Now I lay me down to bed,
Knowing I may wake up dead,
Goblins from a different sun,
When they come you'd better run,
Good thing the Federation's here,
Rest safely child, do not fear.
- Traditional Federation nursery rhyme. Source unknown.
The view screen showed only black, empty space ahead. The overlaid data map, which usually gave fuel-distance estimates to all obtainable destinations, was silent. The last dots had fallen off the grid some days past, and with them, any chance of turning back.
Travis stood at the front of the cramped pursuit ship's control deck. His arms folded behind his back. It was ironic. He had spent the majority of his adult life in space, but he had only actually seen space, the dark and naked vacuum of it, not a digitized view screen reproduction, once. At his farce of a trial when Blake had blasted the wall of the courtroom and saved his life.
"Are you behind me Blake?" Travis asked the view screen.
"Sensors indicate no vessels in pursuit," intoned the last of Travis' mutoid crew.
"I wasn't talking to you." Travis continued gazing out at the darkness. Talking to oneself was supposed to be a sign of madness, but then, he had been a mad dog for years, hadn't he? Wasn't that what they'd said before trying to put him down?
He wondered who realized he had the coordinates to Star One first: Blake or Servalan. It must've been a bitter pill. They must have scrambled, probably still were scrambling, afraid of what a universe under his leadership would look like. Of what he would do to them. He owed them both so much…
"Because you did me a favour, didn't you Blake? You hit Servalan's Headquarters, and so I'm going to do something for you in return, something you've wanted for a very long time."
Travis unfolded his arms and massaged the unresponsive leather casing of his prosthetic hand. He thought of Maryatt's careful calibration of each finger, and how much more certain they'd been before all of the hack physicians he'd been forced to rely on for repairs since then.
The flight computer beeped.
"What's that?" Travis asked.
"A possible system is coming up on the sensors," the Mutoid said. "Grid reference C-one-seven- three-two-zero…"
"Star One," Travis said. He could see it on screen now: two tiny dots on the data map, an isolated dwarf star and its single, desolate companion planet.
"Arrival in estimated sixty five-point-two-five hours. Shall I set up approach protocol?"
"But Sir –"The Mutoid's voice caught with something almost like fear before continuing in a toneless, emotionless relay of information: "There are no other planets within refuel distance. If we continue onward, with depleted reserves we will –"
"Are you questioning me?" Travis asked, turning his back on the view screen and data map to face the Mutoid. It was female. Servalan had always given him female crew.
The Mutoid averted its gaze from him. Its fingers played over the computerized controls. An unusual reaction. Without orders there was nothing for the Mutoid to do. Either it was experiencing some kind emotional glitch and responding with neurotic make-work reactions, or it was responding to a pre-implanted order set.
"Are you concerned about your safety?"
"Good. We will land on Star One, but first there is a meeting I would like to arrange. Set up radio channels four six and eighteen, broadcast outwards to grid reference C-one-seven- three-three-zero… and don't you dare tell me there is nothing out there."
"Complying with request."
Travis watched the Mutoid to ensure it did. Then he raised his gun hand and shot it in the back of the head. A quick check of the computer showed a draft statement to Servalan with his location and request. It hadn't been sent. Travis wondered what the trigger phrase for this Mutoid had been. Star One, probably. It didn't matter. He erased the message.
The pursuit ship continued onward, into the black.
The dissidents hadn't been careful about advertising their gathering. They'd sent out leaflets to over a dozen worlds via the smuggler distribution network, not realizing that half of the smugglers in Federation space operated on government permits.
It had been child's play for Travis to track down the gathering's most likely meeting point: an abandoned stadium on the planet of Zircaster.
He arrived two days early and waited.
The idiots didn't even do a security sweep before they began crowding onto the stadium floor. Hundreds of them. They even brought their children to be indoctrinated. Travis watched them mingle and greet each other from his cramped position under a crumpled seating deck. He could hear the rest of his men shifting and fingering their weapons, anxious for their long wait to be over.
Travis wasn't anxious. He would wait, and then he would kill or carry out arrests. Then there would be briefings and paperwork. And then he would receive orders for another, different mission and then there would be more waiting, more prisoners or corpses, more endless, bureaucratic forms. His life as a soldier and field commander had a steady, soothing rhythm.
One of the crowd stepped onto a make-shift podium. It was a young man, alpha-grade by the way he stood. Travis took in his strong face and brown curls and mentally compared them to his mission dossier. This was Roj Blake, one of the so-called Freedom Party's high level leaders. To be taken alive, if possible.
Blake didn't waste time riling the mob. "Freedom is not safety! But freedom is the right and ability to work and campaign for a safer life! A life without fear!"
"Without fear!" the crowd yelled back.
Travis checked his weapon. It was ready and fully charged. If the dissidents had any sanity, they would surrender and be subjected to trial, conditioning, and exile, but these extremist types were always prone to irrational and dangerous outbursts. His men had orders to shoot to kill if they felt threatened. Travis always thought that if was a stupidly vague word to work into a mission dossier. Facing down a mob of armed, delusional hypocrites, who wouldn't feel threatened?
"Our children will inherit a world where they will be free to think without fear! To create! To love! To live! Throughout history, many have declaimed the possibility of utopia. I declaim it also. Human nature is too dark to allow for it."
