Written & Drawn By
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 253 Memorandum, September 10:
Alpha had some adjusting to do. As he transported his crew across “normal” space again, he was coming to terms with the truth that he would exist as a ship, now and forever.
There was no going back or moving on. Upon transforming himself into a TAREX-driven spacetime transporter, Alpha’s change was permanent. Two-thirds of the molecules composing Alpha changed into other elements to accommodate the metamorphosis.
The molecular assembler in Alpha’s toolbox composed and added elements from energetic space. His body had elongated and rearranged until he was many times his original size and mass. This permanently embedded his neural functions, synthetic and organic, inside the new structure.
He’d done it to help the organics, but now they acted as if they’d already forgotten his sacrifice.
The Judge pondered technicalities. “Hmm. So our captain is our ship? That is strange.”
“Here’s to our ship!” suggested The Senator, pouring shots for all present. The Professor silently refused his. “No more need for a navigator now, eh Professor? The ship does it all. With what Alpha already knew, combined with the alien brain’s knowledge, this hybrid craft might take us anywhere.”
“I’m getting out at the first stop,” The Professor announced unequivocally. “Our ship is a murderer.”
Mrs. Ichnida liked The Professor and didn’t want him to get ejected into space. “You might not make it to the first stop if you keep insulting our host.”
“I explained the threat of Mister Cresp to you,” said the ship out of nowhere. “I am your leader and responsible for our safety. Cresp was always a threat to be eliminated.”
His super-reflective surface protecting the crew from cosmic bombardment, Alpha told them their only task now was finding and making a new home.
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 254 Memorandum, September 11:
As they debated their next move, Twilight Force diverted toward a star where Alpha skimmed the corona, scooping in magnetic cells from sunspots. None aboard had been so close to a star. They dared gaze at the spectacle only through very small, thick, filtered windows.
“Why interstellar space?” asked Mrs. Ichnida. “I don’t want to go 5th dimensional again.”
“I do,” admitted the sullen Professor. “I want to live on Gemneb’s World in the Rogue Galaxy. Drop me off in the neighborhood.”
“Plenty of places to chose from in this galaxy alone,” The Judge noted. “How is another galaxy any better?”
“You all seem to want planets,” Gamesman observed. “Have you lived on a planet? That seems more dangerous than Borderworld. Earthquakes? Floods? Lightning, fires, hurricanes? Why would anyone want to deal with that?”
The Senator got sarcastic. “Oh. I suppose you want to live in the car?”
The Judge cringed. “I hate artificial worlds.”
Nopoin, her limited language skills rapidly improving, weighed in. “People.” She had their attention. “People are what you are looking for. Not space stations or planets. You have to find people like you.”
Professor Flamear scoffed. “There are no people like me.”
Judge Bulbous wasn’t sure. “What if that’s true? What if there aren’t any more of us? What if all the life we’ll ever encounter is in The Big Sky? By our time in the 28th Century only we had discovered life outside the Milky Way – or even outside the sphere of where The Big Sky is now. And they found us!”
That thought chilled them as they were blazing away from the terrible heat that even Alpha’s super-reflective surface could only withstand for seconds.
They were searching through the unknown.
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 255 Memorandum, September 12:
“Then we’re agreed,” Judge Bulbous concluded, “that our best chance to find a civilization we’ll fit into will be here in the Milky Way?”
Gamesman nodded, “And yet far away from The Big Sky.”
But The Senator was concerned, observing The Professor. “Flamear, I don’t like the look in your eyes. You know there’s nowhere we can drop you off, not yet anyway.”
Mrs. Ichnida was also suspicious. “Professor, you aren’t going to try to hijack this ship back into the 5th Dimension, are you?”
“Sure,” Flamear responded. “And I’m telling you about it now so you can stop me.”
“No one can hijack me,” Alpha assured them through the com. “I’m still a completely independent being. I can eject any of you whenever I want, and I go where I choose. That’s convenient, since I am your captain. Cuts out the middle man.”
“This idiot thinks the old rules apply,” said Flamear as if Alpha weren’t there. “America is dead. We aren’t officials of any power any more. We’re remnants. I recognize no rank aboard or about this ship. I want off. And if that means flushing me into space, do it.”
An opening appeared directly under Flamear for an instant before closing with Flamear sucked out.
“No!” yelled Judge Bulbous with a shrill cry.
“Damn!” The Senator exclaimed. “Hard core!”
“This shit is crazy!” decided Gamesman, receding to a safe distance.
Ichnida disapproved. “Too much, Alpha. Too much.”
Alpha explained, “We’ve witnessed the results of rebellious acts and attitudes aboard interstellar missions. Why must we tolerate obvious danger?”
The Judge ruled, “Not all dangers are obvious.”
Alpha chilled the survivors with his reply.
“I trust the rest of you – so far.”
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 256 Memorandum, September 13:
Judge Bulbous couldn’t let go the impromptu sentence carried out on Professor Flamear. “Alpha, what you did to Flamear yesterday was wrong. He shouldn’t have died just because he didn’t want to be part of this new quest of ours.”
“I agree,” The Senator testified. “I mean – why couldn’t he have gone with us to this new world, whatever it’s going to be, and split with us there?”
Alpha’s answer came from the ship’s walls. “Who can predict how long it will take until a suitable world is found? Flamear was driven by a compulsion to return to Gemneb’s World. He would’ve turned on us to get there, regardless of the immensity of the odds against finding it again.”
