Author: Rollin T. Gentry
Moira-1403 awoke, eyes wide open, ignoring the slight feedback in her sensors. She stood next to General Sabatyn in a small cave of which she had no record. The last thing she remembered was helping the General select the Cadet of the Year in his office.
And now this. They were ghosts in an otherworldly scene. Moira could see straight through the General to a stalagmite at the opposite end of the cave.
A lantern-sphere floated in a nearby puddle, illuminating the blue-green crystals protruding from the pale rock walls. She noticed a man in a pressure suit lying unconscious on the ground. Even through the moisture beading on his face shield, she easily recognized the former Ganymedian Ambassador, Osbat Kurelle. A ragged bandage snaked its way around his abdomen, the sort of crude device one would find in a zero-g, first-aid kit.
A younger version of the General stood near the mouth of the cave, tapping the controls on the front of his suit. He leaned against a giant, cream-colored, billowing thing, his arms extended.
“Sir, where are we?” Moira asked. “Why do I have no record of this time and place?”
“It’s a recording from my private log. Do you remember thirty years ago when those Ammuran extremists tried to kill Ambassador Kurelle?”
When the General remained silent, she focused on his younger self for clues. Lieutenant Sabatyn had placed five decomposition grenades on the pale thing ballooning from the mouth of the cave. He ran a hand over the bulbous surface and whispered, “Forgive me, brother, but we’re out of time.”
“I’m sorry, Moira. Sometimes I forget that this is new to you.” The General paused the scene with a tap on his forearm. “That thing blocking our only exit is a Banchu worm, a giant, carnivorous grub. Our fight with the Ammurans led us into this system of caves. The weapons fire must have attracted the worms.”
The General touched his ear and whispered, “Listen closely. How many heartbeats do you hear?”
Young Sabatyn — that was one. The Ambassador — that was two. And a third … “The Banchu worm lives?”
“No,” the General scowled. “The worm is quite dead. My brother, Django, made sure of that. How he managed to get swallowed up in the process I’ll never know. He’s inside that damned thing, unconscious, but very much alive in his pressure suit.”
The General pointed toward the Banchu worm. “This is why I’ve brought you here, Moira.” He tapped his forearm. The scene resumed in real-time. “A rescue party is searching for us, but our suits are running out of air. I know how good you are with puzzles. You have 30 seconds to save him.”
As the young Sabatyn dragged the Ambassador into a corner, shielding the old man with his own body, Moira focused all her resources. 30 seconds was more than sufficient.
Cycling through one million permutations, even examining ideas that seemed absurd, Moira stopped with 10 seconds to spare. “I cannot find a solution, sir. I am sorry…”
On the General’s forearm, words flashed red beside a checked box: Clear History for Last Hour.
Moira understood. Her failure was a favorable outcome. And she wouldn’t remember any this: not the cave, not the worm, not the tears welling up in the General’s eyes.
“We have done this many times before, have we not, sir?”
“Yes, and it’s always a great comfort.”
“I understand, sir.”
Around them, Ganymede flickered out of existence, and fading herself, Moira hoped that she never solved the General’s puzzle.