Don’t Get Caught

He came slamming out of the midnight sun, the remaining thrusters straining against the g-forces, struggling valiantly to slow the crippled ship before crashing headlong into the upper atmosphere.

Starboard bow thrusters were out, midship port thrusters were out. Deke Snyder battled the crippled ship, using every ounce of willpower to pull the ship out of its headlong dive. Behind him three fighters vied for position to shoot him out of the sky.

His erratic uncontrolled descent was both his bane and his salvation. The unpredictable wobbling and bouncing prevented any prediction of his course and his pursuers were unable to program their computers to get an accurate shot. Any attempt to shoot from the hip at a distance of 25 miles resulted in wildly inaccurate lasers frying the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Deke didn’t have time to worry about the pursuit. Even with no rear shields, all available power was directed to his woefully inadequate remaining thrusters. He didn’t dare try to flip the ship around and use the main engines for braking, as he might just have to hit the juice and fly out of the atmosphere and away from two kinds of trouble.

No, his best defense was seeking the depths of the ocean to hide and make his repairs. The high salt and metal content in the ocean would serve to deflect radar, making him virtually invisible once he descended below the thermocline. It mattered little if he made repairs in space or 2000 meters under water. His armor could withstand the depth and the airlock could handle that kind of pressure, and the welding equipment cared little if it operated in a vacuum or in an aqueous environment.

He dove downward, juking and jutting through the sky. His descent was wrong and he bounced off the atmosphere twice, looking like an oddly shaped stone as he nearly cartwheeled into space after the second bounce.

He grinned ruefully, realizing his pursuers couldn’t get off a good shot with erratic behavior like that. Still and all, if he didn’t get her down, a random shot could kill him as sure as the best computer-guided laser refractor.

Feeling like a pinball in an arcade game, Deke ruefully bounced the ship into the atmosphere, skidding and slipping, first one side heating up to the point of meltdown, then the other. Safely into the atmosphere, he pointed the nose down and dove, full throttle, trying to outrun the three pursuers who were not yet in the atmosphere.

A laser shot from outside the atmosphere refracted slightly when it hit the atmosphere, making a direct hit difficult.  Taking that advantage, he dove his ship fast, fast, fast, down towards the water as hard as he dared. Before he hit the water, he pulled his engines and threw all his power to the forward force screens, letting it part the water ahead of him. The ship shuddered and shook as the screens hit the water. While softer than hitting the water head on, the screens were still anchored to the ship and the pounding they were doing to the water reverberated back along the force beams.

The ocean parted ahead of him in the shape of an ice cream cone—pointed in the front and tapering back in a true cone, twenty feet bigger in diameter than the ship.

Behind him the pusuit ships chased, and the lasers were broiling the water on either side of him. As he descended into the ocean, the lack of force screens in the rear caused the water to rush into the void, broiling and roiling and creating massive turbulence. The pursuers were unable to target their lasers, as the foaming water interfered with their viso-plates and the laser targeting system.

Deke wasn’t having any field days yet. The water around him was becoming super-heated and rushing towards the surface from the impact of his force screens and the lasers from his enemies. As the heated water rushed towards the surface it sucked nearby water into the space behind it, creating a maelstrom of currents. The ride was rough, as the rushing water slammed the force screens this way and that and bounced his ship without mercy. “I should have been a bull rider. That ride ends after 10 seconds,” he thought.

The pursuit ships didn’t give up. They dove down, down, down, still trying to get as close as possible to reduce the angles and increase their odds of hitting Deke.

6 miles away, a native lookout on a crude sailing vessel watched with mouth agape as the waters parted for the strange black object. Having no words to describe a rocket, all he could think of was a thick arrow diving into the water followed by all hell breaking loose in the sea.

Attempting to explain it to his captain, he was promptly cuffed for drinking on the job. Only by pointing in the direction of the maelstrom on the surface did the captain take quick action and order a turn away as fast as super-humanly possible.

They were further surprised to see three huge birds that didn’t flap their wings come screeching out of the sky, shooting red beams into the maelstrom. “The gods must be very angry at that sea creature,” yelled the captain. The three ships leveled out and skimmed the top of the water, two heading straight for him. Praying aloud to every god he could think of, the captain yelled at his men to put on more canvas and tighten the lines and to get the hell out of there.

The two pursuit ships closed in the blink of an eye and screamed overhead. The wake from their passing filled the sails with gusto, ripping two of them and driving the ship onward in a rush, nearly driving the ship on its side as the sails filled.

The three pursuit ships radioed each other and realized they could do little about the ship they were chasing. They could not go underwater, their engines would not allow it. They were stuck reconnoitering on the surface. The underwater topography was very mountainous, nary a flat spot around, and their viso-plates were ill-equipped for viewing underwater. They circled overhead and waited.

Deke wasn’t out of the woods yet. He flipped power to one rearward screen to prevent seawater from rushing into his engines and pummeling him from behind. Gradually he was slowing and he was able to level out 1000 meters below the surface, above the underwater mountaintops, level just in time to not hit one. The water broiled behind him as the speed of his passing continued to heat the water, setting off rising currents.

Reducing power on his forward screens, the sea started acting like a brake and he was finally slowing. 500 knots, 350 knots, 200 knots, “I’m actually going to make this,” Deke thought to himself.

