Early Days

Ice Age

Age of Conflict

Through the Eye of Paal

Maps and Tables

Ch 1

Chapter 1


With luck the centuries old cryogenic chamber would last until that proverbial perfect planet showed up just over the virtual next hill. Paal closed his eyes and wished for the ability to rub them. His body was bound in the crystal and circuitry of an old-time pilot support web. The old units allowed no free movement of the body within the time suspension bubble. If he'd had the money for a new one, he'd be able to rub his eyes. Shit, if he'd had the money for a new one, he'd have been able to afford a newer cryogenic chamber and he wouldn't be frantically looking for a type "M" planet circling a "G" star.

Setting the scanner to a searching sweep, Paal began programming the pilot's web. He'd just finished and was adjusting the drive for another puddle jump when the scanner beeped.

Expecting to see a "G" star parameter, hoping to see a "G-V" star with planets parameter, he was completely unprepared for the readout that dumped into his head. At first he didn't even recognize the thing. Then it came into startling focus and he gave a moan.

The authorities of the League of Planets apparently hadn't let him go scott free. As ships go the two man scout that pursued him wasn't much. It had a terrific range but lousy maneuverability and mediocre weapons. Most pilots called them "S&Ms" or "Search and Mangles." Thing is, one didn't need much when they went up against an ancient frigate ship with one fourth the regular crew complement. They had searched and now he was going to get mangled.

"Computer: when in doubt, bend over and kiss it good-bye." Paal had spent one entire night of drinking working out that code phrase.

The computer responded with what sounded like gurgling, and suddenly he was trying to breath through his eyeballs and cough with his ears. Random chance is a wonderful thing when you stack it in your favor. The dubious phrase was designed to activate a lock onto the planet with the closest parameters to his choice and take him there with all haste. Yes, that meant that he could land on a gas giant orbiting a neutron star, but that's what made it fun!

The results of his chaos theory quote were just a bit less than spectacular. The frigate went into drive for all of 47 minutes, then was silent. The star was just a bit big to be main sequence--probably closer to sub-giant--although it still fit as a "G-V" spectral type. This was really more than he had hoped for when he set the sequence in motion. Had he been traveling for a day or two he'd have been overjoyed, but 47 minutes put it right smack in the neighborhood he was trying to avoid.

Anxiously he fired up the scanner again to locate the S&M ship. There it was, already turning in his direction. If this planet didn't hold some very interesting surprises, he was going to end up mind wiped and praising the glory of concrete and pesticides. He spent a minute looking at the planet to determine the best landing site.

The world was about the size of the Terran moon, with half the surface under water. The gravity looked to be about earth normal--maybe slightly lower--which made the core incredibly dense. Every astrophysicist bone in his body began to itch. This was not a world that could rightly exist. Still, the S&M ship was hot on his tail. His choices had dwindled to two. Wait for the mind wipe police or take a chance on this planet. It was no contest.

Emergency landing procedure generated an enormous amount of heat from interaction with the atmosphere. Some of that heat was used to create energy to augment the pilot web's crash cushion but some of it just made things hot. He'd need to dissipate that energy quickly if he wanted to be out of his machine faster than his pursuer. The landing site he chose was just off the western coast of the largest land mass. If he could manage to stay out of water that was over a mile deep, he'd be able to use the lander tools to hide his craft.

Grimly, he set up the entry in the ship computer and activated it.

The result wasn't nearly as good as he had hoped. When he woke, he found himself in total darkness instead of the dark blue light he had expected. He'd made sure to set internal light to reflect external conditions. That meant one of three things. One: he was underwater and it was dark; two: he was under water and/or earth; or three: he was still in space.

Number three was just too depressing to consider. Besides, if it were true it would take only about a split second for him to find out...and die.

Since he had aimed to hit in daylight, the water would only show as night dark if something serious had gone wrong with his ship. Anything that serious would have put him in suspension until someone came to retrieve him. There was no one. Hence it was not night.

That left him under the ground.

Paal checked external temp and atmosphere before switching off the cryo suit, then went to a portal to see what he could see. Externals said hot water--which meant it was the water and earth condition--but the reality of his situation was much more bizarre than that. If he had barreled through earth, his exteriors should show earth. The alternative--that he'd managed to hit some sort of cave under the water--was the stuff of fantasy. He just couldn't believe in fairy tales. Looking out the portal was a shock. Rocks as big as his head were drifting gently down. Even with external lights he couldn't see the walls of the--the cave. Give it up, Bascore, he thought, until it threatens your life, it's just the way things are. It doesn't need explaining. The water--or whatever--was his first hurdle.

"Computer, display composition of exterior atmosphere within one meter of ship." Maybe he'd miss-read the original atmosphere. Again the computer confirmed the original assay.

"Then what's causing the suspension of rocks, you old bag of tin?" Paal kicked the console in frustration. In response, the computer reiterated the original assay. With a sigh, Paul let it go. Instead he headed to the lockers to pull out the EVA suit.

Here, his shoestring budget had proven useful. The old EVA suits could handle almost any condition up to and including boiling gelatinous water. The newer ones were less bulky, easier to donn, capable of fine work, less likely to puncture... but... they were only meant to be worn in vacuum. They couldn't handle positive pressure conditions.

Finally suited up and ready to go, Paal cycled through the air lock and stepped into the water. At first it felt like gelatin that he walked through; then the rocks started falling in earnest and the gelatin became real water.

"What the...?" Without warning a rock plummeted past him and tore a gash in his EVA suit near the knee. Water gushed in, filling the suit and forcing out the air. With scant seconds of air in his suit, Paal grabbed a lungful and held it; made a dash for the portal, slamming the door; and punched the cycle switch. Normal time to flush the airlock was under 3 minutes but it felt more like ten. While he waited he pinched off the flow as best he could and prayed for speed. When the water level was low enough to catch a breath, he pulled off his headgear and gulped the strangely stale air.


"Yes, Oh master of the abode?"

Damn! He knew he was just buying trouble when he upgraded his AI computer. The idiot savant was showing definite signs of personality degradation. It had even cut out the mental link in favor of speech.

"What's taking so long? I've got an emergency here."

"I'm bailing as fast as I can."

"Bailing?" That did it. If he ever got out of this mess he was going to give up the AI completely. Just then the last of the water drained out and the lock cycled. Paal stepped into the ship.