Castle Roland

Trillion Dollar Family

by Rilbur

On Hold

Chapter 10

Posted: N/A

"Hey JB," Mathews said as Jared walked into his day-cabin. The marine who had escorted him there saluted, and then closed the door with himself on the other side.

"You wanted to talk?" Jared asked softly. This conversation had been coming for the better part of a week now, and both of them had been avoiding it. Jared had to deal with his sons, and Mathews had to deal with his superiors' less-than-pleased reactions to getting the Federation into a shooting war with the US. So far neither side had actually done anything about the state of war, but everyone knew it had to happen sooner or later.

Fortunately, Starfleet Command had decided that it didn't want Jared anywhere near the planet right at this moment. And by sending him, and his sons, to a deep-space research station, it bought time to maneuver, to try and avoid outright war.

"Yes," Mathews said, moving behind the desk and retrieving a bottle. "I did." Grabbing a pair of glasses, he filled both of them with a generous shot of the amber liquid, then cracked open a pair of soda cans and filled the glasses to the brim.

"You remembered," Jared said with a smile, lifting the drink to his lips.

"How could I forget?" Mathews laughed. "Rum and coke, now that's a normal drink," he laughed.

Jared took a sip, and enjoyed the spicy tang of the rum inside the sweet taste of root beer. "I'm sure there are other people with stranger tastes," he answered. "But probably not many," he added with a laugh.

"Sit down JB, please," Mathews said, gesturing to a couch, then promptly sitting across from it. "We have... a lot to talk about."

"I know, the question is-"

"Wait, please," Kode said, pained. "I didn't know that bitch was raping you," he said slowly. "But... I suspected, hell I knew something wasn't quite right."

"I'm going to listen to what you have to say... all of it," Jared said firmly, placing a hand on Mathews's knee. "And I won't judge."

"In many ways, you always were the more... forgiving of the two of us," Mathews said, tears in his eyes. "But what I have to say..."

"Cody said... I mean, Shrimpster said-"

"We generally call him Eric, these days," Mathews broke in.

"Eric, then, said that you were still... prickly where I was concerned," Jared said softly. "I've been thinking about it, and... if you had any idea what was happening..."

"Pride," Mathews confirmed. "I couldn't go back to you on my knees and beg forgiveness, so I..." Mathews started crying, and downed his drink. "I need more alcohol."

"You weren't angry at me, you were guilty as hell, weren't you?" Jared asked.

"Yes," Mathews said, drinking the rum straight from the bottle.

"That's enough of that," Jared said firmly as he took the bottle away, "what if something happens?"

"I got the doctor to give me debooze pills," Mathews said as he tried to reclaim the bottle.

"Those still take time to take effect," Jared said, "and you are the Captain of this vessel!"

"I need to be drunk to have this conversation, and we need to have this conversation," Mathews said angrily.

"Captain to the bridge! Flash one alert! Captain to the bridge!" Mathews paled at the voice coming over the com, and quickly downed some pills he fished out of a drawer in his desk.

"On my way!" he said, pressing a button on the com panel. "We'll have to have this talk later, JB," he added as he moved to the door. "Guard, get Mr. Warren to his family, now!" Mathews ordered as he ran out.

"This way, sir!" the marine sentry outside the door took Jared politely, but firmly by the arm.

"What's a flash one alert?" Jared asked, and the marine stumbled.

"What's wrong?" Jared asked.

"Flash one alerts are... they're reserved for declarations of war," the marine said.


"Agreed, sir," the marine said. There wasn't a trace of anger in his voice, but on some level Jared couldn't help but feel that there should have been. After all, the war was probably over the Federation's refusal to return the 'war criminal' and 'mass murderer' Jared Brent Warren, or the two children 'kidnapped from their families'.

It was pure BS, but it would have played well in the forum of international opinion if the US weren't regarded with the same distrust one would give any rat. That it was considered 'fact' that the current President was behind the death of the last President was just the tip of the iceberg these days: nobody trusted him, and as a result nobody trusted the US. Rumors of internal rebellions only made the matter worse.