He turned back towards the direction he came, retracing his route to prevent detection from heat sensors. He passed through his original entrance point and continued on, holding at 200 knots, then turned and passed back again. Hitting the “center,” he turned and went out and back, repeating this maneuver five more times. Let them try to find him in that mess of heat signatures, he thought.

Picking a previous path, he went out partway, then cut his forward speed and sank to the bottom. Picking a rocky valley, he settled down, then gradually jiggled his ship under an overhang. For all intents and purposes, he was invisible from the sky. They might find the general area, but it would take some time to find out his exact location.

He extended the landing pads and settled down. He shut down all systems associated with flying, leaving only the internal systems running. Finally getting a chance to unwind, he took two steps over to the galley and heated a bottle of honeysuckle mint tea. Turning the lights down low, he reclined his chair and sipped the tea, unwinding as the hot liquid warmed his insides. Before he finished the bottle, he was out. Fortunately the magnetic bottom of the bottle pulled itself towards the cup holder in the armrest as it slipped out of his grasp. Deke slept, his 18 hour escape ordeal on pause.

Six hours later, Deke was outside the spaceship, welding a new box thruster into place with the aid of the mechanical arm. His space armor wasn’t designed for working 2000 meters under the water, but it served the purpose none the less. The pressure at that depth made maneuvering extremely slow, requiring deliberate and controlled movements.

Finishing the first thruster, he climbed onto the hull, using the suction cups built into the hands, knees and feet of the armor. He quickly climbed down. There was no way he could repair or replace that thruster. The laser scars told the whole story. Not only was half the thruster melted into space dust, the mounting surface around the thruster had been rearranged into a hardened puddle of molten metal.

Using his remote communicator, he raised the ship on its landing pads and studied the bottom thruster. This one could be repaired, but it would be challenging. He’d have to cut it out and weld a new one in. Without boring the readers on the details of this endeavor, two hours later the job was done.

Deke checked his time. His estimate was he had 24 hours max before his pursuers brought in the heavy metal and started searching the depths for him. 12 hours before robotic sensors would start combing the depths. While he chose his spot well, he didn’t want to risk the chance encounter.

Moving to midships and changing sides, he surveyed the damage. Four thrusters were toast, only two could be fixed on the spot. How he yearned for a decent space dock. Without lamenting his fates, he bored on, pulling the two thrusters and replacing them with new ones.

Four hours later, job complete, he carried the old parts inside and stowed the arm.

Purging the airlock of the seawater, he started to strip his armor off right there. Normally he would remove his suit in the storage room, but there was too much water dripping off, and water floating around inside a space ship is not a good idea. Once the suit was off, he could shut the inner door of the airlock and contain the fluid and vent it once he was back in the atmosphere.

Helping himself to a well-earned meal, he nearly spilled the plate on the floor as his alarms went off. A sensor was only 200 yards away, it was a miracle it wasn’t moving towards him yet. Out of force of habit, Deke didn’t move a muscle and didn’t breathe.

He looked at the chronometer on the wall. Pushing 13 hours, and the bastards got lucky and dropped a sensor in their grid within spitting distance of him. He’d have to handle it before he launched.

Deke gulped down his food without tasting it and considered the situation. Two minutes of thinking and planning were better than immediate and wrong action. He had two solutions—stealth out of there or send a magnetic pulse into the sensor strong enough to knock it off line.  He was too close for stealth, chances of success only 23%, give or take a few percent.

He could pulse it into silence, but the non-working sensor would give away his position. Chance of immediate success 87%, but it would give away his approximate position and the longer-term odds were not good.

What to do, what to do. Deke pondered that dilemma for a few minutes. He thought of a broader magnetic pulse, but that would give away his position by virtue of the center of silence.

He went into complete passive mode, listening for sensors. Which was very tricky, as by nature they were passive as well. Deke waited. Minutes passed, then 10, then 20 and 30. Still no change. If he understood his enemy, they would move the sensors at random intervals, but would group that randomity around one-hour intervals. Would his sensor be one of the first or the last to move?

It was the first. When it moved, it gave enough of an electronic footprint that he could identify its location, direction and new location. Soon others followed and he had his grid.

That motion gave him an idea. Perhaps he could move at the same time as a sensor and emulate its timing and pretend to be a sensor himself. He waited patiently for all of the sensors to reposition themselves, then waited some more. The suspense was agonizing, the possibility of destruction never far from his conscience. Still he waited. And waited. And waited.

The sensors completed their location shift and he waited for the next. As soon as the sensor closest to him moved, so did he. He duplicated its direction and speed—which fortunately was not into the mountain next to him—and eased out into open water. When the sensor slowed, so did he, dropping down on to the ocean floor once again, this time in the middle of an open plain.

What was his next move going to be?

He pondered his next move when an idea hit him. Why not shadow the sailing vessel he passed the day before on the way in? He could park himself 10 feet below its keel, duplicate its speed, direction and motion, and with his stealth screens in place, remain undetectable to surveillance.

The question was, how to get there? Unless those sensors moved or stopped working entirely, his motion would be detected. What he needed was a nice, big whale or 5 to swim by.

He adjusted his monitors to detect sea life. It was tricky—all his passive sensors were calibrated to detect metals and electrical fields and force screens, not flesh and bone and—an idea hit him. All life forms had an electrical field around them, if he could adjust his sensors to recognize the electrical field around a life form, perhaps he could find and attract enough aquatic life to disguise his departure.

