To Susi, the world was full of wonders big and small. She found everything from the smallest creature to the largest ocean fascinating. The one thing she loved most of all were the long walks with her father, Captain Jon Velas of Automated Train Systems. Her father told her stories of traveling the stars as an Engineer on the ATS Jickett. He would talk about his work as the Vice-Captain of the ATS Pentoplaz, where he helped stop the riots on Shalan II. The one thing that he kept from her was the thing she always wanted most.
Ã¢â¬ÅDad, why did the trains stop coming to Beldor?Ã¢â¬Â
Inevitably he would repeat his rote answer, Ã¢â¬ÅHoney, you are just going to wait until you get older to here that one.Ã¢â¬Â
Then one day, a small probe landed on their front lawn. Susi saw it from her window on the second floor and rushed down the stairs, but her father got there first. He opened the probe and found a note inside. He read the note in silence before walking back into the house, ignoring Susi. He walked deadpan, his jaw locked, into the kitchen.
Ã¢â¬ÅOh, Jon, I just...Ã¢â¬Â she turned around to look at him, Ã¢â¬ÅOh my stars... A note?Ã¢â¬Â
She picked it up, read it, reread it, and started to cry. Jon hugged his wife, Ã¢â¬ÅIts all right, dear, everything will be fine. IÃ¢â¬â¢ll... get another job. ThereÃ¢â¬â¢s plenty of work in the city, and you two can start a small garden together.Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅJon, it will never be the... same. How are you going to explain it to Susi... sheÃ¢â¬â¢s never seen thÃ¢â¬âthose things.Ã¢â¬Â
Jon sighed, Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢ll do it tonight on our walk...Ã¢â¬Â
The way things were going, it was inevitable... welcome to commercialism.
How do you explain half a millenium of history to a young girl who has never been off of the continent of her birth?
Ã¢â¬ÅHoney, its time to tell you about the last train to Beldor V.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi smiled, then after seeing her fatherÃ¢â¬â¢s serious look on his face, she frowned, Ã¢â¬ÅWhy is it so important, father?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅIÃ¢â¬â¢ll try to tell you, but the story starts a long time ago...
500 years ago on the prime capital of the
Susi turned her head to the side, Ã¢â¬ÅWhy were the atmospheric shuttles expensive?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅAtmospheric shuttles had to lift off from the planetÃ¢â¬â¢s surface and had to have lots of extra protection... The trains could be built in space for a fraction of the cost and could also transport more people at a time.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi sat for a moment thinking things over before asking another question, Ã¢â¬ÅThen how do you get into space without using an atmospheric shuttle?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅIt would be best if I showed you... come on.Ã¢â¬Â
...The colony, classified as IX-199 and henceforth referred to as Beldor Prime (which constitutes Beldor V and outlying territories), has been considered off limits for all trade vessels... Violators will be towed... Since the decimation of Automatic Train Systems (henceforth Ã¢â¬ÅATSÃ¢â¬Â), the Council of Transportation has found it necessary to close Beldor Prime from all routes...
Susi stared in awe at the wondrous site before her. Ahead was a huge building, and next to it, a unique looking device.
Ã¢â¬ÅSee that odd looking thing behind the building?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅThat is called a launcher. The thing is like a peashooter... you take a small disposable plasti-metal Ã¢â¬ËpodÃ¢â¬â¢ and place it inside the bottom of the device, load in a family and its cargo, then launch it into space... The device uses a unique method to speed the object at very high speeds... A thing like a catcherÃ¢â¬â¢s mitt catches the pod in orbit around the planet where the family can get onto the train.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi stared at the peashooter.
Ã¢â¬ÅHoney, letÃ¢â¬â¢s go sit someplace.Ã¢â¬Â
... This is all, of course, absolutely necessary in order to avoid further confrontations...
Ã¢â¬ÅDad, I still donÃ¢â¬â¢t see why the trains are so important.Ã¢â¬Â
Her father sighed and then looked at the sky, it was just beginning to get dark and a few stars peeked out, Ã¢â¬ÅHow many stars do you think there are?Ã¢â¬Â
Susi shrugged, Ã¢â¬ÅA million?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅNow, what if a half of those had planets... and a half of those had humans living on them... How many would that be?Ã¢â¬Â
Susi calculated silently, Ã¢â¬ÅTwo hundred fifty thousand. ThatÃ¢â¬â¢s a lot.Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅYes... and there were actually probably more than that when I was a captain... The trains were the only way to get from one to another.Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅThe trains were also the only way that some were able to get news about what was happening in the rest of the Republic. Everyone relied on the trains.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi frowned, Ã¢â¬ÅSo what happened to the trains?Ã¢â¬Â
...Even sending out this probe was a risk in that it might have fallen into the wrong hands or given out the location of a colony of the Republic... We regret to inform that the Republic is forced to maintain the highest security... Do not contact us... Do not try to contact us...