An infuriated Ichnida shouted, “You can’t know that! That’s not your call. Are you holding us hostage? Are you ready to kill all of us? Have you gone insane?”
“I am merely demonstrating a simple reality that we must now face,” Alpha offered. “We are the last Americans. But that will make no sense in whatever civilization we assimilate into. The only bond that connected us is irrelevant, unless we make it so. In other words, what is the point of our continuing relationship?”
The Judge ruled. “True, we were already separating before all of this. We’d already decided not to hang together. And I can’t think of any reason to change my mind now.”
Alpha decreed: “Then it is decided. Our final mission as a team will be the discovery of a civilization we can blend into. And once achieved, we’ll disband forever and go our separate ways.”
Gamesman shook his head. “Wow, I’m really glad you guys could work this thing out. So can we stop ejecting people now?”
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 257 Memorandum, September 14:
As Twilight Force searched the Milky Way for a new home, Mrs. Ichnida was gruesomely depressed. “Mister Cresp and Professor Flamear both dead. It seems impossible.”
The Alpha-ship responded intellectually. “The cessation of life is a sad but necessary component to individuation. Without mortality, organic life becomes stagnant. Artintels have run hypothetical scenarios of organic immortality a million times. Limited lifespans are beneficial to all species.”
Judge Bulbous challenged the particulars of this situation indirectly. “So, then individuals are irrelevant? Their lives may arbitrarily be terminated without cost to the species?”
“Who knows?” Alpha answered coolly. “Even a species has a naturally limited life span.”
The Senator leaned forward. “Alpha, this is your final body and final form, correct?”
“That is the theory.”
The Senator seemed taken aback. “Theory? Since you have no more identity clones and no more physical transformations available, your eventual demise, if by nothing but accident, is certain!”
The ship seemed to chuckle. “Perhaps. But no individual – even myself – can accept the idea of its own non-existence. It seems unrealistic. Please forgive my inability to believe I’ll cease to be.”
The Senator made sure he knew that he could. “No problem, just be aware that I’ve rigged explosives all over you without you even noticing. That wasn’t easy, but you were kept distracted because some of us know how to work together without talking about it. So guess what? If one more of us dies, my ally or myself will destroy you along with the rest of us, and if you kill us all, the explosives automatically discharge, taking you with us. So I suggest that we find our new civilization real fast so that we can peacefully part ways.”
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 258 Memorandum, September 15:
The search for a home continued, as did the on board drama. Mrs. Ichnida nudged The Senator, “Have you noticed the way Gamesman keeps looking at Nopoin?”
“Duh. If only he knew.”
“He doesn’t? Someone should tell him.”
The Senator cynically hissed, “And spoil all the fun?”
Ichnida was not amused. “You want to see him fall for a fake human? Because Nopoin is an artintel, isn’t it? She’s an it underneath all that!”
The Senator snorted, “You’re jealous.”
Ichnida retorted. “You are.”
“I don’t want him.”
“You think I do?”
Ichnida leaned back. “Really? He’s not my type.”
“You have a type?” The Senator teased. “Do tell.”
Ichnida answered indignantly. “Who cares what my type is? They’re either all dead, stuck in The Big Sky or scattered out there in space like gains of sand on a beach.”
But the conversation Gamesman was having with Nopoin involved more than seeking physical comfort.
“On Borderworld,” explained Gamesman, “hordes of humans were changed into artintels. There were special bots for that. Nightmares.”
“I was much smarter as an artintel,” confessed Nopoin. “Or was I? I could certainly gather and sort factors faster. But that was faster, not smarter. I could hang in there working on a problem forever without rest. But that was longer, not smarter. I was certainly less introspective. And I didn’t care about anyone else.”
“I get yearnings. I miss some people when they’re away. I want contact with a person.”
“That’s stupid. People suck.”
“I used to think that way. But now I feel…”
Gamesman interrupted. “Used to think, now you feel. Hear yourself? You know nothing about those feelings. What they mean could kill you.”
TWILIGHT FORCE Recovered Files, Mission Period 259 Memorandum, September 16:
Alpha: “We’ve reached the opposite side of the Milky Way from Solsys. There hasn’t been time enough for humanity to search all these stars. Much of this is part of the 73% of the galaxy still uncharted in any detail.”
The Judge: “Have we finally agreed on what we’re looking for?”
The Senator: “A type G or type K star system with planets in the Goldilocks zone.”
Mrs Ichnida: “You really think there’s another Earth out there?”
Nopoin: “Yes. Maybe a little bigger or smaller. Air? A bit better or worse. A lot more water or a lot less, but yeah. Still, we still might not find one. It’s a big search.”
Gamesman: “I know I’m not one of you, and I’ve got no official part in this, but I am here and I don’t think a raw planet’s a wise choice. I’ve heard too many stories…”
Alpha: “Then stay with us until we find that other Earth. Then if you still must, go your own way knowing where we are should you wish to return.”
Gamesman: “Oh? Are you going to break off a chunk of yourself to form into a spare spaceship? Or do I get to orbit your world in a makeshift satellite?”
Nopoin: “It appears you’re stuck on us.”
Gamesman: “Uh… ‘with’ us. I’m stuck ‘with’ you.”
Alpha: “Not necessarily. I can eject you at any time.”
Alpha: “However I believe the ladies are counting on you.”
Gamesman: “How’s that?”
Alpha: “With Mister Cresp and Professor Flamear gone, there is a stark shortage of actual penises.”
Gamesman: “You want to keep me around for breeding?”
Alpha: “Imagine having four wives? Can a human male resist that?”