He took two spare sensors and rigged them up inside the ship and scanned his own body. He adjusted and tuned and tweaked, and finally he could read his own electrical field. Now the question was, how to measure the same for sea life?

With a vengeance, he made the same re-calibrations to the external sensors. His monitors started going crazy! The sea was brimming with life all around him, he was inundated with readings. He needed big sea life, he realized, but how to attract it?

Then an idea struck him. How could he use the electrical fields of all the sea life around him to overwhelm the sensors? Could he do something to change the frequency of the electrical fields of all the sea life enough so that the sensors would register them, thus drowning the sensors in ambient “noise” so much that he could slip away undetected?

He thought of music, of low bass notes, of high treble notes. He considered soothing classical music; he considered an electrical shock into the surrounding waters.

What he could use was a good, old-fashioned shark. Big enough and mean enough to scare the bejeezers out of the local population. But that would only scare the natural prey of the shark, Deke next thought, and not every form of life.

Then it hit him. Why not cause a pseudo-earthquake? He could send a beam into a mountainside, vibrate it enough to shake and tremble, which would result in the sea life changing their frequency because of fear. He could add to that with a blanketed vibration that would add to the sea life’s frequency, and overwhelm the sensors.

Anyone, or any computer, analyzing the data would be able to pinpoint that energy beam came from his location, but by that time he would be long gone. For the first time in a long time, a smile crept over Deke’s face. Getting everything set, he checkecd his monitors for the positions of the sensors. Selecting a path of least detection, he latched a tractor and pressor beam onto the base of a mountain and shook it. The rumble increased in intensity and even he could feel the pulsing through the water. Detecting the fear of the life forms around him, he augmented it with his own signals, and upped the intensity.

Lifting off from the sea floor, he increased the pressor beam, effectively moving him away from the mountain he had targeted and out into deeper water. Another idea hit him. He could send an EMP signal down the pressor beam, release it from the mountain and wipe out the sensors in the area, then slip away.

Ensuring his shields were in place to prevent wiping out his own electronics, he opened a port in the shield and blasted an EMP down the pressor, then closed the port. Keeping the “fear” discharge at fever pitch, he continued to let the pressor push him. As he detected an avalanche on the underwater mountainside, he got ready to cut the pressor/tractor.

When the shock wave of water hit him, he shut off the tractor beam and gave one last push with the pressor and shot off into the murky depths.

Using just enough thrusters to remain somewhat level, he surfed the underwater shock wave for several miles. Fortunately he was out in a rolling plain flat enough that he wouldn’t cash into a mountain.

He checked and re-checked his monitors. Nothing! Not one sensor was left in operation. How lucky was that? Suspecting perhaps a temporary shut-down by the orbiting spacecraft controlling the sensors, he hit the jets and took off through the water. With the sailing vessel long since under scrutiny, he quickly made the 60 mile journey to the ship, set up his computers to track exactly with the sailing vessel, set the sensors to trigger an alarm if anything untoward happened, climbed into his bunk and slept the sleep of the dead, something he hadn’t done for too long.

He tracked with that sailing ship for four days. After the first day he dropped down a little deeper to a depth of 20 feet below its keel to prevent any accidental discovery by the ship he was “borrowing.”

When a good storm brewed on the surface and the seas increased to a fever pitch, he took his cue, “released” from the sailing vessel, dove deep and turned on the jets. Rocketing away at 150 knots, he put as much distance behind him in a few hours as he put in the last four days.

A good thunderstorm, complete with lightning, would do wonders to disguise his movements on the planet, but once he got above the atmosphere, he was a sitting duck. How was he going to escape? His ship was sound enough to travel, he had provisions for a few more weeks, but his adversaries were a vengeful lot. They would orbit unmanned drones for the next few years to detect his departure if they had to.

3000 meters below the surface, far away from any continent, not even whales for company, Deke slowed his craft to 20 knots and pondered his next move.

He didn’t ponder long. A tractor beam grabbed his ship and started pulling. His first wave of panic was replaced by stunned surprise, as the tractor beam was pulling him down, not up. “How the hell did they get a ship to the bottom of the ocean without my detecting it?” he said out loud.

He checked his monitors. There were no signs of any activity, no force fields save for the tractor beam, no magnetic radiation, no electronic radiation, no audio in the water, it was dead silent across all spectrums. External cameras showed blackness, the blackness of the ocean deep. The bottom displayed as 4000 meters, a depth his ship could easily tolerate. But what the hell was pulling him down?

He checked to see if it was a pressor beam pushing him down from above, but no, it was indeed a tractor beam pulling him to the ocean floor. Down, down, down he descended, without any change of pace. Full throttle forward only served to shake and rattle the ship. Every possible thruster setting did not alter the rate of descent, nor did it change the angle or orientation of his ship.

Still down he went. 100 meters from the bottom, he stopped, dead still. Nothing happened for a minute, which seemed like an eternity. Then he was pulled straight forward at the same rate of speed as his descent, held perfectly in the embrace of the tractor beam.

Still his monitors showed nothing. His panic had long since passed, and now he was curious what this could possibly be. It wasn’t his adversary, that much he knew, as they were much rougher in their handling of their prey and in their control of their force fields. If it was his adversary, they would have yanked him down in a rush, bumping and jostling all the way, slamming him to a stop, rapidly changing direction without a care in the world.

This was different. The smoothness of the movement suggested a more sophisticated control of beams, with attention paid to details like making the acceleration and deceleration a comfortable rate.

