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To Sleep in the Sun, by William C. Burns, Jr.
 
by William C. Burns, Jr.
  

"Tam Baldor has the intelligence and the means.  In his troubled state of mind, he could destroy all life in this solar system."  I could see that Winston, Civil Commander of Research Tor, had the weary, haggard look of a man too long without proper rest.  I remained quiet, for the moment, while he measured me in the silence.

"But does he have the motivation?"  It seemed the best question at the time.

"I simply don't know!"  Winston barked, his hands raised in exasperation.  He was confused and frightened, a dangerous intermix in space.  "Tam's father died unexpectedly four months ago.  He took it badly.  He dropped to Earth and personally supervised the dispatch of the remains."

"To Earth?  A lot of mass down the Well for one man . . ."

"You don't understand.  Dr. Tammar H. Baldor is the fundamental scientist in Prometheus, the quantum-shift project.  He is the Prometheus Project."

"And what baby wants, baby gets."

"Crudely put."

"Did he specifically say that he intended to destroy the entire solar system?"

"Do you think this some kind of joke!?"  I had struck a nerve.  The twitch in my left index finger warned me the commander was dangerously close to some kind of explosion or break down.  I let him continue without my customary interruptions.

"This is as real as it gets, Inspector.  Tam is a very troubled and dangerous young man.  I believe his father's death has unhinged him; I fear the worst."

"OK, OK... but look, I'm having just a little trouble believing any one man is capable of the destruction you're implying."

"The Prometheus Project involves the nova energies produced in artificial quantum-shift black holes.  He has the knowledge and access to the equipment."  Winston halted.  His next words came filled with genuine dread.

"This entire system could be consumed in hellfire before breakfast."

Suddenly, a chill ran down my spine.  I must have visibly shivered, because Winston leaned back in his chair, nodding gravely.

"Believe it, Inspector Kye.  Believe it."

I pushed off the zero-gee hub...

I pushed off the zero-gee hub of Research Tor Station, slow kicking my air fins, vectoring lazily rimward.  Wild in the moment, I indulged in the sensation of freedom, a rare treat for one accustomed to living in the cramped quarters of space.  This station had all the amenities: free space, vendors, everything.  I was quite the tourist.  One thing appeared certain, Civil Commander Winston was clearly afraid.  And as his profile attested, he was a man not easily frightened.

I cued a request for a complete analysis of Tam's profile, now that I had access.  Satisfied that the data was progressing, I cued a communiqué with Felicia, my cohort in crime.  She always smiles when we exchange initial glances, a fine smile.

"Fei, You won't believe this.  They have sausages, on a stick, a real wood stick, cooked out in the open, with mustard.  Meet me at the vendor on... where is this?  Causeway seven, green belt."

I had eaten my fill when I first caught sight of her swim-kicking in from the rim.  Holding out my hand, I caught her, pulling her to the seat beside me.  "Kye, how many of those things have you eaten?"

I smiled, repentant.

"There'll be hell to pay.  You are so prepubescent."

She ordered and, powerless in the grip of the aroma, I had another for myself.

There came a pounding and...

There came a pounding and there was this... twinge.  I awoke completely lost.  My guts hurt.

"Fei?" I moaned.

"That's what happens when you eat stupidly."

I vectored towards the head and relief, crawling in the micro-gravity.  Still there was that sound.  Someone was pounding on the hatch.  Fei wasn't moving, so I cut my business short.

A young Navy Lieutenant attempted to step in as the hatch hissed open, a colossal breach of manners.

"I am Lieutenant Perry, and you are Inspector Kye?"

"Look, go away and leave me in peace."  I pushed him back across the seal.  The lieutenant, clearly not anticipating my response, seemed at odds with himself.  I've seen that look before.

"Inspector Kye, if you refuse to come with me voluntarily, I'll take you into custody.  You will..."

I pounced.  "You've violated at least seven major articles of the Interspace Ethic.  I am a free citizen, and I know the law.  Now, summon your superior."

Poor Lieutenant Perry grappled with his com-link, far too angry to speak.  Directly, he passed the link to me, under the watchful glare of my companion.

The Navy Commodore appeared on the view-plate and acknowledged my greeting.  "Is there a problem Inspector Kye?"

"Is the Navy in the business of arresting free citizens?"

"Normally no, but the situation is . . ."

"Talk to me."

"There is too little time and this is not a secure channel."

"You don't have the authority to arrest me or anyone."

"Arrest?  No, not arrest, impressed is the word.  You are now conferred the rank of Acting Lieutenant Expert SG in the Navy.  You will report to me immediately."

"But, you can't..."

"Yes, I can.  It's right there in the Articles of Citizenship.  'Any free citizen man be pressed into service under exigent circumstances.'  Of course, you'll receive compensation for services rendered."

