The rewrite of Pilgrim’s Trail has taken a dramatic turn as the story has morphed into more than just Cowboys in Space. Questions of our place in the Universe, speculation of how we would interact with alien races, other works of Science Fiction and their influence on how we perceive the future, and advances on technology that are often times throwbacks to older technology.
Humanities Great Leap into Space was marred by the fact that humans were involved and as the distance between outposts increased Rule of Law gave way to barbarism, piracy and slavery.
– Warren Alred, Into the Inky Black – The Social Cost of Space Travel, New Cambridge University Press, Tau Ceti – Prime
At the end of the 21st Century space probes propelled by ion drive engines traveling at one-half light speed began to send back pictures of planets around other Stars that offered adventure and riches.
But none was so rich as the planets referred to as ‘The Moons of Vega’!
Government sponsored Space exploration and travel had ended when the Science Colony on Mars discovered diamonds. This caused a commercial rush into Space that showed no signs of slowing in almost 400 years.
Rule of Law was slow to follow and those seeking profit began to exploit others.
The Marshal Service was soon established but this was not enough. A naval force was organized by contributing governments in the event of hostile alien contact and to assist stranded Space Farers. In addition no navy is complete without Marines. Between these three services the forces of barbarism were engaged with the hope of their eventual destruction.
Henry Paulson checked his plasma pistol again he had done this so many times he had lost count and put it back in his holster. He looked down at the metal star on his chest and for a moment reflected on the contrasts of his life. His clothes were heavy denim weave constructed for durability and comfort. The design of the weapon on his hip was a throwback to ancient times, resurrected out of necessity to fire the plasma cartridges that could not be fed through any type of firearm mechanism. The pistol looked like an elongated rectangle with a pistol grip, trigger and trigger guard on the bottom. The device fired from two barrels with inline cartridges, four in each barrel. The resurrected weapon brought with it the ready container that had carried it through history, a leather holster.
The American Old West image was complete because the metal star on his chest was embossed with the word “Marshal”. The Marshal Service had determined “Space Marshal” would have sounded ridiculous, corny at best and much of their time was not spent in Space, but on the dusty rocks that humans were trying to settle.
Henry looked every bit the part of the Marshal of the Old West. His dark hair and light brown eyes, thin face on a solid frame that was just above average height completed the image of the gunfighter.
Henry slipped off his boots to begin the task of putting on his EVA Suit. The extravehicular activity suit tried to accomplish two missions at the same time and failed miserably at both. In addition to protecting the wearer from the hazards of Space, it tried to offer some concealment in the form of camouflage but also tried to convey the authority of the Marshal by having shiny silver stars on the chest, back and both shoulders. He pulled the suit to his waist and pushed his arms into his sleeves and zipped up the side to the neck.
He truly regretted the task that was before him. Outside the airlock was the access way to the Margaret, a ship that had been missing for over two years. A passing mining ship had reported spotting her on the outer rim of the Tau Ceti System and he had come to investigate.
At first he had hoped that it was the Merlin an old Earth Ship that had been launched at the Tau Ceti System soon after planets had been discovered in the system. The ship was pre-ion drive and only capable of one-quarter light-speed. The trip would have taken 48 years but the crew would have only aged 18 years during that time. It was also the first time that suspension sleep had been used in Space. Communications with the crew had been lost after Merlin left Earth’s Solar System and the ship and crew had never been found. Once the ship came into view, Henry knew that is was not Merlin.
The Margaret was just inside the Cloud that surrounded the Tau Seti System. The Cloud as the locals called space-dust had blocked any exploration of the system by telescope so it was assumed that it contained few or no planets. Quite the opposite was true however as the gravity of the planets cleared the dust from the inner part of the system adding to the size of the planets.
Henry or Hank as he preferred to be called knew that the Margaretcontained one of several scenarios. The remains of the occupants were blown throughout the ship because it had suffered a violent hull breech, the occupants were dead but whole having suffered a hull breech, the occupants were missing or the occupants were still in their cocoons sleeping soundly, the ship’s navigation having made some sort of error. Of all these the last was the least likely.
Helmet on, Hank made his way into the airlock. Once pressurized he stepped through into the Margaret’s airlock and hooked in to the ships intercom.
