Original Work Terra Novae Spes

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Grand58742, Mar 3, 2020.


  1. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    PROLOGUE – TERRA NOVAE SPES

    New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Lao Tzu

    Personal Diary of Colonel (Retired) Benjamin M. Nash
    Date: Aug 2, 2121
    Location: New Amarillo, Tharsis Province, Federal North American Colonies of Mars



    I had an interesting visit today which confirmed something I’ve suspected for some time. A couple of Novus Group folks came to visit and basically laid it all out there that the Earth is failing. Why would the Novus Group tell me such a thing? Because they offered me a job at the same time. Which I think I’ll take.

    Even though mankind has managed to travel beyond the Sol System and became a multi-planet, multi-system species, our home world was in a downhill spiral. And the sad thing is, we did it to ourselves. We all know scientists created a device which would solve global pollution and control the ecosystem. We remember when they sold it to the world as the final solution and we would never have to worry about the ecosystem or pollution or global climate change or anything like that ever again. We were sold on dreams of farmland in the middle of what was the Sahara Desert, a return of the full polar ice caps, four seasons with mild temperatures, rainfall that could be predicted down to the second and all the other promises they made to us. And the world bought off on it.

    Well, now we know it didn’t quite work as expected…

    After activating the machines, it literally wreaked havoc on our planet’s ecosystem. We remember when the scientists tried to explain that this widget or this code was off which caused the machine to falter. And we remember the promises of claiming they knew what was wrong and could fix it. The same scientists that created the “cure” created the “cure for the cure.” And made things even worse by completely unbalancing the ecosystem that was already in an unstable condition. It’s like the Earth is fighting back against humans and accelerating the demise of the ecosystem in order to kill us off to stop meddling with it. Call it the normal evolution of things as species come and go on our home planet, but we certainly didn’t help our own demise by speeding up the process of destroying the delicate ecosystem we relied on.

    Perhaps the imminent demise of the ecosystem of our planet is the Earth’s way of telling us our time was up and it was time to start over again. Can we stop it? No, nothing we could do, no draconian measures we could take will stop the utter and complete collapse of our ecosystem. No technology would stop the downfall. There is just nothing we can do. I vividly remember the press conference when the scientists eventually had to admit they had no way of stopping the imminent demise of the ecosystem and could only say they were sorry. The planet had to heal itself is what they told us. It looks that by the end of the 22nd Century, the planet’s ecosystem is going to fail and be unable to easily sustain life outside of protected areas.

    Now, what they aren’t saying is it’s going to take the eleven billion inhabitants with it when it does come to a complete collapse. Roughly a billion and a half humans would be saved by not living on the Earth, but still, our home, the cradle of our civilization and our species, would be dead for all intents and purposes. While our situation may appear bleak; three major breakthroughs might keep our species alive.

    The first major discovery was we are not alone in this universe. While we had yet to meet a species as advanced as we were in terms of cognitive ability, several planets hosted life outside of ours in nearby solar systems that were just within reach. The most advanced species found to date had about the same intelligence level as an ordinary dog. While that might be a subjective description, it’s the closest comparable intelligence level the scientists could come up with. And while as intelligent as a dog, it certainly didn’t look like one. Kind of a cross between a cat and an armadillo. Funny looking creature, but reasonably docile as the caradillos, as they were called, became the latest rage in pets on Earth. Of course, with animal life comes plant life. Some worlds looked remarkably like areas of the Earth before we destroyed it, others looked extremely foreign to what we were used to. Some plants were deadly to humans, others started supplementing our food supplies. So, the great question of “are we alone” was finally answered through our continued exploration of the cosmos.

    The second major breakthrough was the advent of terraforming. It’s a great idea in concept and appeared to work reasonably well depending on the location. It sort of is working on Mars as controlled experiments, but not enough for people to be able to live outside the domes just yet. Plus, there still isn’t an active magnetosphere to shield the residents from the Sun’s radiation, so people still have to live under the domes for protection. The terraforming didn’t quite work as well on planets like Mars in the outer edge of the “habitable zone” as scientists would have liked. It will work, just takes a whole lot longer than they would really like and they are having to do it on a far more limited basis to avoid the settlements of 60 million people already living here. Normally, for an Earth like planet in the same general orbit as Earth it takes about ten years or so for the majority of the process to be complete. For Mars that started the process in 2098? It’s going to be about 125 Earth years give or take a decade. Of course, by that time the vast majority of the population of Earth will be dead from carbon monoxide poisoning or the heat waves that struck or the cold snaps where temperatures went well below freezing in the space of a half hour. There were quite a few ways our home planet is trying to kill us in not so subtle ways.

    So, why not terraform the Earth in the same fashion one might ask. It’s been talked about, but the problem comes from the process replacing all existing life with what the nanotechnology was programmed to replace it with. Essentially, every living thing on Earth would be destroyed as the process first “cleans the slate” so to speak before starting new. We couldn’t create life yet, but we certainly could set the conditions just right for whatever life we wanted to put down. The problem was billions of people still lived in areas collectively called the “Wastelands” outside of the controlled domes and would either have to be evacuated of they would be killed during the terraforming process. The 750 million people lucky enough to live under the protective domes would live, but over 10 billion people were at risk outside of the protective areas.

    While some advocated the position of terraforming the entire Earth outside of the domes since, in their words, “the population is already dead, they just don’t know it”, the moral decision was made to allow people to live out their lives where they were and deal with terraforming after they eventually died off. It was a cold reality that there just wasn’t enough colonies in the Sol System or on other planets to evacuate over ten billion people while the process was underway. So, those who were unlucky enough to live outside the domes would be allowed to continue their lives while the ecosystem came crashing down.

    The final major discovery that would help us survive as a species. Scientists had been studying faster than light propulsion on spacecraft for the better part of a century without as much as even a minor breakthrough. That’s when two scientists stumbled across what became known as the Alvarado-Singleton Drive or ASD as we call them. Kristina Alvarado and Wayne Singleton discovered the technology that could and quite possibly would save our species and allow us to live our lives on Earth like planets in other solar systems. I won’t get into the technical details, but it created artificial windows and doorways in the space-time continuum that “warped” space and allowed far faster transport to other stellar locations. As they explained it to me, it would be like opening the backdoor to your house and traveling to the neighbor’s house directly behind you by going through the two backyards instead of going all the way around the block. Or sneaking out the side window to visit the girl next door. But you had to create the temporary door or window before being able to open it. Which is what the two of them learned how to do as well as building the engines that could make a spacecraft go while in that portal.

    Suddenly nearby planetary systems outside the Sol System that were decades and centuries away with our fastest conventional propulsion systems were within our reach in weeks and months. And we discovered far more of them were habitable than we originally thought. But, that’s where the next set of problems came into play. This one was entirely controllable, entirely avoidable, but at the same time, was going to happen no matter how much our species needed more space to live and grow.

    We started wrecking those new worlds as well with pollution, meddling in the ecosystems and a good old fashioned “they have it, we want it and we’re going to fight for it” mentality. Planets that were habitable or could be terraformed quickly that were reasonably close to the Terran Solar System quickly became battle grounds for the various corporations and nations that sent colonists. It didn’t matter there were entire planets involved, greed took over as nations and corporations fought for land rights. Or the planets were strip mined to send the resources back to Earth to attempt to stave off the demise of our home planet.

    It seems no matter how much we should have known from the past, we… just… can’t… learn and still tried to kill each other. One Earth-like planet in particular around the Alpha Centauri Binary System is completely uninhabitable for the next thousand years or more due to the nuclear winter brought on by the overwhelming exchanges between the various colonies. Weapon designs have gotten a lot more advanced, but still the long-term radiation hazard from the enhanced nuclear weapons was present on the surface and created completely toxic conditions for those that could have colonized the planet. So, instead of having a reasonably decent new home world reasonably close to our own home planet that could be settled reasonably quickly, human emotion took over and turned it into a nuclear wasteland. While that should have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, the nations and corporations doing the colonization didn’t heed the warning. Several other worlds were wrecked in similar fashion with nuclear fires causing utter devastation and desolation of those worlds where only the foolhardy would live.

    Enter the Novus Group that paid me a visit today and offered me a job on an expedition to a new colony they are forming. It’s odd picking me as I’m not a doctor or a scientist or an engineer like most colony leaders are, but rather a career military man. I’ve been told I’m far smarter than most people credit to my profession. Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but I always tried to bind common sense with a touch of analytical thinking. But I’ve always had the unique leadership ability to guide people into getting what was needed done without argument. My interview couldn’t have been easy as I fought against the Novus Group from time to time before calling it quits and deciding to live out the remainder of my years on Mars, but none of that came up during our talk. I feel like I could live out the rest of my life on Mars without a care in the world and don’t really need to accept their offer.

    But you know, after serving full bore in the military for 25 years I never realized “retirement” was just a translation for “utterly bored with nothing to do except write in a diary.” I’ve enjoyed taking it easy for a bit, but life has just seemed to get kind of bland without anything to do…
     
  2. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 1


    “Can I help you gentlemen?” asked the occupant of the smaller townhouse as he politely answered his door after the two outside had rung his doorbell. His initial thoughts were “government employees” but something didn’t seem right about that assumption.

    “Benjamin Mark Nash?” asked the older of the two. “Retired Colonel, North American Army?”

    “That’s me,” said Ben and repeated. “Can I help you?”

    “I’m Mark O’Reilly of the Novus Group,” said the older man as he held out his hand. Ben took it out of politeness, but was still wary of the two. “Vice President in charge of operations.”

    “I’m retired as you stated,” said Ben who felt like they were on a recruiting trip. “Happily.”

    “We know,” said the younger man who didn’t identify himself but that Ben figured was an assistant to the Vice President.

    “Okay…” said Ben as waved his hand.

    “We are…we’d like to talk out of public if that’s okay,” said the Vice President.

    “You have to do better than that to get past the door,” said Ben.

    “We’re here to offer you a job,” said the Vice President.

    “Oh?” asked Ben.

    “Yes,” said the Vice President. “We’ll only take up as much of your time as you allow.”

    “You’ve got ten minutes,” said Ben as he stepped to the side and allowed the two entry. As soon as they were past the doorway, the assistant turned on a device Ben immediately recognized as a portable jammer for any electronic listening devices as well as all the installed communications in his home. Ben frowned at the device, but knew corporations and nations always went to great lengths to keep their conversations private.

    “Can I get you guys some coffee or water or something?” asked Ben.

    “No, thank you,” said the Vice President as he saw the aide was about to accept. “Your time is valuable and we’ll be submitting a consultation fee into your account today for the time we’re here. Additionally, we are willing to pay a fee for your silence in what we’re about to talk over.”

    “How much are we talking?” asked Ben who wasn’t normally motivated by greed, but was curious how important the conversation was going to be. If they went low, he knew it wasn’t a big deal. If they allowed him to name his price, they were fishing. If they started high, he knew the information was important enough to pay handsomely to keep his silence.

    “5,000 credits for the consultation fee,” said the Vice President. “145,000 credits for your silence in the matter.”

    “That’s a hefty sum,” said Ben as he saw they were serious.

    “The talk we are about to have is important,” said the Vice President as he retrieved a non-disclosure agreement and handed it over to Ben.

    “Okay, I agree,” said Ben as he sat down opposite of them and read through the standard document quickly. He signed it and handed it back before the assistant put it in his attaché case and handed over a tablet to the Vice President. The Vice President turned it on and opened a file before showing it to Ben. “Tell me what you see.”

    “Earth 150 years ago or so,” said Ben with shrugged shoulders as he looked back at them.

    “Look a bit closer,” said the Vice President. Ben looked at the image and saw it wasn’t Earth as he had thought with just a casual glance. The land masses were certainly wrong and it was unlike any planet he had seen before.

    “Not Earth,” said Ben. “And?”

    “And this is a new planet we discovered,” said the Vice President.

    “I’m going to go on the assumption it’s not making the news,” said Ben.

    “A very good assumption,” said the Vice President.

    “What’s so special about it?” asked Ben.

    “Other than us being the first to discover it and keeping it to ourselves?” asked the Vice President. “It checks every box we have for habitability.”

    “So, you’re telling me this planet is untouched? Never had any interest from anyone else?” asked Ben as he leaned forward on his couch. “Nobody has ever seen it?”

    “We are almost entirely positive we are the first,” said the corporate Vice President as he folded his hands in his lap. “Our probe has been monitoring the system and has not detected any additional probes or ships.”

    “I would assume you’ve done your homework on me?” asked Ben directly.

    “Which is why we’re here,” said the Vice President.

    “Then you know I like blunt and direct,” said Ben.

    “I want to ask a couple of questions first,” said the Vice President.

    “I’ll do my best to answer them,” said Ben.

    “What do you know about us?” asked the Vice President. “The Novus Group specifically.”

    “Multi-national and multi-faceted corporation based on Earth,” said Ben. “Came together over 15 years ago or so when several smaller companies combined and formed the conglomerate and has steadily gotten larger as time has gone on.”

    “All true,” said the Vice President. “And the rest?”

    “Other than your weapons manufacturing division, which is first rate I might add, I don’t know much about your internal workings,” admitted Ben. “You employ specialists in areas I wouldn’t even begin to guess at, but tend to stay under the radar for the most part and don’t get into conflicts with other corporations or nations.”

    “Indeed,” said the Vice President. “You are correct we formed over 15 years ago, 19 to be precise with a very clear agenda upon formation. We are seeking out a new world to colonize that will never be dependent on the Earth for logistical or financial support.”

    “Okay,” said Ben who was surprised as that sort of information normally would have been part of the corporate charter.

    “No, we aren’t making that public,” said the Vice President. “Basically, we started as an idealistic group of smaller corporations which decided to pool their resources and look beyond the traditional locations for a new home. A place where we could live and hopefully learn the mistakes of the past while repopulating the human species in a peaceful environment.”

    “And you found a planet that can be colonized?” asked Ben.

    “After launching countless probes, we finally found an untouched planet. A planet almost identical to the Earth in composition, atmosphere and biological content minus humans. And in what appeared to be an untouched portion of the galaxy,” said the Vice President.

    “You’re obviously not going to allow this information out,” said Ben.

    “No,” said the Vice President. “Which is why we’re willing to pay you up to five million credits for your silence in the matter.”

    “A new planet can be worth far more than that,” said Ben.

    “Which is why we’re offering you a job,” said the Vice President, finally cutting to the chase.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Ben.

    “We are prepared to offer you employment with the initial expedition heading to the planet,” said the Vice President. “Salary and benefits to be determined obviously, but that’s the blunt talk as you prefer.”

    “You want me on your little camping trip?” asked Ben. He had retired from the military about five months before and had settled into the easy life on Mars in a smaller colony where his military pension would permit him to not have to work unless he wanted to. However, after the first couple of months of relaxing, he found himself utterly bored and looking for something to do. The offer from the two senior members of the Novus Group was tempting.

    “We don’t want you on the initial expedition,” said the Vice President after a brief pause. “We want you to lead it.”

    Ben sat back at that announcement and looked at the pair. There were very few times in his life he was genuinely speechless, but this certainly counted as one of them. But it begged the question.

    “Why me?” he asked.

    “We’re getting the best,” said the assistant to the Vice President. “You served for twenty-five years, well since you were sixteen years old, in the military. Conscripted into service during the New Civil War in North America. Fought on Alpha Centauri Five, at Wolf Prime and in the Trappist System before the nuclear exchanges, fought on Mars, Ganymede, Pluto and Titan against the rebels and likely a few other places we don’t know about and fought countless engagements on Earth. But mainly we wanted you because everyone you’ve ever served with said you were a natural leader. That your negotiation skills were unparalleled. But when negotiations fail, you have the ability to win the battles in the aftermath.”

    “Basically, you have this uncanny ability to get people to do what needs to be done and they feel good about it while doing it. Whether that’s through negotiations or fighting. In short, you are the person we think can pull this off when times get tough,” said the assistant.

    “And they will get tough,” said the Vice President. “We’ve seen other colonies fail because the leadership just isn’t there. Or the so-called leaders allow petty bickering to take over and the colony to become divided. You, on the other hand, have always had the ability to bring people together and bring out the best in them.”

    “Because we generally had an enemy we were fighting,” said Ben. “Unity of purpose and all that. It’s easy to focus your troops on the task at hand when they are getting shot at.”

    “And the dangers a new colony will face can’t provide a unity of purpose?” asked the Vice President. “We’re still studying the data, but the planet is wild and untamed. There is animal life present, but we haven’t determined if they will be a threat or not. No matter what, we have to have a man like you to unite the teams we are sending to prepare for the follow-on colonists.”

    “How many colonists are we talking about?” asked Ben as he contemplated the idea.

    “First ship out will have around 600 and a ship’s crew of 250 or so,” said the Vice President. “The ship will carry nearly everything you need to survive and create a larger outpost for the follow-on ships. Each additional ship, nine total, will carry supplies for the next expedition as well as fifteen hundred colonists in stasis. A little over fourteen thousand people.”

    “No more?” asked Ben.

    “That’s more than enough for a viable gene pool to start out,” said the assistant.

    “We believe this is the best option to push for before our planet fails. We’re building ten colony ships in the outer Sol System and selecting initial colonists carefully from the human population,” said the Vice President.

    “Word will leak,” said Ben. “The greater the amount of personnel, the greater chance of word getting out of what you are doing.”

    “None are being told about it beforehand since we want the location to remain a secret until they get there,” said the assistant. “But we’re creating or have created dossiers for thousands of individuals and picking the best of the best to help colonize this new planet.”

    “We’re also sending additional probes to study the world in far more depth than the initial probe,” said the Vice President. “But from the initial data, the planet shows great promise. It’s only marginally smaller than the Earth with 200 kilometers less diameter. It already has plant and animal life to include intelligent animal life. The atmosphere is similar to Earth’s before we wrecked it, but with slightly more oxygen at nearly 22% rather than the 20% our planet historically had.”

    “There are oceans, rivers, lakes, mountains, grasslands, woodlands, deserts, jungles, polar ice, wetlands… it’s perfect from what we can tell,” said the Vice President. “Some of the older religious folks call it Divine Providence. Others simple are calling it a miracle. But regardless, it will hopefully be a new start for us.”

    “But you are thinking of more colonists,” said Ben.

    “Possibly,” said the Vice President. “Nothing is ever for certain in this life.”

    “Can’t argue that point,” said Ben. “And a security staff?”

    “The first ship will have a little over a hundred,” said the Vice President. “Plus, the ship’s crew will be younger and they can augment after the arrival.”

    “You don’t plan on sending them back?” asked Ben.

    “No, it’s a one-way trip,” said the assistant. “The ship will be dismantled by you and the colonists for building materials.”

    “With no hope of coming home?” said Ben with a wry smile.

    “No, the second ship will carry additional stasis pods in case you need to be evacuated,” said the Vice President. “We aren’t sending you out there to die. Plans are in the works for the second ship to make a round trip in case it doesn’t work out.”

    “Undoubtedly, some of the people you send will die,” said Ben. “On the other worlds, we’ve found new diseases, animal and plant life that just isn’t friendly to us invading humans and other risks that can kill you before you wake up. This place will be no different.”

    “We know,” said the Vice President with a sigh. “But you know what’s happened in other places and on other worlds. Fighting takes over eventually. Nations and Corporations fight over the most trivial items. We just want a new start.”

    “How do you know this place will not end up like that?” asked Ben.

    “Because we’ve gone to great lengths to keep it off the charts,” said the Vice President. “There are additional factors at stake here that I do not wish to discuss until we get a firm commitment from you in leading this camping trip as you call it.”

    “This won’t be easy,” said Ben. “I’m to assume this isn’t like Alpha Centauri where you can evacuate and end up back in the solar system in a week?”

    “No,” said the assistant guardedly.

    “I need to know what you’re hiding,” said Ben. The Vice President looked at the assistant with annoyance before turning back to Ben. The Vice President knew Ben was extremely sharp and had picked up on the non-verbal cues from the assistant.

    “Basically, it will take seven and a half years to get there even with the most advanced ASD systems,” said the Vice President. “There is just no other way in we know of.”

    “That’s a long trip,” said Ben.

    “The colonists will be in stasis for the trip since the ship board environmental systems required for such a journey would be enormous,” said the Vice President. “The leadership will be woken from time to time in order to receive updates on the planet and the follow on probes.”

    “Which are due in when?” asked Ben.

    “25 next year and an additional dozen which can be redirected after we receive the data from the first probes,” said the Vice President.

    “I get to pick my security command staff,” said Ben. “That’s not negotiable.”

    “We already have some of the security positions picked, but we left the leadership spots open for you to fill them,” said the Vice President. “And I have copies of the dossiers of the ones we picked already.”

    “I’d like them please,” said Ben.

    “Does this mean you accept the position?” asked the Vice President as he handed over a memory crystal with the appropriate files.

    “I want all the info you have on this world,” said Ben. “I don’t care about star charts or locations or anything like that. But I want the data itself.”

    “We need an answer today,” said the Vice President.

    “I’m a pretty quick reader,” said Ben with a smile. “So, if you have it with you…”

    The Vice President handed the tablet to Ben. The data on the planet were the only files on the tablet and he quickly scanned through them as well as the attached pictures. It did seem very Earth like, at least Earth from two hundred years before in pictures. The land masses obviously were different and the oceans had a deep blue color, but overall, the planet looked very peaceful from the photos.

    “Salinity factors in the oceans?” asked Ben.

    “Comparable to Earth before pollution took hold,” said the assistant, who was also a scientist.

    “These large inland lakes?” asked Ben. “Are they saltwater too?”

    “No, we don’t think so,” said the assistant. “We haven’t been able to drop a probe into them yet, but from the orbiting sensors, some are freshwater.”

    “So, possibly an unlimited source of water?” asked Ben. “They look rather large from the pictures you’ve got here.”

    “It’s not unheard of,” said the assistant. “One of the Gliese planets had inland seas that were non-saline. However, on a far smaller scale.”

    “Interesting…” said Ben. “How about radiation levels?”

    “The planet doesn’t seem to receive as much as Earth,” said the Vice President. “As much sunlight, yes, but the solar radiation is kept out by a very active magnetosphere.”

    “Solar weather?” asked Ben.

    “Comparable to the Sun,” said the assistant.

    “You mentioned wildlife?” asked Ben.

    “Additional probes are being sent to the planet with landers,” said the assistant. “We can only tell so much from orbit, but it does appear there is some rather large wildlife that appears to be herbivorous from what we can tell.”

    “And no carnivores?” asked Ben.

    “Again, unsure at this time, but you can naturally assume where there are herbivores, there will be carnivores,” said the assistant. “The data is still being collected and the more advanced probes won’t be there for another year as a minimum. But I couldn’t imagine there wouldn’t be a carnivore species or two given the animal population there already.”

    “But the atmospheric readings show no toxins, no significant carbon monoxide and no major pollutants that would put anyone at risk,” said the Vice President. “That’s the most important piece of the puzzle. No pollution, no need for filtered air, no domes and most importantly, no fighting over limited resources.”

    “But you launch the first ship before you complete the surveys?” asked Ben.

    “Yes,” said the Vice President with a sigh. “I don’t think we can wait.”

    Ben knew some of the scientists said the death of the Earth was accelerating rather than being slowed. It seemed like the planet was going out of its way to kill the infestation of humans despite their best efforts to survive. While the majority of scientists said the data was inconclusive, Ben knew a psychological operation when he saw one and knew they weren’t telling the whole truth. He saw that much in their faces each and every time they were in front of a camera. He also knew the Vice President likely had better data than the average bear.

    “Still, you’re sending in eight hundred people to an unknown planet with unknown animal life and unknown weather conditions and seasons,” said Ben. “Risky.”

    “Riskier than waiting to die in the Sol System or on another colony?” asked the Vice President. “You know what’s going to happen on Earth when society breaks down. You know what will happen to the other colonies like Mars when a mass exodus happens from the Earth. People will fight, panic will ensue and that’s the ball game.”

    “A second chance,” said Ben under his breath.

    “Yes,” said the Vice President. “Overall, it’s a chance for the human race to start fresh without outside influence. Without the bickering and fighting we see at each and every stop. Frankly, this is our planet, our find and our realistic chance at continuing the species without open warfare ripping any new colony to shreds.”

    “You won’t be contacting us?” asked Ben.

    “No, too much of a risk. There will be a single Earth transmitter on the ship in case of extreme emergency. Otherwise, you’re on your own,” said the Vice President.

    Ben sat back once again before looking at the data on the tablet. But his mind was made up already. He was deep in thought over the situation rather than reading the data.

