(Author’s note: if you haven’t read the earlier parts of this story, you should read that first before enjoying this story. Start with “Just Another Day At The Office”.
“Kind of an odd place to put a museum...” Sam mused out loud as the Alyra approached the pier. He stretched and yawned, the cool air helping him come alive after an early wake-up call this morning. The sea voyage had taken just under 6 days and Sam was looking forward to stepping on dry land again. Fortunately they were ignored by the Drekons and were able to make the trip without incident.
The museum was located quite literally on the water, with part of it on land and part of it on pilings cantilevered out over Warlock Bay. Everything about the place felt unfamiliar to Sam, which was no surprise given how far they’d come. The museum was located in the city of Atlantis on the Southern Continent, over 6000 miles from home.
After ship’s captain P.J. Nath expertly glided the Alyra alongside the dock, several resistance members took ropes and tied them off, securing the sleek and fast ship to the pier. They had finally arrived at the “Museum of Antique Warfare”. A place Sam had never heard of until last week.
“Everything appears undamaged, let’s go ashore” said Jeremiah, the leader of the resistance movement. The resistance was trying to fight back against the occupation by the Drekons. The Drekons were terrorizing the population of Cestus III, raiding and pillaging once a day with a single ship. Unfortunately they had not yet devised a way of taking out that ship, which is why they made the long journey to the museum. The museum was supposed to contain the very last military vessel produced by the New Liberty shipyards, 475 years ago. Whether it could be of any help, no one knew, but Jeremiah was very optimistic.
Eleven of the party went ashore, with Captain Nath staying aboard the Alyra to do some post-journey checkouts of her mini-fusion plant and other vital systems. She had performed well, getting the crew safely there in record time without a single problem.
As they approached the main entrance, Sam was a little surprised to find the front door open and the lights on inside. Inside, the ventilation hummed and soft music played in the background. “It’s like nothing happened”, Sam thought to himself. He wondered if the people here even knew about what was happening to the rest of the planet.
“Welcome! I’m Nez, a volunteer here at the museum. Admission is 10 Ravens per person, and we accept cash only. How many in your party?” The voice startled Sam, and came from his left. There was a small ticket counter with a staffer that he hadn’t noticed upon entering.
Jeremiah stepped over and said “we’re expected by the curator. Please inform him that Jeremiah is here with his group.”
“Certainly! Please wait here a moment”.
Turning to Sam who looked a little confused, Jeremiah said “Nika called ahead” and winked at him.
While they waited, the resistance crew examined the lobby displays. Posters and artwork depicting fighting spaceships, defense turrets and 3D-animated battle scenes covered the entry wall. Sam was sure he recognized some of the ships from the IGCBCS system. “That’s a Dreadnought! And that one’s gotta be a Frigate” he exclaimed.
“Yes, Sam. A lot of what you see when you log in to the IGCBCS is drawn from the ‘real’ world or didn’t you know that?”
“No, I didn’t. But I guess it makes sense when you think about it...”
Just then, two men approached, and one stuck his hand out to Jeremiah. “Greetings! I am Hikaru Shidou, museum curator. And this is Hiji Paratwa, exhibit specialist. He’s the most knowledgeable staffer we have on that ‘special exhibit’ you wanted to see”.
“Thank you for taking the time to see us, Curator. Please lead the way”. Jeremiah gestured with his hand towards the museum proper.
“Of course! Follow me, please.” The curator led the team past exhibits of everything from handheld weaponry to flight suits worn by space pilots, to actual debris from attacks before the great wars ended. The Inter-Galactic Treaty, signed approximately 475 years prior, had ended all actual combat in favor of virtual fighting done in an online universe. Since then, the economy of Cestus 3 had flourished and the people were happy. These relics were from a time the government wished its citizens to forget; hence the museum was located far out of the way and was not promoted. As a result, very few people came to visit each year.
As they walked through the main gallery, the curator pointed out a few notable items here and there. When he saw Sam hesitating at one particular small showcase, he stopped and said, “Do you know what those are? They are rare indeed!”
The case contained a set of small metallic items about an inch wide and 3 inches tall that looked like decorations of some sort. “No, I don’t. What are these, Mr. Shidou?” Sam asked.
The curator placed a hand on Sam’s back and said “please, call me Hikaru. My father is ‘Mr. Shidou’! Anyway, you are looking at a complete set of Commander Insignia. During the pre-IGT period, each planet and outpost had a Commander in charge who specialized in one area of operation.” He pointed to the leftmost one and said, “that one is a Production insignia, followed by Tactical, Defense, Research, Construction and Logistics. They’re all fairly rare, and as far as I know we have the only complete set on the planet.”
