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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 17

Inverness was three weeks behind us. So far we had not yet spotted an enemy battle force. The crew had settled down to the boring routine of a ship on patrol. We still had our share of simulated attacks, but the train­ing sessions had also become routine. We were down to less than half a minute from the time the alarm was sounded until everybody was at his post. Despite my first impression, now a long time in the past, the ship was not really all that large. We had a crew of only thirty-eight.

As things become familiar and routine, one tends to become less attentive. After all, there was no enemy waiting to snuff out your life. I could vaguely sense this kind of attitude.

We were sitting in the mess hall halfway through a jump. We had just finished an exercise battling a fire on the weapons deck and in the crew’s quarters. Fires are a real possibility on a ship. Fortunately they are easy to put out. In this case we simply vented the deck and the fire suffocated. Prior to that we had spent three hours trying to work in an environment where the gravity compensators had been damaged.

But now we were sitting in the mess hall having our meal. Johnson and Yasuda stood by the food dispenser trying to decide what to heave while Petra and I were already half finished eating.

“What were you doing before you joined the service?” Petra sud­denly inquired.

I was stumped for a response. “Why? What makes you ask?” I replied, trying desperately to come up with a plausible answer.

“Oh, I am just curious. Yo u never talk about your past. Somehow you seem different, more interesting. Sometimes I have the feeling that do not really belong here.”

I felt myself blushing. “How do you figure that? Don’t I do my duty properly?”

“No, no. It’s not that. You wouldn’t be on an ASV vessel on a war patrol if your technical capabilities were lacking. But on occasion I find you - well, take for example the first briefing in which you participated after Doc Williams released you from sick bay. I would have sworn that you had no idea of who our enemies were.”

“Really now!” I was slowly overcoming my apprehension at how this dialogue was progressing. “And may I ask on what do you base your statement?”

“It’s the way you paid attention to what was being said, as if you heard everything for the very first time. You certainly did not give me the impression that you were familiar with the Coleoptera and the war. Where are you from, Carl?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Petra.”

“Try me, Carl.”

“Yes, why not?” I felt as if the devil was goading me on. “Let’s see now. Suppose I was to confess to you that until - well, no, let me start over again. Do you remember when we were at Fleet Headquarters, the interviews and all the hoopla out there on the terrace?”

“Sure I do. Who could forget it?”

“Suppose that I were to tell you that until three hours before that time I had never heard of ASV vessels, the war, the Coleoptera, of Moonbase and Farside, or of Adar or Vernon or Inverness. What would you say?”

Petra looked at me for a very long time with her large, brown eyes. “You are joking, of course, Carl.” I did not reply.

“That is quite impossible, Lieutenant Carl Kester. There is simply no way to be assigned to a survey vessel unless you had successfully completed your training at Farside. And you had to be near the top of your class. I know. I also took a course there. It’s obligatory.” She had stopped eating, her gaze still fixed on me.

“Of course it’s obligatory.”

She smiled now. “Next you’re going to tell me that you grew up in a period of time before we even had interstellar travel. And do you know something? I could almost believe it. That is what I mean by saying you are different, more interesting. And on occasion you use really ancient speech patterns and expressions. Sometimes you use archaic words which no one today understands.”

“But you do, don’t you, Petra? So they can’t be all that archaic or ancient.”

“Oh, they are archaic all right. When I went to university before enlisting in the Survey Service I majored in ancient history. That is why I am somewhat familiar with them.”

“You studied history before you joined the navy?”

“Say, you really are not from here, are you, Carl? We don’t have a navy, never did. It’s an archaic term. For hundreds of years it has been the Survey Service. So answer my question. What did you do before you became an officer on active service on a warship?”

Bill Johnson and Louise had finally decided what to have for their meal and joined us. Bill sat down next to me, and Louise took a seat across the table from him.

“Why do you have to sit so far away from me” he asked.

“I am not far away. If I sat next to you I could not look at you, at least not at all of you.”

“Petra is sitting right next to Carl. So come and sit next to me too.”

“All right,” Louise said and came around the table. “Would you want me to sit on your lap?”

“Sure, after we are finished eating, I wouldn’t mind a bit.” And turn­ing to me he continued: “Sorry, Carl, I did not intend to interrupt your conversation with Petra.”

“No apology is necessary, Bill,” Petra said. “ We were just about finished with our discussion.” Then she turned to me. “Sometime you must tell me more about yourself, what you did before you joined the service.”

I nodded my consent, hoping that time would never arrive. I had to read up on history. Only there were no historical books available. How far into the future had I been hurled? And by what? Would I ever get back to my own time? Would I want to? It did not look much like it would ever happen. And no, I most certainly would not want to go back. What kept me here? Was it really Petra? I had no ready answer.

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