and his face hardened.

– Who? Chris?

Stevens first thoughts went to Eileen’s boyfriend, the one with red hair and freckles.

– No, not Chris…. It was…. Frank!

– Uncle Frank?

Stevens was shocked. Had his sister’s husband raped his youngest daughter?

– Yes! Eileen sniffed.

– It hurt so bad, daddy!

Then the tears took over again, and she started sobbing. Stevens pushed Eileen away carefully.

– I am going to kill him, he snarled.

– No, daddy! Don’t do it!

– Yes, he doesn’t deserve to live!

Eileen threw herself after her dad, catching him, pulling him.

– No, daddy! Don’t kill him!

Stevens tore himself away and ran up to the bedroom. He picked up his Chip Traylor Special, model 57, 9 mm automatic. Shoving the 20 cm long pistol down his trousers, he pushed himself past Eileen and ran to the car. Eileen broke down on the floor crying as Stevens span off in his USV.

It only took him 5 minutes to reach Frank’s house. He bumped into rubbish bins and fences on the way, scaring all pedestrians off the sidewalk. At Frank’s house, he jumped iout of the car and ran to the door. It was unlocked, and he ran inside.

– Frank?

No reply.

– Frank?

He ran in to the living room, finding it empty. Then he heard a creaking noise from the stairs. Stevens ran to the stairs, spotting Frank at the top of the stairs in his bathrobe.

– Are you alone, Frank?

– Yes, why?

Frank looked nervous. Stevens ran up the stairs in three steps and grabbed Frank by his bathrobe. In his right hand he held his pistol.

– May you rot in hell for what you have done! I hope you suffer….

Stevens lowered his gun and fired two shot below Frank’s waist. Frank’s face screwed up in pain.

– Did you like that? Here’s one more….

The pistol went off again, and Frank slid down to the floor with a twisted look on his face. Then he fell, rolling down the stairs bleeding on each step. Stevens followed him down and stopped right beside him.

– Don’t let me bleed to death, Paul! Finish the job now – please!

Stevens measured Frank from top till bottom.

– Okay, he whispered.

He put the gun against Frank’s forehead and pulled the trigger….

C.V. “La Triviata” Anjou-X9

Stevens woke up startled, dripping wet with sweat. He remembered that day as if it had been yesterday. Eileen had only come to see him a few times after that day. Stevens knew she struggled for a long time to get over it. Then, finally, Eileen had found a good man with a good heart. They had married and moved to California, and Stevens had been moved to Texas. He had never seen Eileen after she got married, but she needed to get on with her life, and Paul Stevens was a link to so many bad memories.

Stevens took a long, hot shower and got dressed. It was 12:30, so he had missed the lunch at 11:00. He decided to go to the activities room to see if there were anybody there. In the activities room, there was an endomorph engineer called Sally. She worked in tight spaces because of her small size, and were a very important member of the staff. She played some card games with Stevens and a  bit of air-hockey. When Stevens mentioned that he was a bit peckish, Sally showed him a vending machine that had cakes, sandwiches, chocolates and savory foods. There was also a vending machine with cold drinks, and there were hot drinks as well. Stevens didn’t have any change, but Sally bought him a chocolate and a coffee. Stevens thanked her so much.

–  I owe you! he smiled.

– Don’t you forget it! Sally smiled back.

Then they went their separate ways, Sally off to do some more work, and Stevens to the library. At the library he picked up a digital book to read. He assumed that two weeks on “La Triviata” would be plenty of time to prepare for his new command at the “Firefly”. He spent most of the afternoon and evening reading. Dinner was a wonderful  roast of mutton with roast potatoes and all kinds of vegetables. For late night supper he had a hamburger with salad on the side. About midnight he went to bed, hoping that he would not dream any more.

CHAPTER THREE

C.V. “La Triviata” Anjou-X9

Stevens got up early the next day. He was determined to break himself into the day rhythm they had on the cargo ship. They were already on their way, sailing through space as fast as ship and cargo would allow them. Stevens had pancakes for breakfast this day. He drowned them with maple syrup and peanut butter. He did not see the captain that morning,  and he couldn’t be bothered to talk to  anybody else. As soon as he had finished breakfast, he went to the library with his information about his crew. He plunged himself into a comfortable decliner and started reading about his crew.

On the first page of the crew list was a picture of a pretty 29 year old woman from Boston with long blond hair. Her name was Tina Christine Albiston, and she was the ship’s pilot. “S.S.  Firefly would follow an already set course, and would mostly be run by the ship’s computer, N.I.V. nicknamed “Nelly”. When situations arose that Nelly was not programmed to solve, “she” would wake up the crew, and Tina would be the navigator or pilot. This could be dangerous or threatening situations for the ship or sign of intelligent life in outer space. From the papers, Stevens could see that Tina Albiston was a healthy young lady. She had learned several combat skills at Philadelphia Interface Military School. Besides being a pilot, she could also operate different hover crafts and ground vehicles. She knew a thing or two about ship drive engineering and computers that had to do with navigating different crafts. Further more, she had good communications skills, and she could also pilot a craft or vehicle by remote control. It was obvious that Tina was a valuable member to  the team.

