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Joah slept on it for several kilorotations, before he decided on a course of action. Actually, his options were rather limited. He would let an old friend in on his secret.
There could be only one location for the meeting with Francus. It would have to happen in Joah’s own cabin. Joah felt sure that he could switch off the spy-equipment from his quarters, and so he invited Francus to have breakfast with him, after the morning gymnastics.
So, while pouring coffee, he asked Francus as casually as he could: “Do you believe that we have ever encountered a PIP?”
Francus looked weary. “A PIP? What do you mean by we? You mean the ship?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Francus took a sip of his coffee, and then asked in a low voice: “Are you sure OPSEC can’t hear us? Are you absolutely certain that you have swept this cabin clean?”
“Yeah, of course.” And after a while, Joah said: “I’m a pretty decent engineer, you know.” And when Francus still did not respond, he added: “You want more coffee?”
“What, coffee?” came the absentminded response. “No, of course not.” Another pause, and then Francus started: “Well, I believe,” but then he broke off again, and started pacing up and down the cabin.
“Do you remember the Pezik rebellion? Well, of course you do. But do you remember what we were taught in history class? That Pezik was a suicidal maniac, seeking control of the ship in order to destroy it. Remember old Gottingen, our history teacher? He described Pezik as a religious zealot, as a fanatic.
Well, I have my doubts about that story. You know, of course, that two of my great grandfathers sided with Pezik. They were executed. They were part of Pezik’s Fifty, and I am sure that is why they won’t make me captain.”
Joah already regretted the turn of this conversation. He has asked about PIPs, and now Francus was off about the Pezik rebellion, and how he was sure that his chances for promotion were hurt because of his ancestry. This has nothing to do with PIPs, whatsoever. But Francus continued.
“Well, I have a letter that my great-grandfather Damil wrote his wife, my great-grandmother. Her name was Elle, by the way. He wrote it after his capture, and it must have been smuggled out to her. It is a beautiful letter, it is really captivating.
Anyway, the letter ends like this.” Here, Francus changed to a deeper, throatier voice. Evidently, he was now quoting his long gone ancestor. “I still believe that we have made the right choices. This ship won’t fly forever, and it surely won’t make it to the Andromeda. Betelsee was the best chance we had for a life worth living. Certainly for our kids. Yours forever, Damil.”
xxxAnd then he looked at Joah as is he had just presented an obvious proof. But Joah looked back incomprehensibly. He was utterly uninterested in the whole Pezik business, but did not want to hurt his friend’s feelings. The best he could muster was: “Well, I have never heard of Betelsee. Who was that?”
“Who ?” Then Francus broke into a laughter. “No, no, not who. What! It is spelled Betel-C. It is a code-name for a planet. The third planet around a star they must have called Betel.
Don’t you get it? Betel-C must have been a PIP! The whole Pezik rebellion must have been about a group of fifty wanting to go to this PIP. Apparently, the powers resisted. I believe that their reasons were obvious. They are stuck in this prophecy about Andromeda. Maybe they simply enjoy the power they have on this ship, and who knows what life on a planet would be like? God forbid, down there they might have to work for a living!”
For the first time, Joah felt himself get interested in one of Francus’ conspiracy theories. He had heard countless of them. About the ship having only three generations left before too many systems would fail. “Thirty megarotations at most!” Francus had exclaimed. About a planet our ancestors had lived on. About the powers suppressing the truth.
Francus had always been a heretic, even as a child. He was drawn to secrecy. The lure of the forbidden fruit, he had called it. But Joah had never taken his conspiracy-theories too seriously. He though about Pezik for a while, and then asked: “You get all of this from just one letter?”
“O Joah, ever the skeptic!” replied Francus. “Isn’t it obvious? Yes, that letter is the only proof I have. But there is no other interpretation. The letter speaks for itself! Now, why did you drag me here, and why did you ask about PIPs?”
For a moment Joah doubted whether it was wise to bring Francus into his secret. But he wanted to impress his friend, and the opportunity was too good to pass up. So he said, as casually as he could: “Oh, I upgraded my array and found a PIP. It is actually not too far from our course,” he added. “Maybe we could be there in a hundred kilorotations, if we change course now.”
And now, he thought to himself, it is time to enjoy the look on Francus’ face. Joah was not disappointed. Francus was startled, utterly unable to speak. It took him quite a xxxwhile to just utter “You...” And only several precious seconds later was he able to complete his sentence “found a PIP?”
“Well, what did they say?”
“The powers! What did the powers say?”
“Oh, I haven’t informed my captain yet. I am not sure what they would do with it. Maybe, I should simply go ahead and file a report, …” Joah mused. He only said this to provoke his friend, and boy did he strike gold.
“File a report?” Francus exclaimed “Oh yeah, just file a report. Hey captain, I found a PIP. What do you say we change the course of the ship? Why don’t we go and pick some daisies on my PIP? Let’s go and have a picnic.”
“A picnic. It’s a word I encountered in a clandestine book. I believe that a picnic was if you had dinner outdoors. They would spread a blanket on the grass and just sit there and eat the food that they brought.”
“They would do that?” laughed Joah. “Well, wouldn’t that have been dangerous? What about those wild animals you have always told me about? Wouldn’t they come and attack you?”
And then he got more serious. “You know why I have trouble believing these secret books of yours. The stories simply contradict each other. One tells of snakes, and wasps and lions that will eat you for lunch. The next tells about picnics, and about a leisurely stroll through the woods. It just doesn’t add up.
Look, I admit that your story that our ancestors came from an inhabitable planet, that they built this ship in order to move to another planet is… Well, I admit it is possible. At least it is less bizarre than that The Creator would have built this ship, center, spokes and tube, and would have given us a mission to go to Andromeda.”
But Francus interrupted him: “Forget about theology! You say you have a planet, a PIP. Well, what are we going to do? How do we get there? When can we get off this damned ship?”