    “When?” he finally asked before handing the tablet back over.

    “Next month,” said the Vice President as he entered a command which electronically shredded every file on the tablet.

    “Paranoid?” asked Ben.

    “Very much so,” said the Vice President as he put the now dead tablet back into his attaché case. “When can you have your list of names?”

    “The guys I’ll pick will want a face to face meeting to know I’m serious,” said Ben. “Or as a minimum a 3-D conference link. And some are in the employ of your rivals.”

    “Are they motivated by money?” asked the Vice President.

    “No, they’ll be motivated because I ask them to be,” said Ben. “Money might not hurt even though we won’t have anything to spend it on. These will be smart folks that know that. And likely the ones with family will ask to bring them along.”

    “Possibly in the later Expeditions,” said the Vice President.

    “Might want to make room for a couple,” said Ben. “While there are some that are soldiers to the bone, they are married to some smart folks that might come in handy. Or have children that can help advance your gene pool.”

    “Get us your list and we’ll consider it,” said the Vice President. “When can we expect it?”

    “A week, maybe ten days depending on where some are,” said Ben.

    “The ship leaves in exactly 32 days,” said the Vice President. “We have to know well before then in order to vet them.”

    “How do I contact you?” asked Ben.

    “This is brand new and the only contact programmed in is mine,” said the Vice President as he handed over the communications device. “You’ll only deal with me from now on.”

    “I have no problems with that,” said Ben. “One more thing though, the science and engineering folks…are they going to have a problem working for a former soldier?”

    “No,” said the Vice President.

    “Simple as that?” asked Ben.

    “Believe it or not, you are fairly well known in circles outside the military,” said the Vice President. “And they understand you aren’t all kinds of gung-ho, so, that’s a feather in your cap. Having said that to say this, they run their departments as legitimate heads themselves. They know they answer and report to you as Expedition Leader, but the day to day stuff they will be in charge of.”

    “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Ben. “Just that you know scientists and military don’t always play well together.”

    “Perhaps not,” said the Vice President. “However, they value intelligence over chosen profession and realize you are their equal in that regard.”

    “Fair enough,” said Ben.

    “So, you officially accept the position?” asked the Vice President.

    “Why not?” asked Ben.

    “Just like that?” asked the assistant.

    “Did you want complicated? Haggling over the fine details of a contract where the lawyers you employ get to play with words?” asked Ben.

    “I’d like to keep the lawyers out of it,” chuckled the Vice President.

    “You have a contract with you?”” asked Ben.

    “We have a generic contract that puts you in our employ,” said the Vice President. “We do try to keep things a little less complicated for the moment. However, I will list the duty title as ‘Expedition Leader’ just so you know we’re serious.”

    “Works for me,” said Ben as the assistant brought out the contract and Ben scanned over it before signing the last page.

    “Anything else?” asked the Vice President as he took the contract and slid it inside his jacket pocket after folding it and giving Ben his copy.

    “Nope, I’ll be in touch,” said Ben as he escorted the pair to his door. They shook hands before departing and once they were out of the building and away from any possible surveillance device they started speaking again. They headed on foot to the landing area where a ship would take them back to Earth.

    “I want him followed,” said the Vice President as the small security detail fell in behind them, ever vigilant for possible threats. “Bug all his known communications devices and install listening devices in his home if possible.”

    “You don’t trust him?” asked the assistant.

    “I don’t trust anyone,” said the Vice President. “Novae Spes is too important to the survival of our species to trust anyone fully.”

    “Including me?” asked the assistant with a chuckle.

    “Including you,” said the Vice President. “You see that guy in front of us, about a half a block away with the brown jacket on?”

    The assistant looked casually before noticing the man standing there. “Yeah, what about him?”

    “Part of corporate intelligence,” said the Vice President. “We’re being watched as well. I’ve picked up on two so far. But, there’s probably at least a half a dozen we haven’t seen.”

    “Oh,” said the assistant. “They consider us a threat?”

    “No, they are there as counter-espionage and watching for the watchers,” said the Vice President.

    “We went to great lengths to keep this meeting secret,” said the assistant.

    “I’m wasn’t joking when I said this is important,” said the Vice President. “I know you were only recently read into the program, but if word of this leaks out the risk the future of the human race resides on whichever other national leader or corporate boss is least stable.”

    “Least stable?” asked the assistant.

    “We very well could get along with several other nations or corporations in colonizing this planet,” said the Vice President. “But simply put, we cannot take the chance of radical elements taking over those companies and sending in armed forces to take over as we’ve seen in every other case of colonizing a new planet.”

    “The definition of insanity,” said the assistant.

    “Repeating the same process over and over and expecting a different outcome,” said the Vice President with a nod. “Which is why this one is going to stay secret and internal. And also why we brought Colonel Nash on board. He is a known winner on the battlefield and we need to be prepared for every eventuality we could envision.”

    “It’s probably better to be paranoid in this situation,” said the assistant. “I hope he’s up to the task and understands the magnitude of what’s going on.”


    ********************​


    Ben watched the pair depart from his residence from a window and let out a sigh at thinking of what he had just committed to. As noted by the Vice President, he was far sharper than many people knew and thought about the new job he had been offered as well as where they were heading. He had served enough death and destruction on humanity and he knew this was a chance to actually build something for a change. It would be a monumental undertaking, not only getting the colony off the ground to survive, but also the continued existence of humanity and washing away the sins of their past. Ben realized he was in the position to chart a new course for an entire planet and potentially even mankind as a whole. The weight of those thoughts hadn’t occurred to him while they were meeting, but he was finally getting the chance to digest the information and think it through fully.

    He trusted the corporate Vice President at his word they would be selecting people willing to take a great risk in starting and continuing a colony on this new world as he sat down and started thinking of the group he wanted for his security staff. Ben wondered if the others the Novus Group was picking would hold the same ideals as he did in striving for peace and prosperity rather than conflict. He knew there would be arguments and disagreements, but whether or not the team could eventually set aside their differences and work to the common goal was on his shoulders. He knew it would be a challenge unlike anything he had done before but felt himself up to the task as he started listing some names on a sheet of paper.

    It took almost a half an hour to narrow down his list to a viable set of candidates, dismissing some while underlining others. People he had worked with or knew through experience would have the skill sets needed to accomplish what they were moving towards. And some he had mentored and molded into his own image over the years that had carried on his legacy in the military after his retirement. He finalized the list and thought about each as he grabbed a bite to eat and sat in silent thought over the situation as a whole. After finishing, he added one name and subtracted another, realizing he had the power of life and death in his hands right then. But he realized, much like the Vice President did, this mission was too important to fail and he would require the best of the best.

    Ben went to his communications system and started putting in contact into from memory. He realized the magnitude of such communications and also realized the Corporate personnel might have been followed. Luckily, he still had secure communication access since he was still listed as “Inactive Reserve” in case of all out warfare and was also occasionally called for off the books consultation on matters he knew about. Taking in a deep breath, he engaged the secure system and entered the first number on his list, a person he considered critical to the overall effort and realistically had no other name for his security chief. He waited patiently as he sipped at a cup of coffee for the connection to be made…
     
  3. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 2


    “Hey, old man,” said the woman in a combat uniform at the other end of the screen from Ben. Even though she was in her headquarters office, she appeared ready to strap on body armor, a helmet and grab a rifle to head out if called. “It’s been far too long since we talked.”

    “It’s been like three months,” said Ben with a laugh.

    “Like I said, far too long,” said the woman with a laugh. “How are you, Colonel?”

    “Not bad,” said Ben. “How’s Tasha these days?”

    “Getting all old and stuff,” she said with a smile.

    “Yeah, thirty-four is ancient,” laughed Ben.

    “As you used to say, it ain’t the age, it’s the mileage,” said the woman named Tasha Hayden. She had been assigned with him since she was a young Private in the North American Army when she was recruited at 16 years old and practically followed him around to every assignment. Along the way, he mandated she get her commission and become an officer, serving as his second in command on more than one occasion as well as being one of his most trusted officers. She was still serving in the North American Army and performed her fair share of espionage and covert operations against a multitude of nations and companies. And she was good at her job. Considered young for the responsibility, she had a flawless record and most that worked with her knew Colonel’s Eagles or General’s Stars were certainly in her future.

    “Well, if you aren’t feeling too old, you up for a job?” asked Ben.

    “I already have a job,” she said in a puzzled tone.

    “Yeah, but this job will be fun,” said Ben.

    “What kind of job are we talking about?” she asked.

    “The fun kind I can’t talk about,” said Ben.

    “Very mysterious,” she grinned. “You know I’m a sucker for the secret stuff.”

    “Probably why you were my best undercover operative,” said Ben.

    “Well, that and you said I was hot,” she laughed.

    “I said no such thing!” he protested with a laugh.

    Au contraire, my dear Colonel,” said Tasha with a twinkle in her eyes. “Word got back to me that you said I was the best because of my nosey streak and hotness. That people naturally opened up to me because of said hotness and they underestimated me.”

    “Those words…might have been said before,” he answered with a laugh. “You still married?”

    “Nah, back to being single,” she replied.

    “Divorced again?” he asked with a scoff. “Seriously?”

    “Hey, married and divorced three times isn’t that many,” she protested.

    “Of course not,” he laughed and knew it would take a hell of a man to keep up with her as well as her lofty expectations of what a “man should be.”

    “So, seriously, what kind of job?” she asked. “And aren’t you retired?”

    “I can’t say,” he replied. “I can say it could be dangerous and it’s probably one way.”

    “And about that retirement?” she prodded.

    “I’m bored,” he sighed. “Need something to do with my life and this popped up.”

    “Sounds like a colony security position,” she said. “Normally, I’d tell someone to piss off with that kind of offer as I’ve done in the past, but that’s not the job you tend to do.”

    “It is not,” said Ben.

    “It’s not a colony security position or it’s not something you tend to do?” she asked, prodding for more information.

    “It’s something I can’t talk about, but I think you might like,” said Ben with a chuckle at her attempts to gather information. “You in?”

    “When do you need to know by?” she asked.

    “If I don’t get a yes answer by the time this call is over, I don’t want you,” he replied.

    “That’s so not fair,” she laughed. “Of course, I’m in. First, you wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. Second, you’ve saved my life like three times so I owe you.”

    “Four times,” he replied with a grin.

    “I don’t count that time in Minsk,” she laughed.

    “I do,” said Ben with a laugh. “I don’t know exactly when we’re leaving, but be ready to go when I call next.”

    “How am I packing?” she asked.

    “Pack your underwear and teeth cleaner,” he replied. “The rest I don’t know about yet.”

    “I have to wear underwear?” she asked with another twinkle in her eyes. “What a bummer.”

    “Might even make you change it every week,” he laughed.

    “Getting might close to a deal breaker,” she laughed. “You looking for anyone else in particular for this job? And how long are we talking for?”

    “Maybe,” he replied. “You have someone in mind?”

    “Young kid I’ve got working with me now, but sharp,” said Tasha. “Very intelligent. Was an engineer, but wanted to shoot and blow stuff up instead. I snagged him as soon as he came out of Selection Training and had him assigned.”

    “Single?” asked Ben.

    “Married to a doctor,” she replied.

    “What kind?” asked Ben.

    “Pediatrician,” said Tasha. “At least, I think. Or obstetrician. One or the other.”

    “Send me his file,” said Ben. “But this would be an offer to the both of them.”

    “Very curious,” she replied.

    “Don’t even think about asking me any more questions,” he laughed. “I will say this on the length of tour…I stress the one way trip as much as I can. You sure you have nothing holding you back?”

    “Anyone I considered family is gone, don’t keep in touch with any of the ex-husbands and they can rot for all I care and I’m an only child,” she replied. “But you bought into this?”

    “I did,” he replied. “No more questions.”

    “I wouldn’t dream of it,” she grinned. “I’ll be waiting on your call.”

    “I do have one more favor to ask,” said Ben. “You at a secure computer terminal?”

    “I am,” she replied.

    “Look up a contact number for me,” he stated as gave a name.

    “Kinda a little out of our area, you know?” she asked as he saw her typing.

    “It’s that kinda mission,” he said.

    “I’ve got the last known contact from the intel files,” she said as she looked. “I won’t go out on a limb and say it’s still current.”

    “It’s worth a shot,” he stated as he copied down the number she gave him. “Appreciate it.”

    “Let me know travel arrangements,” she stated.

    “I’ll be in touch,” said Ben as he already marked off the first of a dozen names he would be recruiting. He put out the next call and waited on the line to connect, thinking of additional factors he might face along the way and added a few more names to his list. As he waited on the connection, he scanned over the file she had just sent him and saw the younger man she recommended was sharp. His wife appeared to be first class as well, graduating at the top of her class in medical school as well as completing her residency in record time. Ben figured they already had doctors on their list, but he knew from hard earned experience good medical staff was something you could never have enough of. And he knew that went double for going into an unknown planet where all sorts of unseen dangers lurked. The connection completed to the next name on his list.

    “What in the hell, you aren’t dead!” exclaimed the man on the other end. It was just a voice at the moment until the secure connection kicked in and the face of a large black man was seen.

    “Hell wouldn’t have me, Sergeant Major,” laughed Ben. “Enjoying retirement?”

    “Had to get a part time job,” said the man on the other end whose name was Kendrick Whitaker. “Wife is working too.”

    “Interested in a full-time position?” asked Ben.

    “Maybe,” said the man. “I still do the odd one-off contract here and there, so I’m not entirely out of practice. What kind of job?”

    “Back to being a Sergeant Major,” said Ben. “First Sergeant as a minimum.”

    “I’m retired,” said Whitaker.

    “Un-retire yourself,” said Ben.

    “Not that easy,” said Whitaker. “Gale will give me hell about it.”

    “What does she do again?” asked Ben.

    “Right now? Legal assistant with the Lodestone Corporation,” said Whitaker.

    “And if we could find her a position consummate with her skills?” asked Ben.

    “It would soften the blow,” said Whitaker. “You’re being kind of cryptic. Spill it.”

    “I got a job offer,” said Ben. “Get to pick my command team on the security side. You are the only name I’ve got for the senior enlisted side of the house. I want and need the best.”

    “What kind of job offer?” asked Whitaker.

    “The kind I really can’t talk about,” said Ben. “I honestly would love to tell you, but I have to get you in before I can break the news.”

    “It’s convincing me to say no,” said Whitaker.

    “What if I called in a favor?” asked Ben.

    “That’s a pretty big favor to up my family and move,” said Whitaker.

    “Who said anything about moving?” asked Ben.

    “You did without saying it,” said Whitaker. “Else we wouldn’t be talking over this thing.”

    “You’re still as sharp as ever,” said Ben.

    “Yeah, they wanted to make me an officer, but found out I actually liked working for a living,” he laughed. “Seriously though, off world?”

    “Yes, and that’s as far as I go,” said Ben.

    “Colony security position,” said Whitaker as a matter of fact.

    “I can’t say,” said Ben.

    “You don’t have to,” said Whitaker with a sigh. “Gale likes it here even though we’re under a dome and our quarters are less than spacious. She’s set, I’m somewhat set. I’m not sure either one of us want to start over.”

    “It’s your choice,” said Ben who had pushed as far as he was comfortable with.

    “I’m going to go out and ask you something,” said Whitaker. “I don’t expect you to answer; maybe you will, maybe not. Anyway, my son got a job offer too. Said he would be leaving in about a month or so and wouldn’t tell me where he was going. Very secretive about the whole thing. Are the two related?”

    “Who’s he working for?” asked Ben.

    “The Novus Group just contracted him,” said Whitaker. “And my daughter as well and she’s coming over tonight with ‘some big news’ as she put it.”

    “Both joined the military?” asked Ben who considered the Whitaker children as much his own as their real parents.

    “Took after their old man in that regard,” said Whitaker. “Lifers.”

    “There might be a connection,” said Ben as he was making a large assumption on their new assignment. But if they followed in Kendrick Whitaker’s footsteps, they likely would be at the top of any headhunter’s list of top-notch personnel.

    “Then I’m in,” said Whitaker. “And Gale as well.”

    “Simple as that?” asked Ben.

    “Does it need to be complicated?” asked Whitaker.

    “Guess not,” said Ben. “They are both officers, right?”

    “Yep, still junior-junior officers,” said Whitaker. “Sold them their first salutes.”

    “You might end up working for them,” said Ben.

    “Cold day in hell!” laughed Whitaker. “But it would be an honor. They got Gale’s brains and my brawn. Best of both worlds.”

    “I’ll be in touch with transport details,” said Ben. “But just that you know, it’s a one-way trip.”

    “Never coming back?” asked Whitaker.

    “Probably not,” said Ben.

    “But you bought off on it?” asked Whitaker who asked the question that appeared to be a recurring theme with those he talked to.

    “There’s a lot of backstory, but yeah, I sure did,” said Ben.

    “The high points of my career were spent working with you,” said Whitaker. “No good reason not to go once more unto the breach with dear friends.”

    “Even if Gale gives you hell?” asked Ben.

    “She’d give me even more hell if we never saw our kids again and I had a chance to go where they were going,” said Whitaker.

    “I wouldn’t want to be the one to break that news,” laughed Ben. “She’s a fiery one.”

    “Best woman I’ve ever met,” said Whitaker. “She’d love to see you eventually.”

    “As soon as I can get paperwork drawn up for you to sign, we’ll meet up,” said Ben.

    “She’ll be asking you all kinds of pointed questions about this job,” said Whitaker.

    “Try to soften the blow and let her know I can’t answer everything,” said Ben. “You’re a soldier and you know Opsec. It applies and convince her of that.”

    “I’m a retired soldier,” said Whitaker.

    “Not anymore,” said Ben. “I’ll be in touch in a few days.”

    Ben went down his list, finding everyone accepted his offer even though he was extremely cryptic about the conditions. Most of the personnel knew he wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t important, even as he was retired and stated they would wait patiently for additional reporting information. As he came to the end of his list, he thought long and hard about the next number, especially given the circumstances it was under. However, he wanted and needed the best and decided a polite “no” was better than wondering for the rest of his life if he made a mistake in overlooking someone. Dialing the number, he hoped Tasha’s files were up to date as it connected with the receiving end. He was rewarded with the figure he was looking for in the computer screen as a somewhat familiar face appeared.

    Da, kto tam?” asked the voice as he finally looked into the screen to see who was calling. His face registered not only surprise, but recognition. “Kak…how did you get this number?”

    “We have good files,” said Ben. “Got an email?”

    “For what exactly?” asked the man.

    “For a secure call ability,” said Ben.

    “I have that ability already,” said the man as he was seen reaching off screen and flipping a switch. The monitor wavered for a moment before showing “SECURE” at the bottom. Even though it was a lower form of security, it would still take the codebreakers at least a month to break the encryption on the lines.

    “I would hope this is a social call, Colonel,” said the man on the other end. “You know I must report it to my superiors. Though if we are going secure, I doubt that it is purely social.”

    “I’d hope you wouldn’t until you have at least heard what I have to say,” said Ben.

    “I would hope you are not asking me to defect like so many others have tried,” said the man.

    “Nope, furthest thing from my mind,” said Ben. “Sort of.”

    “We will talk about food recipes and vacation spots, perhaps?” asked the man.

    “How about a job opportunity?” asked Ben.

    “I have a job, thank you,” said the man, but didn’t end the call. It was highly intriguing for a man of Ben’s reputation to be calling him out of nowhere and offering a job.

    “New job,” said Ben. “Not working against your country either.”

    “You have my attention, Colonel,” said the man. Ben went on to explain but did not give any additional details. The man sat wondering exactly why him before asking the question.

    “Because I want the best,” said Ben simply. “Your name is on a lot of lists out there.”

    “For various reasons some of which are not good,” chuckled the man. “How long?”

    “Forever,” said Ben simply.

    “I cannot and will not leave my family behind,” said the man.

    “They are invited too,” said Ben.

    “Most curious, Colonel,” said the man. “You are retired, no?”

    “I was,” said Ben. “In or out?”

    “I must think on this,” said the man.

    “I haven’t accepted that as an answer,” said Ben.

    “Then allow me to be the first to say no,” said the man. “You will not force me into a decision regardless of your reputation.”

    “You have four hours to decide,” said Ben, relenting slightly.

    “One hour is sufficient,” said the man. “This number is good to contact you?”

    “It is,” said Ben. “I know your security procedures mandate you reporting this conversation to your superiors; but I do ask you wait to do so until we have talked again. My offer is fair and you know it.”

    “The only reason we are still talking is because it is fair,” said the man. “But if I decide against it, I will have to report it to my superiors. I will give you the courtesy of at least letting you know I will be doing so.”

    “I wouldn’t expect anything less,” said Ben. “One hour.”

    “Until then,” said the man as he signed off. Ben sat back in his chair, realizing it was a huge leap asking this man on. But again, reminded himself he was already taking the biggest leap in his lifetime by accepting the position. He started looking around his apartment, trying to decide what to bring and what to leave and realized he hadn’t even gotten instructions on that yet. However, he figured being in charge might give him a bit more leeway and started organizing things in his head. Before long, his videophone link rang and he found the man he had spoken to earlier after answering it.

    “You’re a bit early,” said Ben as he looked at his watch.

    “It was a simple decision to make,” said the man.

    “That means no,” said Ben.

    “On the contrary, it is a yes,” said the man. “I will require additional details.”

    “I have given you everything I can,” said Ben.

    “Reporting details, Colonel,” said the man.

    “You have a clean email address I can send them to?” asked Ben.

    “Yes,” said the man as he gave an unmonitored address to Ben.

    “I won’t know for a while what the reporting instructions are, but I will send them as soon as I know and try to give you as much notice as possible,” said Ben.

    “I would only need three days’ notice,” said the man.

    “I will be in touch,” said Ben as he ended the call. Before the night was over, he had his command team in place. While Ben figured the Vice President was likely already off world, he sent him a message anyway for when he arrived. He was surprised when the communicator rang and answered it with a simple “hello.”

    “I know I shouldn’t be surprised at hearing from you this quickly, but I am surprised at hearing from you this quickly,” said the Vice President.

    “I have a list of the command team I’m looking for,” said Ben.

    “Can you send it to this account?” asked the Vice President.

    “I’ll type it up and send it,” said Ben. “When do you want to meet to go over them?”

    “I’m already back on Earth,” said the Vice President. “It’s going to be a couple of days.”

    “Already?” asked Ben.

    “One of the perks of being in my position is fast transportation,” said the Vice President.

    “Yeah, that must be nice,” said Ben.

    “I’ll tell you what, I’ll send a ship to pick you up in…two days,” said the Vice President. “It’ll give us time to look over your list.”

    “How long am I staying?” asked Ben.

    “We have additional items to go over with you, like the remainder of the command staff, so plan on at least three days,” said the Vice President. “Maybe up to a week.”

    “Formal? I know how you guys love your suits,” chuckled Ben.

    “You’ll find I’m just as casual as everyone else when I want to be,” said the Vice President. “Just another perk of the position.”

    “I’ll see you then,” said Ben as he ended the communication and got the file ready to send to the Vice President. After typing it up, he transmitted it and received a reply it had been received. Ben looked over the list the Vice President had left when he departed and checked the names against his own memory. He saw they were all good people and even recognized many of the names as people he’d worked with or heard of before. In addition, he saw the two names of Kendrick Whitaker’s children as junior officers in the security detachment. He knew there were obviously good choices and figured he’d let the corporate leadership pick and choose the depth of the security personnel.

    However, he reached several names that jumped out at him as well. And certainly not for good reasons. He looked over the list again and had to do some in depth checking of the backgrounds and what he found he wasn’t comfortable with in the least. He made notes of them to have them replaced and started a new list of personnel that would be ideal in their spots and even improved the initial group of colonists somewhat. As well as a secondary list he would present in case some of the initial list didn’t pan out. However, he looked over the initial list again and noticed something he had missed the first time around.

    In a second reading, he saw most he knew of were highly competent in their jobs, but all younger…and a mix of female and males. He didn’t know the scientific staff, but likely figured there would be a mix of the sexes there as well as starting and repopulating a species would be first and foremost in their thinking. He also knew he needed to start thinking on that level as well and get out of the mindset of just the military matters. He revised his list slightly in keeping with the male and female split, but taking the names he dropped and putting them on the secondary list and hopefully for consideration on the second Expedition.