He listened for a moment and heard nothing.
“Margaret Crew, this is Hank Paulson, Marshals Service.” He announced through the ship’s intercom and waited.
“Margaret Crew, Hank Paulson, Marshal, I am boarding through the port airlock.” He announced his entrance and opened the derelict ship’s airlock.
He swung the door open and was surprised by what he found, nothing!
The ship had been stripped of everything useful! That meant only one possible explanation, Slavers!
The crew and passengers of the Margaret had been taken by Slavers while in route and were now probably in Tau Ceti or Vega System toiling away in a mine, factory or worst of all as sex slaves.
Now Hank was mad, but he moved about cautiously because sometimes the Slavers liked to leave nasty surprises for Marshals or Marines.
He moved slowly to the control room of the ship, thankful that the gravity was still on in the ship.
The Margaret was an old ship pre-Jump ship but it still had artificial gravity. Pre-Jump ships were still pretty common because they were cheap and reliable. That and they did not mess with physics as Jump Ships did, coexisting in two points in Space at the same time until the transfer to the intended destination was complete.
Hank’s Jump Ship was small, just designed for inner-solar Jumps and ion drive for short pursuits. The plasma cannon mounted on top of the ship was used more often to destroy asteroids than engage other vessels.
The Margaret’s Log had entries that showed it had been making the Sol-Tau-Vega Transit for well over 150 years, but in that time she had only had one Captain. As the ship made ¾ Light Speed with its ion drive engines, the Captain and those aboard had aged more slowly. Relativity and suspension sleep combined causing the occupants to age only one year during the 32-year voyage.
The Log showed a normal departure from one of the Kuiper Space Station. The station harvested the hydrogen rich atmosphere of Neptune to provide fuel for the ion engines that propelled these ships across the void between the solar systems. It was probably in the void that the ship had been overtaken and boarded by the Slaver. Captains often put everyone in suspension sleep when crossing the voids because it is relatively free of hazards and mind numbingly boring!
Hank was sorry that those aboard were now slaves but he was thankful that he was not making his way through floating body parts.
The computer chronograph showed that the airlock had been opened for 36 hours a year and a half before. The Slavers had probably removed the passengers and crew from the ship while they were still in their suspension sleep pods because the pods were all missing except for the two spares. Hank assumed that this made the task of collecting and containing the slaves easier on the Slavers as they remained unaware of their plight until they were brought out of suspension sleep.
Hank looked at the Log, the ship’s computer and the ship itself for several hours trying to determine who the Slavers were, where they were from and any possible location they could have transported their new found slaves to either for work or to sell.
His first clue came from the airlock. On a hunch he had checked the docking log of the airlock because some times the airlock would record the type of airlock that had been connected to it and that could possible lead to what type of ship the Slavers had used when they docked with the Margaret.
The airlock provided much more than just the type of airlock used, it provided a manufacture’s registration number for the ship.
Hank guessed that the Slavers had assumed that the Margaret would never be found or at least not found until they were long dead.
After a moments thought, Hank came to the conclusion that the Slavers had set the Margaret adrift in the Cloud in an attempt to hide it but had given her too much thrust to push her in and had actually pushed her through the Cloud into the open core of the Tau Ceti Solar System.
Hank used the Wrist Rocket on the sleeve of his EVA Suit to record the registration number from the airlock. The Wrist Rocket was a small computer pad and data transfer/recording/communication device that was standard equipment for all Marshals. As he was doing this he also used the Wrist Rocket to check the sensors on his ship to see if any pirates or Slavers had approached. He also checked for biologics!
The Universe that had been explored so far was teeming with Life! Not just in all the predicted places, but in the cold reaches of the Cloud! Life had occurred without water, in the bitterly cold environment of the vacuum of Space and slowly evolving. The biosphere for lack of a better term was the Cloud itself the dominant life form was a single cell animal that could best be described as a space jellyfish. Specimens of Astra-Scyphozoa as it had been classified averaged 10 meters in diameter and were thought to be millions of years old! In the 300 years that humans had been traversing the Cloud only about 50 had been found and it had been determined early on that they would absorb humans in an effort to digest them. They also seemed to like copper and anything that generated heat, which caused them to be attracted to spacecraft.