He continued straight ahead for several minutes. The ocean floor remained a constant 100 meters below him, with only an occasional rise or dip to spoil the harmony. Still his monitors remained blank. What could it be?

He sensed a change in his movement through the water. Still the monitors remained blank, with nothing indicating on his instruments.

The ship came to a stop, and he could feel, almost hear, large doors closing behind him. He checked the monitors and nothing was registering. As far as they were concerned, he was in the middle of a black void with nothing around. Almost as if he was in a complete anechoic chamber…

Just as Deke had that thought, a great drowsiness settled over him. He tried to fight it, tried to stay awake and alert, but failed. He settled himself slowly to the deck, stretched out in a last attempt at control of his own body, and blackness overtook him.

Deke awoke slowly, gradually, feeling very fine about himself. The contrast of this feeling against his earlier situation did not present itself to him just yet.

The first thing he noticed was a head. Not just any head, but a light brown head with two enormous almond shaped eyes, each at a slant. What should have been the white was instead grey, with a brilliant blue center. A small nose and delicate, almost imperceptible mouth completed the face.

No hair adorned the head, and there were no ears that he could see. The head wasn’t round, it was similar in shape to a human skull, but the proportions weren’t quite right. The being wore a simple tunic from the shoulders down to the thighs, and that was as far as he could see. Two arms, he supposed two legs (he was right), and a size and shape similar to homo sapien, except the color was wrong and the proportions were just plain different.

He marveled at the fact that he did not feel scared and wondered if he was dead. For a period of time he was certain of the fact but was not upset about that revelation. He was not dead, nor was he dreaming. It took some time for the facts of his circumstance to be processed correctly, even though sufficient facts presented themselves to him to be evaluated and the conclusion drawn that he was alive with an alien being in front of him belonging to a race that he did not know existed.

Although the being in front of him did not move his lips, Deke heard words. “Welcome, Deke Snyder. I am very happy to meet you in person. I must say, we have watched your escape from your enemies and were quite impressed with your resourcefulness.”

“Where am I?” asked Deke.

“You are in our station at the bottom of the ocean.” Before Deke could get in a question, the being continued. “It is one of several that we occupy on this planet, each in a remote and inaccessible location.”

“What are you going to do with me?” Deke continued his questions.

“Why, nothing!” the being replied, surprised at the question. “We have decided to help you. First we must give you some training in our arts so that you can make use of the help we would like to give you.”

“How did you knock me out? My ship is completely sealed.”

“We did not knock you out. We induced you to sleep so that we could bring you aboard without you feeling fear. Are you afraid now?” At the nodded ‘no’ reply, the being continued. “My name is Dror and our race is known as Alians.” (Pronounced A-lee-ans with the stress on the second syllable.)

As comprehension came into Deke’s eyes, Dror continued. “Yes, we have visited Earth in our past, and our race became synonymous with every foreign life form to your planet. We are the Alians, and your race now constantly searches for aliens. Our ancestors befriended your planet many, many centuries ago, and you honor us with your continued quest for us.”

Deke looked skeptical. Too convenient, too pat for his liking. Dror ignored Deke’s concern, plainly visible on his face, and continued on.

“Your escape from your adversary was most creative. It was what caught our attention. Tell me, why were they chasing you?” Dror’s look of interest and concern dissolved Deke’s reserve. He decided to tell the truth—to a point. When that point came, he passed it without noticing.

“It was about a princess.”

“Ah. I take it she was not your princess?” Dror urged him on.

“You take it correctly. In fact, she was to marry a prince from another planet. I suspect that this has already occurred, as it was scheduled for four days ago.”

Dror didn’t say anything. Deke was unable to resist the expectant look that undermined his resolve.

“I met her on Sanbartan, the desert planet. I was running water for the resistance and the princess was a neutral ambassador to urge the rebels to seek a diplomatic solution. As the only other pure human, I was introduced to her. She took one look at me and had absolutely no interest in me as a person, as an ally, as an individual who could assist in her task of bringing a peaceful solution.

“Not that I blamed her—I hadn’t shaved or bathed in three days, and in the desert I was sweating like mad and smelled and looked worse than rotten cabbage.

“Two days later, she was in a bind. It seems saboteurs from the feds tangled with her security detail and shot up her ship. The blockade around the planet refused to allow a rescue ship to land and make repairs to her craft. She was, in effect, stranded.

“I offered to help. For a price, of course. My usual fee for freight, times two for the high-risk. Very reasonable, considering the circumstances.”

Dror smiled and nodded for Deke to continue.

“After calling me every name in the book, she agreed. As advance payment, she gave me her engagement ring, the only item of negotiable value she carried. She wasn’t too happy about it, let me tell you. But I wasn’t about to forego four more water hauling contracts without some kind of guarantee.

“We took off at night. It was actually quite easy to evade the blockade. The stealth capabilities of my ship are first-rate, and their blockade wasn’t as secure as they believed.

“The trip to her home planet, Driga IV on the charts, their name for it is unpronounceable, was uneventful. I think she warmed up to me after we passed the blockade and I took a hygienic shower and shaved. We became friendly. With not much to look at except blackness and star clusters, general conversation about our youth passed the time. We didn’t have much in common, other than general interests.

“I wasn’t able to send any transmissions to her planet. Their frequencies are completely off-kilter to what I can transmit on, and I was not able to modify my equipment to match.

