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If you are not from the UK you won't necessarily get the humour about the ship's A.I. voice. Here in the UK we have an archaeology program fronted by a chap called Tony Robinson in serious mode. You may be familiar with him as Baldrick in the Black Adder comedy series (playing against Rowan Atkinson as Black Adder). Suffice to say that he is over enthusiastic about archaeology and the 'trenches' that the experts dig to make their discoveries. Either way - I hope you enjoy my story - Purify...

Chapter 1 - Early.

“We’re Early!”

“Impossible,” said Danno, the captain of the String Slider Tony Robinson. “We can not to travel to times in Earth’s past and this planet had only just shown up as having nuked itself into oblivion.”

“Sorry,” first officer and pilot, Lisa said, “but we’re still early.”

“I’ll put us behind the major moon and then I’ll work out just how early we are.”

Moments earlier, a superstring connecting Earth and the target planetary system unfurled into real space just large enough for the String Slider ship to slip out like an interstellar poo. String Sliding was a way to cross the vast distances of space instantaneously. Clearly this violates Einstein’s theory of relativity but it turned out that you can only travel to eras within time-distance from the originating system. In other words you could not go back in time and this seemed to satisfy the Einsteinists. If you were on the Earth and you saw a star explode then you could travel to space close to the exploding star - but it had still exploded.

Lisa steered the ship to the far side of the planet’s larger Moon and stabilized the orbit. Meanwhile the captain went to his cabin to talk to the ship about how they could have arrived early.

“Tell me, Tony. How can we possibly have arrived before this doomed planet has played their merry dance?”

“Well, Danno, That’s a good question – lets look at the evidence we have gathered so far. We are here and the world does not seem to have committed planecide yet but, if we go over to trench two we find that there are definite signs of heightened political tension and this piece of broken pottery could signify that the hostilities have already started.”

“That’s all very interesting, Tony but, if the war hasn’t started yet, how come we know about it on Earth already. We’re not supposed to be able to travel here because we’re not supposed to know that here exists if it hasn’t given the signal to Earth – which it quite clearly hasn’t.”

“There are two possible explanations Danno but let’s take a look at this re-construction of the main buildings on the surface to see why this war is about to happen….” “Forget that!” shouted Danno, “What are the two explanations?”

“Well, number one is that we are hallucinating this happy planet and, in reality, it actually is already destroyed. The other explanation is that the signal was somehow accelerated to the Earth while we took the normal route, if you can call string sliding normal. Thus making us arrive before the actual apocalypse.”

“Captain, CAPTAIN – I need to speak to you,” It was Carrie, the ship’s ethicist-historian.

“This is all I need – YES Carrie – I bet I know what you are going to say.” Captain Danno opened his door and let Carrie in.

“Captain, I have just heard that we’re early and the planet hasn’t popped yet. We have to try to save it.”

“You know that’s not possible. It is wrong on so many levels and even if we could – which we can’t – we are not allowed. You know the rules far better than I do and the Prime Directive about not interfering isn’t called the Prime Directive for nothing. Carrie, we don’t even know how much time we have – for all we know it could have already started.”

“It hasn’t.” Nobody noticed Lisa had also entered the captain’s cabin. “We have two of this moon’s orbits – about sixty five planet days before the end of this world. I did the calculations and we are eighty days too early.”

“Come one come all!” said Danno, “Its like Clapham junction in here sometimes. Look, I was just telling Carrie that we have to wait. We can’t stop this war even if we tried. It has already happened.”

“It hasn’t - not for another couple of months. We need to at least try. Tony, how many lives are lost in this war?” Carried asked and then immediately regretted asking.

“Well, we know from earlier records that a typical global thermonuclear war has kill ratios of about eighty five percent. This planet has seven point two five billion inhabitants. However, most of them live in three conurbations and history tells us that, in these situations, the kill ratio goes up to ninety four percent. So that’s approximately six billion eight hundred and fifteen million souls terminated either in the first blast or the subsequent nuclear winter. We have seen evidence of nuclear winters if you look at the striations in trench three where you can just make out the ice age epoch...”

“Danno, that’s more than the population of Earth for Christ’s Sake! – How can we sit back and let that happen just so we can go in and mop up the detritus for our people. It just doesn’t add up to let this world die. We have to do something.”

“Look,” the Captain pleaded, “we’ve all just come out of a string slide. We’re all bound to be overwrought. Let’s sleep on it and we’ll discuss it again in the morning. I need to think about whether we should go back or if there is somewhere else to be. Why couldn’t we have arrived post apocalypse like normal then we wouldn’t have this problem?”

Slowly, reluctantly, the crew returned to their own cabins to think about the situation they found themselves in. It was true that the mineral recovery ships should never arrive until after the event that signalled their destination and by then the mineral recovery could usually proceed without a hitch. The Historians can piece together the immediate events leading up to the war while the Captain and Pilot concentrated on recovering the post nuclear fission products for the scientists back on Earth to turn into the medicine that was so desperately needed.

The word misfortune is inadequate to describe the extinguishing of six point eight billion souls. There was a growing movement on Earth that believed their mission was unethical. Benefiting from someone else’s misfortune was considered wrong somehow at the best of times but when that misfortune was the death of over six billion people it would certainly put it into perspective. Until now they could comfort themselves by thinking that the ‘misfortune’ had happened millions of years ago and was logically unavoidable but the possibility to arrive early did change everything. If the Time Rebels on Earth got to know that it could have been prevented then that argument would look a lot shakier and their case for intervention would be strengthened.

Danno called Tibor, The ship’s doctor, “I suppose you’ve heard?”

“Yes,” Tibor replied, “and before you ask, I think I'll sleep on it too. But I noticed that you haven’t deployed the scanner drones.”

“I was hoping no one would spot that. Or, if they did, that they might think that it is because there aren’t any isotopes to trace.”

“But you and I both know that they are general observation drones, so, Danno, what’s the real reason?”

“I didn’t want to get too attached to them … the people of … hell! Don’t we even know what this place is called? … I didn’t want to get attached to a people, knowing what we know is about to befall them. It’ll make it all the harder to obey the Prime Directive.”

“You should deploy the drones Danno,” Tibor said and the captain knew he was right. Before he slept Danno asked Tony to send out three drones; two into the moon’s orbit and one to the planet to observe and report. Tony, of course, was delighted to be allowed to open three new trenches, here, here and another one way over there near to the ancient settlement.

The captain contemplated de-activating Tony and going with the standard HAL voice but Carrie liked Tony’s enthusiasm and, deep down, so did Danno.