With DSS Minstrel in open space on quiet patrol, Hunter put Sai Kee into a more advantageous orbit. Her frigate was no longer as well concealed as it had been, but the new orbital altitude and position relative to the obelisk gave her instruments a much better vantage point for their analysis.
Hunter wasn’t satisfied with her ship’s scientific facilities. This kind of investigation required a true science team with the latest gear. Granted, she had a couple of the fleet’s most promising officers on her team, but they were hamstrung by their rustic laboratory. Commander Tixia had managed to upgrade their communications systems, but the right kind of lab gear was either present or absent. It couldn’t be improvised, unfortunately.
Zony saw and heard the hail before anyone else. She presumed this was the moment Sai Kee would be contacted with the Denominator’s terms. After all, he had somehow managed to start utilizing the technology on the ground. Only Heaven knew what he would be able to accomplish with it. Commander Hunter’s mission to stop him got more urgent each time the hail notification went off. Then the signals officer noticed something strange. The hail had a Skywatch identifier.
“Commander we’re being hailed by Lieutenant Leach.”
Hunter swiveled in her command chair and hesitated with a confused expression before replying “That’s interesting. Lieutenant Leach is on deck four checking planetside gear for his landing party.”
Zony just stared back. Of all the things in the world Hunter knew her brother’s communications officer would never get wrong, it was a hailing frequency identifier. “Put it on screen.”
The image of Devin Leach appeared. In the background was a shadowy chamber that looked like the set for a Charles Dickens theatrical production.
“Ready to deliver my report, ma’am. We’ve found a girl here armed with a Sarn disruptor. We haven’t caught him yet, but I’d say we’re on the trail of our man.”
“Acknowledged, landing party. Stand by.” Hunter changed the status of the lieutenant’s channel from her command console and activated the ship’s 1MC. “Lieutenant Leach report to the bridge on the double.” The commander swiveled again and stared at Zony with a special brand of the trademark Hunter “what the hell is going on?” look. Somewhere below, the battleship Argent’s weapons officer was ostensibly hurrying to deck one. It only took him 40 seconds. Devin Leach appeared in the egress hatch for the bridge. Hunter calmly reactivated the hailing frequency. She stared at Leach as his own face appeared on the Sai Kee bridge viewscreen.
“Lieutenant, I’d like you to continue your search for any technology that is out of place. Report to me directly in 30 minutes, affirmative?”
“Yes ma’am,” the viewscreen Leach said. His counterpart on the bridge stood with his face draining of its color.
“Very well, Sai Kee out.” Hunter closed the channel and allowed the silence to reign for a few moments.
“Why do I have two lieutenants named Leach, when before I only had one?”
“I never expected to be literally talking to myself, ma’am.”
Hunter turned to Zony. “Commander?”
“The transmission we received was from the future. Or at least one possible future for us.”
“So now we have to evaluate what we see and hear based on what timeline it originated from? What if I don’t send the landing party now?”
“It will alter our history, I think.” Zony replied. “Yili’s the real expert on temporal theory, ma’am. I just run the radio.” Zony smiled sweetly. Jayce almost grinned, but somehow managed to keep a straight face. She turned back to Leach. “Carry on, lieutenant.”
“Zony, we’re going to need some kind of a briefing and some kind of procedure to make sure we don’t inadvertently violate some kind of four-dimensional physics here.”
“Aye, ma’am. Commander Curtiss and I will do our best.”
“Very well. Get me a status update on surface conditions and let’s get our boots down there as soon as possible. Just out of curiosity, commander, where is ‘there?’ as you see it?”
Zony switched the main display to a graphical representation of the starship Sai Kee occupying several different oval-shaped colored regions. The ship was at the center. One end of each of the six ovals all intersected around the center point. One of the regions was marked “present day and location” while the others were marked “alternate time and location” and numbered one through five.
“If we presume what is happening to this region of space is the result of a temporal inversion, then this is one of the theoretically possible models. Our ship is positioned at a certain physical location. So is our drive field. Since we’ve never actually been in real space since we arrived, it is reasonable to assume our physical location could correspond with the same locations in multiple timelines and in multiple physical representations of our own universe.”
“How does that get me two lieutenants?”
“Once he left the ship, he may have entered one of the alternate timelines. For him, time may have moved forward at a different speed. In fact, time may be moving at many different speeds for us relative to any alternate universes we might inhabit at the moment. No pun intended.”
“Is there any way to track all this with any kind of specificity, or are we just guessing?” Hunter asked.
“It’s all theoretical until one or more of us inhabits one of the alternate timelines. Once we’ve ‘landed’ so to speak, then we might be able to determine ‘when’ we are as well as ‘where.'”
“Alright I want everyone on board briefed on all this, and you’re in charge, Zony. Minstrel too. You and Commander Curtiss will keep everyone up to date on all the variables. I want special care taken to make sure we don’t inadvertently alter history or do something that might have ramifications elsewhere. Understood?”
“Very well let’s get to it. Your first meeting will be with the lieutenant and his landing party. Since we know what we’re looking for now, I want them max attentive to the potential presence of alien technology on the ground. What is your best guess as to where they are headed?”
“Ombersley, England. Somewhere in the late 19th century.”
Join the battle with Destroy All Starships Book One!
Read The Praetorian Imperative instantly on any web-enabled device with Bitbook!