“The only solution was to arrive in stealth mode, slip past their planet’s defenses and deposit her on the platform. Only after she set foot on the landing platform would I allow my cloaking to be turned off.

“I explained to her the whys and wherefores. She’s a pretty smart cookie, she understood why I needed to stealth in there and why it was necessary to prevent the guards from shooting us as soon as we turned off the cloaking.

“At her suggestion, we appeared together on the platform. She was holding a dead blaster on me, so it appeared that I was her prisoner. It didn’t go quite as planned. They arrested me and threw me in the cellar.

“Prison, actually. It happened to be in the basement, and they built their HQ on top of a small mountain, so I was in a rock-walled prison. Dungeon is a good name for it.

“After a few days, she got me released and invited me to a royal dinner in honor of my assisting her safe return.

“I felt like a real celebrity. They paid my fee, even sending it off-planet to my bank and it was placed in my storage cubicle. I was smiling like I’d won an Oscar.

“At the dinner, she told the story to a rapt audience, embellishing here and there enough to make me blush. Everyone thought the world of me, except her betrothed. It seems he was secretly convinced we had schminked on the ride over.

“So he managed to get me drunk the next night, threw me out on the street and had me arrested. I was fit to be tied after that one. That still pisses me off.

“Well, the princess found out and came to my rescue once again. I was in a city jail, not in the palace dungeon, so she had to do some serious arm twisting to get me out. It’s odd, while my helping her put me into a position to get thrown in jail, I didn’t blame her a bit. I’ve been through enough scrapes while in the service and free-lancing that it’s just part of the territory.

“When I got out of jail the second time, I figured it was time to leave. But that prince really pissed me off, and the princess, her name was Riana, was starting to grow on me. Not that I had any romantic interest mind you, but that girl had character and people you can trust and rely on in this universe are few and far between.

“I could tell she didn’t love that SOB. Not because he threw me in jail, far from it. It was evidently an arranged marriage for political reasons. She thought he was quite the dashing and debonair fellow at first but as she got to know him intimately, she found out that he was mostly superficial, and deep down he had no backbone and relied instead on using his position of power for advantage. Like I said, we talked a fair bit on the voyage.

“Hell, I couldn’t let her go on like that! I had to do something. After all, she did bend a few laws to spring me out of jail. I couldn’t let her play second fiddle to a tweedle-nosed imbecile masquerading in noble clothing.”

“Had a few encounters with this before, did you?” Dror enquired, smiling.

“Pretty sharp of you. You bet. More than once. There was this time on—but I digress. Anyway, Riana was going to get married. Big ceremony, palace guards, hundreds of dignitaries. I popped into her waiting room just before she was to walk down the aisle. ‘Princess, you don’t have to go through with this,’ I said after she realized who I was and set the candelabra back down on the mantle.

“’Yes,’ she said in return. ‘I do. It’s my duty, it’s an alliance between our two planets that has been dozens of years in the making. If I don’t marry him, all hell will break loose.’”

“’Do you love him?’ I asked her. When she nodded her head no, a little sad, I pointed out,

‘You’re the princess. Next in line to the throne to govern your entire planet. Is political expediency and this alliance worth placing your people under the control of a moronic imbecile who cares more for the wave in his hair than the economic conditions of an entire planet?’”

“That got her attention. She mouthed ‘No’ but never said it. She went through a few emotions before that steely resolve appeared in her eye. ‘What are you suggesting?’”

“’My ship is right outside, cloaked. I can whisk you away from here right now.’”

“’Are you proposing to me, Deke?’ An impish grin appeared in her eye.

“’Riana, I’m a pretty smart guy. And I’m smart enough to know that I am not in your league.’”

“’You underestimate yourself, Deke. There’s a whole lot more to you than you give yourself credit for.’”

“’Thanks, Princess, but I’m not here for the fame and glory. Well, usually I am, but now I’m just here to help you. You got me out of jail, I’d like to return the favor. Where would you like to go?’”

“’Now there’s a question for me. I could think of a couple of good answers, but one of them is not walking down the aisle and marrying the prince. How do we get out of here?’ she asked me. I told her to don the nun’s habit in the closet. I tried to do the same, but I’m too big across the shoulders. None of the habits would fit. I did find a hood and cloak worn by monks in training, which I put on. We went out the back door to the waiting room, down the stairs, across the basement, up another set of stairs, through a window onto a balcony, followed the balcony—a ledge, really—around the corner. That’s when I scared the bejeezus out of her by stepping into thin air and right into the midship hold.

“Even though I was right in front of her, once I crossed the threshold I disappeared from sight. I could see the look in her eyes and cussed myself out for forgetting to warn her. I stuck my arm out the hold and her eyes went wide with shock. It took me 1.3 seconds to realize that she could only see my arm. Before I had a chance to stick my face out, she grabbed my arm and jumped in. This girl had hutzpah, that’s for sure.”

Dror by this time had indicated that Deke should get out of bed and get something to eat. Deke nodded, found he was still dressed, and walked with Dror out the door. Dror nodded expectantly and Deke continued on, paying little attention to his unconcerned trust in Dror.

“I was able to move about the city without detection. There’s so much noise and clutter that monitors can’t pick me up. Out in space or under the ocean, without any ambient electronic, monitors will notice a difference in the ambient noise—my ship doesn’t have any. Once someone knows what to look for, you can spot it without too much trouble.

