Alone in space, one little boy is a long way from home. He is the sole survivor of a damaged Kesian spaceship. The Kes believe in the power of magic to navigate the stars and are in a bitter war against a rival civilization who use the power of Artificial Intelligence to guide their ships. Paddy Smith is the captain of the AI vessel that finds the boy’s damaged spaceship. He and his crew rescue the strange silent boy, but he seems unable or unwilling to communicate with them. Little do they know that the boy has his own plans for their ship.
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I just want to go home. I just want to go home. I just want to go home!
No matter how many times he said it nothing changed. He was all alone. Alone in the vacuum of space and a trillion miles from anywhere.
What had old Gorgorius said? ‘If anything goes wrong then think very hard and we will come for you. You are never alone, my son.’ He was not his father. What father would send a child out alone into space to kill? How could he believe the old wizard’s lies? He knew he was doomed.
Unless? What was this? A ship! Not a Kesian vessel, but a ship nevertheless.
He lay back and thought very hard.
‘Paddy, wake-up please. I have some news for you.’
‘What news, love of mine. What could be so important to break the dream I was having? I am sure you were the girl I saw in my dream.’ Paddy smiled as he rose from his bed. The dream had actually been about his favourite team winning the championship, but he liked teasing Sophia.
‘If I created a physical representation of myself, then she would be far too concerned with navigation and the law of wormholes to appear in your dreams, Captain Smith. The news is regarding the discovery of a damaged Kes prospector. I think we should wake some more of the crew to organize a boarding party.’
‘Any signs of life on board?’ Paddy removed the sensors from his skin that monitored vital signs like heart beat and brain activity, and moved towards the shower in his cabin.
‘We are not close enough yet to determine that. I have tried hailing her on all frequencies, but there has been no response. She has not attempted to move her position for either purposes of flight or fight. I sense that either this is a trap, and will result in intergalactic war, or that she has a serious technical malfunction.’
‘Let’s be prepared for both instances. Wake all of the crew except the scientific and colonist teams. I want all inter-ship weaponry activated and a boarding party of robots and humans assembled in the launch bay—with light weapons and medical equipment.’ Paddy finished his shower and pulled on his lightweight space suit ready for travel outside the ship.
Paddy Smith, Captain of the SV (Scientific Vessel) New World, waited with six robots and four humans next to the ship’s main launch. His sensory adapter was tuned into the ship’s Command AI network. As always working with the New World’s AI was a pleasure—a good combination of intelligence and a seductive yet dominant female personality that he adored. They say that AI’s are often adapted to meet the personalities of their captains—maybe it was true.
She also reminded him of his wife in a few ways—not her voice or anything, but her general attitudes—practical, amusing and sometimes stern. But memories of this kind were bad for him to have and brought with them a whole load of tragic thoughts prompting sudden fits of depression—perhaps something the AI distributors would, on reflection, have wanted to avoid if they had intended to tailor the personality of the AI to his own.
‘We are in range now Paddy,’ Sophia told him and him alone through the highest communication level of the Command Network. ‘The ship has very low presence of life on it. It seems that most of the life-support systems are dead. There is only one surviving person on board—in one of the escape pods. The ship seems to have been badly damaged by impact with space debris—probably ran into an asteroid field.’
‘That’s the problem the Kingdom has with not having proper AI and relying on their spooky old magicians.’
‘They call them Navigators I believe, and in actual fact their level of skill is very high. Even so you are right. The accident is likely to have been caused by human error. Shall I get the launch ready for a boarding party?’
‘It seems that this isn’t a trap, but a genuine accident, so yes, go ahead. Any more data on the survivor? I’m worried that it might be one of the navigators. If it is, I want to be prepared for any mind tricks.’
‘The survivor seems to be a child—roughly ten to twelve years old.’
‘No dangers there then.’ Paddy swallowed hard. His own son had been eleven.
The launch pulled smoothly away from the New World and within twenty minutes had locked onto what remained of the Kesian ship’s docking area. Hand-held probes and the robots they took with them revealed that the only living thing on board was indeed a child-sized human in one of the escape pods. The rest of the ship was empty. The crew must have been sucked out of it when the cabin depressurized after impact with whatever item of space debris they had hit.
They came to the area of corridor holding the escape pods. There was only one. This was unusual on an AI ship, but apparently the norm on most Kes ships of this size. The only member of the crew worth preserving was considered to be the Navigator of the ship. This escape pod wasn’t going anywhere though. There had been structural damage to the release mechanism and pieces of twisted and melted metal held the pod firmly to the ship. The robots set to work with their lasers and cutter saws, careful not to pop the pressurized bubble that was the life support system of the pod, yet cutting an area so that the pods door could be revealed. The human members of the crew waited tensely. Jenny, the translator, had asked Sophia to patch through the latest patch for the Kesian language-set and was ready to communicate with the child inside. Jenny was also a trained social worker and a mother, so was well prepared for the likely emotional state of the child.
The robots had scanned the structure of the pod, revealing that there was an airlock. Jenny, Paddy, and the medical assistant, Clare, would go in with a child size space suit in case it was needed, make contact with the child and bring him or her back to the New World. Everything worked fine. The robots opened the door and the airlock worked. They were able to take off their suit caps and breathe the stale air of the pod. The door into the pod began to open. In the pod’s only seat sat a small boy, probably around eleven years old. He wore a space suit, but the left arm of the suit was damaged and blood could be seen staining its white material. Jenny greeted the boy in the most common of the Kesian languages and made reassuring sounds about their desire to rescue and help him. The boy nodded, stood up and entered the air lock. Jenny said that they would be able to fit a new space suit so that he could make the transfer to their ship. They would also treat his damaged arm. He nodded again and began to take off his own suit and clothing until he was naked apart from this underwear—a thermal body suit arrangement. Paddy looked at Jenny inquiringly, and she just raised her eyebrows. It seemed the boy didn’t talk or didn’t want to talk. Neither of them could make out his expression either. It was calm and resigned and neither sad nor angry nor happy.