    Ben looked around the small condo and wondered exactly what he had gotten himself into. He felt the mission he would be undertaking was certainly worthwhile, but it was a big leap of faith to leave everything…and everyone behind and travel to a new world untouched by humans. And furthermore, be ultimately responsible for the lives of those under his charge. But not even that as he knew the way humanity was going, they very well could be the last chance for mankind as a whole.

    Heading off to bed, his mind was racing at what was to come and sleep didn’t come easy.
     
  4. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 3


    Ben was nervous about the meeting as the ship came towards the domed area built on top of the old city of Nashville. The city held almost three million inhabitants and living space was strictly controlled for those lucky enough to earn a place inside. He looked out the window at the barren desolation of a once green planet as they approached the city and entered the traffic pattern for landing. Once they passed through the electronic grid that kept the dust and pollution out of the dome, they headed for a private landing area on top of the Novus Corporation facility and came in for a soft touchdown. Ben saw the Vice President was waiting for him dressed down in blue jeans and a Henley shirt that was untucked. He felt slightly overdressed and removed the tie he hated with a passion before stuffing it inside his baggage. He decided to keep on the suit jacket for the moment and left it unbuttoned as he unbuttoned the top button on his white shirt. The hatch opened and he departed, carrying his bag and a medium sized pack slung over his shoulder. The Vice President nodded at an orderly who went over and took the bag from Ben.

    “You weren’t joking about dressing down,” chuckled Ben as he shook the Vice President’s hand.

    “I’m an old software engineer,” said the Vice President. “This is about as formal as I want.”

    “I was always more comfortable in fatigues and boots than my dress uniform,” said Ben.

    “We can let you change if you want,” said the Vice President. “I have a private bathroom you can use to change into something more comfortable.”

    “That’ll be fine,” said Ben as they headed inside. “This is my first time on Earth since I retired. I forgot how bad it’s getting.”

    “We know,” said the Vice President.

    “You’ve had me followed?” asked Ben.

    “Yes, we did,” said the Vice President. “As well as backtracking your movements since you retired. No offense, but this place is too important for us.”

    “I understand,” said Ben as they arrived at his spacious office and took a seat away from the desk. Ben grabbed a set of khaki pants and a polo shirt before heading to the bathroom and quickly changing. Coming out, he replaced the dress shoes with a set of boots that appeared to have some serious mileage on them, but still in good condition. An orderly offered coffee and it was accepted by both before he departed after filling the cups and leaving the carafe on a small table.

    “You’re retired and still wear boots?” asked the Vice President.

    “I’m still in that mindset that things can go sideways before you know it,” said Ben as he stowed the holstered pistol inside his bag along with the spare magazines and a large folding knife.

    “You’re armed?” asked the Vice President.

    “And legally allowed to carry in North America and far more places,” stated Ben. “If it bothers you, I can check it into your armory.”

    “No, I just wasn’t…I should have expected it,” said the Vice President.

    “The mindset takes a long time to go away,” said Ben.

    “I’m glad we could have this meeting,” said the Vice President as he moved on. “We wanted to talk over the leadership team we have assigned.”

    “No problem,” said Ben. “I have some concerns as well with the security staff.”

    “Oh?” asked the Vice President.

    “We’ll get to that,” said Ben with a wave of his hand. “So?”

    “Let’s go down the list of the leadership we’ve selected if that’s okay,” said the Vice President.

    “I’d like to know who I’m working with,” said Ben as the Vice President uploaded the files onto a large 3D screen next to the desk.

    “Okay,” said the Vice President as he loaded the first file. “First off is your Chief Science Officer or Director. Whatever you want to term your section heads.”

    “I think Director would be appropriate,” said Ben.

    “Okay, the name is Doctor Javier Santiago, from South America originally, State of Columbia and the Bolívar Region specifically, but lived in North America since going to college at 15. Double Doctorate, accolades, off world research, published a few times per year, the whole package so to speak,” said the Vice President as he also handed over an old style paper dossier. Ben looked through and noted his distinctive accomplishments over his career.

    “Very good,” said Ben. “Young though.”

    “But damn good,” said the Vice President. “He’s consulted with us in the past and was eager to get a look at what we had on the planet.”

    “You told him the specifics?” asked Ben.

    “No, just selected data,” said the Vice President.

    “Does he have a specialty?” asked Ben. “Specific area of science?”

    “Not really, he’s well versed in most of the biology fields and crossed over into zoology, botany, earth sciences…pretty much all of them he’s dabbled in,” said the Vice President. “Next is his co-director, more or less, your Chief Astrophysicist Doctor Angeline Weber. She’s just as qualified as Doctor Santiago, but we literally flipped a coin to see who would take lead. She’s made a career in astrophysics and came highly recommended by nearly everyone in the community. She studied meteorology as a hobby and will be in charge of that as well.”

    “Was age not taken into account when deciding team leads?” asked Ben, noting she was almost ten years older than Santiago as he looked through the next file.

    “It came down to team leadership and team dynamics,” said the Vice President. “She doesn’t have as much time under her belt leading complete science teams and had a narrower focus on her career path. We felt Doctor Santiago was better suited to leading since he’s dabbled in a number of areas over the years. A position she strongly agreed with.”

    “Just that she knows,” said Ben. “Chief Engineer?”

    “A man named Grady Stafford,” said the Vice President as he located the next dossier and handed it over. “He’s built or upgraded eight different off world colonies including the Australian colony on Gliese 581C. He’s picked his own crew for the most part and each and every one are recognized experts in the engineering world. If there’s anyone out there with better qualifications, I have yet to find him.”

    Ben studied the dossier closely and found he not only had set up five colonies from scratch, but had made a business on Earth of building domes and habitable areas. He had made a small fortune as his prices were high, but he gave the highest quality product in the galaxy. Ben informally knew the name but had never met him personally.

    “And what’s he charging you?” asked Ben. “I know his work by reputation only but never met him. But I know he doesn’t come cheap.”

    “Not a penny,” said the Vice President.

    “Oh?” asked Ben. “What’s motivating him?”

    “The excitement of building something from scratch on an untouched world without anyone else around trying to tear it down,” said the Vice President. “As well as the chance to live. He knows, much like you do, the Earth is collapsing far quicker than scientists are letting on.”

    “Nice to know some folks aren’t motivated by greed,” said Ben.

    “He picked his own team for the most part,” said the Vice President.

    “I’m not really in a position to pick and choose the individual teams,” said Ben. “Save the security side of course where I know what we need.”

    “Next up is your chief agriculturist,” said the Vice President. “Doctor Kurt Sweeney. Graduated college and moved back to the family farm in Oklahoma before it turned into a dust bowl. But contracted his services out to a dozen different companies and nations to setting up agricultural works on off world colonies. The man could grow corn out of a rock I believe.”

    “Some fresh stuff is always nice,” said Ben, who knew little of farming. Reading through the file, he saw the man had impeccable talents and was a recognized expert. Ben was under the impression the Novus Group was sparing no expense to get the best they could find.

    “Your Services and Infrastructure leader is a woman named Rachelle Marchand,” said the Vice President as he handed over the next dossier. “In a word, brilliant. I hate to use that term, but she graduated with a double Masters from Cornell at age 16 and can speak six languages. Programs code like you and I would type out a letter.”

    “Obviously, you’ve never seen me type,” chuckled Ben as he looked it over. “IQ?”

    “Around 180 or so,” said the Vice President. “But doesn’t act like it. Kind of carefree. Mix of intelligence, common sense and just…well, carefree.”

    “Not in a bad way I hope?” asked Ben.

    “No, she knows when serious is serious and play is play,” said the Vice President. “Just a free-spirited kid for lack of a better term without the emotional baggage.”

    “I can deal with that,” said Ben.

    “Your Chief Medical Officer is Doctor Mary Blevins,” said the Vice President. “Graduated at the top of her class from Johns Hopkins and has done work in some large hospitals around North America. She had just accepted a position to Atlanta Memorial when we talked her out of it.”

    Ben again looked over the file and saw she was rather young, a fact he pointed out.

    “She’s another one who’s in a league of her own,” said the Vice President. “I’ve talked to career physicians and they say she’s destined to be one of the premier specialists in her time.”

    “And her specialty?” asked Ben.

    “Internal medicine for the most part with quite a few areas she’s had training in,” said the Vice President. “But also a trauma surgeon.”

    “Those can come in real handy when you need them,” said Ben.

    “And your ship’s Captain,” said the Vice President. “A man named Allen Smith. He’s an engineer by trade originally and came up through the Novus Group ranks. This will be his third command and final one as it is. I let him pick his own staff with the exception of his Chief Engineer, a man named Cyrus Hendrix. Hendrix helped design and build the ship from the keel up and came on board as a last-minute request.”

    “His First Officer?” asked Ben.

    “I don’t know much about her, I’m afraid,” said the Vice President. “But Captain Smith thinks very highly of her. Name is Charity Steele and she’s also served with him over her career minus a stint in the North American Space Fleet. Did her time, got out and came to work for us.”

    “And who’s my deputy?” asked Ben.

    “Your deputy?” asked the Vice President.

    “My second in charge?” asked Ben. “Who minds the store when I’m not there or if I was to get sick? I need a second in command.”

    “We…hadn’t really thought of that,” said the Vice President. “You have a talented staff, I’m sure one of them could pull that duty.”

    “It needs to be a dedicated number two,” said Ben. “It’s going to be hard enough running the individual sections like agriculture and science, much less worrying over them all.”

    “I might assume you would be able to pick a suitable second?” asked the Vice President.

    “I believe I could see what they are capable of,” said Ben.

    “Then the decision will be left up to you,” said the Vice President.

    “Sounds good,” said Ben. “You got the list of names I sent over?”

    “We did and were able to initially vet some of them, but we do have some questions,” said the Vice President. “One or two in particular.”

    “Okay,” said Ben.

    “This Major Tasha Hayden,” said the Vice President. “She’s always been in a secondary capacity in her leadership roles until you retired. This is her first command and it’s peacetime at the moment. Can she hack it?”

    “I wouldn’t have picked her otherwise,” said Ben. “She’s matured into a leader in her own right and I feel utterly confident in her ability to lead those in either a hostile environment or through normal operations. I’m going to be the one ultimately responsible, so yes, she’s your girl.”

    “Young enough to be my daughter, certainly,” chuckled the Vice President. “Okay, Captain Jerome Irwin? We weren’t able to track down much on him. A lot of blank spaces on his official record.”

    “Because he’s spent a considerable amount of his adult life deep undercover and in Special Operations,” said Ben. “But he’s good. Natural leader and has the basic command course while still in the Marines.”

    “We kept hitting a brick wall with his data,” said the Vice President. “I can see why now.”

    “Was that everyone?” asked Ben.

    “No…” said the Vice President. “We have serious concerns about Kendrick Whitaker.”

    “Okay,” said Ben with a wave of his hand.

    “How well do you know him?” asked the Vice President.

    “I’d trust him with my life or the lives of my family if I had one,” said Ben. “Why?”

    “Well, we saw he followed you around for the majority of his career and he retired about a year before you,” said the Vice President. “It’s his activities in retirement that have us concerned.”

    “Such as?” asked Ben.

    “As little as a month ago, he ran an operation against one of our facilities,” said the Vice President. “And stole some valuable data from us.”

    “Nobody was hurt?” asked Ben.

    “No, he managed to get in and out undetected,” said the Vice President. “However, he left enough DNA traces for us to get a match.”

    “And the data was…?” asked Ben.

    “Proprietary formulas for certain alloys,” said the Vice President. “Nothing life threatening.”

    “You obviously didn’t go to the authorities,” said Ben.

    “The research was very loosely related to our information on the planet,” said the Vice President. “They could start asking questions that we couldn’t easily provide answers to.”

    “I’ll inquire, but I know the answer in advance without even talking to him,” said Ben.

    “What possible reason would he have?” asked the Vice President.

    “He’s inside a dome and, as you know, that’s not cheap for the common man,” said Ben. “His wife works, he draws a military pension, but even that is pitifully small compared to what he was owed from his time in the service. Anyway, he readily admitted to doing side jobs to help make ends meet and this likely was one of them.”

    “Still, he stole from us,” said the Vice President.

    “So, offer him a job and take that avenue away,” said Ben.

    “He’s a mercenary,” said the Vice President.

    “Look, the man made a career out of breaking into high security facilities just like I did,” said Ben. “And he was probably having trouble making ends meet. The only job inside the dome he was able to pull down was a low wage security guard. He was bound to get bored and put his training to use to help pay the bills. You just happened to be the target. Next time it could be the North American Army or the Euro Defense Consortium.”

    “So, he’s loyal to no one?” asked the Vice President.

    “No, he’s loyal to whomever happens to be paying his bills,” said Ben. “And he’ll be loyal to me because we’re loyal to each other. I trust that man with my life, have trusted that man with my life and will continue to trust him with my life. In a just world, he would have been an officer and you would have made him the same offer you made me.”

    “You…admire him?” asked the Vice President.

    “No, I respect him and his capabilities,” said Ben. “And furthermore, I know he’s the best person in or out of the military to take charge of the enlisted side of the house.”

    “Honestly, we didn’t realize there was as much to that side of things,” said the Vice President. “One of the reasons I pushed to have you brought in a bit earlier. It didn’t happen.”

    “You did seem to have an overabundance of officers,” said Ben. “Lot of Chiefs, not many Indians.”

    “The military side of things has always been something we shied away from,” said the Vice President. “We typically use third party contractors for that kind of work.”

    “You need that senior enlisted leadership,” said Ben. “And you need the experience of Kendrick Whitaker. He’s the best I have to offer and the best you’re ever going to get. Plus, you recruited his children, why not the parents as well?”

    “His wife as well?” asked the Vice President. “On Expedition 1?”

    “Behind every good soldier is a great spouse keeping up things at home,” said Ben. “He was only one of the best in the field because he didn’t have to worry about the home life. And furthermore, she’s a natural whiz at a great many things in the corporate world.”

    “Yes, she works for the Lodestone Corporation,” said the Vice President. “Legal assistant.”

    “That’s just for starters,” said Ben. “I’d have a look in her background if you haven’t already. What you find will surprise you.”

    “Truth be told, we originally looked at him and discarded him because of age,” said the Vice President. “The operation against our facility was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

    “You have to have some experience that comes with age on this Expedition,” said Ben. “It’s all well and good you’re getting youngsters capable of breeding and carrying on the torch, but you need the wisdom of those that have been there, done that.”

    “And you think Whitaker is the right choice?” asked the Vice President.

    “I think he’s the only choice,” said Ben.

    “Okay, you sold me,” said the Vice President. “And on to youngsters, what about this Lieutenant Nicholas Griggs?”

    “A recommendation from Tasha Hayden,” said Ben. “And I looked at his file and found he is an outstanding officer and was a promising young engineer. Top 5% of his class at MIT, Masters from Georgia Tech. And has a wife that’s a doctor.”

    “Maybe we can get her into Expedition 2, but the medical team is already picked for Expedition 1,” said the Vice President.

    “She’s a pediatric and obstetric specialist,” said Ben. “That’s kind of a nice thing to have around. And before you say anything, I saw nobody is qualified in that particular field from the list you provided.”

    “The physicians we picked have a wide variety of skills,” said the Vice President.

    “But none are a pediatrician or obstetrician as a primary field I'd bet,” said Ben. “Look, if the security personnel are any indication of the relatively even split of males and females, we’re going to have children. Because when you put single boys and girls together, they will do what boys and girls do when they get together. We’re going to be on the planet for what? 15 months until Expedition 2? We will need that kind of specialist work because I can flat guarantee you before six months is out, someone is going to get pregnant.”

    “You could lay down some ground rules,” said the Vice President. “Make it illegal.”

    “Yeah, I’ve been places like that before where the leadership says, ‘don’t have sex or else.’ And guess what? They still end up doing the deed by finding creative ways of hiding,” said Ben. “You can’t put together over 800 men and women in their prime so to speak and not expect a few, or a lot, of them to have sex. It’s natural and it’s going to happen. Make no mistake, hormones, emotions, loneliness or a combination of all three will make Novae Spes a hotspot for social interaction and intercourse during that first Expedition.”

    “They would disobey you?” asked the Vice President.

    “No, because I’m not dumb enough to make a rule like that to begin with,” said Ben. “Look, we’re only talking about an extra doctor, a specialist at that. We will need that kind of specialty if what I think will happen happens. We are talking about the continuation of our species.”

    “So, you are demanding a seat on Expedition 1 for them both?” asked the Vice President with a sigh.

    “I’m not demanding anything,” said Ben with a semi-frown. “But if you want me leading this thing, you have to allow me some inputs on the personnel we are bringing. You can’t sit behind a desk, hand me a loaded deck and tell me to make it work. I built one of the premier special operations units in the world because I handpicked the members. The same applies here.”

    “I keep forgetting you’re smarter than your comrades in arms,” said the Vice President. “Anyone else you’d like to add to the list?”

    “Can’t think of a soul if those other names are acceptable to you,” said Ben.

    “Again, we vetted them save Jerome Irwin and Kendrick Whitaker,” said the Vice President. “They all cleared and are assigned to spots on this or later Expeditions.”

    “Now, on to the other portion of vetting,” said Ben. “Have you vetted and contacted that entire list of security personnel?”

    “Not all of them were contacted,” said the Vice President. “Maybe half. We’ve deliberately waited on many since there is an unknown loyalty on some to their companies or nations.”

    “These six?” asked Ben as he handed over a handwritten list. The Vice President looked it over and compared to the computer list to his front.

    “No, it appears they have yet to be contacted,” said the Vice President.

    “Scratch them off the list,” said Ben. “And add these six.”

    “There are some people with good resumes on here,” said the Vice President.

    “Trust me, that resume has baggage with it,” said Ben. “A lot of baggage you might not see.”

    “You know this for a fact?” asked the Vice President.

    “A leopard doesn’t change its spots,” said Ben. “You really don’t want those six.”

    “And I’m to trust you on this?” asked the Vice President.

    “Yep,” said Ben simply. “I don’t trust them and I’m going to be the man on the ground. You want to keep this place a secret? You don’t even talk to them.”

    “You think they’d give it up?” asked the Vice President. “Even if we are allowing them to bring families?”

    “In a heartbeat,” said Ben. “You asked before if some of the people I’d suggest would be motivated by money. That’s all those guys are motivated in. And if selling out the coordinates to this planet meant they’d get another credit in their pocket, they’d do so without hesitation.”

    “They’re that bad?” asked the Vice President.

    “I don’t trust them and you certainly shouldn’t trust anyone that works for that outfit,” said Ben.

    “We’re almost through with the vetting,” said the Vice President.

    “Well, save yourself the time and check these guys out instead,” stated Ben as he tapped the paper to the front of the Vice President.

    The Vice President sighed before looking over the list. He saw six replacement names and the identifying data needed to start the vetting process. It appeared Ben had done some ground work for them in advance and all that was needed was a check.

    “An Australian, a German, a Russian, a South American and two North Americans?” asked the Vice President. “What’s so special about them?”

    “I trust them even though I fought against a couple of them,” said Ben. “There is honor among soldiers and those folks are honorable.”

    “And keeping with the male and female split, I see,” said the Vice President.

    “The German lady is also a combat medic, damn good one too. The Australian is in the Special Air Service where he’s performed admirably. The Russian has pilot training. One of the North Americans also is an instructor,” said Ben. “Want me to outline the other two as well?”

    “No,” said the Vice President with a sigh. “We’ll do the heavy work.”

    “If you need more, let me know,” said Ben as he handed over another sheet. “In fact, here’s an additional list of personnel to consider if one or more don’t pan out.”

    “Should I just replace who’s on there already?” asked the Vice President in an annoyed tone.

    “No, I trust you won’t deal me a completely horrible hand,” said Ben. “But just in case.”

    “We’ll take it under advisement,” said the Vice President.

    “But under no circumstances are Rich personnel to be involved,” said Ben. “Period.”

    “They aren’t all bad,” said the Vice President.

    “Period,” said Ben. “I won’t have them because I don’t trust them and neither should you.”

    “If we have the time to properly vet other ones,” said the Vice President.

    “Look, you’re going to be here on Earth and I’m going to be there,” said Ben. “And I can flat guarantee you one or all will have a fatal accident before we reach that planet. Bet on it.”

    “You are quite serious?” asked the Vice President, horrified at the thought of Ben taking someone’s life so easily.

    “I’m telling you right now you risk everything you’re trying to accomplish if you bring them on board,” said Ben. “Yeah, I’m that serious. They will give you up, they will do so without hesitation and this whole new start will come to a crashing halt if you include them.”

    “I’m having second thoughts about you at the moment,” said the Vice President.

    “You have that luxury,” said Ben. “But I can’t. Once we hit the ground I have to be able to trust each and every one of the people I have with me. And I can’t perform my job by looking over my shoulder wondering if one is secretly communicating the location back to Earth. I’m telling you right now, one or six, the risk multiplies exponentially if you add them.”

    The Vice President sat back in his chair and looked at Ben with his hands folded. He knew they were placing a lot of blind faith and trust in sending this man to lead the initial Expedition. But they also knew he typically did not fail and had good people working for him. And generally, those handpicked from a select group. There was something to be said about personal loyalty over greed.

    “I will make the adjustments,” said the Vice President after thinking the matter over.

    “And for future expeditions as well,” said Ben.

    “We’re trying to be as selective as we can,” said the Vice President. “I cannot guarantee they won’t be in later expeditions.”

    “Again, everything you wish to accomplish can and will come tumbling down if they are involved,” said Ben. “Look, you hired me for my expertise and experience. You trust me to go in and keep everything calm and running smoothly? You cannot risk what you are trying to accomplish by hiring these guys. You. Do. Not. Need. This. Kind. Of. Trouble.”

    “You are adamant about this,” said the Vice President.

    “They can and will stab you in the back as soon as they get the chance,” said Ben. “Just ask the Johnson Alliance how they feel about them.”

    “That’s a low hit,” said the Vice President. “I worked for Darius Johnson early in my career.”

    “Then you know what will happen if you take them on,” said Ben. “The whole outfit is corrupt, has no soul and would stab their mother in the neck if it meant getting ahead.”

    “I’ll see to it they aren’t even considered in the future,” said the Vice President.

    “Thank you,” said Ben.

    “Should I even worry about vetting the others?” asked the Vice President.

    “Yes, you should,” said Ben. “Just to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Some I’ve had contact with in the last few years, others it’s been a while. Here’s the thing…”

    “We are going to a new place where we can’t think of former national or corporate rivalries. We have to put that behind us if we are going to build a new civilization. We cannot think of ourselves as North Americans or members of the Lockheed-Boeing Alliance. We have to think of ourselves as one team, one fight instead of what drove us there,” said Ben.

    “We’ve been fairly good about picking the personnel,” said the Vice President.

    “However, I still see national rivalries in your lists. Not a lot of Asians, Russians or Europeans on that list from what I’ve seen,” said Ben. “It’s time to unlearn what we have practically ingrained in our DNA about nationalistic and corporate approaches.”

    The Vice President let out a sigh and reminded himself, once again, Ben was far smarter than he considered. He believed that was why the man was so successful in his career since many would have underestimated him on the field of battle. However, the Vice President saw it wasn’t just on the field of battle people could underestimate him.

    “I’ll see a more diverse mix is included,” said the Vice President.

    “I’m not specifically looking at diversity, but rather the best you can find in any nation or any corporation,” said Ben. “Overall, I’d rather you make the personnel decisions since I seem to have worn out my trust factor. But look beyond our borders.”

    “You’re still the leader,” said the Vice President. “That trust is still there.”

    “And if I was to make any last-minute changes?” asked Ben.

    “To the personnel?” asked the Vice President.

    “Yes,” said Ben.

    “I would prefer you not,” said the Vice President. “Like you said, we have to have trust. And we have to properly vet these people before boarding.”

    “I’m thinking if a spouse or something shows up at the last minute,” said Ben.

    “Case by case basis,” said the Vice President. “If the person selected has been vetted, there is a good chance we checked out their family as well.”

    “Just wondering,” said Ben.

    “You can call me with changes,” said the Vice President. “But I do not want you shooting from the hip and picking up extra people without us having the chance to check them out.”

    “That’s fair,” said Ben. “Now, on to equipment.”

    “I felt you might bring this up,” said the Vice President as he retrieved another file. “As you know, we don’t have our own security force assigned, or very minimal as it is, but we do manufacture arms and equipment. This is a list of everything we produce that can be included on short notice. Some is already packed away, some I felt you would want some input on.”

    Ben looked over the list and saw most were fairly advanced weapon designs, but he had his own thoughts on the matter.