"Dad!" Cody shouted, jumping to the door of their 'spacious' living quarters. Which, on board a war ship, meant that there was enough room that Cody actually had to leap out, rather than just up, to reach Jared.

"How ya doin', kiddo?" Jared asked.

"OK," Cody smiled. "Davey's upset again."

"Oh? Another spell?" Jared asked. Cody just nodded.

"Well, hopefully they'll stop soon," Jared said. He still remembered the 'good doctor's' response to his telling her where the data chip was stored, how it was retrieved, and what it contained. The fact that the chip contained exactly what he said it did had just been the icing on the cake, as far as she was concerned. She was a kind, loving, gentle woman... but she also loved to poke and prod at mysteries. And since she was trying to figure out ways to help Davey out, Jared could hardly complain!

A knock at the door was the only warning before a marine stuck his head in. "Sir, your presence is requested on the bridge ASAP," he said.

"Cody, I'll be right back," Jared said.

"OK Dad!" Cody said with a smile.

Jared didn't wonder what was up. A full scale declaration of war would put everything out of joint. But given the explicit orders from Starfleet Command that he was not, under any circumstances, to be allowed near 'mission critical' sections of the ship (which essentially put him under house arrest given the number of 'mission critical' areas), taking him to the bridge suggested that something big was up.

The bridge was... unexpected. Jared wasn't quite sure what he'd expected, but the relatively roomy room was not it. It was cramped, but because of the space needs of some of the equipment at least the overhead was higher. Jared wasn't exactly bumping his head on the ceiling when he walked around the ship, but the overhead was short enough to make him want to hunch over.

"Mr. Warren, welcome to the bridge," Kode said, not bothering to conceal the edge in his voice. Woops! Catching his mistake, Jared reminded himself to think of the Captain as Mathews for the moment, not Kode.

"Hello Captain," Jared said courteously.

"The flash one alert was just the first part of the barrage of messages from command," Mathews said tersely. "The US not only declared war on the Federation, it has succeeded in engaging and destroying a number of Federation installations and ships."

"What?!" Jared screeched. "That's impossible!"

"Command demands that you turn over any information you possess with regards to US space power, weapons, tactics, organization, or other military subjects," Mathews said flatly. "Comply."

"I don't have any information on how the US could attack space targets," Jared insisted. "And what I know about their ground tactics is pretty much public knowledge."

"Public knowledge or not, command really wants the information," Mathews said. "Starting with what do you know about the Q-ships they've deployed?"

"Q-ships?" Jared asked, confused.

"Ships designed to look like a civilian transport, but armed with military capacity. It looks like somewhere around a god-damned third of the US space merchant marine is armed!" Mathews said, incensed.

Jared blinked, shocked. Space military power was strictly banned by dozens of solemn treaties, limited solely to the Federation since almost the beginning. It had been the one real 'stick' the Federation had possessed from the get go, though as space became more important to earthly economies it had gained more.

And now the US had warships. In space.

"I know nothing of any use," Jared said softly. "Any such development routine would have been compartmentalized beyond anything I can imagine, and classified way over my head. Until this moment, I didn't know the US had any ability to project military power into space."

"Yeah, well, Command isn't going to believe that!" Mathews said.

"Sir!" one of the bridge officers broke in. "Our com link to Command just went dead, and it looks like jamming!"

"Jamming?" Mathews asked, shocked.

"Yes sir, I'm trying to-"

"Contact! Bearing 195 by 24, at about five light seconds!" someone called. "No transponder detected, and- Vampire! I say again, vampire!"

For half a second everyone was frozen in shock. "Sound battle stations!" Mathews shouted. "Close point defense up on auto now! Timeframe!"

"Missile impact in four minutes! Point defense acquiring now!"

"Check those numbers!" someone snapped.