“After talking it over, she decided that she wanted to go to Drigalia, where she had distant family and more importantly, that family wasn’t too keen on Ortolla. That’s the prince’s planet and family name. To get there, I needed to work our way back to Sanbartan, grab my freighter, and flit over to Drigalia, drop her off, and then hop over a couple of star clusters and get clear of the heat.

“We never made it.

“With the princess disappearing from the wedding, they were on red alert. Hell, they were past red alert and into full scale war on me. It seems they caught my face in a video camera in her changing room. I sure felt sorry for that princess, if they’re going to keep an eye on her while she’s changing, must not be much of a life.

“Anyway, they knew my ship’s signature by this time and while they didn’t know the cloaking mechanisms or frequencies, they were so tweaked on looking for anything that an albino fly would have set off their alarms.

“Silly me, thinking I was in the clear, took a shot up into the atmosphere while cloaked alongside a space liner filled with passengers. I figured it was a pretty safe bet. It might be a little rough for me with the buffeting, but it wouldn’t affect the trajectory of the liner at all and damn near impossible to spot.

“Damn near isn’t completely. They spotted me, all right. How they managed it, I don’t know, but they did. Locked on to me with 6 different tractor beams. I tried cutting them, I was able to cut 3, but before I cut the 4th they had 3 more on me, holding me tight. I tried every trick in the book but it didn’t work. They pulled me in. They sucked me into their hold.

“The princess had an idea. If she was found to be a willing departee, we’d both catch hell. But she suggested that if she acted like she was kidnapped by me, she’d have free reign to set me free again. It seems that no one knew she had set me free from the city jail—she made it appear an influential politician from the city was responsible.

“I was reluctant, but I didn’t think pretending to be the unwitting stooge manipulated by the beautiful princess was going to fly, particularly with my reputation, so I figured I’d gamble on her once again.

“So I tied her up pretty tight, gag in her mouth, blindfold on, then called on the radio and demand that they let me go or I’d cut off her ear. I opened the midships airlock and turned off the cloaking and let them see her. I still had a force shield over the doorway so they couldn’t get at her.

“It was risky, but they were buying it. Then all of a sudden my force screens shut down. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. They reached in with a telescopic arm and a solider at the end and grabbed her, lock, stock and bound and gagged, and pulled her out before I could blink an eye.

“I immediately slammed the throttles into reverse and actually started to back away towards the bay doors, and fast. Whatever they did to cancel out my force screens had the same effect on theirs. I didn’t waste time thinking about it, I hit those throttles for all they were worth and went racing out the bay doors as they were closing. I made it, just in time, scraping a little paint on one side on the way.

“I still didn’t have force screens, so I figured they didn’t either. I flipped her around and hit the throttles for all they were worth, damn the torpedos and all, flipped on the force screens but they still weren’t working, recalibrated my cloaking to evade their sensors, and set a course for Sanbartan and my freighter, not thinking that they’d be sitting there waiting for me.

“I figured I was home free. I hoped everything worked out for the princess, but I didn’t have a fall-back plan of how to help her. If worse came to worse, she could always divorce the guy or slip him a mickey after finding him in bed with the maid. His kind can never keep their pants on, I’ve seen.

“Well, I’m coming up to Sanbartan and my freighter, still cloaked, when lasers start flying everywhere. They must have figured out my cloaking frequencies, or at least close enough to be able to spot me!

“It was intense. I tried dogging their lasers as even in their randomness there was a pattern that I could predict. But my computer ‘coughed’ once and that split-second break in computational ability dropped my shields just enough for then to fry out my forward and mid-ship thrusters.

“I was screwed and I knew it. My maneuvering capabilities just went to shit, making it easier for them to follow me.

“So there I was, ship shot up, no treasure to barter with the native inhabitants. This was the closest planet remotely hospitable to human life, and so I came.

“The rest you no doubt know, as you indicated when I woke up.”

Dror smiled. They reached the lunchroom and he indicated to Deke what food to get and they sat down and ate.

Without moving any facial muscles, he again spoke. “That is a very colorful story, Mr. Snyder. What did you do in the military and before you delivered water?”

“I prefer not to talk about those days.” Deke looked sad for a moment and Dror let the moment pass. “I lost some people close to me, and it was time to move on.”

“I understand. What will you do next?” Dror’s kindness continued to display.

“That’s a good question. First I have to figure out how to get off this planet, then how to get my freighter, then how to flit to another system. I’d like to get a load of water to my friends on Sanbartan, but I don’t know how to do that yet.”

“Do you have any ideas about how to get off the planet?” Dror asked.

“I do not. It is a subject that I have devoted a lot of thought to. If they were able to spot me before, they most likely can spot me again. No matter what storm, volcano, hurricane, any anomaly on the surface will help me exactly zero once I get to the top of the atmosphere. They’ll spot me like a yellow canary in a room full of black cats.”

“Let me introduce you to something that might be able to help you,” Dror offered. “As I mentioned earlier, we do have some technologies that might benefit you.”

Deke followed Dror out of the lunchroom, leaving his lunch debris behind. The table morphed, swallowed the remaining items, and returned to being a table waiting for customers.

They walked down the hallway and turned the corner. Dror gave a brief description of their base, and how they obtained oxygen, water and food. He didn’t cover the technologies of tractor and pressor beams, nor their defenses or armament.