    “I’d suggest this instead or if we have the space, include it with what you packed away already,” said Ben as he pulled out a handwritten list. The Vice President looked it over and had almost zero idea what some of the items were. But those he did recognize were dated pieces.

    “This is…unusual,” said the Vice President.

    “We’re going in unsupported for the most part,” said Ben. “I want weapons we can use off the grid if it comes down to it. Furthermore, those designs are mature and proven. I’m not knocking your designs, but we are going to need items I know are going to work.”

    “I can’t promise anything,” said the Vice President. “Especially since we’re talking about manufacturing some of these from scratch.”

    “If you have lines already producing small arms, it’s a piece of cake,” said Ben as he handed over a memory crystal with the production data installed.

    “I wish we’d brought you on sooner,” said the Vice President. “Things like this could have been easier if we knew about it a couple of months ago. I do have to ask about some of the larger designs though.”

    “Why?” asked Ben. “We’re going into the untamed wilderness for lack of a better term. I’d like to be prepared for anything up to and including large creatures we haven’t encountered before.”

    “You think they are there?” asked the Vice President.

    “I can’t afford not to plan for the worst case,” said Ben.

    “Prudent,” said the Vice President. “I think we’ll be able to get everything you are looking for by the time the ship departs. If we have the space, we’ll also pack in some equipment to produce new ammunition if you need it.”

    “That would be great,” said Ben.

    “The problem is, or if memory serves, much of the other weaponry is already packed away on the ship,” said the Vice President. “Our Corporate Security Chief selected what he thought was best and had it loaded already.”

    “No space?” asked Ben.

    “No, we should have sufficient space for what we are looking at,” said the Vice President. “Luckily enough, this equipment won’t take up much more room. We’ll likely just keep both and add what you requested here.”

    “No soldier ever complains about having too many weapons,” said Ben with a smile.

    “I have another meeting in about a half an hour, so what I’ll do is transfer the remainder of the dossiers to your quarters for you to look over,” said the Vice President as he stood up. “We’ll do dinner tonight if you’re okay with that and go over any additional concerns you have.”

    “That sounds good,” said Ben. “Where am I staying anyway?”

    “We have some quarters here at the headquarters,” said the Vice President.

    “But I’m free to wander if I want?” asked Ben.

    “We won’t lock you up here,” said the Vice President.

    “But I will be followed?” asked Ben.

    “If you prefer, I’d like to assign you a security officer while you’re on Earth,” said the Vice President. “Again, prudence demands it.”

    “I understand,” said Ben. “And yes, might as well have one with me rather than trying to follow me around.”

    “I’ll let them know,” said the Vice President. “Say around 1830 for dinner?”

    “I’m sure your aide will show me the right place to go,” said Ben. The two shook hands and another aide showed Ben to his quarters as well as carrying his luggage where he found fairly comfortable accommodations. Heading inside, he heard another aide outside delivering the additional files he would review before the meeting. The banker’s boxes were placed near the door and he grabbed the first one, seeing it was the medical staff and started looking through the files, making additional notes, but finding everyone was an expert in their field and highly qualified. Before long, he saw the time had slipped away and he got ready for the dinner with the Vice President. Locking up his quarters, he was escorted by his security officer to the dinner location which was in the city itself.

    As they headed out, Ben wondered how many of the people would be alive in the next fifty years and wondered again about all those he was leaving behind. But he knew human nature would take its toll if they opened the floodgates to a new world and had anyone and everyone move there. He was pragmatic enough to realize how the situation would go and fighting would break out eventually over resources, living space or just because people tended to fight. And it was something he wanted to avoid if at all possible as they built a new civilization.
     
  5. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 4


    The next several weeks were a blur for Ben as he finished his round of meetings with the Vice President and other corporate leaders before returning to his home on Mars. Knowing there was serious work still needing to be done on Earth, he spent several days packing his items, giving away items he would not take with him and selling off his townhouse and donating the proceeds to one of the charities for orphaned children of the various wars still being fought. He kept his smaller family heirlooms and some personal items before having them shipped to Earth and in turn to be delivered to the ship where they would wait for the voyage.

    Also, during that time, he had contacted several of the individuals he had mentioned to the corporate leadership about coming along. He received puzzled replies from most, but they jumped at the chance to join up even though there was extremely limited information on where they were going and what they would be doing. In a short time, the remainder of the security detachment was filled and he even tried to get a short meeting with Kendrick Whitaker in person to discuss the situation, but they were never able to link up. All in all, Ben felt fairly comfortable with the group as he returned to Earth for the last time.

    “The last group of colonists are moving towards the embarkation areas as we speak,” said the Vice President. “A couple couldn’t shake loose until later, but you’re one of the last to go on board.”

    “The ship is in orbit?” asked Ben.

    “It is,” said the Vice President. “Officially, the destination is Gliese 250 and it seems like it’s not really arousing any suspicion.”

    “Other than being huge?” asked Ben with a chuckle.

    “Colony carriers typically are,” said the Vice President. “They come and go often enough that other nations and companies get curious about the destination, but beyond the normal inquiries, they don’t pay much attention since the destination is published and the only people that know the real destination are five of the crew. Everything has been done word of mouth.”

    “I’ve only seen one in my life,” said Ben. “And we’re keeping it?”

    “Some are designed to be dismantled and reused as colony building materials. This one is no different in that regard, but is as sturdy as a normal ship,” said the Vice President.

    “Yeah, I’d hate to think about it flying apart in the ASD dimension,” said Ben.

    “Well, you’ll be in stasis, so you wouldn’t feel a thing,” said the Vice President.

    “That’s not exactly comforting,” chuckled Ben.

    “She’s a good ship with a great crew,” said the Vice President. “You’ll be fine.”

    “I didn’t get my embarkation time,” said Ben.

    “Six hours,” said the Vice President. “The ship leaves immediately after you are on board.”

    They continued going over the details as the intercom came alive on his desk. The Vice President answered it with a polite “yes?”

    “Sir, we have a woman at the front lobby demanding to see Commander Nash,” said the aide from the outer office.

    “Were you expecting anyone?” asked the Vice President.

    “Not in particular,” said Ben. “Do they have a security feed?”

    The Vice President got on his computer to find a female waiting in the lobby surrounded by the corporate security. She looked fairly impatient at the delay, but stood motionless waiting for the approval. Ben looked and saw it was Major Tasha Hayden who had somehow tracked him down.

    “Oh, I know he’s watching,” they heard Tasha say over the speaker as she looked at the camera. “He’s just making me wait because he thinks it’s funny I’m surrounded by your guards. Well, your guards won’t be able to contain me if he makes me wait much longer.”

    “You know this woman?” asked the Vice President.

    “Yeah, that’s your security director for the colony,” chuckled Ben. “Is it okay if she comes up?”

    “Would she really try to come up if we didn’t allow it?” asked the Vice President.

    “Probably not any really to it,” said Ben. “She’s worth five of your guards and could take them out without breaking a sweat.”

    “Have her escorted up,” said the Vice President. “With six security officers, please.”

    “She has baggage with her,” said the aide. “Should we scan it?”

    “Please, and prepare it for transport to the Santa Maria except for her personal bag. But that stays at the security desk,” said the Vice President as he watched as the message was relayed to the lobby desk and another guard appeared to join the five for an escort to the top level. “Oh, and have her leave her sidearm and knife at the front desk, please.”

    “She’s not armed, sir,” said the senior guard.

    “Have her remove the sidearm and knife I know she’s carrying and leave it at the front desk, please,” said the Vice President as he saw Tasha look at the camera and pulled a pistol from the small of her back and hand it over. She also removed a dagger from her right ankle and handed it over still in the scabbard. The guard took possession of it with a surprised look before she pushed the luggage towards him.

    “Oh, he is so going to get his ass beat for this,” they heard her mutter as she relinquished control of her baggage and “allowed” herself to be escorted while giving the camera a dirty look. “I’m not going to need any tool to perform the ass kicking you’ve got coming.”

    “I’m assuming she means you?” asked the Vice President.

    “Yeah, she’s talking about me,” chuckled Ben.

    “She’s kind of…spirited,” said the Vice President.

    “Oh, you have no idea,” laughed Ben. “But honestly, she’s the only person I felt comfortable with turning my unit over to when I retired.”

    “Calm under fire and all that?” asked the Vice President.

    “More or less,” said Ben. “Highly intelligent and analytical. She can evaluate situations faster than most I’ve ever served with and come up with good plans on the fly.”

    “She’s your responsibility,” said the Vice President as they continued going through the remainder of the items before leaving. The intercom came alive again with the same aide.

    “Sir, I hate to be a bother, but there was an incident on the elevator,” said the aide.

    “Oh?” asked the Vice President.

    “Three of the guards need to be treated for injuries,” said the aide as she went towards the elevator as the doors were opening. The aide transferred the intercom to a personal communicator as she saw Tasha in a standoff inside the elevator with three guards holding their hands over their heads.

    “What happened?” asked the Vice President in a concerned voice.

    “Someone decided they wanted to cop a feel in the elevator,” they heard Tasha say over the intercom. “And I made sure he knew that just wasn’t proper to be touching a lady like that.”

    The Vice President quickly called up the security footage from the elevator and saw one of the security personnel had indeed grabbed at her backside. However, he winced after seeing Tasha react and what could only have been broken fingers as a minimum result as the others moved in to subdue her. However, she managed to disarm and subdue two other security personnel and herded the other three onto the opposite side of the elevator. He saw the pistols fire at the wall of the elevator right above two of their heads before the rounds disintegrated like they were supposed to. Tasha quickly switched from pointing one of the pistols at the guards on the opposite side to the head of the wounded one on the floor next to her.

    “Those are DNA encoded!” exclaimed one of the guards as he slowly put his hands up along with the other two uninjured guards.

    “Oh, does my DNA work somehow?” she asked innocently. “Trust me, honey, there isn’t a DNA encoded weapon produced in the last fifteen years I can’t fire.”

    “How is that possible?” asked the Vice President as the elevator continued traveling towards the top of the tower.

    “Umm, the North American Military might have infiltrated your weapons production factories and put selected DNA sets in,” said Ben. “Like hers and mine.”

    “And others, I’d assume,” said the Vice President in an annoyed tone.

    “Probably,” said Ben through clenched teeth and a scrunched nose. The video returned to real time and the Vice President saw his aide standing outside the elevator as Tasha continued her standoff with the other conscious or uninjured guards.

    “I’ll handle the guards internally if that’s okay,” said the Vice President.

    “Tasha, it’s okay to come out,” said Ben over the intercom.

    “I want an apology first,” said Tasha with a frown.

    “I think we can skip that,” said Ben with a chuckle. “You did break his fingers.”

    “Lesson learned the hard way,” said Tasha.

    “This is Vice President O’Reilly, she is cleared and you can stand down,” stated the Vice President over the intercom.

    “Sir, she’s armed and dangerous!” exclaimed one of the guards in a fearful tone.

    “You damn right I am,” she stated as she continued holding the three at bay. “And next time, you’ll know better than to let one of your mouth breathers grab the ass of a woman in a crowded elevator.”

    “I take responsibility for her,” said the Vice President. He saw the three scurry out of the elevator and give Tasha a wide berth as she calmly walked out herself. After getting out, she placed the pistols on safe and tossed them at the nearest guard before casually strolling towards the office.

    “Didn’t you ask if she’s spirited?” asked Ben.

    “I’m a little less worried about security at this point if she can handle a group like she handled my guards,” said the Vice President. A knock at the door was heard and he asked the aide to show his latest visitor in. The door came open as Tasha walked in calmly until seeing Ben and a scowl came over her face.

    “Okay, did you put them up to that?” she demanded.

    “Why would I do that knowing full well you what you would do?” asked Ben.

    “Get your jollies off watching me beat up six guards?” she asked and noticed the Vice President in the room and changed her demeanor. “Oh, hi. I’m Tasha Hayden.”

    “Tasha, this is Vice President Mark O’Reilly of the Novus Group,” said Ben calmly as he saw the Vice President was still in awe of her.

    “Pleasure,” said Tasha as she walked over with a charming smile and stuck out her hand.

    “The pleasure is mine,” he managed to say as he shook her hand and released it after a proper amount of time. “I’m sorry about that little incident.”

    “He learned his lesson,” said Tasha with an innocent smile. “I still want to know if the Colonel put them up to test my capabilities or some such nonsense.”

    “No, I assure you, he is innocent in this situation,” said the Vice President.

    “That word hasn’t collided with his name in this universe,” scoffed Tasha as she turned to Ben.

    “I’m glad you’re okay,” he said with a grin. “Welcome aboard.”

    “So good to see you!” she exclaimed and bounced across the room and gave him a hug.

    “You are looking well,” said Ben as they released the embrace.

    “You’ve gotten a bit more gray,” she said and swiped at his temple.

    “I have not!” he protested with a laugh. “So, you’re officially mine again?”

    “Early retirement took effect yesterday,” she stated as they all three sat down. “This is a colony security position, isn’t it?”

    “You told her?” asked the Vice President with an accusing tone.

    “Nope,” she stated. “I can put two and two together. Ben is sitting here with the Vice President of a corporation that currently has a colony carrier in orbit and asked me to come along with no strings attached. So, either you are starting a new colony or we’re security for the voyage.”

    “It is a colony,” said the Vice President after a moment of pause. “That’s all I’ll say.”

    “Fair enough,” said Tasha. “I would require a contract though.”

    “It wasn’t sent?” asked the Vice President.

    “I never got it,” said Tasha.

    “I’ll get a new copy,” said the Vice President as he gave the instructions over the intercom.

    “I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything?” she asked.

    “I do want to know how you tracked him down here,” said the Vice President.

    “It was somewhat easy,” said Tasha. “Basically, after we first talked I felt like this was going to be a colony security position and I checked the Earth docking logs for which colony carriers were in orbit or due in and only the Novus Group had one. Furthermore, I tried calling him on Mars only to find he had moved, so the logical place he would be would be here. Or at a minimum, you’d know where to find him.”

    “Even though you have embarkation orders?” asked the Vice President.

    “Yeah, never got those either,” said Tasha with a tone.

    “I can assure you, it wasn’t our intent to leave you behind,” said the Vice President.

    “I’d hope not,” said Tasha as a contract was brought in and she quickly signed the applicable spots without reading it.

    “You don’t want to read it first?” asked the legal representative.

    “Colonel Nash signed his, I know he won’t steer me wrong,” said Tasha as she handed over the completed forms. “Now when do we leave?”

    “A little over five hours,” said Ben as he turned to the Vice President. “Someone royally screwed up on this end.”

    “I’ll look into it personally,” said the Vice President. “I do have an idea, though.”

    “Oh? Introduce me,” said Tasha.

    “No, you aren’t going to beat them up,” chuckled Ben.

    “I won’t hurt them too much,” said Tasha.

    “I have this feeling it’s my security adviser,” said the Vice President with a sigh. “He was competing for the same position she is in and was an alternate to go in her place.”

    “I hope you’ll handle it,” said Ben.

    “We take care of our problems in house,” said the Vice President. “Truth be told, he’s under suspicion as it is for a couple of crimes unrelated to this mission.”

    “He can talk,” said Ben.

    “We’ll handle it,” said the Vice President. “He won’t be talking, trust me on this.”

    Ben let the matter drop since Tasha had made it in time to leave and would be on board. The Vice President and Ben concluded their meeting before he had to go to another meeting. Ben and Tasha headed down the elevator towards the central dining area where they passed a medical station on the way. She saw the guard being treated for the broken fingers and sweetly smiled at him while waving.

    “Don’t rub it in,” chuckled Ben.

    “He had it coming to him and Lord only knows how many times he’s pulled it before,” she replied. “Bet he won’t do it again, though.”

    “You could have just objected in strong words,” suggested Ben.

    “That was more fun,” said Tasha with a grin as they entered the executive dining area and were seated. A chef came out offering them “whatever” they wanted and departed after they ordered.

    “Anyone else I know coming?” she asked as the initial salads they ordered were delivered.

    “A few,” said Ben. “Honestly, I wish I had the list for you to look over.”

    “I trust you brought some reliable folks on board?” asked Tasha.

    “And got rid of the dead weight,” said Ben as he munched on the salad.

    “Let me guess, great resumes, but horrid personal integrity?” she asked.

    “How did you know?” he asked.

    “Because if this truly is a startup colony, it’s not been advertised,” she replied. “And you want reliable people you can trust with you.”

    “Nail on the head,” said Ben. “Now, catch me up on your life.”

    “Oh, busy!” she exclaimed. “Not long after you retired, we got a mission to old Iran.”

    “Even with the radioactivity still in the region?” asked Ben.

    “Even with,” she replied. “Underground nuclear weapons production facility and the same one that probably built the weapon that took out Tuscaloosa last year.”

    Tasha continued bringing him up to speed on what had been happening in her life as well as her personal woes to that point.

    “I still can’t believe you’re divorced again,” he remarked.

    “We were just incompatible,” she sighed. “Nice guy, but…just never clicked.”

    “Something you might have figured out before you got married,” he chuckled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you about him.”

    “I know, I know,” she stated with a waved hand. “Luckily this one wasn’t as long.”

    “Yeah, all of eight months,” chuckled Ben.

    “Maybe Mister Perfect is on the ship waiting for me,” she chuckled.

    “You’d think after three tries, you’d be a bit more picky,” he chuckled.

    “I thought I was picky with him,” she stated.

    “You need someone just as stubborn as you are,” he remarked.

    “Yeah, we wouldn’t be fighting or anything,” she stated sarcastically.

    “You have to have a bit of conflict in every marriage,” he stated. “Otherwise, it’s too boring. But just enough conflict to make it interesting and compromise in the end.”

    “Like your ex-wife?” she asked with a grin.

    “I didn’t suggest planetary thermonuclear war,” he chuckled.

    “Does she know you’re going?” asked Tasha.

    “Nope, haven’t talked to her in about four years,” he replied. “Not since the last time she came slithering around looking for more alimony.”

    “I could have handled that particular problem,” she suggested.

    “Wouldn’t have been worth the trouble,” he replied.

    “Bet you’re getting the last laugh, though,” stated Tasha, fishing for information.

    “I have to admit, that was a real smooth try,” he laughed.

    “Still not going to tell me?” she laughed.

    “It’s an untouched world,” said Ben realizing at this point it didn’t matter since in a few hours they would be getting on a ship. “I don’t know the location or anything like that, but it’s quite possibly the most Earth like planet we’ve ever come across.”

    “And how does the Novus Group fit into this?” asked Tasha. “They found it?”

    “Guess so,” said Ben. “Trust me on this, you’ll be glad you came along.”

    “Oh?” asked Tasha as she saw the dining room staff heading towards a holoprojector set and watching something intently. Ben and Tasha realized something important had to be going on and headed over to check it out themselves.

    “What’s going on?” asked Ben as they approached the small group.

    “Massive tsunami heading towards Florida,” said one of the group as they saw the live feed of the wave heading towards the coast. “Part of that mega hurricane out in the Atlantic.”

    “Where is it going to hit?” asked Tasha.

    “Looks to be New St. Augustine,” said the chef. “But it’ll probably go across the entire peninsula and into the Gulf.”

    “You have anyone there?” asked Ben who knew she was originally from Florida.

    “No,” she said softly as they watched it hit the parts of Florida that hadn’t been flooded by rising global sea levels and wipe out the town of New St. Augustine built on the new shoreline. However, the new city was now little more than a massive wreck of twisted steel and wood splinters. The wave continued almost unabated across Florida until it reached the Gulf of Mexico leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

    “Tragic,” she muttered as they returned to their seat without much appetite left. “You’d think this planet is trying to kill us or something.”

    “I think that’s exactly what it’s trying to do,” said Ben.

    “You know more than you’re letting on,” said Tasha. “I’ve known you long enough to see that.”

    “The planet has less than fifty years on the clock,” said Ben as he explained what he suspected and what he’d heard. She sat in silence and took it all in, realizing he was saving her life once again by getting her a spot on the Expedition. “And that’s why we’re going to this planet. A new start, a chance to start over without the baggage that comes along with everyone else traipsing in and planting a flag and fighting over it.”

    “We’re the only ones that know about this place?” she asked.

    “As far as we know, yes,” said Ben. “And they want to keep it that way. So, if there’s anyone you want to say goodbye to, now is the time.”

    “I’ve got the only family I know sitting in front of me,” she replied.

    “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you this until now,” said Ben.

    “No, it was safer this way,” she remarked. “I would have done the same thing.”

    Seeing they were likely not to finish their meal, Tasha accompanied Ben to his temporary quarters where he packed up his remaining items and got ready to leave. He wanted to tell the Vice President thank you one last time, but found him out of pocket at the moment. The officer assigned to Ben while he was on Earth requested a shuttle for them to head to the landing pad in the city where they would start their journey to their new home. Tasha’s baggage was brought to his quarters where they headed to the roof and hopped in the executive shuttle for the short ride.

    “Man, you like traveling in style,” she remarked as she looked over the nice interior.

    “Yeah, being the boss has its perks,” he grinned as they lifted off and got into the traffic pattern heading for the landing pad. Upon arrival, they found one of the Novus Group’s standard top of the line shuttles waiting at the platform with a small security team nearby. They docked at one of the other available spots and found they weren’t the first to arrive as three members of the Expedition were already on board, two members of the medical team and one of the agriculture team. They politely nodded at the pair as they stowed their luggage and headed back onto the platform to talk to the crew chief.

    “Still got a few more folks to go, sir,” said the crew chief as he recognized Ben.

    “How long are we supposed to wait?” asked Ben.

    “Until we’ve got everyone or you say the word,” said the crew chief.

    “Got it,” said Ben as he and Tasha leaned against the railing and waited for the remaining passengers to show up so they could depart for their journey.
     
  6. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 5


    Ben looked at his watch as additional members of the Expedition filtered in and stowed their gear. Being somewhat bored, he went inside and introduced himself to the ones that had arrived already, finding them polite enough, but kind of standoffish since he was an unknown quantity to them. Ben didn’t want to make them uncomfortable as he walked outside and saw Tasha looking out over the city. He also saw another couple coming up the platform ramp carrying little more than packs on their back.

    “Tasha, you surely remember Sergeant Major Whitaker,” said Ben as the couple neared the top of the platform.

    “I do,” said Tasha as she turned around and saw Kendrick and Gale Whitaker. She yelled in joy and headed over to see them, grabbed first by Gale.

    “It’s so good to see you!” exclaimed Gale. “You haven’t changed one bit!”

    “Neither have you!” exclaimed Tasha.

    “I’ve gotten old and frumpy,” laughed Gale. “You? You’re still as beautiful as ever!”

    “Thank you,” said Tasha with an embarrassed laugh. “Sergeant Major, it’s good to see you.”

    “You too, though I figured you would have been in jail by now,” he stated with a grin.

    “Managed to sway the jury’s opinion more than once,” said Tasha with a laugh. “Commander Nash didn’t mention you would be coming along.”

    “He recruited us,” said Kendrick. “For whatever we are doing and wherever we are heading.”

    “Right now we are headed to this shuttle for transport to our main ship,” said Ben as he was taken into a hug by Gale as well and shaking Kendrick’s hand. “Where’s your luggage?”

    “Someone got it ahead of time for us,” said Kendrick. “What’s with this Commander stuff? I thought you were a Colonel?”

    “New job, new promotions,” said Ben. “I’ll explain more on board.”

    “Still won’t give us a straight answer?” asked Gale.

    “Your lives depended on me being discreet,” said Ben cryptically.

    “Kendrick told me you’d say that and I wasn’t allowed to prod,” said Gale. “But he knows, as you do as well, that I’m going to prod.”

    “We’re colonizing a new planet,” said Ben after thinking for a moment.

    “Nothing in the news about it,” said Kendrick.

    “And there won’t be,” said Ben.

    “Off the charts?” asked Kendrick who knew corporations and nations were going to great lengths to keep new colonies a secret.

    “Way, way off the charts,” said Ben. “Untouched with secret ASD routes in and out.”

    “And our children will be there?” asked Gale.

    “Already on board and in stasis as far as I know,” said Ben as he saw another man walking up looking at the group and squinting.

    “You, I know,” he said in a Russian accent as he looked at Ben and then to Kendrick and to Tasha. “And I know you and you, I believe I know.”

    “Captain,” said Ben with a polite nod.

    “Colonel,” said the man. “Or is it retired Colonel?”

    “Commander actually,” said Ben as he saw a woman and a child approach as well. They stood behind the group as the woman looked at the Russian man.

    “You are the leader?” asked the man as he fished out a cigarette.