Turning to the next page, there was a picture of another pretty young woman, this one with long dark curly hair. Carol Marie Brinckman was 28 years old and was born in Kansas City. She was also in excellent health, but a few cm shorter that Tina. Carol  was the medical officer. Besides normal combat skills, she was trained in biology, chemistry, medicine, physics and psychology. In addition to that, she had been trained in the use of machines and computers related to the sickbay. She could  also operate medical equipment that was used outside the ship. Carol had also  taken courses in hunting, survival and trading. She could track animals and people through densely vegetated areas as well. Stevens was so far very impressed with his crew.

Next came the 38 year old Samuel Weston Devonshire, simply called Sam. He was one of two engineers on the star ship. He was a big strong African American almost 2 meters high and wide like barn door. He was not fat, though, but full of muscles.  His hair was short black and thin, and a bushy mustache filled all the space between his nose and his mouth. Sam was trained in all kinds of heavy weapons and combat skills. On his list of merits was also driving ground vehicles and hover crafts. Other than that,  his  training was mostly mechanical and electronic. Stevens could see that Sam had been in trouble many times because of a foul mood, some fighting, and unpopular political convictions.

The other mechanic engineer was called Harry Dean Nickleson. He was more a handy man, or a Jack of all trades. He had combat skills, mechanical skills, electronic skills, knew chemistry, biology and geology. Born in Memphis he had studied history, anthropology and psychology, but he liked best to tinkle with mechanical stuff. Harry was a small and thin 41 year old African American who pretty much took life as it came. His hair was long and curly, often looking like a rastafarian.

The next one was Charles Jerome Ryder. Charles was the ships Scientific officer. The 45 year old man was the oldest person on the crew. Still, the big man was in excellent health. He was the only one of the crew who wore glasses as he refused to have laser treatment done to his  eyes. He was educated at Dallas University where he had studied linguistics, anthropology, psychology, chemistry, biology and engineering. Other than this, he had general combat skills and was able to operate ground vehicles, hover craft and sea craft. Besides this, he had taken lots of different academic and intellectual courses and also studied journalism. Charles was big and tall, although not as tall as Sam. He had a bald spot on the top of his head, and short curly hair circling his head like a crown.

The last name on the list was Stevens himself. He was, like the papers said, 32 years old and born in Chicago in 2268. He went to Houston Space Military Academy where was taught excellent combat skills and tactics. Besides being trained in many different areas, it was his education within leadership that was most important. He had also studied history and mechanical skills as well as astronomy and theoretical science. The list of courses he had taken was as long as his arm, but he was known as a fair and compassionate captain before he got put into prison, and he saw no reason why that could not happen again.

Stevens put the information down. He was looking forward to getting to Alpha Centauri so he could start his new command. As far as he knew, the ship was quite big. It would mostly run itself. Most of Steven’s space travels had been in the American arm of space. This time he would travel through the American arm and out to the great unknown. There was a great gulf of nothingness that man had not been able to cross with their present stutterwarp technology that made today’s space travel possible. The sccientists had now worked hard on bettering that technology so they could travel further. The problem with the stutterwarp was the radioactive dumping they had to do every so often. There was a limit to how far you could travel, and that great gulf of space at the end of the American arm had been too great to travel. However, the “S.S. Firefly” had two built in stutterwarp engines that should make them able to cross the great expanse. There was also a war going on in the American arm, but they had planed a trajectory that hopefully would keep them clear of that war. If everything went according to plan, the crew on “Firefly” could be in hybernation all the way till they have cross that great gulf of space.

There was a file that had schematics about “Firefly” and lists that revealed the contents. Stevens looked eagerly at the information. “Firefly” had two landing craft or landing shuttles. The shuttles were of the latest technology and contained boosters, scanners and lasers as well  as well as last equipment within first aid and medical supplies. “Firefly” itself had many doors and many rooms. The staff all had their own office or workstation. Dr. Charles Ryder had his workstation at the lab that was midships on the central deck. Way at the front was the bridge where there was room for everybody. Different workstations were put all around the room, but the pilot and the captain had their designated seats. On the right hand side of the bridge was the captains office. It was loaded with technical equipment as well as lots of space for any books or memorabilia that a captain would care to bring. On the opposite side was the sky-lounge,  a place where the crew could meet for briefings and discussions or meetings of any sort. Going further down the hallway, there was the rather small kitchen and quite spacey mess hall where one could choose to sit together or at individual tables. The storeroom for the kitchen was quite large, containing lots of different sorts of food that would satisfy any culinary platter. Still, frozen food will never be the same as fresh food. In the sickbay, Carol M. Brinckman would have her workplace. With a crew of six there probably would not be too much to do for a doctor, but you never could tell what you could encounter on such a journey. Ther were rooms for recreation, training and amusement. There was a huge library and a 3D cinema. Downstairs were the engine room and the workstations for the two engineers. Upstairs were the hybernation chamber room and the bedrooms. There was also a huge garden that the ship itself would care for. There were loads of store rooms, loading bays, and many other rooms that would probably never be used. There was an armory, there were different ground vehicles that could be brought down to a planet with the shuttle. The technical information about “Firefly” was immense. Stevens read for hours, trying to learn all he could about the  technical equipment on board.

 

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