Fei did not look pleased.

"I'll call you" was all I could think to tell her.

I hate gravity.  I hate authority, and I hate the foul-smelling, cramped quarters of military craft... but mostly I hate gravity.  We had built to well over one gee of constant acceleration, and even those imported peppermint tablets couldn't calm my stomach.

The grid within the com-globe flickered into life.  Inside, the interlocking fields, the image of the Commodore, regarded me. "Inspector Kye, Tam Baldor is aboard a craft currently vectored for Star-Forge Station.  He is carrying an object of unknown origin."

"How long before he arrives?" I asked.

"He will reach the station in seventy-three days, four hours."

"Surely someone has talked to the man, asked him the time, checked his passport.  What is it with this guy and why is the military involved?  This is a civil issue."

"First, there are military aspects to Dr. Baldor's work.  Second, the Navy has the only craft that can catch him, and third, all actions being taken are in agreement with Civil Commander Winston."

Something gnawed at the good Commodore, something . . .

"What of the military option?   Why don't you just torpedo him out of space?"  That knocked him off balance.

"Inspector... Tam Baldor is my friend."

There was silence.

"Why send me?"

"I am not unfamiliar with your wife's literary work.  Her renditions of your exploits..."

"Are vastly exaggerated," I interrupted.

"Inspector, if there is any way to stop Tam, without destroying him, we will pursue that option."

"Commodore, you know him.  Is he mad enough, vindictive enough, psychotic enough to annihilate every man, woman and child in the solar system?"

"Find him Inspector.  Find him, stop him if you can, then ask him that question.

Thirteen days out and things were getting worse...

Thirteen days out and things were getting worse.  We had crept up to two gees.  In all my years as a pilot, I have never subjected living human beings to two gees.

In addition, the whole ship-this is very difficult to describe-trembled.  It was very strange.  I suspected a drive malfunction was shaking the ship and tried several experiments to test my theory.  For instance, I sat a cup of caf-tee on the console, but it didn't ripple.  I questioned the crew, especially young Lieutenant Perry.  I used all my best maneuvers, but none of my little impromptu tricks betrayed anything.  By this time I concluded that my mind was suffering stress-induced delusions.

Too sick to eat, I spent my waking hours viewing and reviewing Tam's files.  I tacked the sheets of his personality profile across the bulkheads.  All the vid release transcripts were tacked to the walls.  All photos, school archives and government records were scattered at random.  There was a lot to see.  For instance, I found that Tam was quite a cartoon artist, very creative.  He was very proud of his Viking heritage.  Perhaps the most frightening thing was the depth of his love and respect for his father.  All of it there, spread around my cell.

I even had a few portfolios of files on my friend the Commodore as well as a few of the crew members, hidden in my bunk.  Access has its privileges.

More than a few have wisecracked that my investigative techniques are a dreadful waste of printout, but it's the way I work.  I've seen patterns emerge when a man's history is strewn all about the room, patterns you can't find on a comp-screen, right-brain function and all that.   This method of study is most satisfying in zero-gee.  I can float across the pages, change my orientation, close my eyes, even drift off, if I'm so inclined.

Twenty-one days out and my focus drifted...

I hate gravity.

Twenty-one days out and my focus drifted.  Out of shear boredom, I cued the navigation routine running in the on-board, a pilot's idle amusement.  The acceleration registered two gees, but something in the way the angles on the nav-becons changed looked odd.  What can I say?  The steady clicking of nav-becon angles serves as my mantra.  I do it lots of times, but something looked very wrong this time.  The position coordinates were shifting too quickly.  The change in

velocity looked off.  I cued access to our navigation database.  Numbers scrolled across the display for a moment, then the face of Lieutenant Perry appeared.

"Slow day on the com-deck, son?"

"Sorry, sir.  Classified data."  He looked distressed.

I made a pleasant face.  "My apologies." I lied.

The instant his image disappeared, I cued a calculator routine and plugged in all the numbers I could remember.  The computations yielded an acceleration well above 5 gees.  Figuring our course by dead reckoning, I concluded that we would intercept Baldor's craft long before he arrived at  Star-Forge, provided the ship didn't shake apart at the welds first

Later that ship's night...

Later that ship's night I lay strapped in my bunk.  They strap you to your bunk when you vomit all over the galley and pass out.  Perry, my appointed foster parent for the duration, leaned against the hull careful not to stand on my paperwork.  I had become attached to the young man, not that I would've admitted as much.

"You know I have never liked you," I squeaked weakly.  The shaking effect had become unendurable.

"Too bad, I've developed a grudging respect for you."

"Why won't you tell me what's going on?"

"Inspector, I wish I could.  No, I really mean it..."

There came a clap of thunder and then I was falling into darkness.