"Those things are accelerating at five thousand G's!"

Jared didn't understand half of what was being discussed, but he did clearly understand the computerized voice blaring over the loud speaker. "Battle stations, battle stations, all hands to battle stations! Set condition Zulu throughout the ship!"

The Nova Maria was under attack.

"Captain, my sons?" he begged.

Mathews frowned, then hit a com device. "Corporal Winston, bring the Warren boys to the bridge, and find life suits for all three of them, now!"

"Aye aye sir!" came the response.

"The bridge is one of the best protected places on board the ship," Mathews explained. "It's the best I can do."

"Thank you," Jared said softly as a large cube in the middle of the bridge suddenly turned on. "My God!"

"It's called a holotank, and it lets me view the combat in full 3D. Pretty cool, huh?" Mathews commented before returning to his battle.

Jared wasn't equipped to understand what was going on, or half of the information displayed on the holotank, but some of what he saw was pretty obvious. The two oblongs where ships, and the oblong on the edge of the screen was the enemy. After all, Mathews hadn't ordered any missiles of his own fired, and those tiny dots had to be the missiles that were on their way.

"Dad!" Cody cried out, running across the bridge with his brother a step behind them.

"Please, sir, over here," a rating asked politely as he pulled them to a 'safe' place to sit.

"Return fire! All batteries at maximum rate cycle!" Mathews ordered. "Point defense, start tracking ASAP! Those things are going to be coming in fast!"

"The on-site computers are rejecting the solutions sir!"

"Override the blasted things!"

"Dad, it doesn't sound good," Cody said softly.

"No, it doesn't," Jared agreed.

"It's not quite as bad as it sounds," someone told them.

"Lieutenant Benton!" Jared smiled. "Don't you have a duty station?"

"Yes, you guys," the Lieutenant smiled. "Captain wanted to make sure you guys would be alright if anything happens. There's a work detail on their way with- Ah, over here Jackson!"

A work party came up with three... things in their arms, just as individuals in the form-fitting space suits called 'skin suits' swarmed onto the bridge and started manning various stations. "The fit isn't going to be perfect, but you need something to protect you from vacuum. Just in case the bridge loses atmosphere at some point."

"Understood," Jared frowned. Then his eyes bulged as all around the bridge people started stripping down. "What the hell?!" he swore, covering his kid's eyes.

The Lieutenant's mouth twitched. "Skin suits are called that not only because they are so close fitting, but because that's what you have to wear under them if they're going to work properly," he explained. "If nothing else, the plumbing connections are... difficult to make through clothing."

"Plumbing connections?" Jared asked, eyes wide.

"Yeah, the same ones you're going to have to make, so get those pants off," the Lieutenant ordered. "You'll probably want to get rid of your shirt, too, but you don't absolutely have to."

"This is absurd... obscene!" Jared complained as he and his kids were 'helped' into their suits.

"It's better than dying in vacuum," Lieutenant Benton said, shrugging. "Now in you go!"

"Can you at least tell me what's going on?" Jared asked, ignoring the distinct discomfort as the plumbing connections were made for him. The less of a fuss he made about it, the less of a fuss his kids would. And they wouldn't know how to apply the... tubes... any more than he did!

"Someone got a ship into weapons range without us picking it up," the Lieutenant said tersely. "Their missiles have an acceleration almost five times our own, which means that not only do their missiles arrive going more than twice as fast as ours do, they take half as long to get here. So that's giving our default tracking programs fits because they just aren't programmed to deal with that high an acceleration. Good news is their range appears to be shorter than ours, so they don't have as much time to accelerate, so their actual speed isn't that much larger than we can deal with-"

"I only understand about half of that, but it sounded like you contradicted yourself in there," Jared said, annoyed. "First you said their missiles are faster than yours, then you said they weren't!"