    “Don’t you know it’s illegal in North America to smoke?” asked Ben.

    “Indulge me this one vice,” said the man as he lit the cigarette and took a puff. “And I’m not North American anyway. But I might guess we will not have tobacco where we are going.”

    “You know a bit more about what’s going on?” asked Ben.

    “No, I do not,” said the man as he took another drag on the cigarette. “But I agreed to come for one reason.”

    “And that is?” asked Ben.

    “Because you were going to be here,” said the man.

    “Nice to know my reputation proceeds me,” said Ben.

    “You have a reputation as an honorable warrior,” said the man. “Even though we were once enemies, we can work together to achieve a common goal, yes?”

    “That’s the plan,” said Ben.

    “Then allow me to formally introduce myself since we have never been properly introduced,” said the man. “Captain Anton Sokolov, formerly of the Russian Federation Army.”

    “Commander Ben Nash,” said Ben as he held out his hand. “And this is Sergeant Major Kendrick Whitaker, his wife Gale and Major Tasha Hayden.”

    “Pleasure,” said the man. “This is my wife Tanya and my little angel Tatyana.”

    “Ma’am,” said Ben with a polite nod as he shook her hand and she went around the small group shaking hands with a polite smile.

    “So, the guy just up and quits the Russian Army because he found out Ben was leading this mission?” asked Tasha under her breath.

    “Well, you did the same thing,” said Kendrick.

    “True,” said Tasha. “Still kind of odd for a Russian that doesn’t know him.”

    “Did you have any trouble getting into the country?” asked Ben.

    “Your border control is still horrible,” laughed Anton as he exhaled a puff of smoke. “We do not even have proper visas to be here.”

    “Nice to see some things don’t change,” chuckled Ben.

    “So, Captain, you just upped and left the Russian Army to come here because of Colonel Nash?” asked Tasha as she couldn’t contain herself any longer.

    “Yes,” he stated. “Colonel Nash is well known in the Russian military. And we know he is an honorable man and tends to perform only just missions. Just like you, Major Hayden, and the Sergeant Major as well. I felt if he were leading a mission that required my help, he would have a good reason for asking me to come and those reasons would be justified.”

    “Just like that?” asked Tasha.

    “The fact my family was asked to come and I was told we would likely never return made it even more curious,” said Anton. “A new colony, perhaps? This is what I think. I have told no one except my wife and my daughter, so, please, put those thoughts out of your mind. But I did manage to get the intelligence file on the Novus Group before deciding. And they have been quietly seeking out a new world away from the madness that sweeps us all. I want my daughter to grow up in a place where she is free from fear and has proper air to breathe. And my wife and I to watch her grow in peace. This is why I am here.”

    “Good enough reason for me,” said Gale.

    “And my wife’s probably a better judge of character than all of us,” chuckled Kendrick.

    Anton turned to his wife and spoke quickly in Russian before grabbing the baggage and getting ready to move up the platform. However, before moving, he took out the remainder of the pack of cigarettes and walked slightly down the platform ramp and handed them to what appeared to be a homeless man.

    “You will get 20 credits apiece for each,” said Anton.

    “Say, aren’t these illegal?” asked the man who was actually an undercover agent for the Novus Group sent to keep an eye on the shuttle.

    “Very,” said Anton. “I would not get caught with them. Sell them first.”

    “Thanks, mister,” said the man as he stuffed them in his pocket and not breaking cover. Anton returned and grabbed his baggage as his wife looked a bit uncomfortable.

    “Are you okay?” asked Gale.

    “Umm, no much English,” she stated haltingly, but with a smile. “Malen'kiy.

    “She means a little,” said Anton. “We are working on this. My daughter is coming along very nicely in English, are you not?”

    “Yes, Papa,” said the little girl with a grin.

    “She’s adorable,” said Tasha with a big smile.

    “She is my angel,” said Anton. “Sometimes, I would sell her to you for very low cost.”

    “I’d pay it in a heartbeat,” said Tasha and looked at the girl with a grin which was reciprocated along with a giggle. Tasha stuck out her tongue which generated even more of a giggle and a larger grin on her face. Another member of the Expedition arrived, a member of the science team and quickly stowed his baggage as well and found seating. Anton took the luggage of his family on board and came back out to wait as he took in his last sights of the Earth as well.

    “Okay folks, let me check to see if we have everyone,” said the crew chief on the shuttle as he went through the list of personnel who were supposed to be there.

    “Hang on to your shorts!” announced a voice in an Australian accent as he was hustling up the ramp. “Almost there!”

    “You certainly are, how do you North Americans put it, scraping the bottom of the barrel?” asked Anton as he recognized the man hustling with his wife in tow.

    “Anton!” exclaimed the man as he reached the top. “Seriously?”

    “Yes, my friend,” grinned Anton as they shared a hug.

    “Well, introductions aren’t necessary,” said Ben with a chuckle. “Glad you could make it.”

    “Hell, Colonel, wouldn’t miss it,” said the man. “Tasha, it’s been a long time.”

    “Sure has, Noah,” she said and collected a hug. “You remember the Sergeant Major?”

    “Of course,” said the man identified as Noah. “Last I heard you were retired.”

    “I was,” said Kendrick. “Until the Colonel convinced me otherwise. Noah, this is my wife Gale. Gale, this is Senior Sergeant Noah Taylor of the Royal Australian Special Air Service.”

    “Pleasure, ma’am,” said Noah. “And this is my wife, Sergeant Olivia Taylor.”

    “Pleasure,” said Olivia as she shook Gale’s hand and was introduced to the Russians.

    “Scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with Anton here,” said Noah with a laugh.

    “He beat you to the punch on that one,” said Ben.

    “Well, if you got us both, you’re really desperate,” laughed Noah.

    “I never thought you two would get together,” said Tasha to Olivia. “You despised each other and fought like cats and dogs.”

    “Oh, I finally knocked some sense into him,” said Olivia with a chuckle. “Actually, I was the attending medic when he was wounded. We spent a couple of weeks hiding in some godforsaken hut in the middle of old Cambodia before he finally admitted he was in love with me. And I kind of realized I was in love with him, too.”

    “I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve always been head over heels for this charming lady,” said Noah as he took her around the waist and pulled her in. “So, where’s Mike?”

    “Oh, Mike’s not coming,” said Tasha with a tone.

    “Divorced again?” asked Olivia. “Figured as much. He was never good enough for you.”

    “Now you tell me!” exclaimed Tasha with a laugh.

    “Okay, Commander,” said the crew chief. “I’ve got everyone accounted for except for this gentleman’s wife. She’s not on the list.”

    “Add her to the list,” said Ben.

    “I’m not authorized to do that,” said the crew chief.

    “Okay, I’m going to pull out a communicator that has only one number programmed. And that number goes straight to Vice President Mark O’Reilly. Now, I can place that call and have him tell you to add Mrs. Olivia Taylor to the list. Or you can just skip all that and add her,” said Ben.

    “Sir, I could get into trouble,” said the crew chief.

    “I understand,” said Ben as he hit the send button. The line picked up almost immediately as the Vice President’s face was seen.

    “Aren’t you supposed to be boarding right now?” asked the Vice President.

    “Remember those last-minute changes we spoke of?” asked Ben. “Yeah, one of the guys got married in the last little bit.”

    “Are you serious?” demanded the Vice President. “I knew this would happen!”

    “Calm down,” said Ben. “It’s not as bad as it seems.”

    “We just don’t have the time to properly vet anyone,” said the Vice President. “They go on Expedition 2 and that’s final.”

    “Do you remember that secondary list I gave you?” asked Ben. “Started looking at any of those people?”

    “Yes, we have actually,” said the Vice President. “For Expedition 2.”

    “Check for an Australian named Olivia Walker,” said Ben. He saw the Vice President looking over the list and her name caught his attention.

    “She’s…already passed the initial vetting, but we have yet to do an in-depth investigation,” he stated. “She’s there right now, I take it?”

    “Married to Noah Taylor who you already vetted,” said Ben.

    “I knew this would happen,” said the Vice President with a sigh.

    “Look, this is the first and only time this has happened,” said Ben. “I’m about to board and I believe I’m the last. So, this is it.”

    “You trust her?” asked the Vice President.

    “She was on my secondary list and she’s married to someone I trust implicitly,” said Ben. “She saved the life of one of my troopers at one point and I trust her to do it again.”

    “Let me talk to the…whomever you have holding it up,” said the Vice President with a sigh.

    “The man wants to talk to you,” said Ben as he handed the communicator over. The crew chief took it and turned it around, seeing one of the higher members of his company.

    “You know who I am, right?” asked the Vice President as he saw the crew chief in the camera.

    “Yes, Mister Vice President,” said the crew chief.

    “If Commander Nash is vouching for this individual, they are cleared,” said the Vice President. “But only, and I do stress the only, this person.”

    “Yes, sir,” said the crew chief. “It will be taken care of.”

    “Give me back to the Commander, please,” said the Vice President. The crew chief handed over the communicator and Ben walked away from the group.

    “I’m placing a lot of faith and trust in you,” said the Vice President. “Humanity is placing a lot of faith and trust in you. You had best be right.”

    “I appreciate the trust and faith,” said Ben. “I won’t let you down.”

    “Have a safe journey,” said the Vice President. “This will likely be the last time we ever talk, so I will say it again, good luck.”

    “You’re not coming in a later Expedition?” asked Ben.

    “No,” said the Vice President with a wry smile. “We helped cause this mess, we’ve collectively decided to take the idealistic approach and live out our lives in the same mess.”

    “Best wishes to you and your family,” said Ben.

    “Godspeed, Commander,” said the Vice President. “And do not fail.”

    Ben ended the call and nodded at the crew chief. He informed Olivia she was cleared to depart and sent her to the crew chief to gather the relevant data.

    “Sorry we were late,” said Noah. “Got held up at customs.”

    “You should have done like me,” said Anton.

    “You skipped customs, didn’t you?” asked Noah with a laugh.

    “How do you two know each other?” asked Ben.

    “Well, funny story,” said Noah. “About three years ago, my unit was tasked with going into Madagascar and finding a suspected terrorist chemical weapons manufacturing facility. Anyway, we’re on ingress and come under fire and have to bail out. The unit was spread out between Hell and Jesus and our comms were all jammed. So, I headed to the rally point near the facility and find there’s a firefight going on. I’m thinking someone made it there ahead of me and head over to them to help out.”

    “Well, once I get there, I find this big lug and have no idea who he is and what he wants. So, there we are in a Mexican standoff pointing our rifles at each other while still getting shot at by the terrorists. Eventually, we blinked and figured there wasn’t any reason to start another firefight and get behind cover.”

    “I find Sergeant Taylor is on the same mission as I was tasked with,” said Anton. “The transport for my unit was also shot down and I was attempting to get to the site and complete my mission. We decided it was best to work together and infiltrated together and destroyed the facility.”

    “Well, after I got picked up, I find out what a big hero I am by taking out this place singlehandedly,” said Noah with a grin. “Of course, I’m not going to mention I had help or anything since they gave me a big medal and a promotion.”

    “I got the same thing,” said Anton. “Though I told my superiors I had to fight my way through an Australian special forces unit to get there.”

    “You didn’t!” exclaimed Noah with a laugh.

    “Yes,” laughed Anton. “They gave me two medals!”

    “Okay, sir, we’re all set,” said the crew chief as he completed entering in Olivia Taylor for the mission. “If we can get everything loaded.”

    “Okay, everyone head on board,” said Ben as he walked to the security leader on the platform and handed over the communicator. “Can you see this gets to Vice President O’Reilly, please?”

    “I will, sir,” said the guard as he took the device and stowed it in a pocket.

    “Papa? Are we going on another journey?” asked Tatyana in Russian as he was strapping her in.

    “Yes,” he replied in Russian with a smile as he knelt down to her. “We are going on a very long journey where we will have to sleep for a while.”

    “Sleep for a while?” she asked.

    “Yes, it is a long trip and we must sleep,” said Anton.

    “We aren’t going to die, are we?” she asked.

    “No,” he said with a smile. “This is not like your grandmother or grandfather. When it is time to arrive, they will wake us up.”

    “I’m scared,” she said and grabbed at him.

    “It is okay,” he said as he hugged her. “We will sleep next to each other, okay?”

    “Promise I’ll be okay?” she asked.

    “I will protect you,” he said with a smile as he finished buckling her in. He found seating of his own right next to her got strapped in as Tasha grinned at the girl again and got a grin in return.

    “You can’t keep her,” said Gale with a chuckle. “She’s already spoken for.”

    “I know,” said Tasha with a laugh.

    “So, find a good man and pop out one of your own,” said Gale with a chuckle.

    “Oh, dear Lord, no,” laughed Tasha.

    “This trip requires stasis?” asked Kendrick who hated it with a passion.

    “I didn’t mention that fact?” asked Ben with a smile.

    “Pretty devious, Colonel,” said Kendrick. “Commander, whatever.”

    “Commander as I’m in charge of the whole thing,” said Ben.

    “Of the security?” asked Kendrick.

    “No, the whole Expedition and colony,” said Ben.

    “Then what are we waiting for?” asked Kendrick as he made sure he was strapped in.

    “That’s all it took?” laughed Ben.

    “I like simple,” said Kendrick. “And simple means you being in charge makes this whole trip worth the while as I know you will make this work. So, yes, I like simple.”

    “Matches his mind,” said Gale with a twinkle in her eye.

    “You ever get remarried?” asked Kendrick.

    “Nope, still single,” said Ben.

    “Don’t,” said Kendrick and received a backhand in his midsection and a dirty look from his wife. Ben was the last to strap in and the crew sealed the shuttle up for the trip to the transport which would also be Ben’s first time aboard. He had no idea of the schedule of events and hoped to meet some of his other team leaders before being dropped into stasis. The ride was fairly short as they came to the ship with the name Santa Maria proudly displayed on her stern. She was a large ship for the journey and Ben hoped everything he requested was on board. After docking, he was met by one of the ship’s junior officers.

    “Captain Smith sends his compliments but apologies for not being here in person,” said the young Ensign. “There is still a lot to be done before we get underway. The Yeoman will see the others to their compartment.”

    “I understand completely,” said Ben as another crew member took the additional passengers to their compartments where they would be placed in stasis.

    “If you’ll follow me, we need to get you checked in and into stasis,” said the Ensign.

    “I was under the impression I wouldn’t get placed into stasis until everyone was aboard,” said Ben. “Has something changed?”

    “You are the last, sir,” said the Ensign.

    “Couldn’t leave without you, I suppose,” said Tasha.

    “Most of the colonists are already in stasis,” said the Ensign as they walked through the ship. “We felt is easier if everyone was under as we started the trip.”

    “And your ASD coordinates are secure that way, too,” said Ben.

    “Above my pay grade, sir,” said the Ensign as he led the three into the stasis room. “I’ll make sure your baggage is delivered to your cabins.”

    “Thank you,” said Ben as one of the medical technicians met the trio and got their names as well as placing a bio reader on their wrist. Other folks were moving about in the room, preparing for their drop into stasis as well. The four were handed the suits and additional bio readers to place on their chests they would be wearing while in stasis and quickly changed into them, placing their clothing in a box that would be sent to their quarters later.

    “Commander Nash?” asked one of remainder of the group as she approached.

    “Yes,” said Ben.

    “I’m Doctor Angeline Weber, your senior astrophysicist,” said the woman in her mid-40s. “And this is another of your team leaders, Rachelle Marchand.”

    “Pleasure,” said Ben as he shook both their hands. The pair turned and were introduced to the Whitakers and to Tasha.

    “Kendrick Whitaker, senior enlisted military adviser,” said Kendrick.

    “Gale Whitaker, I have no idea what my job will be,” she chuckled.

    “I’m Tasha Hayden…” said Tasha as her voice trailed off.

    “Colony Security Chief,” said Ben.

    “Colony Security Chief,” said Tasha with a smile.

    “There is another team leader over there,” said Angeline. “The remainder are already in stasis.”

    “I see,” said Ben as he went over and introduced himself to Doctor Kurt Sweeney, who he remembered was going to be his agricultural team leader.

    “Hi, Doctor Weber? Ms. Marchand? It’s time,” said one of the med techs.

    “Well, I guess I’ll see you in about eighteen months,” said Angeline.

    “Until then,” said Ben.

    “Eighteen months in stasis?” asked Kendrick. “Seriously?”

    “Actually, sir, your stasis drop will be for the entire journey,” said the med tech.

    “She just said eighteen months!” exclaimed Kendrick.

    “Kendrick, calm down,” warned Gale and gave him a look.

    “Sir, senior staff will be woken up periodically to receive reports,” said the med tech. “I don’t see your name on that list though.”

    “Sergeant Major, you won’t need to be awake until we get to the planet,” said Ben. “But you are part of the initial group to be woken up when we do arrive.”

    “So, I’m out for more than eighteen months?” asked Kendrick.

    “Says here you’ll be in stasis for the entire seven-year trip,” said the med tech.

    “Say what?!” demanded Kendrick.

    “Kendrick Jonathan Whitaker,” said Gale with a tone in her voice. “You take your ass and get it in that stasis pod at this very moment.”

    “But seven years!” he objected.

    “Right now, mister,” said Gale with a look and a tone that wasn’t to be trifled with. “Or I will instruct these medical folks to give you a sedative and do it the hard way.”

    “Seven years, baby,” said Kendrick as he objected, but went towards the pod as instructed. “How far out is this place?”

    “Obviously seven years away,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “Oh, that’s helpful, Colonel,” said Kendrick with a sigh as he laid down as instructed.

    “Just like falling asleep, sir,” said the med tech who was glad the man didn’t have to be restrained like others had been.

    “Yeah, if you’re Rip Van Winkle,” said Kendrick with an annoyed tone.

    “Something tells me the Sergeant Major is not happy with you at the moment,” said Tasha.

    “He’ll thank me later,” said Ben.

    “And I’m not too happy with getting the fact I’m in charge of security sprung on me at the last minute,” said Tasha.

    “I thought I mentioned it,” said Ben.

    “No, you sure didn’t,” said Tasha. “I might have remembered a detail like that.”

    “And you would have changed your mind about coming?” asked Ben.

    “Not at all,” said Tasha as she laid down in the pod.

    “Then why are you fussing?” asked Ben.

    “Because I can,” said Tasha with a sigh. “Am I to be woken up in eighteen months?”

    “Yep,” said Ben as he laid down as well.

    “See you then, I suppose,” said Tasha as she already felt herself getting tired as the stasis machine was going to work even as the med techs were hooking up the feeds that would keep her alive during that time. Ben was starting to feel it as well, but his eyes stayed open a little longer as a figure came into his view, a very attractive woman with dark brown hair and pretty green eyes wearing a doctor’s lab coat over her scrubs.

    “Looking good on the drop,” he heard her say. “This is our commander, make sure everything is perfect like if it was your own mother.”

    “Yes ma’am,” Ben heard another voice as his eyes finally shut.


    ********************

    “Everyone is in stasis, Captain,” said the chief medical officer of the ship.

    “Thank you, Doctor Blevins,” said the Captain. “Navigation, is our course laid in?”

    “Yes sir,” said the navigator. “All traffic clear in projected course and we have launch approval from Earth Traffic Command.”

    “Not that we needed it as we were going anyway,” said the Captain as he hit a button on his chair. “Engineering? Are we a go?”

    “Aye, Captain,” said the speaker. “Standard drive engines and ASD engines all show green across the board.”

    “ETC Prime, this is the Novus Group ship Santa Maria,” said Captain Allen Smith. “Requesting clearance to depart Earth orbit.”

    Santa Maria, we show your destination as Gliese 250, please confirm,” said the traffic controller on the massive space station orbiting between the Earth and Luna.

    “Affirmative, Earth Command,” said the Captain.

    “You are cleared for departure,” said the controller as he marked down the ship “Santa Maria” from being in orbit to in transit. He didn’t even look at the monitor as the Santa Maria fired her engines and departed the Earth for the last time.

    “Sir? Did the Santa Maria say their destination was Gliese 250?” asked another controller.

    “Yeah, sure did,” said the controller without looking.

    “Strange,” remarked the second controller.

    “What’s strange?” asked the first.

    “If they are heading for Gliese 250, they are going in the complete opposite direction,” said the second controller.

    “Maybe they’re going the long way,” said the first with a yawn. “Look, ships leave here on odd headings all the time. Maybe they are making a pickup along the way. Maybe they want to clear traffic. Maybe their ASD jump dimension is in a different location. It’s not our job to question it. Okay?”

    “Yes sir,” said the second, but felt the departure was unusual enough to send the information to his contacts in his parent corporation. What they did with it, he didn’t care, but he knew they might be interested in it.


    ********************

    “Our contact on the Earth Traffic Control Station relayed a Novus Group ship, the Santa Maria, departed today on an unusual heading,” said the intelligence operative.

    “What made it unusual?” asked the man in the suit behind a computer monitor.

    “Their destination was listed as Gliese 250, but their ASD window is nowhere near any known routes to Gliese 250,” said the operative.

    “Interesting,” said the man as he stopped and looked at the operative. “What do you make of it?”

    “Either they aren’t going to Gliese 250 or they discovered a new route in,” said the operative.

    “Either might be useful,” said the man in the suit. “Any other information on the ship?”

    “Colony carrier,” said the operative. “Designed and built in relative secret. Large enough cargo capacity to carry a colony of a thousand and keep it going for at least a year.”

    “And they are heading to Gliese 250 that doesn’t have any planets?” asked the man. “Interesting.”

    “Would you like me to get further information?” asked the operative.

    “Yes, please,” said the man as he sat back and tapped the ends of his fingers on both his hands together. “Novus has been up to something for the past ten years that nobody has been able to put their finger on. And now they have a colony ship departing on an unusual heading with a false, or so we believe, destination. Plus, we know they have nine more colony ships either in production or complete that are being outfitted. Curious turn of events, wouldn’t you say?”

    “I’d say they discovered a new world they haven’t told anyone about,” said the operative.

    “I’d think your assumption is very likely correct,” said the man. “Do you have a manifest?”

    “Partial,” said the operative. “A few dozen names, nothing more.”

    “And?” asked the man.

    “Several scientists, a couple of engineers, a programming expert, one or two military,” said the operative. “Nothing I’d be willing to make a guess on.”

    “But all useful talents in starting a colony on a new undiscovered world,” said the man.

    “Very much so,” said the operative.

    “Open a new file,” said the man. “Get whatever information you can on the ship that just departed as well as the other colony ships Novus owns. Find out any information on this ASD window and where it might lead. And attempt to get information on the crews, potential colonists and whomever else they might bring along with them.”

    “Yes, sir,” said the operative. “Priority level?”

    “Make it Priority 3 for the moment,” said the man who knew the third level was high enough to warrant a serious inquiry, but below the level of “critical to the survival of the company” and “major economic exploits.”

    Had he known the final location of where they were heading, he would have pulled out all the stops to find out everything he could.
     
    squiddley, rle737ng, techsar and 2 others like this.
  7. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 6


    Estimated Time of Arrival: 7 years, 3 months, 27 days


    “Everything appears shipshape,” said the Chief Engineer, Cyrus Hendrix, as he briefed the Captain of the ship on the status of his area.

    “You did a fine job of getting her ready to go, Chief,” said Captain Allen Smith, the commander of the Santa Maria. He had a long and distinguished service with the Novus Group Commercial Fleet and this would be his third and last command before settling on the new world.

    “Not a penny was spared in her construction,” said Cyrus. “Even the wish list items I asked for were put on board.”

    “I know,” said Allen with half a smile. “I approved most of them.”

    “Still, corporate tends to be penny pinching at times,” said Cyrus.

    “This is certainly not an expedition to do it on and they recognized that,” said Allen. “How are the ASD systems?”

    “Running like a champ,” said Cyrus. “I had Doctor Kirk in here yesterday to give them a quick check. Even he was amazed at how efficiently they were running.”

    “Did he check the backups as well?” asked Allen.

    “Sure did and they will come online automatically if we have any trouble,” said Cyrus. “We ran a test not long after making the jump to check.”

    “Looks good,” said Allen. “Nothing else of note?”

    “A crew had to replace a sensor line on one of the maintenance corridors,” said Cyrus. “Kept going out and burning the leads. We installed new ones.”

    “Hopefully we don’t get anything more serious than that,” said Allen.

    “She’s a fine ship, Captain,” said Cyrus. “Other than the obvious pride I take in helping build her, she’s one of the best laid out ships I’ve ever seen.”