I recall dreaming about sleeping in.  My first clear memory was something wet on my hands.  My nose seemed to be bleeding and my left ribs throbbed.  The emergency red-lights and the sound of klaxons flooded the room.

I swatted something that brushed my face and sent the weightless, limp body of Lieutenant Perry careening against the far wall.  I'm ashamed to admit, I screamed.

When sanity finally crept back, I worked free from my straps in zero gravity.  Something had happened to our acceleration, something bad and Perry was cold dead long before I could reach him.  We disposed of the casualties per their logged wishes.  Perry had asked to be buried in space.  Tears are a nuisance in zero-gee.

Up to that point I had amounted to just so much baggage, but now good men had died in this effort.  I vowed Tam Baldor would answer, and answer to me personally.

The image of the Commodore floated...

The image of the Commodore floated in com-globe.  He looked ill.  "Inspector Kye, Dr. Baldor has destroyed six probes launched in pursuit.  We are reconsidering the military option."

"What else has he done?"

"Seven men on your craft died."

"Tam Baldor didn't do this!  These men pushed this experimental craft of yours way beyond its limits."

"Yes, but in pursuit of him."  He was having second thoughts.  Things were piling up and he wanted me to offer a plan, something, anything to keep him from destroying Tam, his friend.

"Look, we're back underway, thanks to spit and duct tape.  Best estimates of our rendezvous put us within visual range of his craft before he reaches Star-Forge.  Talk these young men into strapping me into the combat launch.  I can reach the station hours before he arrives."

"The launch pulls three gees.  Perhaps one of my officers..."

"I'll tough it out."

"Inspector, if we cannot learn Baldor's mission before he reaches Star-Forge, we will be forced to destroy..."

"Baldor is mine, Commodore!  You have dragged me out here and you will damned well let me finish."

"Very well, Inspector.  But remember, I am prepared to destroy the station and all aboard."

Seventy-two days out and we were behind schedule...

Seventy-two days out and we were behind schedule.  The launch was tiny, cold and foul.  Three gees out, turn around and three gees to match with the station.  It all sounded so simple.  I was unconscious most of the time.

Baldor's craft was within minutes of matching the station when I docked.  Exhausted, dehydrated and totally jazzed on my own adrenaline, I worked the lock and made mistakes.  The worst mistake being that Baldor was docking on the far side of the station, near the linear accelerator.  I should have anticipated that.

I careened through the deserted station like a madman, earning a sizeable scar from running into a bulkhead.

I found him in the launch area, singing some kind of growling, guttural song.  He was loading a blunt cylinder, about two meters long, into the accelerator when I drew aim on him.  He didn't flinch, or speak when he noticed me.  He simply looked up and waited.

"What is that?" I demanded.

"None of your business," he spat.

"You are in no position..."

"Either shoot me or go away!"

I turned my gun on the cylinder and he blanched.  "Open it.  Now!"

He stared at me.  "Who are you?" he asked at last.

"I'm the man with the gun.  Open it."

He worked the latches and pulled off a section of shielding.  He stepped back and motioned for me to come forward and inspect the contents.  I have never seen the eyes of a man so deadly earnest.

The container was filled with some kind of gravel or coarse dust. It did not appear dangerous.  He called out when I put my hand out to touch it.

"What is this?"  I had to know.

"This is very personal, very private.  Who are you?"

"We don't have time for this.  There are people out there that are convinced you want to destroy the entire solar system.  There are torpedoes on the way and if I can't call them off, we are both going to die."

He moved to put the shield back in place.  I blocked him and he was crying.  There was loss and... I guess pride, in his eyes.

"My father was a true Viking, a fine and proud man, rare in this or any age.  And this is all that remains.."  He wept.

I wept.

I activated my com-link and called off the attack.

Tam Baldor and I gave the remains of his father a grand Viking funeral, sending his body out in a tiny ship, to sleep in the fires of the Sun.

  

William C. Burns, Jr. (Millennium Artist) phased into existence in  Washington, DC, circa early 1950s, putting him on the trailing edge to the beautiful people of the late sixties.  Clearly he watched way too much Dobie Gillis and idolized Maynard (Shaggy from Scooby-Do).  Bill is a strange confluence of degreed electrical and biomedical engineer, graphic artist, actor, playwright, poet, father, and husband, but his first love is poetry (OK, the kids are more important than poetry, but it runs a close second.  He has published prose in intermix, ..ad infinitum, and others, and poetry at Cross Section, Gravity:  A Journal of Online Writing, Morpo Review, and others.  He also won the reader´s choice award at Third Horizon.  "I am calling for a balance between Art and Engineering, Rhyme and Reason, Yin and Yang," he says.  "Other than that I like to hike, do set design and act in plays, and drive on the Blueridge Parkway."

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