The time was getting late so father and daughter started home.
Ã¢â¬ÅIt happened the year you were born... An unknown derailed a train in the Algran system... ATS tried to communicate, but failed... The Unknowns sent a warning... ATS... didnÃ¢â¬â¢t understand. A second train was derailed in the Neo Glasgow system... ATS... ATS said it was unrelated. We... the captains were...Ã¢â¬Â
Her father stopped and Susi stared at him, Ã¢â¬ÅIs everything all right?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅYeah... The captains were told to continue working... We were told that there was nothing to worry about... The unknowns were said to be an Anti-Republic faction... At the same time your mother and I decided to find a nice place to build a family, so we settled down, I got a ten-year paid absence from ATS and we moved here.Ã¢â¬Â
...The worst thing is that the UnknownsÃ¢â¬â¢ hideout was found thanks to an almost derailed train. Had we known whom we were up against, the Republic would have backed down... We feel deep regret in such an error... We only hope that you understand and have luck without the RepublicÃ¢â¬â¢s full support...
Ã¢â¬ÅThe last train to Beldor V was the ATS Connecticut, my ship, and a few of my crew... We were battered and had low morale. The sight of home made us happy and we went to our wives in the hopes that we wouldnÃ¢â¬â¢t be back up for a year or two.
Ã¢â¬ÅWe... were important to the Republic and they let us have a long vacation.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi looked at her father, fearing tears would fall, but she had to know, Ã¢â¬ÅWhy were you so important to the Republic, father?Ã¢â¬Â
He sighed, Ã¢â¬ÅWe were on a normal route, but somehow we got off course. We found a hideout, the hideout, and our worst fears were confirmed. Our train was almost derailed, but we got out and told the world what we had found.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi walked on in silence for a few minutes before speaking once more, Ã¢â¬ÅWhat fears?Ã¢â¬Â
...It is unfortunate, but we Humans must hold on to what little of our space remains occupied... Small, unmanned probe ships have been sent to monitor our colony worlds including Beldor Prime...
They sat on the front porch of the house, underneath a large dome of stars.
Ã¢â¬ÅYou know how you fear the small continent people?Ã¢â¬Â her father finally asked.
Susi thought for a moment, Ã¢â¬ÅYeah, the weird creatures there are scary... They donÃ¢â¬â¢t even know what a light bulb is.Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅWell, itÃ¢â¬â¢s the same sort of fear. For millions of years humans had been left alone... they spread out across the galaxy... one thing nagging at the back of their minds: where was everyone else?
Ã¢â¬ÅSure, they found ruins and relics, they found small insentient, nearly sentient, and recently sentient species, like the things on the small continent, but they never found another truly sentient race. They began to think that they were the first sentient race. Yet, at the same time, their fears festered. The more technology we humans had, the more we feared that someone else out there had better technology. Then, those trains were derailed and rumors started flying that it was aliens who were doing it. The Republic kept saying that it was only a terrorist group doing it. Then my crew and I found out. It really was a group of aliens who were smarter and tougher than us.Ã¢â¬Â
Susi stared at the stars, Ã¢â¬ÅSo you mean that there really are aliens out there in the stars?Ã¢â¬Â
Ã¢â¬ÅYes, and they have destroyed many of the colony worlds of the Republic.Ã¢â¬Â
SusiÃ¢â¬â¢s eyes widened, Ã¢â¬ÅWow... IÃ¢â¬â¢d like to meet them... or fight with them like they do in movies.Ã¢â¬Â
Jon patted his daughterÃ¢â¬â¢s shoulder, Ã¢â¬ÅMaybe youÃ¢â¬â¢ll get to, someday, but right now, letÃ¢â¬â¢s eat dinner, IÃ¢â¬â¢m starved.Ã¢â¬Â
... Signed, the Representative Members of the Remaining Council of States.