    “And to be torn apart eventually,” said Allen.

    “Only after she gets us there,” said Cyrus. “And she’ll do that, no problem.”

    “I’ll leave you to it,” said Allen as he was accompanied by the ship’s Master Chief towards the bridge. His second in command, First Officer Charity Steele currently had the conn.

    “Captain on the bridge,” she announced as he entered.

    “As you were,” said Allen. “Status?”

    “Not a thing in the world going on,” said Charity. “All systems nominal and in the green.”

    “How much longer do you have on duty?” he asked.

    “Another two hours or so,” said Charity.

    “You want to knock off early and get the rest of those proficiency reports done?” asked Allen.

    “I was trying to avoid that,” she said with a grin as she hated paperwork.

    “And I realize that,” said Allen. “Though they are coming due tomorrow.”

    “I’ll get on it, sir,” she said with a sigh. “Captain has the conn.”

    “Captain has the conn,” said Allen as she departed.

    “Youngin,” said the Master Chief with a chuckle.

    “But good,” said Allen. “One of the best natural pilots I’ve ever seen.”

    “And seven years means she’s got a lot of time to grow into the position,” said the Master Chief.

    “I’d think we all have time to grow into our positions,” said Allen with a sigh. “I realize how important this is, but damned if it isn’t going to feel like forever.”

    “At least those in stasis won’t go bonkers,” said the Master Chief.

    “How’s the crew holding up in that regard?” asked Allen.

    “Better than expected for the moment,” said the Master Chief. “They’ve got the full virtual environment machines to play around on as well as tending to their duties.”

    “At least they thought to toss some entertainment on board,” said Allen.

    “They’ll be fine,” said the Master Chief. “I was thinking of setting up some cross-training programs as well to get them into other areas of the ship.”

    “It would knock off the boredom if we shifted them around duty stations every so often,” said Allen after thinking of the idea. “Six months here, six months there. It can’t hurt.”

    “I have your approval to proceed?” asked the Master Chief.

    “Please,” said Allen. “What do you think of the others?”

    “I briefly read over the command group structure,” said the Master Chief. “It’s a pretty heady group we have there.”

    “And Commander Nash?” asked Allen who felt comfortable with his Master Chief since they had served together for well over 15 years.

    “I knew him by reputation before I saw his file,” said the Master Chief. “And his senior enlisted guy, which means I’ll be bumped down a tad in the pecking order.”

    “I don’t know much about them,” said Allen.

    “Both of them are first rate,” said the Master Chief. “I met Sergeant Major Whitaker, I don’t know, ten years ago or so when I was contracted for a troop run into Europa. Tough guy then and I doubt he’s changed much. But good man to have at your back. They know what they don’t know and don’t hesitate to ask others for help.”

    “That’ll be a good thing,” said Allen as one of the sensor operators turned to them.

    “Captain? We’ve got a problem,” said one of the sensor operators as he was checking one of his consoles. He zeroed in on one area of the ship and looked intently.

    “Oh?” asked Allen as he walked over and looked in the monitor. “Interesting.”

    “When we first departed, the sensors in that area went out,” said the operator. “We replaced them, however, they went out again. We thought it was a faulty relay somewhere else in the ship, but put in some new leads, cables and sensors. This is valid.”

    “What do you make of it?” asked Allen.

    “We’ve got movement in Section 29, maintenance corridor B,” said the operator.

    “And this leads where?” asked Allen.

    “It’s a sub-corridor that’s used for ventilation and wiring only,” said the operator. “Too small to walk in, but large enough for a crawlspace. It runs the length of the port side of the ship from storage area P44 to…the bow medical station.”

    “And hits the galley storage along the way,” said Allen already thinking it wasn’t a rat.

    “Yes, sir,” said the operator.

    “Any other sensors along this corridor?” asked Allen.

    “No, this area is one of the junctions for environmental systems,” said the sensor operator. “Otherwise, it’s just a normal maintenance corridor and didn’t rate sensors other than life support, fire and radiation.”

    “Are you thinking a stowaway?” asked Allen.

    “When the sensors first went out, we did get some data we concluded as false and had two potential targets,” said the operator. “This one only shows one.”

    “So, more than one stowaway?” asked Allen.

    “Possibly, sir,” said the operator.

    “And this doesn’t lead into anything critical?” asked Allen. “Not at least without exposing themselves in a main corridor or passageway?”

    “Negative,” said the operator.

    “And not mice, rats or anything of the type?” asked Allen.

    “Target is too large for that,” said the operator. “And traveling too fast.”

    “Okay, here’s what we are going to do,” said Allen as he outlined his plan. The operator got his assistant to cover for him and got the items needed for his additional duty assigned by the Captain. Heading to the galley, they looked oddly at him over the strange request, but allowed him access into the storage areas where he emplaced additional devices and made sure they were operating prior to shutting off the lights and departing. He returned to the bridge and relieved his relief and got the attention of the Captain.

    “Now we’ll see if our mouse takes the cheese,” said Allen as he looked over the monitor.

    “Mice are patient,” said the operator. “This might take a while.”

    “Let me know,” said Allen as he returned to his normally boring post watching over a ship that was largely automated and was as reliable as the proverbial Swiss clock.


    ********************

    Estimated Time of Arrival: 7 years, 3 months, 22 days


    “Captain?” asked the sensor operator as he checked his screen.

    “Finally?” asked Allen as he walked over.

    “Got him,” said the sensor operator as he was able to capture the face of the stowaway. The computer ran the face against the database of all individuals known to have been aboard as well as those who had worked on the Santa Maria. He didn’t want to run it against the Earth Database just yet since that would take considerably longer. “Low light camera isn’t doing us any favors…but, the computer has a 96% match against Todd Poe. Worker with Novus Fleet Construction and…worked on the Santa Maria during all stages of construction.”

    “Working specifically with?” asked Allen.

    “Welder and metals machinist,” said the sensor operator.

    “So, someone who would have access to pretty much the entire ship during construction,” said Allen. “And knows all the little nooks and crannies we have on this tub.”

    “Pretty much,” said the sensor operator.

    “How did he get on board?” asked Allen as the tracking device stopped in one of the port side storage areas and went into one of the main holds.

    “It’s not exactly hard to get on a maintenance or cargo shuttle and get on board that way,” said the sensor operator as he watched. “But maybe a little harder for four…”

    Allen looked at the monitor and saw the camera the sensor operator had placed on one of the boxes of rations he left out specifically to be picked up by the “mice” on board. The camera itself was barely a millimeter across and showed three additional faces for the monitor. A small sink as well as a shower using a curtain was seen in the background along with empty ration containers and other items neatly stored nearby.

    “It does appear we have multiple mice to deal with,” said Allen. “Family?”

    “Facial recognition shows her as Paris Poe, wife of our stowaway,” said the operator. “High probability match. The children…one is registering as Alysha Poe, child of the two. The other is not getting any hits.”

    “Off the grid?” asked Allen.

    “Possibly,” said the operator.

    “Interesting,” said Allen. “Have the Master Chief prepare a party to go collect our additional guests. Put them in holding and we’ll go from there.”

    “Aye, Captain,” said he operator.

    “And non-lethal weapons only,” said Allen. “No sense in getting crazy over this.”

    “Aye, sir,” said the operator as he called up the Master Chief to come to the bridge. He didn’t take long to make it to the bridge being that his quarters were only thirty meters away and he was briefed in by the sensor operator.

    “Easy enough,” said the Master Chief as he looked over the crew that was on duty. “Get me Crosby, Chandler, Page, Tuttle, Daniel, Bain and Gaulden down to the armory. Quietly though as not to spook our mice.”

    “Aye, Master Chief,” said the sensor operator as he called the individual sections and relayed the instructions. The sensor operator saw they were some of the crew trained in close quarters combat and were generally larger in stature than most of the crew. After receiving acknowledgments from the individuals, he attempted to turn on the cameras in the cargo bay, only to find them disabled as he thought he might. But as a minimum, he got the cameras in the corridor on his screen and waited for the team to get to the cargo bay. Eventually the eight-member team was seen right outside the door preparing to move in.

    “Captain, this is the Master Chief,” said the Master Chief over the secured comm system. “We’re in position and prepared to go in.”

    “You are clear,” said Allen as he saw the Master Chief lead the way into the compartment. The sensor operator managed to get the body cam feeds as they closed in on the area from different directions and waited patiently for the entire team to get into position. Once they were set, they rounded the corner of the cargo container and surprised the family of four as they shouted commands for them to get on the deck and hold out their arms. The adult male jumped up towards one of the team, but was quickly taken down by a bio-lock device which caused his entire body to stiffen up and to fall over. The children were screaming as the mother went to them and gathered them up, looking extremely scared at the situation.

    “Down on the deck! Now!” ordered the Master Chief as the remainder of the family complied.

    “Master Chief?” asked the Captain.

    “Four secured, sir,” said the Master Chief over the comm.

    “Have all four fitted with a bio-lock and bring them up to the empty quarters on B Deck by airlock 15,” said Allen. “Separate the father, but leave the children with the mother.”

    “Aye, sir,” said the Master Chief as the remaining three were fitted with a bio-lock as well as additional hand restraints on the father as they were escorted out.

    “Is there anything in those quarters?” asked Allen.

    “No sir,” said the sensor operator as he called up the quarters and looked inside.

    “Get a table, two chairs and nothing else in one,” said Allen. “Have seating in the other.”

    “Aye, sir,” said the sensor operator as he gave additional instructions. Word was spreading quickly they had additional passengers on board as they saw the family being escorted through the ship. Eventually, the father was taken into his room while the mother and children were taken elsewhere. They did little more than share a look as the door closed behind him. Eventually, Allen appeared and came inside, sending the armed crew member to the door.

    “Hello,” said Allen pleasantly as he sat down opposite of the stowaway. “I’m Captain Allen Smith of the Santa Maria. And you aren’t supposed to be here.”

    The man sat stone faced opposite of Allen and stared straight ahead. He didn’t move at all and Allen found it slightly uncomfortable.

    “Glass of water?” asked Allen as he poured a cup and slid it across the table. “No sense in sitting here thirsty. Not a lot of water in storage compartment P22. However, I will say how you hacked into the water supply was pretty good. The showers and faucets in those compartments aren’t supposed to be hooked up, yet you managed to do it somehow.”

    The man continued to sit with his mask of stone without reacting.

    “Now, see, we have a problem,” said Allen. “I have you, Mister Todd Derek Poe, current employee of the Novus Group Fleet Delta Construction Yards on this ship where you aren’t supposed to be. And furthermore, I have your wife, Paris Poe, and daughter, Alysha Poe along with one other child I just can’t identify. However, she bears a striking resemblance to your wife. And what am I to make of all this?”

    Again, the man didn’t react or allow himself any movement as his gaze was fixed on the far wall. Allen knew it was an old interrogation trick to focus on a single point and devote one’s entire existence to that point, drowning out everything else along the way.

    “You’re on my ship, son,” said Allen reasonably. “And you aren’t supposed to be here. Furthermore, your address of record with the company is in an apartment building that burned three years ago. Most unusual, wouldn’t you say?”

    Still, the man gave nothing. Allen let out a sigh before continuing. “You understand I have to have answers here. You are on my ship, illegally as it may be, and we aren’t stopping until we reach our destination. Did you truly expect to live on my ship for seven years without being detected? And then just pop out when we arrived?”

    He saw the faint reaction given by the man as he had no idea the length of time the trip truly was. Allen knew he had him right then and jiggled the line slightly to catch the fish.

    “Yes, seven years before we reach our destination,” said Allen. “So, as you can see, I have all the time in the world to wait for your answers.”

    He could see the man wavering in his mind, wondering if they truly were on a seven-year voyage to a new colony.

    “You’re lying,” said the man as he continued to stare at the opposite wall.

    “You’ve seen the provisions we’ve got stowed on board,” said Allen. “We’re a colony carrier ship on a one-way trip to our destination that will take seven and a half years to get there.”

    The man realized he had given up too much information already and returned to his mask of stone as he focused in on the point and drowned everything else out. But Allen knew he had him as he closed the file to his front.

    “Many Captains wouldn’t hesitate to dump all four of you off their ship, regardless of where we happen to be at,” said Allen. “I don’t have the information I need from you, but perhaps your wife or children will be more forthcoming. But I do need to know.”

    Allen saw he had returned to his silent state and wasn’t giving anything else. Picking up the old-style file, he got up and headed to the door. Once the hatch was opened, he nodded his head as the youngest daughter was brought to the doorway, being escorted by one of the crew members. He saw the man flash his eyes at his daughter before returning to the opposite wall. His eyes glazed over slightly and right then, Allen knew he would get what he needed.

    “Ready to talk?” asked Allen.

    “Sir…” said the man without looking. “Do what you want to me, but not my children.”

    “You give me what I want and we’ll take that under consideration,” said Allen as he returned to his seat and sat down, leaning back and waiting. The crew member took the daughter out of the compartment as Allen waited on further reaction.

    “My name is Todd Poe and yes, I am a stowaway,” said the man as he finally looked at Allen. “Along with my family. My wife Paris, my daughter Alysha and my youngest daughter Jade.”

    “And how did you get on board?” asked Allen.

    “We snuck on board a cargo transport two days before departure,” said the man named Todd.

    “And found comfortable accommodations I take it?” asked Allen.

    “We…I didn’t know the journey would be that long,” said Todd.

    “Yes, we are on a seven-year trip,” said Allen.

    “I didn’t know,” said Todd. “I just want my family to survive. We just want our children to grow up in a place they can be safe.”

    “By holing them up like rats?” asked Allen.

    “I didn’t know,” said the man quietly. “I didn’t know it would be that long.”

    “You worked on this ship, I take it?” asked Allen.

    “Yes, during initial and advanced construction,” said Todd.

    “And obviously knew how to get from point A to B without being detected,” said Allen.

    “Remove or jam the sensor line and it’s easy,” said Todd.

    “Except we put in new sensor lines,” said Allen. “Which got you caught along with your family.”

    “It was a risk I was willing to take,” said Todd.

    “Even though the penalty is death in most cases?” asked Allen.

    “We were dead for certain if we stayed,” said Todd.

    “What has me confused is your address,” said Allen. “Well, a great many things like how you kept a daughter off the grid for some years. But you have no known address.”

    “We lived in the Old City of Nashville,” said Todd.

    “Nobody lives in Old City,” said Allen as he knew the man was referring to the network of old tunnels and abandoned facilities the dome was built on top of.

    “Fifty thousand people live in Old City,” said Todd. “When the apartment building burned down, it was a case of ‘oh, sorry, no more room. You have to leave’ from the dome managers. Only to turn around and build a new apartment building and give the spaces to a bunch of fat cat rich people who never worked a day in their life.”

    “I heard stories of people living down there,” said Allen.

    “It’s lawless, it’s filthy and it’s not a place I want my children to grow up in,” said Todd.

    “So, you decided to risk your children’s lives on sneaking on board a ship?” asked Allen.

    Todd didn’t say anything as he looked at the table. But Allen knew he needed more information than what had been provided.

    “Who is this youngest child? Jade you said her name was?” asked Allen.

    “Yes,” said Todd.

    “No record,” said Allen. “Not in any DNA database, never photographed for an ID, never enrolled in any school. Totally off the grid.”

    “She’s…a shadow child,” said Todd referring to children that were born outside the system and were unauthorized by the population control laws. Those inside the domes were only allowed one child unless special exceptions were made. And those were rarely granted, at least for those considered “low to middle class” where the Poe family would have fallen.

    “You really do play hard and fast with the rules,” said Allen.

    “It was a mistake,” said Todd. “Paris got pregnant after the birth control device had failed. We didn’t know it until it was too late.”

    “Abortion,” said Allen.

    “Not an option,” said Todd. “We believe in what God brings to us. He wanted us to have another child and He brought us one.”

    “I’m not sure Divine Intervention is a good argument these days,” said Allen as he had thoughts on that subject as well considering where they were going.

    “We…just couldn’t,” said Todd. “So, Paris hid the pregnancy and we had the birth attended to in Old City while we were still living in the dome. It’s easy to find what you need down there, even before we moved there permanently.”

    “And then turned around and brought them on board a ship where you knew the penalty for stowaways is death,” said Allen.

    “We had to take that chance,” said Todd. “We just wanted a fresh start. I didn’t know how long the ship would be in transit. I just knew from what they were bringing on board, it was going to set up a new colony somewhere. A place where I might be in prison, but my wife and children would be able to survive.”

    “Until you got caught,” said Allen. “What were you expecting to do? Just pop out when we arrived and say ‘hiya!’ with a big smile on your face?”

    “I…didn’t know,” said Todd. “Playing it by ear mainly.”

    “Not a good choice,” said Allen.

    “You are going to a planet where you won’t need a dome,” said Todd. “You don’t have the materials to build one or that I’ve seen.”

    “So, you jump ship when we get there and take your family out to live on an unknown planet where you could die?” asked Allen.

    “We’d die for certain if we stayed on Earth,” said Todd. “We were just looking for a chance at a new start.”

    Allen sat back and thought over the situation. And wasn’t happy with any conclusion he reached in his mind. While the ships were more than secure, the fact he had four stowaways on board wasn’t a good sign. And it worried him especially given the importance of his mission to everyone concerned.

    “I have a serious problem with you being here,” said Allen. “Outside of the normal reason of you happen to be on my ship and I didn’t authorize you.”

    “Do with me what you want,” said Todd. “But spare my family, I beg of you.”

    “It’s not that simple,” said Allen. “We’ve gone to great lengths to keep this colony secret and have made every attempt to investigate and properly vet the people on board. And all of the sudden, I find you and your family that isn’t authorized and hasn’t been investigated. You could see my problem with this? So, you need to tell me exactly how you got here and how you’ve managed to keep hidden so long.”

    Todd sat stone faced again and didn’t react to what Allen had just said. So, Allen decided to get a bit tougher in his questioning.

    “You do realize the penalty for stowaways on board ships is up to and including death? I have every right to throw you and your family off this ship,” he said sternly.

    “You wouldn’t,” said Todd.

    “Oh, I wouldn’t?” asked Allen and suddenly raised his voice and hammered his fist on the table. “Tell me what I want to know or I’ll toss all of you overboard!”

    Todd had clammed up again at the outburst. Allen knew it was important to find out how much he knew and furthermore, whether the security of the ship was at stake.

    “Fine, go get the youngest child,” said Allen to the guard. He went to the hallway and relayed the request, bringing the child into the room. His wife was heard screaming from an adjacent compartment as the guard brought the youngest child back in.

    “Be strong,” said Todd as he saw his child, more to himself than to her.

    “Daddy?” she asked.

    “Be strong, baby,” he said as his eyes glistened over again.

    “You tell me what I want to know or you’ll watch your family’s bodies fly by as we toss them overboard one at a time. Starting with your youngest,” said Allen in a growl.

    “Don’t,” said Todd.

    “Tell me!” thundered Allen.

    Todd clammed up again, though a tear dropped down his face. Allen saw he needed to take further action as he got up and departed the room. Luckily there was an airlock somewhat near the room he was in and headed to it.

    While sitting in the room, Todd heard the alarm from outside the room notifying them an inner airlock had been activated nearby. And furthermore, the outer airlock alarm sounded moments later as the door would have been opened.

    “Noooooo!” screamed Todd loud enough to hear. “You bastard!”

    Allen returned to the room where Todd believed he had nothing left to lose and charged at Allen as soon as the door opened. However, the guard activated the restraint device, effectively locking him in place. Allen saw a savage look on Todd’s face and knew he would be dead before hitting the floor if it wasn’t for the restraint device. But he motioned for the other crewman waiting in the hallway to bring the youngest child back in.

    “Daddy!” she exclaimed as the crewman let her go and the guard disabled the device. Father and daughter were reunited as he grasped her in a hug and tears rolled freely down his face. But the reunion wasn’t meant to last as the crewman collected her and Allen pointed at the chair before taking a seat himself.

    “You are a complete and utter bastard,” said Todd in a growl.

    “I may be,” said Allen in a growl. “But you needed to understand what it felt like to lose something you deeply cared about. And that’s exactly why I want to know every detail on how you got on this ship, how many people knew you were getting on this ship and who knew where we are going. Because next time, I won’t be playing around.”

    Todd averted his gaze long enough to see the anger on Allen’s face and knew he couldn’t risk stonewalling any longer. He started talking as Allen listened, who he was, who his family was and where they had come from. But most importantly, had not told anyone of their intent to leave. Allen occasionally injected a question or two, but by and large, he got the information he needed to determine the safety of the ship was likely okay at the moment.

    “Thank you for your answers,’ said Allen as he turned pleasant again. Rising to leave, he was stopped at he reached the door to the compartment.

    “What happens to us now?” asked Todd.

    “You a religious man?” asked Allen.

    “I am somewhat,” said Todd. “My wife more than me.”

    “Might want to consider praying,” said Allen as he departed, not giving a clear answer to the question at hand. He headed into the other compartment with the mother and found her far more eager to answer questions as she had heard her husband yelling and knew the Captain meant business. She knew little of the details of their escape, but corroborated enough of the information that Allen felt he had enough to determine there was no threat. He departed the quarters, ignoring the question of “what will happen to us” as he closed the door behind him. After getting into the corridor, he was met by First Officer Charity Steele who approached him along with the Master Chief.

    “We get what we wanted?” asked the Master Chief.

    “I believe so,” said Allen.

    “And now?” asked First Officer Steele.

    “Now? Get them a shower and feed them,” said Allen to the Master Chief. “Post four guards and keep the restraint devices on when they get finished.”

    “Aye, Captain,” said the Master Chief as he gathered a team of four to escort the family back to an area where they could shower and on to the galley.

    “Kids are looking a bit thin,” remarked Allen as they walked away.

    “Captain, I won’t disagree with you in front of the crew,” said Charity. “But you crossed a line with what you did.”

    “Perhaps,” said Allen. “But, while I’m a bastard at times, I’m not a complete and total cold-hearted bastard and would never toss a child overboard.”

    “Still the principle,” said Charity.

    “What we are doing is too important,” said Allen. “I cannot risk the safety of this ship, nor the future colony on someone finding out where we are going. There are plenty of other Captains out there that wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to toss them overboard one at a time until they got the answers they wanted.”

    Charity knew this was a side of her Captain, and furthermore, one of her mentors, she hadn’t ever seen. But deep down, she knew he was correct and they couldn’t afford to allow the location nor the routes in to become knowledge of other interested parties. However, his methods were at the forefront of her thinking at that moment, a concern she noted.

    “I do know it was wrong and this is probably the last thing you would have expected to have seen out of me,” said Allen. “But you know me far better than that and I had to take drastic measures to shake that man to his core and get him to talk. Sure, we could have drugged him and the family members, but that would have taken too long. So, I applied pressure from a direction he held dear and went from there.”

    “You are young and still idealistic to an extent. I can understand and appreciate that. But when you command your own ship someday, you’ll find there are times when you will absolutely bend the rules in order to get the job done. When idealistic notions of right and wrong become blurred when it comes to the safety of your ship and passengers. You will find yourself doing things you would never consider otherwise to keep them safe. I do hope you never face that kind of situation, but if you ever do, you have to be prepared to do things, or at least threaten them, you wouldn’t normally even think of,” said Allen.

    “I can’t say I agree,” said Charity.

    “And right now, you won’t,” said Allen. “But when the time comes, you will realize why I did the things I just did.”

    Charity was smart enough to realize her notions of right and wrong could be compromised if she was pressed hard enough. But still wavered on the idea she would ever threaten to throw a child overboard as a tool to pressure someone to give the truth. “Orders?”

    “I know it’s going to take a minute or two,” said Allen. “But between you and the Master Chief, we will need to go through this ship, topsail to keel, bow to stern and check every nook and cranny to determine if we have any other uninvited guests. And I want the electronics folks running scans to find out if we are transmitting anything. We drop out of the first window in 27 days and it needs to be done by then.”

    “The search will be easy,” said Charity. “Time consuming, but reasonably straightforward. The electronics will take a bit longer since we do have all sorts of emissions on the ship.”

    “Go to 24-hour operations on it,” said Allen. “We need to know.”

    “Aye, sir,” said Charity as she turned to leave.

    “And Charity?” asked Allen.

    “Sir?” she asked and turned back around.

    “I’m still the same guy you hitched your wagon to so many years ago,” said Allen. “I know your faith in me is a little shaken at the moment, but I’d never do anything to put you or the crew into danger or make you do something you weren’t comfortable with.”

    “I’ll admit, I have a lot to think about,” she replied, not giving a clear answer.