"Sorry, Sir, I'll try to explain more... simply," the Lieutenant frowned. "Their missiles behave differently than our own, and those differences are causing problems with our software. Because they got into such close range of our ship, the range advantage of our missiles doesn't really matter. It's the reverse with beam weapons; combat shows their weapons have a reach almost half again our own despite less than half the throughput on a per-mount basis."

"So their weapons are just different, not better or worse, but they've managed to maneuver the situation into one where their differences are purely advantageous?" Jared tried to translate.

"Precisely," the Lieutenant said. "It's not the best of situations, but the fact that that's a Q-ship and not a real warship is a huge advantage. They just don't have the number or weapons, or point defense mounts, that we carry."

"So we're gonna be fine?" Jared asked, and received his answer when the Lieutenant just looked away.

"Blast doors will seal in thirty seconds! Blast doors will seal in twenty five seconds!" began blaring from the 1MC.

"Do they have to run the PA so loud?" David complained.

"Onboard ship it's called a 1MC," Jared corrected him.

"And the restrooms are called heads!" Cody giggled.

"And the hallways are called passageways," David rolled his eyes. Behind them, the blast door leading to the bridge slammed shut violently, reminding Jared of why he and his sons had been expressly warned to keep themselves clear of the places marked with red and yellow stripes. If your arm was in the way when the blast door sealed itself, you'd lose it. And while it was unlikely for the ship to suddenly lose pressure, the blast doors would automatically seal shut if they thought that was happening. Jared pulled his son's tight and settled in to watch.

The battle stretched on for endless minutes as the two ships hurled missiles at each other. Jared didn't understand the words of the conversation going on around him, but he could clearly recognize the cautious optimism that was slowly creeping into their tones. The Nova Maria's missiles were already most of the way to the target, and so far the enemy's missiles had yet to break into the 'inner defense zone'.

Of course, all things were subject to change...

"Missile hit! We've got a clean hit!" someone shouted, and everyone cheered as the enemy vessel stopped firing. "They appear dead in the water!"

"Keep on the ball, people! They've still got missiles in flight to deal with!" Mathews ordered as he smiled.

"We've won," Lieutenant Benton sighed. "Without shipboard guidance, the odds of any of those missiles getting close enough to the ship to do us any harm-"

"Never tell me the odds," Jared said, laughing. "Sooner or later, the universe always breaks them!"

"True, but I doubt-"

Suddenly, the entire ship seemed to pitch sideways. Alarms blared as the blast doors on the bridge slammed shut and the lighting dimmed. "Direct hit on forward engineering!" someone shouted.

"What the hell happened?" Mathews shouted as the ship bucked again before the engines cut out, leaving the ship in zero-G.

"Point defense continuing on automatic, I don't think we're going to get any more leakers!" someone called out.

"What happened?" Mathews shouted. "Talk to me people!"

"It looks like Engineering got hit by an energy weapon of some kind, Sir!"

"Impossible, they're still at four LS!" someone shouted back.

"Damage report is clear, sir, it had the punch-through effect of a laser, not the blasting of a nuke!"

"A laser warhead..." Benton whispered. "Sir, I think I know what it was!"

"What?" Mathews snapped.

"We don't use them, but it's possible to use a nuclear detonation to power a laser of immense power. It doesn't survive very long because it's at the heart of a nuclear explosion, but it has a lot of power over that time frame. And, beyond that, it can reach out a lot further than an explosion. With nukes, you practically have to bring them into contact with the hull to do any good. With the bomb pumped lasers, you don't have to get half so close," Benton said quickly. "Just keep them out of the inner defense zone, and we'll be fine... I think."

"You heard the man!" Mathews shouted. "Get back on your PD stations and make damned sure that nothing else leaks through!"

It only took another few minutes for the last of the enemy missiles to cross the void between the two vessels, and in that time the enemy ship was smashed out of existence by the follow-up salvos the Nova Maria had already sent her way. Mathews had declined to terminate the missiles, on the grounds that the enemy missiles were still coming on.