They made several twists and turns, arriving at what appeared to be an extremely large living room, arranged in a way that can only be described as several large living rooms without walls in one large space. Dror steered Deke over to one section where 5 other Alians were seated, introduced everyone, then they sat down on one of the sofas.

“I understand you’ve had quite an adventure,” a younger Alian said. “The reports of your evasion from your pursuers have been very interesting.”

Another Alian chimed in, “Indeed. I’ve read the documents as well. Your maneuvering while the sensors were shifting position was very enlightening.”

“Am I the subject of a science experiment?” Deke asked, more than slightly upset at the apparent scrutiny he had been under while trying to remain completely undetected.

“Not at all. But your actions were noted and the teacher thought watching a live demonstration of evasive tactics in the face of overwhelming obstacles would be a good education. We’re in Officer Training School, you see,” offered the third member of the group.

“Why didn’t you step in and help?” Deke demanded. “Or am I just a sporting activity for your amusement?”

They all looked at each other in surprise, then Dror spoke up. “We’re not familiar with this term ‘sporting activity.’ What does it mean?”

“It means sports, amusement, entertainment, some sort of competition where the outcome is not known and people watch it with nothing better to do,” Deke rapid-fired back.

“Ahhh,” murmured a number of the Alians.

“We are forbidden from interfering,” Dror spoke up. “This law goes back to the time of the ancients. Once a confrontation has concluded, we may help either party back to health, but we may not change the outcome other than prevent a death.”

“Uh-huh,” Deke muttered, not completely understanding. “Then why pull me into your base now? Isn’t this interfering?”

“Because I asked them too,” a voice sounded in Deke’s ear.

Deke whirled around. “What are you doing here?”

“That’s so sweet of you,” Riana said. “No, ‘how are you?’ No, ‘how did you get away?’ No, ‘are you all right?’ I feel so special.”

“Of course, yes, all of that. But you’re the LAST person I expected to see here. I was—I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected you would go back and marry the prince or not marry the prince, but you’re a princess. But being here?” Deke was in a daze.

“Thanks for asking how I escaped. Or how I’m once again having to save your butt,” Riana started.

“Saving my butt? I was doing a pretty good job of evading detection.”

“Except for being caught by the Alians and being watched by them the entire time. And just how do you think you were going to get off the planet?” she retorted.

“I was working on that. There’s always a way.”

“Next time you try rescuing a damsel in distress, make sure she doesn’t have the Grand Fleet surrounding her.”

“Oh, so you admit you were in distress,” Deke countered.

“Rhetorically speaking. I was in no physical danger,” Riana was backpedaling fast.

“Just your spirit. Which, as you have pointed out, is far more damaging than harm to life and limb,” Deke was earnest in his reply.

“Just so,” chimed in Dror. “In fact, it is because of your high regard for the spirit of man that we are helping you.”

“And the fact that I asked you to,” chipped in Riana.

“Yes, it is true you asked for our help. A request we considered because you too value the spirit of mankind,” Dror informed her.

“This is getting a bit complicated,” Deke said. “Let’s get back to how the hell I’m going to get off this planet. And what you have planned, my dear,” Deke indicated to Riana.

Dror answered. “To escape detection from the complete blockade that Prince Artero has placed around this planet, you must learn how to bend time and matter.”

“Are you talking about some kind of mind over matter?” Deke asked.

“No, not so. We are talking about the spirit over time and matter. The mind can only impact time and matter. It takes the spirit to truly bend it.” Dror’s good nature continued despite the doubt in Deke’s voice.

“Sounds like word games to me,” Deke countered.

“You will find out the difference between the mind and the spirit. The mind uses force and energy, the spirit creates force and energy. But I get ahead of myself—this you will learn in your lessons,” Dror instructed.

Dror steered Deke and Riana into the training section of the building. For two solid months, they were trained. And trained. And trained. While two months is scarcely enough time to teach sometime what Alians take a lifetime to master, their studies were focused on one thing and one thing only.

In warfare, mankind’s emphasis has been on two factors: 1) hit with a bigger hammer, 2) shoot a faster bullet. Whether that implementation has been slingshots or catapults, lasers or sonic waves, the goal has been to hit the opponent harder and sooner than he can hit you. The attempt at peace has been on the premise of “if you hit us, we’ll hit you back, so don’t hit us.”

Considerable effort has been made at bending space, such as warp drives and transporters. Theories have been advanced—with limitied workability—about bending and folding space over on itself and then “jumping” across the folded void, thus shortening the distance between distant galaxies. No one has concentrated on bending time. Before the Alians, that is. While they have many advanced technologies, including the handling of energy and matter in faster and bigger ways, they’ve also tackled the manipulation of time.

If you can bend time, the apparency is you can move back and forth in time. If you can be at Place B 5 minutes before you left Place A, it appears that you are in two places at once.

By going through a rift in time, and can travel without time passing, and appear in another location as if one jumped through space. Going through a rift in time is the first step in bending time, and thus the Alians concentrated their training on Deke and Riana on creating, moving through and closing rifts in time. One doesn’t want to leave time rifts open throughout the universe. It creates confusions when others disappear, particularly if they reappear in locations they are unable to return from.

With some electro-mechanical devices and two months of hard work, they were able to learn how to manipulate time rifts.

With their limited training, it required converting vast amounts of matter into energy, aka fuel. Escaping from the planet would require a week’s worth of fuel for his little speedster, so he would have to plan his time rift to exit his ship close to a source of fuel or he would be adrift in space.