    “I’ll earn your trust back,” he stated. “Not because I have to, but because I want to.”

    “I still trust you,” said Charity. “Just…never thought I’d see that dark side of you.”

    “Only where the crew and the ship are concerned,” said Allen. “I’ll leave you to your duties.”

    “I appreciate you hearing me out,” said Charity. “What’s to become of the family?”

    “Have Doctor Blevins do a full scan and medical diagnosis and then set them up for stasis,” said Allen. “Toss their items overboard as well.”

    “Everything?” asked Charity.

    “If it’s sentimental, scan it, figure out if there’s anything transmitting, do whatever,” said Allen. “But clothing and things like that get tossed.”

    “Aye, sir,” she stated as she departed.
     
  8. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 7


    Estimated Time of Arrival: 6 Years, 19 days


    “Commander? Commander, can you hear me?” asked the voice Ben heard, but didn’t see yet.

    “Argh,” he drawled as he felt like he had the worst hangover known to mankind.

    “Don’t open your eyes yet,” said the female voice. “We’re going to sit you up now.”

    Ben felt hands under his arms assisting him into a sitting position. His legs dangled off the edge of whatever he was currently on as the voice was heard again.

    “Okay, we’ve dimmed the lights, go ahead and slowly open your eyes,” said the voice. He attempted to open them, but his eyelids weren’t functioning exactly right just yet. He heard the voice ask for “saline and a swab” and felt the wetness of the solution helping unseal the dried mucus from his eyelids. He managed to get one open by himself before rubbing at the other and breaking it open as well. It was fairly dark in the room, but he could see the blurry figures standing in front of him in the traditional doctor’s white overcoats.

    “Commander? How are you feeling?” asked the female voice he managed to track down to the brunette doctor to his front. She was still blurry, but he could make out the outline of her figure as she spoke.

    “Feels like I’ve been beaten within an inch of my life and a cat shit in my mouth,” he drawled with a groan.

    “The taste and soreness will go away in a couple of hours,” she replied with a chuckle at the crude description. “Here’s some water though.”

    “I’d rather be asleep,” he groaned again and took a sip from the bottle she handed over. “Are we there or something?”

    “No, sir,” she replied. “We have data packets from Novae Spes as well as the yearly progress reports. We were instructed to wake you for a minimum of a week every year until we arrive.”

    “Oh, that’s right,” he drawled. “Wonderful, I get to do this six more times.”

    “It gets easier,” she laughed. “We’ll be monitoring you for the next bit and start bringing the lights up slowly. Your eyes aren’t used to the light just yet so we’ll do it incrementally until you’re ready for normal lighting.”

    “Okay,” he said as he rubbed at his eyes again. “Who are you anyway?”

    “Doctor Mary Blevins,” she replied. “I’m the ship’s surgeon.”

    “I don’t think we met,” he replied and stretched.

    “You were dropping in stasis when I got to you,” she replied.

    “I see,” he said. “Well, not see, but see.”

    “Seems like your sense of humor is coming back,” she chuckled. “Vitals are looking good. Want to try standing up?”

    “Yeah, sure,” he replied and was assisted into standing. He felt a little weak, but knew the stasis pods actually kept the person’s muscles from deteriorating as well as strengthening them slightly during long periods of stasis. But he hadn’t used them in a while and his body was still “waking up” so he felt weaker than normal.

    “Okay, looking good,” she replied and made an annotation on her tablet.

    “Hungry,” he said as his stomach growled.

    “A very good sign,” she stated and made another annotation into the tablet. “We’ll have something brought in, okay?”

    “Steak?” he asked.

    “We’ll try something simpler to start,” she chuckled.

    “It was worth a shot,” he said as he stretched out.

    “Motor function looks good,” she said as she annotated the tablet again. “Try walking forward a few steps. But-”

    She didn’t manage to get the rest of the warning out before he started walking. And his balance wasn’t entirely recovered yet before he took a spill onto the floor. He managed to catch himself before smacking his face on the deck, but the sudden jolt stung through his body.

    “Take slow, single steps forward,” she said as she got him into a sitting position on the floor.

    “Lesson learned,” he said and rubbed at his wrists. She held a portable scanner against both his wrists and found he was just sore at the moment and nothing was broken or sprained. She joined him on the floor to annotate that as well as he grunted and stretched again, his eyesight becoming clearer as he looked around.

    “Are you wearing shorts?” he asked.

    “Sorry,” she said and blushed slightly. “You came out of stasis a bit quicker than anticipated and I was off duty. I didn’t have time to get my scrubs on.”

    “Oh, not a problem,” he said. “I guess I’m to blame for being inconsiderate.”

    “Anything but,” she chuckled. “Want to try walking again?”

    “Yeah, slow, single steps this time,” he said as she helped him up. He managed to walk forward slowly as his equilibrium was returning to its normal state. But he wasn’t taking any chances and leaned against the stasis pod outer cover after a few steps.

    “You’re doing great,” she said and set the tablet down as food was brought in. It didn’t seem like much and Ben assumed he shouldn’t have a lot to eat just yet.

    “What is it?” he asked.

    “You really want to know?” she asked.

    “Probably not,” he chuckled.

    “It’s what we call goop,” she said. “Basically, it’s like eating a vitamin, but more filling.”

    “And you call it this, why?” he asked.

    “Because it’s not what we would call appealing to the sight,” she chuckled. “But it’s not entirely horrible to eat. At least not when waking up from stasis.”

    “Let me guess, I have to sustain myself on it, doctor?” he asked.

    “Call me Mary, please,” she requested. “And yes, for the next twenty-four hours at least.”

    “Then I get a steak?” he asked.

    “I think we might be able to whip up something, Commander,” she laughed.

    “Call me Ben,” he stated and sniffed at the bowl. It didn’t smell bad and tasted a little like oatmeal. He managed to finish off most of the bowl before she took it from him.

    “Well, I think you’re going to be okay,” she said and handed him the squeeze bottle of water. He drank several sips from the straw before holding onto it in case he needed more. He noticed the lights were a bit brighter and figured they were on some automatic timer to raise. His eyesight was nearly back to normal and he got a good look at the Doctor for the first time. She appeared to be in her early to mid 30s and had green eyes to go with her brown hair.

    “Kinda young for a ship’s surgeon,” he remarked.

    “Well, being that I have to be awake for the seven-year journey, they recruited me a little younger than most ship’s surgeons,” she replied. “But I am qualified.”

    “Never thought you weren’t,” he stated. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

    “Oh, no! I didn’t take it that way,” she exclaimed. “But I am young for the position.”

    “Hey, you kept me alive, so there’s that,” he replied. “Now, what’s the plan?”

    “The plan is we finish up here and get you back to your quarters so you can sleep,” she replied. “The day after tomorrow, you’ll get the brief from the chief science officer as well as the section heads who will be coming out of stasis soon as well.”

    “I just woke up from an eighteen-month nap and I get to sleep more?” he asked.

    “Your body can be pretty unstable right now,” she replied. “Anything could set your system into shock and you could die. Just moving from here to your quarters is about the equal of running a marathon. But tomorrow, your system should be back to normal and you’ll be up and running.”

    “That sounds good,” he said. “Which way to my quarters?”

    “I’ll take you there,” she replied and grabbed the small tablet to keep track of his bio signatures along the way. The door to the infirmary slid open as they approached and she guided him to the left and down the extensive hallway passing cargo areas and quarters along the way.

    “How’s the ship running?” he asked.

    “I’m no expert, but we seem to be doing okay,” she replied as they passed a window that showed the outside. Usually on ships, the star fields could be seen, but with the ASD, it was total darkness with the occasional streak of light that still couldn’t be explained by scientists. He paused for a moment to look as she stood next to him and looked herself.

    “The streaks of light are pretty,” she observed.

    “Still, that empty blackness is kind of eerie,” he replied as they took in the view for another minute before pressing on.

    “But the ship, yes, she appears to be in good working order at the moment and we haven’t had any major emergencies,” replied Mary.

    “No major emergencies?” asked Ben.

    “I’m not qualified to explain, really,” she stated as they arrived at a closed door. She waved her hands at the console next to the door and it slid open to reveal his quarters. He hadn’t been in his quarters as he had been dropped into stasis right away, but saw his baggage and personal items were neatly stowed in the open closet.

    “How did you open the door?” he asked, knowing the security should have prevented it.

    “I’m the ship’s doctor,” she replied. “I have to have access to all sections in case of emergency.”

    “Right,” he said with a yawn.

    “Finally catching up, I see,” she stated.

    “What time is it anyway?” he asked.

    “It’s about 2100 hours,” she replied as she led him to his bed.

    “Should I do any kind of activity when I wake up?” he asked as he sat down on the edge of the bed and yawned again.

    “Maybe some stretches,” she replied as she set her tablet next to him and started pulling his shirt over his head.

    “Umm, doc?” he asked.

    “I’m going to get the bio reader off your chest,” she replied. “Don’t get all excited. I’ve seen a man without his shirt on before.”

    “Sorry, I just…I…never mind,” he chuckled.

    “Thought I was making a pass at you?” she chuckled as she unhooked the sensor and pulled it off her chest. “Trying to find out just how awake you really are?”

    “Something like that,” he chuckled.

    “I have to wait at least another twenty-four to thirty-six hours for that kind of physical activity,” she grinned. “I would put you into shock and give you a heart attack.”

    “If I had a dollar for every time a woman told me that,” he grinned.

    “Oh, I bet,” she laughed as she retrieved an item from her coat pocket. “Either way, here’s an emergency transmitter in case you need it tonight. If you push the button, it sends an alert to the medical station and we’ll respond.”

    “What if I can’t get to it?” he asked.

    “It’ll be right here,” she stated and set it inside the headboard area. “Within arm’s reach.”

    “Okay,” he said with another yawn.

    “I’ll be by to check on you in the morning, okay?” she asked. “But you might consider a shower before bed. Just a suggestion.”

    “Are you implying I should have a shower?” he chuckled.

    “Wouldn’t hurt,” she replied. “It has been eighteen months since your last one.”

    “Good point,” he said with a tired smile.

    “I’ll be on my way then,” she said with a smile in return. “See you in the morning.”

    “Right, see you then,” he replied and sat down on the bed. Mary departed the room with a turn of the head and “good night” before departing and closing the door. Ben got up slowly and into the bathroom of his larger cabin. The shower was more than adequate enough for his needs and he found towels next to the small vanity. He started the hot water before doffing the rest of his clothing and slowly getting in. The shower helped wake him up even further and he felt better after several minutes under the stream and washing up. By the time he was finished, he almost felt normal, though he would take the doctor’s advice and take it easy for the moment.

    He found workout clothing in one of the chest of drawers in his cabin, part of the standard uniform the company had decided on. Grabbing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, he slipped them on before falling into the bed, starting to feel tired again. He barely managed to get his legs under the sheet and comforter before he was fast asleep.


    ********************

    Ben naturally woke the next morning without an alarm and saw the clock read 0632 in the morning. He felt far better than he did the night before and stretched out in the bed, immediately taking notice his wrists were a bit sore from the spill he had taken the previous evening. He rubbed at them before standing up and stretching the other major muscle groups that had been somewhat unused for the past eighteen months. Finishing up, he decided another shower might be in order as he headed towards the bathroom and also found his remaining biological functions were about up to speed as well. Seeing the toilet, the call of nature struck him as he took care of business and started up the shower. He didn’t take long under the water this time and got out before shaving and wondering if he should try to grow a beard. But at the moment, he decided it might be best for him to be presentable as he found a brand-new laser razor and trimmed the offending hair from his face.

    Heading into the main quarters, he decided one of his new uniforms would be best for the day as he pulled the sage green pants and shirt from the closet, noticing his last name was already embroidered on the coat pocket. It also appeared pressed at some point as he located underwear, socks and a t-shirt and slipped everything on. The boots were located in the closet and Ben saw they were fairly rugged models he had used at some point in his career. However, missing were the electronics that typically snugged them up and formed them to his natural foot curves and he had to lace them up before tucking in the pants and blousing them over the top. But as he stood up, he noticed the boots naturally formed to his feet and he suspected the Novus Group had designed them specifically for him that way. As he was finishing up and setting his dirty laundry to the side, the doorbell announced he had a visitor outside. Ben headed to the door and opened it up, finding the doctor waiting patiently.

    “You’re already awake?” she asked. “And showered I see.”

    “I kind of have a natural alarm clock,” said Ben. “Never could sleep past 0700.”

    “That’s a trait I wish I had,” she replied with a smile. “Are you hungry?”

    “Yeah, a little,” he said as she put a medical scanner on his wrist and scanned the device to see he was little worse for the wear after his stasis sleep and his readings were entirely normal.

    “Looking exceptional,” she remarked. “I wish all my patients came out like this.”

    “I wish I didn’t have to,” he chuckled.

    “Long and boring trip otherwise,” she grinned.

    “How do you cope?” he asked.

    “I do a lot of reading and studying,” she remarked. “Catching up on areas of medical study that might come in handy. Just a few things that are helpful in the long run.”

    “And having a ship’s crew to tend likely helps,” said Ben.

    “Not as much as you’d think,” she replied. “For the most part, they are younger and in good shape. The Captain and First Officer have a pretty good fitness program on board and it helps keep me out of a job for the most part.”

    “He pretty stern?” asked Ben.

    “No, I don’t think so at least,” she replied. “He’s fair and thoughtful. Kind of like one of those old wise clipper ship captains you read about in older novels.”

    “Good,” said Ben. “I am a little hungry, which way to the galley?”

    “I was heading there myself,” she replied as they departed and the door automatically closed behind him. They walked the passageways of the ship as he saw it was no different than countless passenger type ships he had been on in the past. However, the passenger list was certainly far different than it had been in the past since instead of being surrounded by his highly trained soldiers getting ready for battle, he had engineers, scientists, doctors and specialists of all sorts that would be building instead of tearing down. And that simple fact gave him comfort as he went into the galley and heard the instruction of “only goop” given to the individual on the serving line.

    “We have oatmeal, lemon, chocolate, vanilla or butterscotch flavor,” said the attendant.

    “Not many decent choices,” said Ben. “I’ll try the butterscotch.”

    “You sure?” asked Mary. “I wouldn’t.”

    “Yeah, I like butterscotch,” said Ben as he received his bowl and headed to the table. Mary didn’t know him well enough at that point to sit with him, but sat within eyesight of him and watched with a silly grin on her face. Ben finally took a spoonful of the goop and popped it in without thinking. And apparently the look on his face was telling enough as Mary tried not to laugh and was barely able to not spit her tea out as she watched. Ben continued eating the spoonful as his face turned into a grimace and he drank down a half a glass of water to get the taste out. Looking at the bowl and looking towards Mary, he saw her turning red and biting her lip from trying to hold in the laughter. He got up and carried the bowl over to her.

    “You knew, didn’t you?” he asked with a semi-frown.

    “I tried to warn you,” she stated and still tried not to laugh as he still had the remains of the look from earlier on his face.

    “You did,” he stated as he returned the bowl to the counter and returned with the oatmeal version, something he already knew was safe. He decided to sit with her as he came back over with a refill of water as well as the new bowl.

    “The look on your face was priceless,” she managed to say without bursting out laughing.

    “That was absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” he remarked.

    “We call it goop for a reason,” she remarked.

    “And why is that?” he asked.

    “Because shit was already taken in the dictionary,” she grinned. He had a laugh as he dug into his other bowl and managed to get it down instead. He was happy he might be on solid foods that evening and mentioned this in passing to Mary.

    “I’ll have to have a look at your stats, but there’s a good chance you can have a proper meal this evening,” she remarked.

    “Speaking of, what time are the others going to be coming out?” he asked.

    “Probably start the wake up around 1700 or so,” said Mary. “That gives us plenty of time to get them awake and their biorhythms in sync before the normal sleeping cycle.”

    “Do you mind if I’m around?” he asked.

    “By all means,” she stated. “It could be helpful to have a friendly face when they wake up.”

    “I don’t know all of them, but I think it’s important to be there as the leader,” he stated.

    “It’s the same bay you came out of,” said Mary.

    “Yeah, I’m still going to need some time to figure that out,” he stated as he was approached by another crewman, a younger looking auburn haired female.

    “Commander Nash?” she asked.

    “That’s me,” he stated.

    “Hi, I’m First Officer Charity Steele,” she said politely and held out her hand. Ben shook it politely as she folded her hands behind her back in a form of parade rest. “The Captain sends his apologies for not meeting you sooner but would be delighted if you could meet him on the bridge.”

    “Of course,” said Ben.

    “When you’re through eating of course,” said Steele.

    “I think I’m done,” said Ben.

    “Not until you finish that bowl,” said Mary. “Doctor’s orders.”

    “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m not going to get dessert?” he chuckled as he sat down and finished off the bowl before showing her.

    “And make sure to drink plenty of fluids today as well,” said Mary and added a twinkle in her eyes. “Or no steak for you tonight.”

    “I will follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter,” he grinned. “First Officer?”

    “If you’ll indulge me one trip to the coffee machine?” she asked.

    “I’d kill for one, but I’m afraid of the doctor,” he chuckled.

    “No caffeine either!” he heard Mary call from across the galley.

    “Yes, ma’am,” he said with a sigh. “Not until tomorrow.”

    Ben watched as Steele grabbed one of the metal mugs and poured in a cup of the coffee. He sniffed at the air longingly as she stirred in creamer and artificial sweetener before calling it good. Mary approached and grabbed another cup of tea and stirred in some honey as Charity was finishing up. As they were preparing to depart, a man approached and appeared to be the Captain of the ship. He had on the standard gray jumpsuit of the crew, but with three broad bars on his shoulder tabs indicating his rank.

    “Commander Nash?” asked the man.

    “I am,” said Ben as turned to face the Captain.

    “I’m Captain Allen Smith,” he said as he stuck out his hand. “Sorry I haven’t been able to meet you before now, but matters needed my attention on the ship.”

    “Ben Nash,” said Ben as he shook the hand of the Captain.

    “I see you found the mess, the First Officer and our exceptional ship’s surgeon,” said Allen. “Everything else okay so far?”

    “Perfect,” said Ben. “Excuse the pun, but everything’s shipshape.”

    “Obviously you haven’t seen engineering,” chuckled Allen.

    “Problems?” asked Ben.

    “Nothing major, I promise,” said Allen. “But the Chief Engineer tends to be kind of a slob. However, the engines and shipboard systems are the best I’ve ever seen.”

    “I’d like a tour eventually before they put me back to sleep,” said Ben.

    “It’s be my pleasure,” said Allen. “I’ve reserved the main briefing room for your group all day for the next week. Anything you need, you let me know.”

    “Aren’t you planning on attending?” asked Ben.

    “I hadn’t honestly,” said Allen. “I’m not necessarily included in your command group.”

    “You are now,” said Ben. “You, your First Officer, Master Chief and Chief Engineer all need to be there.”

    “I’ll make the proper arrangements,” said the Captain. “However, we don’t have a full time Master Chief. He died about seven months ago from a sudden massive stroke.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Ben. “Couldn’t be revived?”

    “No, I’m afraid not,” said Allen. “It happened in his sleep and Doc Blevins said even if he was in the infirmary when it happened, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Ticking time bomb as she put it.”

    “You have someone filling in?” asked Ben.

    “Rotating the duty through my section chiefs for cross training experience,” said Allen. “It was a program he implemented with the other crew and it seemed fitting for all of them to get experience being the top enlisted man or woman.”

    “Better to be prepared for such a thing,” said Ben. “Bloody wars and sickly seasons.”

    “That was one way of the Royal Navy putting it,” said Allen. “I do have to ask something.”

    “Why are you being included in the command group?” asked Ben. “Because over the seven plus year journey the crew will learn to trust you and the First Officer. That kind of trust is only earned and not commanded. So, we’ll need to work together to bring them on board with the building of the new colony. Your Chief Engineer will be invaluable when we start tearing this ship apart for building materials, so his inputs will be law as far as I’m concerned.”

    “I’ll see to it all three of us are there,” said the Captain, immediately liking the man in front of him.

    “How about we do lunch this afternoon?” asked Ben. “The four of us.”

    “I’d love to, but the Chief Engineer is running a complicated diagnostic on the main engines at the moment and it will probably take all day,” said the Captain. “Dinner tonight?”

    “I’ve got the other Directors coming out of stasis,” said Ben. “How about breakfast tomorrow?”

    “You’d be back on regular food by then as well,” said Mary.

    “Certainly,” said the Captain. “We’ll do it in my quarters if that’s okay. Less formal.”

    “I look forward to it,” said Ben. “What time?”

    “Say 0700,” said the Captain. “Would that be okay?”

    “Works for me,” said Ben.

    “I would love to be able to talk with you more individually, but I do need to be in engineering for the tests and First Officer Steele will have the conn,” said the Captain.

    “I wouldn’t want to hold you up,” said Ben. “Until later?”

    “Until then,” said the Captain as he shook Ben’s outstretched hand and departed.

    “He’s a good man,” said Mary after he left. “The ship’s crew loves him.”

    “Which is why I want him included in any planning,” said Ben.

    “You are far smarter than your file indicates,” said Mary.

    “Common sense,” said Ben. “He’ll earn the trust of the crew and I’ll be the new guy. Showing we can work together only helps us achieve our goal in the long run.”

    “Common sense is a vastly underrated skill,” said Mary. “You seem to have it down.”

    “Some of my counterparts would like to disagree,” he said with a chuckle.

    “Anyhow, your plans for the day?” she asked.

    “Getting caught up on the personnel rosters, the equipment listing and some of the basic data on the planet,” he stated. “I’d prefer not to go into the meeting without some knowledge.”

    “Smart,” said Mary. “Well, I need to get to sick bay even though there is a lack of things for me to do at the moment. But if you need anything, give me a yell.”

    “Will do,” said Ben with a polite smile as she departed. He managed to find his way back to his quarters and headed inside, getting the computer warmed up that hadn’t been used since it had been put on board. It connected with the onboard central computer and he started calling up the files he needed, though having to authenticate with the DNA based scanning system installed. He brought up the roster first and started scanning over them again, looking for the pieces he might have missed when he was on Earth reviewing them. However, after about a dozen, he saw there really wasn’t anything catching his eye at the moment and he moved on to the equipment listing that was safely stowed away. He was happy to find most of the items he requested had been procured and were on board. Continuing though the extensive lists, his stomach growled at him letting him know it was well past time to eat again and he headed back to the galley for lunch. The attendant passed him over the lemon flavored goop this time and Ben took it back to his quarters where he continued to peruse the files and determine what shortfalls they potentially could be facing.

    After he finished his lunch, he suddenly felt a little tired. He rubbed at his eyes and realized he wasn’t completely over the stasis aftereffects yet and determined a nap might be in order before the remainder of the group were woken up. He headed over to the bed and removed the boots he had on and laid down for a quick nap, setting the small alarm clock for 1600 just in case the short nap took a little longer than planned. By the time he rolled back over onto his back, he was out like a light.
     
    squiddley, rle737ng, techsar and 2 others like this.
  9. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 8


    Ben wandered into the medical bay and found Mary was already getting her team ready to bring the command group out of stasis. Each person had a designated med tech that would monitor them and Mary would supervise the entire process. They entered the proper commands on the stasis machines and watched as the process of waking the individuals started and monitored the vital signs as the process got underway.

    “Did you have a nice nap?” asked Mary as she breezed by Ben.

    “How did you know?” he asked.

    “I stopped by to check on you,” she replied. “And since I didn’t get an answer at your door, I opened it up and found you snoozing away.”

    “Normally, I’m a light sleeper,” said Ben. “I didn’t wake up?”

    “Nope, but you did roll over and stop snoring when I suggested it,” she giggled.

    “I don’t snore!” he objected.

    “Oh, yes you do,” she said with a grin.

    “And I rolled over when you told me to?” he asked.

    “Didn’t even wake up, but rolled right over and kept on sleeping,” she grinned.

    “Amazing,” he laughed. “I have been meaning to tell you something.”

    “Oh?” she asked.

    “I think I might have hurt my wrists a little more than I let on yesterday,” he stated.

    “Come on over and let’s have a look,” she stated and got the small scanner ready. He put his wrists out as instructed and she had a look at the monitor. “A little bruising on the interior, but other than being a little painful, nothing to worry about. Nothing broken or sprained that I can tell. But if you want, I’ve got some pain relivers.”

    “Nothing serious,” he stated.