"Just this last salvo left, and then we're free and clear!" Benton whispered to Jared.

"Good, I'd hate-" The ship again shuddered and shook under an impact. "Direct hit, aft engineering this time sir! Looks like the drives section is completely scrapped!"

"Well, that's a horrible loss," Benton laughed.

"What's so funny?" Jared asked.

"It's a long story, and classified to boot, but-"

Suddenly a buzzer began to go off. "Ah hell!" someone shouted. "Looks like that hit short-circuited something, drives are online and initiating jump cycle!"

"Oh fuck!" Benton whispered.

"What does that mean?" Jared asked as the computer counted down from five.

"Hold on to your hats!"

Suddenly reality lost all meaning around them, dissolving into random chaos.

Jared couldn't possibly feel nauseous, his augmentation wouldn't allow it. But he still felt like he'd been turned inside out, upside down, and then spun in circles. Except it also felt like he'd been sliced up into a million pieces, each of which had started spinning independently of the others. And those were simply the sensations he'd been able to put a name to. Groaning, he opened his eyes and tried to sit up. The moment he did so he realized that up and down had lost all meaning, and he was floating in the middle of the bridge. All around him were other figures, groaning as they tried to get up too.

"Report!" Mathews said weakly. Jared could barely hear him over the bleeps and boops and wails of various audio alerts. "Report!" he tried again more strongly.

"Emergency jump sequence completed," someone answered weakly. "DCC is polling the ship now."

"Understood," Mathews replied. "Astrogation, any idea where we are?"

"The computer is auto-running the plots now," came the answer.

"How long?" Mathews asked.

"I don't know," Jared could hear the shrug in the reply as he finally managed to snag a handle to support himself. Thankful that he'd finally managed to anchor himself he glanced around. Swallowing, he focused on not throwing-

Davey! Cody! Jared looked around until he saw them, floating not too far away. He pushed off gently and snagged them. Cody was waking up, but Davey was just thrashing around, eyes rolled back. "Shit!" Jared swore. "Medic!" he called.

"What's wrong?" Mathews demanded. "Oh shit... Davey! Medic to the bridge, medic to the bridge!"

Jared wasn't an expert in zero-G maneuvering, but he couldn't help but recognize the skill with which Lieutenant Benton leaped across the room from wherever he'd been floating, grabbed Davey, and started pulling him along towards the hatchway leading from the bridge. Taking a better grip of the moaning Cody, Jared did his best to follow suite. He wasn't quite as graceful, but by pushing off a bit stronger than Lieutenant Benton could safely manage he just barely kept up as the Lieutenant dragged Davey off to sickbay.

The scene was practically one out of hell. Sick bay had six beds, and all of them were filled with men who looked like they couldn't possibly survive. Jared recognized burns on one of them, and another had been peppered by shrapnel, probably by something exploding around near him, but he didn't have a clue what had happened to some of the others.

Davey's life probably -- probably -- wasn't in danger. The other men...

The part of him that wasn't a father, that could recognize the logic behind triage, understood why Davey had to wait. The rest of him didn't give a damn, and he wanted to howl with anger and rage and tear the sickbay down around his ears until he got his son some help.

So he let the doctors shove him outside the doors, then pulled himself over near Lieutenant Benton. "I don't want leave Cody here. Those men..." he shook his head.

"War is ugly," Benton nodded. "We got lucky, but... ugly. I'll take him back to your temporary stateroom."

"Thanks," Jared nodded. "I'll stay here."

Cody tried to argue, but kept yawning. Jared understood how he felt, and was glad he didn't feel as tired. Whatever had happened at the end of that fight... Jared didn't doubt for a second that it was why Davey was having a seizure, or that Cody was exhausted. Hell, it had exhausted him. But years of discipline and deliberate deprivation had provided him with the training to hold that exhaustion at bay for now. Cody didn't have those, and he was just a kid to begin with. The nanites could do a lot, but the basic 'matrix' they had to work with was a massively limiting factor. In this case, Cody just didn't have the energy reserves of an adult. He was still young enough to need daily naps, however much he hated them, and now was the time.