Travis stopped checking his weapon and started to listen. He'd never heard a dissident say anything so sublimely rational before. It was bizarre. Almost like the man could think.
"Which is why freedom of thought and speech is so important. If one man acts darkly his peers must be able to call him out. There is goodness in the universe, but without freedom of expression it is shackled. We must tear down the shackles which hold our liberty hostage. We must bring the Federation to its knees!"
The mob screamed its delight. Travis wondered if Blake realized how much blood would be required to tear down the Federation; how much his speech appealed to the darker nature of some of his peers; how many of them carried weapons under their clothing?
The man pretended not to be an idealist, but what else could you call someone who believed that humans acting democratically could achieve anything other than chaos? Humans weren't intelligent enough to co-operate as anything other than a mob. They needed order. They craved order.
Perhaps a few rare individuals were intelligent and resourceful enough to survive on their own without the supporting structures of society to shelter and feed and defend them. Perhaps this Blake was one of them. But the mob he pandered certainly lacked those skills.
Travis signalled to his men. Now was the moment. Now as the sheep were enthralled by the bleating of their leader. He fired his first round into the air.
"This is an illegal, dissident gathering, in the name of the Federation and Space Command, I order you to drop any weapons you may be concealing, to raise your hands and surrender. You will be arrested and given fair trial on –"
The man on the podium looked at Travis.
"I believe in a better world," Blake said. "Is that a crime?"
"This is an illegal, dissident gathering, in the name of the Federation –"
"A better world! Can you understand that? Or would you prefer to spend your life being used by your masters? Shooting innocents until you expend the last of your usefulness and are shot yourself? A better world!"
"I have never shot an innocent," Travis said.
"I pity you for believing that."
Five years later on a pursuit ship headed out past the edge of infinity, Travis hadn't changed his mind.
There were no innocents in the universe. No people worth saving. He'd thought, briefly, that Blake might be correct, but the crazed look on the man's face as he burst into what he thought was Control One –
No. Humans were nothing but degraded animals who'd learned to shoot each other. And that was the only good thing they'd ever learned.
The radio crackled and then blasted an indecipherable scramble of high-pitched noise. Travis winced. Then he pressed the send transmission button.
"I am Travis. I know what you are and what you want. I can give you what you want."
There was a moment of static. Then Travis's own voice came back at him in a high-pitched squeal: "I am Travis. I know what you are and what you want. I can give you what you want."
Travis waited patiently. He had always been good at waiting.
The overlaid data map suddenly burst into life as hundreds of small dots appeared in the emptiness beyond Star One. The dots stretched in a long curve across the far reaches of the map. One edge of the curve swung quite near to Travis's current position. An incursion, held back by the deployment of the defence shield.
From politics to nursery rhymes, the evidence of the alien armada had always been there. For a long time, Travis had cynically believed the rumours to be a ruse-within-a-ruse, just another piece of Federation propaganda for keeping the sheep in line. As far as he knew, Servalan still believed that.
It would be beautiful, the moment when she realized how her own webs of lies had blinded her.
The radio made a burping sound.
"Who are you?" an unpleasantly sibilant voice asked.
Most would feel awed initiating contact with an alien race, but Travis wasn't so naïve. The defence field and the fact that the aliens spoke passable Terran meant that this wasn't their first communication with humanity. Travis cut straight to the point:
"I've already told you. I am Travis. I know what you are, and I know what you want, and I am here to give it to you."
The voice gurgled for a moment before asking, "How?"
"I'm glad you asked." Travis told it his plan. The minefield created to keep the aliens out had not been calibrated against Space Command vessels. He would be able to fly his pursuit ship through, and then one of the alien's smaller vessels could tag close behind him on the way back through the mine field.
"It will take years for all of us to come through this way," the voice hissed, "but we have waited long. It is acceptable."
"I don't have years," Travis said. "The first crew I bring through must land on Star One and dispatch the operating crew. I don't care how you do it. Then I will land and in-put the codes to bring down the defence shield. In return, you will kill every human in the galaxy."
And if you fail, or I fail, Travis thought, then there is still Blake behind me hell-bent on destroying Star One. Even without Lurgen's mind print, Travis had no doubt that the Liberator was close on his tail. One way or another, the guilty will be punished. Humanity would fall. Travis suspected that the goblins from a different sun wouldn't be any better, but, frankly, he didn't care.
There was more static. Then a wet, thumping sound. "This is… acceptable. This is… good," the voice said. "Our ships are faster than yours, once through the defense field they can accelerate… it will take them many fractions less to reach the destination you have specified."
"So you'll have more time to get rid of the crew," Travis said.
"Yes… Yes… But some in the pool wonder why you offer this? Why do you want to destroy, Travis?"
"Why should you care, as long as you get what you want?"
He flipped a switch before the alien could reply. The transmission faded back into static. Travis stood alone staring at the view screen. In a few minutes, he would have to push the dead Mutoid aside and take over the manual controls to steer the ship through the defence field.
The aliens had asked such an obvious, stupid question. Why did he want to destroy, when he could use the power of Star One to hold the Federation hostage? But that would require politics and bargaining and all of the dirty, hands-off tactics of the elite he'd always detested. He wouldn't say if and wait like a hypocrite for his excuse. He'd kill them all instead.
That was what he was made for.