Jeremiah approached the case and asked politely “Hikaru, if you don’t mind, time is of the essence. May we see the Corvette?”
“But of course. Forgive me, I don’t get the chance to talk about our exhibits as much as I’d like. It’s right through here.” Hikaru led them through an archway into a very large darkened hall. “Wait a moment, I’ll get the lights”.
Several jaws dropped as the room’s sole exhibit came into view in the bright lighting. The hall was dominated by a huge transparent aluminum enclosure housing a large one-man fighting ship on a silver pedestal. The Corvette. The group was abuzz immediately.
“It’s real! It’s really real!” Nika said in wonderment.
“Wow! I can’t wait to get my hands on her, right Brent?”. Engineer Peter Mjin elbowed his counterpart in the ribs.
“Stop right there, Ace” Jeremiah held up his hand. “There are ladies present”. Ace was the group’s pilot and was understandably excited.
“Would you look at that! It’s in mint condition!” exclaimed Nalle Bardolf, the group’s Historian as he walked around the enclosure.
“She never flew, but that is good for us” explained Hikaru. “She was preserved right off the assembly line. She finished building the day after the IGT was signed and it was either ‘self-destruct’ or ‘museum’, and as you can imagine we’re very glad the leaders of the time decided on choice ‘B’”.
Jeremiah caressed the clear transparent aluminum case with something approaching reverence. “I for one am very glad those leaders had the foresight to preserve her. What else can you tell me about her?”
Mr. Paratwa cleared his throat and began. “Well, firstly, your comrade is right – she is in mint condition. That’s because she went directly into this case at the shipyard. It’s made of a single three-dimensional seamless piece of pure transparent aluminum. The atmosphere inside is 100% Argon, humidity and temperature-controlled. We’ve been carefully monitoring the environment and adjusting as needed for centuries. As you can see there has been virtually no decay. She’s as perfect as you can get for a 475-year old lady.”
Dace Reddy, the group’s navigator, spoke up. “You said she went directly from the shipyard to the case. Wasn’t she stripped down first?”
“That’s the beauty of this specimen”, Mr. Paratwa went on. “Nothing was removed. She’s still got her Stellar Drive, computer, comm and navigation systems and yes - the laser cannons as well.”
“My word... it’s better than we could possibly have hoped for!” Jeremiah looked as though he may have been crying.
“Wait a minute! If all the systems are still in place, could she fly?” Predictably, the question came from Ace.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know. The ship didn’t come with an owner’s manual, and of course it hasn’t been powered up. I suppose it’s theoretically possible, if someone knew how to charge it up and operate it. Unfortunately the folks with that knowledge died over 400 years ago.”
Jeremiah said “I am sure we can still learn a lot from her, Ace, and hopefully put some of that information to use in our struggle with the Drekons”.
Ace grasped both of Jeremiah’s shoulders. “Don’t you get it, J? Forget learning about ancient technology! Let’s use it and blast the damned Drekon ship!”
“Ace, we don’t know if this ship even works after all this time. And you’re a Trade Ship pilot – you’ve got no experience with a ship like this! Even if we somehow overcame those problems, we have no idea if she’d be strong enough to take out the Drekon ship”. A thoughtful look came over Jeremiah’s face and he paused for a moment before going on. Rubbing his chin he said, “but I suppose it might be worth pursuing. What do you think, Sam?”
Sam had been gazing in awe of the old fighting craft and hadn’t said a word since entering the great hall. He finally spoke up. “It looks just like the Corvette in the IGCBCS system. And the Drekon ship resembles a Fighter. At least in the IGCBCS universe, a Corvette will totally own a Fighter one on one, every time. So far, we’ve seen some scary parallels between the pre-IGT period and the IGCBCS system. If reality follows the online universe, it could be the same. Even with the Drekons’ advanced tech a Corvette should win, easily.”
“That’s no guarantee! Just because your computer-based ‘virtual combat’ says so doesn’t mean it would work in reality!” Ace spoke out.
“I think we’re getting way ahead of ourselves”, Jeremiah mused. “Unless someone knows how to power one of these up, she isn’t going anywhere. Plus, she’s stuck in there and we’re out here.”
A small voice spoke up from the back of the group. “I think I can help with the first part”. The voice belonged to a rail-thin man with thick glasses who looked very nervous. No one had seen him enter the hall.
“Who are you? And how can you help?” Jeremiah inquired of the newcomer.