Jared couldn't pace in zero gravity, so he made do with practicing maneuvering in zero-G. After a bit he tried some basic stretches. If he'd had a weight set of some kind he would have tried to do a workout... but what kind of weight training could you do in space?

"Mr. Warren?" a sick bay attendant poked her head out of the hatch.

"Yes?" Jared pulled his way over. She shut the hatch behind her, not letting him in.

"Your son seems fine. We're going to keep him for observation, but I think he just had a bad reaction to the jump event," the attendant told him. "He's lucid, but extremely tired. We'll give you a minute to talk to him, but he needs rest. We don't have a lot of data on jump reactions, but seizures are... a very bad form. Our studies aren't thorough, but rest appears vital. Understand?"

Jared nodded. "Thank you."

"Come on," she guided him into sickbay. The five of the six beds had some kind of curtaining in place to provide privacy. The sixth almost had that set up, but they'd waited. Jared floated over and grabbed a handhold.

"Hey squirt," he said softly.

"Hey Dad," Davey yawned. "What happened?"

"I'm still working on figuring that out," Jared told him. "Listen, I just wanted to see that you were alright. According to the docs, it's really important that you sleep, OK?"

"Sure," Davey yawned. "See you later Dad..." he managed to finish before nodding off.

As Jared was pulling himself out of the room, he paused and turned around. Six beds. Six curtained areas. Where was the seventh...

Jared bowed his head in respect when he realized. "One of them didn't make it, did they?" he asked softly.

"Explosive decompression is one of the worst ways to die," the attendant said softly. "One of them died. The other two... are expected to follow by the end of tonight."

"Damn," Jared swore as he pull himself out of the compartment. He was no stranger to death, but... this was different. This was wrong.

As Jared found his way back to the bridge he mulled over his attitude. What was it about this entire thing that struck him as just so... so... wrong? Dead was dead. Did it really matter how those men had died? Hell, they'd died doing the right thing! Much as the many friends he'd lost over the years, their deaths were in the service of something greater. An honorable death. They'd chosen to stand between civilization and the barbarians at the gates, and made the ultimate sacrifice. How was that any different-

As Jared began to understand the difference, anger started rising in his gut, stronger than ever. He understood, now, why he was so angry, why it seemed so wrong. It was wrong. Because this time the barbarians at the gates weren't gangs spilling over from the continual Mexican civil war, or terrorists, or even the Congo Junta that had sparked the African War. This time the barbarians of the piece, the 'bad guys', was America. This time, his homeland had crossed a line. A line that it should never have crossed.

And it happened because that rat bastard was in charge. "Stephen Ellison, I will see you dead," he muttered under his breath as he slipped onto the bridge.

"Mr. Warren!" Mathews nodded to Jared. "How is your son?"

"Resting quietly," Jared told him. "Doctors expect a full recovery."

"Good," Mathews sighed. "At least we have a little good news."

"How bad is it?" Jared asked.

"Bad," Mathews sighed. "Navigation still hasn't plotted our position, which means we aren't even inside the solar system."

"What?" Jared shouted. "How is that possible?!"

Mathews sighed. "Top secret here."

"I think I have a right to know," Jared snarled.

"You do, I just want to make sure you know to keep your mouth shut," Mathews said through gritted teeth.

"Oh," Jared said. "Sorry."

"It's alright," Mathews sighed. "We're all tense. Basically, when the Takihashi Discontinuity was discovered, it opened up two different engineering approaches to faster-than-light travel. The Takihashi Jump Drive, used by the test probes and slated to be used in the interstellar ships being built, is more stable and predictable. You point a ship in a given direction, fire it up, and you start moving, predictably, at a rate determined by the strength of local gravitational forces and the power you pour into the drive. The further out from the nearest planet or star, and the more power you use, the faster you go."