Dror met with both Deke and Riana before they left. “You have learned well. While it is not our place to tell you how to use this gift, we ask that you use it for good purposes. Good purposes does not mean that you use it win a battle or war, but rather to not need the battle or war in the first place.”

“Hey, I’ve played fair and square, I never look for a fight. Well, almost,” countered Deke.

“You have a good heart, Deke, but you sometimes have mud in your brain,” Dror spoke simply and truthfully and it was hard for Deke to get mad at him. “Did you think that whisking Riana away from her wedding the way you did would not have consequences? If the situation was reversed, what would you have done?”

Deke and Riana looked at each other. Riana started to answer, but Deke inserted his words first. “You have a point. You most likely have a recommendation for me.”

Dror smiled. While the mouth that never moved prevented that gesture from appearing, the shape of his face changed and his eyes twinkled. It was most definitely a smile. “Think of consequences. There were several ways to whisk the fair lady away from her wedding. Or perhaps you were afraid that she would not have the courage on her own to say ‘No’ at the appropriate time?”

Riana looked at him with surprise. “So you really do like me after all.”

Deke managed to stop from turning red. His ears did turn a slight shade of pink.

“I never think that far ahead,” he replied.

“Now you must. With greater knowledge, with greater power, comes greater responsibility. If you use that power and knowledge unwisely, you will experience more trouble and difficulty than you expect. Use it wisely, use it for the benefit of all concerned, and you will do well. I trust that you will use it wisely.” Dror almost exuded pride and love for his two pupils.

“May we return?” Riana politely asked.

“You may. You will know when the time is right. If we are not here, you will find clues to locate us. I wish you well on your adventures.” With that, Dror was finished and ushered them to Deke’s ship for their departure.

Strapped in, Deke looked at Riana, who was sitting in a second chair newly installed to accept a co-pilot. The fact that he allowed the seat to be installed willingly indicated a marked change from his solo inclinations.

“We’ve drilled this a dozen times. It should come off like clock-work. If we exit at the Gendromeda system, we can change ships and return to Sanbartan and pick up my freighter without anyone being the wiser. We can make our way back to Gendromeda and pick up this baby and we’re home free.”

“Deke, we’ve been over this half a dozen times. I know the drill,” Riania reminded him.

“I know, I’m just a little nervous. Being caught by your former betrothed’s army of ships up there is bad enough, but to be caught with you on my ship, well, even worse.” Deke didn’t smile.

“This part will be fine. Let’s do it. Counting down, NOW.” Riana had set the rift computer and hit the Start button. A melodious female voice filled the ship. “30 seconds to engagement.” Riana looked at Deke. “Nice voice. Was it someone you knew?”

Deke smiled. “Close. It’s a computer generated voice that’s close to my mother’s.”

“Right,” Riana countered.

“15 seconds,” the melodious voice counted.

“Forward thrusters, now,” Deke said as he moved the throttles to quarter forward base thrust.

“Mark,” Riana answered.

The ship shot forward out of the Alian’s hanger, in a completely different location from where it entered when it was pulled in by the tractor beam. The ship’s computers were programmed for the new location, and everything went uneventfully.

Traveling at 100 miles per hour under the water, they were quickly several miles away. Coming to an area of an open plain for the ocean floor, Deke moved the throttles forward. “Full forward base thrust,” he announced as the ship shot forward.

“5 seconds,” the melodious voice announced.

“4, 3, 2…” the voice continued.

The navigation computer pulled the nose of the ship upward and they shot towards the surface of the water.

“…1, engage,” the voice completed.

It looked as if time stood still. Bubbles in the water stopped moving. When they broke the surface, there was no splash. Clouds in the sky were motionless. Their radar showed 7 enemy ships and drones around the planet, all stationary.

The melodious voice broke the silence. “Time rift successful. Ship’s time until arrival at Gendromeda is 9 hours 32 minutes. All systems operational.”

Deke and Riana looked at each other as they sped out of the planet’s atmosphere. “It worked!” they exclaimed simultaneously as they laughed out loud. They grabbed each other’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

And that, my friends, is how Deke and Riana met. They went on to many more adventures which have been well chronicled. Not only did they use the secrets of time rift well, they become famous throughout the galaxy. As for the prince, well, Riana’s planet never did associate with the prince’s and her brother became King and brought the planet into the Galactic Civilization as a full member. Prince Aberto did inherit the kingship of his planet, but his sexual indiscretions resulted in his own brother removing him from the throne at risk of exposure. He lived out his life as a rich aristocrat, attending many social and important functions but with few real friends.

Deke and Riana married and had several children. Many, many years later they retired from gallivanting around the universe and doted on their great-grandchildren, telling them many stories, some true, some made-up, but always to entertain. Thorough research based on those stories resulted in my chronicling their actual escapades, to which they allowed themselves to be persuaded to be printed.

The story of how they met has never before been told. When researching their stories I met up with the Alians, who not only trained me in time rifts but opened their files to me. Deke and Riana confessed that it was true when I brought them the rough draft of this manuscript, corrected a few points, and decided that it could be published. They then proceeded to question me on my love life, and what I was doing to find and romance someone who would be a good wife for the rest of my life. I took this all in good humor, as they’d been prodding me on this same topic for years. You see, they’re my grandparents.

The End.

©2011, 2012 Curt Larson


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