“I-I’m Lucius. Lucius Vantreyl. I’m a volunteer here at the museum. I overheard your conversation and I think I may know something about your power question. I’m kind of a hobbyist. I build scale models of these old ships all the time. And I study them. A lot. I even have a Corvette scale model in my basement. Well, it’s my Mom’s basement, technically, but it’s also my workshop. I spend a lot of time down there when I’m not here” he added, rambling.
Brent Ward, one of the two engineers in the group tried to get him to re-focus. “What about the power?”
Lucius pushed his glasses up on his nose and walked to the display case. “Well, see, the Stellar Drive provides all the ‘juice’ the ship needs when in flight. Not just propulsion but weapons, computers, life support, all of it. It can go quite a long while on one charge, though, but obviously not 475 years!” Nervously laughing at his own perceived humor, he snorted loudly which echoed in the great hall.
What a nerd! Sam thought, rolling his eyes.
Sensing he was the only one laughing, Lucius stopped abruptly and cleared his throat. “Ahem. Anyway, the initial charging of the drive is done at the time of construction at the Shipyard. It takes a lot of power. If the ship lived long enough, it would need to visit a Shipyard or Orbital facility for a recharge. In the interests of speed and efficiency, they didn’t have to disassemble anything – there’s an external charging port on all Stellar Drive ships”.
“What? Where?” Peter Mjin looked into the case intently.
“There’s a removable panel in the rear underside of the ship, that’s where it would get ‘plugged in’ for recharging. But like I said, it took a lot of energy to spool up one of these babies! I doubt the museum’s got enough power for that. Especially with the grid so unreliable”.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Brent asked Peter Mjin.
Peter said excitedly “Yeah, I think so! We’re gonna need some explosive to bust open that case, and around 250-300 meters of high-capacity insulated power cable, and...”
“Now just wait a minute! No one is busting any cases open!” Mr. Paratwa looked angry at the thought. “This is a vital part of our history!”
“We’re gonna be history if we don’t get rid of those Drekons!” This came from Dace Reddy, the group’s Navigator.
Turning to face Paratwa, Hikaru said, “he’s right, Hiji. Our planet needs this ship, and they need it out of the case. It does us no good sitting there looking pretty.” Hikaru laid a hand gently on Hiji’s shoulder and said softly, “it’s time to let her out of her cage.”
“How are you planning to solve the power problem?” he asked the engineers. Sam had an idea of what the answer was going to be, but he hoped he was wrong.
Peter and Brent looked at each other with a conspiratorial smile. “Why, the Alyra of course! She’s got a beautiful mini-fusion plant right onboard. I bet it’s plenty enough to get the job done!” Peter said happily. Then his face turned serious. “Of course, that means she’ll be dead in the water unless someone brought a spare fusion plant with them...”
Stranded in Atlantis?“ thought Sam. Oh well, beats being killed by the Drekons I guess!
“Whose job is it going to be to tell Captain Nath about this?” asked Juan Obi, the group’s Logistics officer. “I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be them!”
Jeremiah held a hand up. “I’ll take care of that when the time comes, Juan. In the meantime, the first order of business will be opening the case. If we can’t do that, we’re back to square one anyway. Sam says that a Corvette is stronger than a Fighter in IGCBCS, and he’s right. If we’re to lay our hopes on this being also true in real life, we desperately need to get this Corvette operational. Brent, Peter – your first priority is cracking this case in a way that does not damage the ship inside. Can you do this?”
“Yes, J - we can. I think.” Peter rubbed his chin. “Cutting into transparent aluminum isn’t easy. But shaped charges placed at strategic points along an edge or two ought to do it nice and neatly. Give us an hour to get the equipment off the Alyra and set things up.”
“Go. And good luck!” The two engineers swiftly headed back out of the hall, talking rapidly to each other about the task at hand. Jeremiah turned to Sam. Sam had a curious look on his face. “What are you thinking?”
Sam replied seriously, “I’m thinking about all the similarities we’ve seen between the online universe and this situation. There are just too many coincidences, but maybe...” Sam paused, gathering his thoughts. He continued, “all I know is that in the IGCBCS universe, the Corvette wins against a Fighter every time. And this Corvette looks exactly like the one online. I mean exactly, down to the smallest detail. That has to be on purpose! Whoever designed the IGCBCS system apparently designed it to imitate real-life combat as it existed almost 500 years ago. Those Commander insignias we saw earlier? We have the same six Commanders in the system. The same six!”
“Go on, Sam – I think you’ve got something here” Jeremiah coached.
“If the system imitates life - and if that Drekon ship is only a Fighter, and we actually have a Corvette to use against it – well, let’s just say that I’m hoping life imitates the system for a change!”
TO BE CONTINUED..