"I got all that," Jared nodded. "The other thing is that the drive is just plain huge, and requires lots of juice. The little test probes, since they didn't have to carry anything, were a lot smaller than any full up ship using the thing."

"Yeah," Mathews nodded. "Well, there was a second type of drive. Completely useless. It wound up being called the Hopper Jump Drive. You essentially create a localized bubble in space time, knock it 'up' away from the curvature of space, and then drop back in somewhere else. Depending on the amount of power you put into it, you find yourself somewhere between one and five light minutes away from your previous location, in a completely uncontrollable location."

"Sounds... useless," Jared told him.

"It is, on its own. What's interesting is what happens when you combine the two," Mathews told him.

"Combine them?" Jared asked, eyes narrowing.

"Yea," Mathews nodded. "I don't understand the math. Hell, I don't think any of the physicists involved understand it! It was noticed during some experiments that when the two drives are activated in proximity, the Takihashi Jump Drive 'drags' the Hopper Jump Drive behind it."

"Drags?" Jared asked, then his eyes went wider. "As in if this ship is near one of the big ones when it goes FTL, and activates it's 'hopper' drive..."

"Precisely," Mathews sighed. "It's also theoretically useful as a last-ditch defensive technique, and I probably should have used it before those missiles hit. Anyway, from what we can tell, the last hit threw our aft fusion reactor into critical overload. While the reactor automatically cut off the hydrogen feed, there was a lot of power built up that had to go somewhere. With most of the power grid in that area destroyed, when the power was pushed out of the reactor, it had exactly one place to go."

"The jump drive," Jared whispered.

"The jump drive," Mathews agreed. "Worse yet, the damned thing had taken damage too. The result was an extremely rough jump, that took us impossibly far. Not sure what happened, but..." Mathews shrugged.

"How long will it take to get home?" Jared asked.

Mathews stared at him. "Jared," he said eventually. "I don't even know where we are. We're at least a light-day away from the sun, minimum. Minimum. To give you an idea, that means we are at least twelve thousand AUs out. That's astronomical units for the astronomically impaired, about the distance from the Earth to the sun."

"That's pretty far out, but-" Jared started.

"Jared," Mathews cut him off. "I don't know where we are. Once we know where we are, we can try and make a guess. It isn't going to be a good guess, but we can make a guess. At which point we can start flying home... very, very slowly. Our engines took a nasty hit, and we simply don't have our full acceleration available."

"Can't you use that jump drive thing?" Jared asked.

Mathews bit back a retort. "Jared, we can't control which direction that thing takes us in the first place, and in the second place it's scrap. We can't use it."

"Fine, but can't you at least tell me how long it'll take to get back home?" Jared asked. "I know you can't be precise, but you have to have some idea!"

Mathews gritted his teeth. "Jared, until I know how far out we are, and have a better idea of the condition of this ship, I can't even guess... you know what, just go away."

"What?" Jared asked, surprised.

"I don't have time for inane questions right at the moment, so just... just walk away. Please," Mathews asked.

Jared barely contained a snarl as he turned to leave. As he did, someone swore behind him. "I've got a lock on our location Captain... about three light-months out from the sun, way over the plane of the ecliptic."

"Three light-months?!" Mathews said, shocked.

"Is something wrong?" Jared asked, turning to stare at Mathews. "Knowing where we are is good, right?"

"Jared," Mathews shook his head, "we are way, way out there. Pluto's orbit is, on average, about five light hours out. Light hours. We're three light-months out. Call it a couple billion clicks. We ain't making it home any time soon. Hell..." Mathews shook his head. "I don't think we're making it back at all."

"What?" Jared asked, slack-jawed. "This is a ship, right? Just point us to earth!"

"Jared," Mathews said sadly, "we only have about six months worth of food on hand. Six months, for a journey which could take years."

Jared looked at him, eyes begging for a chance. Any chance.

He didn't find any.

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