    “Nah, just good old garden variety sodium naproxen,” she stated and grabbed a bottle from the desk. She gave him two and he grabbed a cup of water from the nearby faucet to wash them down. The stasis machines beeped every once in a while, letting the med techs know the criteria for certain stages of revival had been met and they continued annotating the data. Tasha seemed to be coming out faster than the others as Mary went over to take a look.

    “She’s coming up nicely,” said Mary as she checked on Tasha. “It’s always nice to have people that are in good shape go into stasis. Makes the waking up easier.”

    “Can she hear us yet?” asked Ben.

    “No, a couple more minutes,” said Mary. “And in the meantime, I want to check you.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” said Ben as he took a seat where she nodded at. She attached a monitor to his upper arm and checked the stats coming from the device.

    “Looking pretty normal,” said Mary. “But give it another 24 hours before any strenuous activity just to be safe.”

    “No marathons or obstacle courses?” he asked with a grin. “Bummer.”

    “None to be had on this tub,” chuckled the doctor. “Otherwise, you’re as fit as a fiddle.”

    “Sounds good,” said Ben as he heard a groan from Tasha.

    “Ms. Hayden, can you hear me?” asked Mary as she went over to the bed.

    “Where am I?” asked Tasha.

    “You’re on board the Santa Maria coming out of stasis,” said Mary. “Don’t open your eyes.”

    “You get the unit identifier?” she drawled.

    “Of the tank that ran you over?” asked Ben as he came to the bed and the lights dimmed.

    “Colonel?” asked Tasha.

    “Yep, listen to the doctor,” said Ben as he saw Mary cleaning her eyes and helping her into a sitting position. She managed to get her eyes open on the first try unlike Ben.

    “Everything is blurry,” said Tasha in a drawl.

    “Give it a few minutes,” said Mary. “You haven’t used your eyes for eighteen months.”

    “Right,” said Tasha as she rubbed at them. “And it’s dark.”

    “As in you’re seeing darkness?” asked Mary, suddenly very concerned.

    “No, as in the lights aren’t on,” said Tasha.

    “Yes, we dimmed them,” said Mary, relieved the stasis blindness hadn’t occurred and wouldn’t need to be treated. “We’ll bring them up slowly as your eyes adjust.”

    “I feel like hell,” said Tasha.

    “That’s normal,” said Ben.

    “And how come you’re so chipper?” she asked with a yawn.

    “Because I went through this yesterday,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “Apparently, misery doesn’t love company,” said Tasha as Mary continually checked her biometric data and went through the same routine she had gone through with Ben the day before. Eventually she was walking and talking somewhat normally and had the same food Ben had the day before and that morning.

    “I really don’t like oatmeal,” said Tasha with a wrinkled nose.

    “How about vanilla?” asked Mary.

    “Vanilla is okay,” said Tasha as she took several sips of water to clear the taste from her mouth. Mary retrieved a different tasting version of the meal and provided it to her.

    “Better?” asked Mary.

    “Marginally,” said Tasha. “Still have this God-awful taste in my mouth.”

    “That’ll pass in a couple of hours,” said Mary. “Looking very good.”

    “Did something happen to wake us up early?” asked Tasha as she took a sip of water.

    “No, they will wake us every year to receive updates on the planet,” said Ben.

    “Right,” said Tasha as Mary went over to another person emerging from stasis, the chief engineer who would be responsible for overseeing the construction of the new colony. There were four others also being woken up, the science team leader, the senior astrophysicist, the services and infrastructure chief and the senior agricultural specialist. Mary requested help from the additional medical personnel as having several people coming out at the same time was somewhat challenging. There were two other doctors present on the ship and they responded as well to assist. Eventually all six personnel were awake and getting tested.

    “All good, no signs of any problems, no stasis blindness,” said Mary as she checked the charts. “Everything is going great.”

    “What’s this stasis blindness?” asked Ben.

    “It’s caused by not using your eyes for a long time,” said Mary. “Basically, your brain shuts them off and has to be ‘told’ to start them back up. It’s an easy procedure but can lead to permanent blindness if not treated within ten minutes of regaining consciousness.”

    “Right,” said Ben. “Just a curious question, but you didn’t wake the senior medical officer.”

    “Because she doesn’t need to be woken up,” said Mary.

    “Oh?” asked Ben.

    “You’re looking at her,” said Mary.

    “You’re going to be my senior doctor?” asked Ben.

    “You have a problem with that?” asked Mary defensively.

    “No!” exclaimed Ben. “I was just told all the senior staff would be in stasis. I know you were listed as the head medical officer, but I didn’t know if something changed.”

    “Which I was originally going to be put under,” said Mary. “However, I convinced the corporate leadership I needed to thoroughly evaluate the data coming from the new planet in order to make preparations for the colonists when we arrived. And that takes a lot more time than I’d have being woken up every year. So, I became the ship’s chief surgeon as well as your senior doctor.”

    “I understand,” said Ben. “I wasn’t implying anything.”

    “No, I just know several people have doubted my qualifications since I’m younger,” said Mary with a sigh. “I’m sorry I assumed you might be one of them.”

    “Furthest thing from my mind,” said Ben with a smile.

    “The good thing about having a healthy ship’s crew is the fact it gives me a lot of time to study on things I haven’t done before we get there,” she said. “The bad thing is I’m probably not going to be able to practice anything until we arrive.”

    “The knowledge will be there though,” said Ben.

    “Can’t ever stop learning,” said Mary with a knowing smile. “Anyway, want to help get some of these folks to their quarters?”

    “Sure,” said Ben. “What do I need to do?”

    “Make sure they don’t overdo it like I did with you,” said Mary. “Ms. Hayden seems to know you, so it’d be best if you escorted her to her quarters and made her go to sleep.”

    “She would prefer it if you call her Tasha,” said Ben.

    “You know her that well?” asked Mary.

    “We’ve been together a long time,” said Ben.

    “Are you…involved?” asked Mary.

    “No,” said Ben who had the question asked plenty of times. “I’ve had her under my wing since she was just a young Private. More like a little sister than anything.”

    “This little sister can still beat your ass,” said Tasha from across the room.

    “I see her hearing is coming back strong,” chuckled Ben.

    “I heard that,” said Tasha.

    “You’re really in no condition to be beating anyone,” said Mary with a grin. “But I think the biomed pack can come off.”

    Mary managed to get the item detached without having to remove her shirt, though Tasha pulled it up slightly to look at her midsection after it was removed.

    “That’s great!” she remarked.

    “What’s great?” asked Mary.

    “I still have my abs,” said Tasha. “And I think they’re even more defined than before.”

    “One of the benefits of stasis is the chamber continually works your muscles,” said Mary. “Your muscle tone will be more defined each time you come out.”

    “So, by the time we arrive, I’ll be all buff with a rock-hard set of abs?” asked Tasha with a grin.

    “You’re already pretty toned up as it is,” laughed Mary. “You might gain a small percentage of increased muscle mass, but overall, your body will be in good shape when we arrive.”

    “Doesn’t seem so bad now,” said Tasha.

    “Okay, you can head to your quarters,” said Mary as she went through the same spiel as she had with Ben about not overdoing it and getting plenty of rest that night. She handed over the emergency transmitter to Ben with the instructions to put it close. The pair departed towards her quarters which were somewhat close to Ben’s, though a few doors down. As before, they stopped at the window both as a rest period and to allow Tasha the opportunity to see outside the ship. She remarked the same things he had the day before and eventually they moved to her quarters. She swiped her hand at the console which quickly read her palm and DNA and opened the door. Much like Ben had the day before, she saw her personal baggage had been delivered.

    “One more thing before you go to sleep,” said Ben.

    “I just woke up,” said Tasha. “Though I do feel tired.”

    “You need sleep, trust me,” said Ben. “I thought the same thing yesterday.”

    “Okay, I trust you,” said Tasha. “But that one more thing?”

    “Shower,” said Ben.

    “You mean I’m not all rosy smelling right now?” asked Tasha with a tired grin.

    “Bathroom is right over there,” said Ben with a nod of his head.

    “If you insist,” said Tasha with a laugh. “One thing I wasn’t able to do before we left.”

    “What’s that?” asked Ben.

    “Thanks,” said Tasha. “Asking me along really means a lot.”

    “You’ve been a trusted sidekick for fifteen years,” said Ben. “There was no way I was leaving you behind even if I had to knock you out and drag you on board.”

    “Our planet is dying,” said Tasha. “While I likely would have survived to be a cranky old woman, this certainly gives me the opportunity to do it in peace.”

    “Hopefully so,” said Ben. “Here’s the emergency transmitter in case you have problems tonight. Just hit the button and the med folks will respond.”

    “Okay, shower and bed,” said Tasha. “Night.”

    “See you tomorrow,” said Ben as he departed and the door closed behind him. Checking his watch, his stomach growled letting him know he hadn’t eaten dinner yet and started towards the galley. As he headed into the hallway, he was met by Mary who had deposited the chief scientist in his quarters.

    “Heading for the galley?” she asked as she made sure the door was shut behind her.

    “I was,” said Ben. “More wonderful goop.”

    “I think you’re ready for something more substantial,” said Mary. “Mind if I join you?”

    “Not a problem at all,” said Ben as they traversed the various pathways and corridors before arriving at the mess facility of the ship. There weren’t many of the ship’s crew inside at the moment so getting to the head of the line was quick.

    “Anything special tonight, Commander?” asked the mess attendant.

    “What’s on the menu?” asked Ben.

    “We can whip about anything up you desire with the food generators,” said the attendant.

    “But not to overdo it,” suggested Mary from his side.

    “How about chicken?” asked Ben.

    “Chicken should be fine,” said Mary.

    “Chicken parmesan even?” asked Ben.

    “That sounds delicious!” said Mary in a small exclamation. “Make it two and mine with garlic bread and a garden salad on the side.”

    “Noodles on the side or under?” asked the attendant.

    “I shouldn’t,” said Mary.

    “Make it two of the same,” said Ben.

    “I’m not sure about the noodles,” said Mary. “I’ll have to run twenty kilometers trying to work it off. It will destroy what figure I have.”

    “Yeah, you’re really fat to begin with,” chuckled Ben.

    “You have stasis to keep you in shape over the next six years,” said Mary. “I have to earn mine the old-fashioned way.”

    “So, no noodles?” asked the attendant.

    “On the side,” said Mary with a chuckle. “Twist my arm and all.”

    It took several minutes for the food generator to create the dish, but it came out looking and smelling great. They placed the items on a tray and picked up a glass of water before finding a table and sitting down. Ben tried to be proper, but after eighteen months in stasis and surviving on the goop for the past day, he attacked the plate like it was his last meal.

    “Hungry?” asked Mary with a chuckle and was eating at a more sedate pace.

    “You ever try living on that stuff you’ve been feeding me?” he asked between bites.

    “Actually, I have,” said Mary. “I did my residency at the Ganymede Lambda colony and it came under attack by the separatists. We were under siege for almost three months and only had the goop for about six weeks until we were relieved.”

    “Oh,” said Ben. “Wait, was that in ‘16?”

    “It was,” said Mary.

    “I was commanding a battalion that was on the relief force,” said Ben.

    “You were?” she asked.

    “Yeah, we weren’t in the hospital sector originally, but a good friend of mine was commanding that unit. He died trying to break through the siege defenses,” said Ben. “I went in and took over both units and broke through before the separatists fell back to the hospital itself.”

    “Wow, small galaxy,” said Mary. “And a very belated thank you.”

    “Tasha was there too,” said Ben. “I think she was one of the first to enter the hospital.”

    “Really?” asked Mary. “I seem to recall a woman making contact with the senior staff. I never met her, but I do recall seeing her and the unit when they came in.”

    “That was probably her,” said Ben.

    “I’ll thank her tomorrow,” said Mary as she finished up her plate. “And thank you again.”

    “She did the heavy lifting on that one,” said Ben.

    “You think very highly of her, don’t you?” asked Mary.

    “Our chances of surviving a hostile encounter probably doubled when she came on board,” said Ben. “I’ve always looked out for her and made sure nobody screwed with her during her career. Adopted her might be an appropriate analogy to use. But she’s always been as good or better than anyone out there. I’ve guided her, but she’s earned her own way.”

    “We all could use a mentor like you,” said Mary.

    “Well, for better or worse, you’ve all got me now,” said Ben with a laugh.

    “That’s true,” said Mary with a laugh. “Dessert?”

    “May I?” he asked.

    “Sure, but none for me, thank you,” said Mary. Ben went back to the counter to find out what might be available and learned “anything you want” tended to be the menu of the day. However, he learned his position was granting him special dining privileges that all the section heads had. He picked something simple, apple pie, as a dessert and skipped the ice cream the attendant wanted to put on top. Returning to the table, he also brought two cups of coffee for the two of them and plopped down in the seat.

    “You sure you don’t want any dessert?” he asked.

    “I shouldn’t,” said Mary as she sipped at the coffee.

    “You’re making me feel like a glutton,” he chuckled.

    “Yeah, you’re in horrid shape,” she laughed and looked him over. “In far better shape than most 42 year old men I know.”

    “And how many do you know?” he asked with a grin.

    “Not many,” she grinned. “So, consider yourself in a semi-exclusive club.”

    “Right,” he chuckled and noticed she kept looking at the pie. He got his unused spoon and broke off a piece and handed it over.

    “You’re trying to make me fat,” she laughed, but took the piece.

    “Yeah, bet you have to upsize your scrubs in the next hour,” he laughed. “You’ll be fine.”

    “More running,” she sighed, but gave an appreciative “mmm” at the piece of pie.

    “Is my company not worth it?” he asked.

    “Honestly, I should get to know you better,” she remarked. “Being the leader of the colony and all. I shouldn’t be a stranger when we arrive.”

    “You’ve already seen me without my shirt on,” he grinned. “It’s all downhill from there.”

    “Very true,” she laughed. “What else would I need to know?”

    Ben spent the next few minutes detailing his career and former retirement on Mars as he finished up the pie. Eventually, he came to the present day, more or less. “So, when the Novus Group came to pay me a visit, I was finding retirement really boring and wanted something new. While I was pretty shocked they wanted me to run the place in the beginning, it was a challenge I couldn’t turn down.”

    “Why did you retire in the first place?” she asked.

    “Got tired of getting shot at in some Godforsaken places over some stupid principle or other,” he stated. “I had General’s stars offered to me, but I didn’t believe in the causes anymore.”

    “You could have advised,” she remarked. “Been behind the scenes and not in the action.”

    “It was the principle behind it all,” said Ben. “I saw where we were heading as a species and knew I didn’t want to be involved in us destroying ourselves any longer. I saw enough death and destruction to fill three lifetimes and just reached my limit. I had to quit before it burned me up.”

    “Well, I, for one, am glad to have you,” she observed.

    “Why is that?” he asked.

    “I knew a little bit about you from your personnel file and military records,” said Mary. “First off, you’re good in a crisis from what I can tell. Second, the people that have worked for you believe in whatever you believe in. And last, you seem like you believe in what we are doing here; the fresh start for us all.”

    “I do,” said Ben.

    “I’d rather have a leader that believes in the cause than one that was here for money or power,” she remarked. “You don’t seem like the power-hungry type, so that’s a feather in your cap.”

    “Furthest from it,” he stated.

    “So, knowing you believe in the cause will help motivate others to believe as well,” said Mary. “When it comes down to it, we are creating a new world for our species. Hopefully, we leave behind the garbage from the past and move towards a brighter future.”

    “Certainly is something to strive for,” said Ben.

    “Truly Novae Spes,” she stated.

    “I’m sorry?” he asked.

    “You do know what Novae Spes means, right?” she asked.

    “My Latin is rusty,” he admitted.

    “Loosely translated, it means ‘new hope.’ Certainly, a new hope for our species,” she stated. “Terra Novae Spes, the land of new hope.”

    “Very fitting,” he remarked after a brief pause.

    “Very much so,” said Mary with a smile and saw a brief moment of confusion on his face. “You did know that’s what we informally named the planet, right?”

    “No, I didn’t know they named it,” said Ben.

    “Plenty of names were tossed around and even a corny one or two,” said Mary. “The Corporate guys finally decided on something unique as the planet we’re heading to.”

    “The land of new hope does sound nice,” said Ben.

    “Like a vacation guide,” she grinned at him.

    “Well, you know about me,” he said and sat back. “Now, how about you?”

    “Me? I’m just a boring regular doctor,” she said and sipped at the coffee.

    “There’s always a story to tell,” he prompted. She smiled and went through a brief explanation of her life and career.

    “Parents?” he asked.

    “Killed in the Miami Bombing,” she stated. “Only child as well.”

    “It seems like most of the people here have no ties left behind,” said Ben.

    “Easier to start over,” said Mary. “We’ve all lost someone significant and been impacted by the violence we’ve all seen. It gives us drive to avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.”

    “Certainly does,” he said and finished off his coffee. “Well, Mary, I have to say, this has been a completely awesome evening and I’ve very much enjoyed your company.”

    “And you too, Ben,” she said with a smile.

    “Maybe we’ll make this a yearly date,” he grinned.

    “Maybe so,” she replied. “But I’ll just get older while you’ll stay the same age.”

    “Will I?” he asked.

    “You’ll age the equivalent of a week in the seven year trip while in stasis,” she replied. “Me? I’ll get old and fat in the meantime.”

    “I doubt that,” he laughed. “You’ve got a good figure as it is, not much work to keep it.”

    “More than you think,” she replied with a grin. “So, I’ll just have to keep working at it.”

    “Not as much as you’d think,” he stated.

    “Well, I thank you for the compliment,” she said with a shy smile.

    “Anyhow,” said Ben. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

    “Of course,” she replied. “I’m involved in your planning as well.”

    “Ah, yes,” he stated. “What time is the briefing anyway?”

    “You haven’t set it yet,” she replied.

    “Yeah, about that,” he chuckled. “0830 sounds about right. Where’s this conference room?”

    “I’ll show you,” she replied and stood to leave. They walked a short distance to what appeared to be a larger recreation room. Some of the ship’s crew were relaxing or playing games.

    “Is this a rec room?” asked Ben.

    “Doubles as a large conference room,” said Mary.

    “Is the Captain still about?” he asked.

    “I’m sure I can find him,” said Mary as she went to a wall communicator and requested him on the internal channel. It didn’t take long for the ship’s systems to find his tracker and repeat the announcement through the nearest wall communicator.

    “Hi Doctor,” said the Captain through the intercom. “Is there a problem?”

    “No, Captain, it’s Ben,” said Ben. “I wanted to talk over the briefing room situation.”

    “I’m a couple of minutes away,” said the Captain. “Be right there.”

    “Okay,” said Ben as he signed off the system.

    “Problem?” asked Mary.

    “Yeah, I can’t have the crew give up their rec room for a week for us to run our mouths,” said Ben. “There has to be another location.”

    “Part of that teamwork thing?” she asked.

    “Very much so,” said Ben as they waited for the Captain. He didn’t take long to arrive as Ben explained the predicament.

    “I wanted the best for you guys,” said the Captain. “The crew understands.”

    “I’d rather not take something away from them even for a short period of time,” said Ben.

    “We do have some empty quarters we could convert in the meantime,” said the Captain.

    “If it’s not too much trouble,” said Ben.

    “I’ll see to it,” said the Captain. “And the crew will appreciate it.”

    “I do thank you,” said Ben. “See you in the morning.”

    “I’ll have a crew work on converting something tonight,” said the Captain.

    “Thanks,” said Ben as the Captain departed to find a work gang to convert some of the modular compartments into a briefing room. It wasn’t a hard task, but they would have to work quickly to get it done in time. Ben and Mary started heading back towards the quarters area and they arrived at his quarters.

    “I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow as well,” said Ben.

    “At 0830,” said Mary.

    “Good night,” said Ben.

    “And a good night to you, Commander,” said Mary as she departed.
     
    squiddley, rle737ng, techsar and 2 others like this.
  10. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 9


    Ben had completed his breakfast and meet and greet with the Captain, First Officer and Chief Engineer of the Santa Maria and was heading back to his quarters to gather his notes when he decided to swing by the medical bay and check on the others. Upon arriving, he saw Mary was giving the last two Directors a clean bill of health as well as “not to overdo it” and stick to the strict diet of goop until further notice. Ben politely nodded at Rachelle Marchand as she hopped off the scanner and headed towards her quarters to shower and change for the day.

    “Well?” he asked.

    “Everyone’s perfectly fine,” said Mary. “They are all clear to meet this morning.”

    “I’m more than fine,” said the Director of Engineering, a man named Grady Stafford as he tucked in his t-shirt. “The stasis is helping get rid of the flab I was carrying around.”

    “Told you,” said Mary with a slight grin as Ben introduced himself.

    “Ben Nash,” he said as he held out his hand.

    “Grady Stafford, Chief Engineer,” said Grady as he accepted the handshake with strong hands.

    “I got the chance to look over your file,” said Ben. “Impressive to say the least.”

    “I’ve been there and done that a few times,” said Grady. “You?”

    “Just an old military Colonel looking to get through this,” said Ben who knew it was likely the man had poked through his file as well.

    “Interesting place we’re heading to,” said Grady.

    “Very much so,” said Ben.

    “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll need to get my crayons and paper before the meeting,” said Grady.

    “See you in about a half hour,” said Ben with a polite nod as the man departed.

    “Like I said, everyone is in tiptop shape,” said Mary.

    “Good,” said Ben. “Anything else?”

    “No, I need to prepare myself if that’s okay,” said Mary.

    “See you in a half hour,” said Ben as he wandered back to his quarters. He saw the communicator they had given all the Directors buzz with directions into the conference area where they would be meeting and saw each respond to the message in turn. He responded himself as he got to his quarters and grabbed the few items he felt would be needed before heading that way, hopefully to be the first to arrive. However, he saw he had been beaten to the punch by Tasha who was already sitting at the table.

    “I used to say fifteen minutes early was on time,” said Ben. “This is stretching it.”

    “So, I’m twenty minutes early,” she stated. “Bust me for overachieving.”

    “Everything go okay?” he asked.

    “Yeah, after the shower, I was out like a light,” she remarked. “Funny that I slept for over a year and I needed a few more hours of sleep afterwards.”

    “I think a nap this afternoon might be needed as well,” said Ben.

    “Well, some of us aren’t as old are you and won’t need a nap,” she replied with a grin.

    “Uh huh,” he said. “You’re still recovering from stasis which means I could take you down far easier at the moment.”

    “Whenever you’re feeling froggy, you just jump,” she stated.

    “I’d prefer none of you do much jumping,” said Mary as she strolled in and found seating at the table along with the Assistant Director of the Science Team and Grady. They were quickly followed by the Captain, First Officer, Chief Engineer and Rachelle Marchand.

    “Okay, we’re missing…” said Ben as he looked around.

    “Me for one,” said Kurt Sweeney as he breezed in. “Apologies.”

    “Technically, you’re still early,” said Ben.

    “Don’t like to be the last to arrive,” said Kurt.

    “And you aren’t,” said Doctor Angeline Weber, the Assistant Director of the Science Team.

    They waited patiently for another minute until Doctor Javier Santiago popped into the room.

    “My apologies!” he exclaimed. “I got turned around. It’s a big ship.”

    “Looks like we have everyone here,” said Ben as they all were seated and looking at each other curiously.

    “Okay, before we begin, let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves for those that might not know each other,” said Ben. “I’m Benjamin Nash, going to be the leader of the colony. I prefer to go by Ben especially in informal environments like this. I was either in the military or a security contractor for just over 25 years until I retired. The Novus Group recruited me right out of retirement for this mission and I have to say I’m glad to be here.”

    The others nodded at him before moving to the individual next to him, the ship’s Captain.

    “I’m Allen Smith, Captain of the Santa Maria,” he stated. “I’ve been serving with the Novus Group Fleet for going on 19 years and worked my way up from engineering mate to navigator to eventually commanding two ships prior to this. Being this is my last command, I guess I’m going to see what retirement on Novae Spes is all about.”

    The group chuckled at his retirement comments before moving on clockwise around the table.

    “I’m Doctor Angeline Weber, the senior astrophysicist,” said the woman in her mid-40s. “I was chosen because I helped create the profiles on the probes sent out by the Novus Group and will be assisting the science section when I’m not studying the local stellar environment. My team will also double as the meteorology section in hopefully predicting the weather.”

    “Hello, my name is Charity Steele, First Officer of the Santa Maria,” said the next woman. “I’ve literally lived almost my whole life on ships as I was born on an old solar system cargo freighter and grew up on them. I went to the North American Naval and Space Academy and did my mandatory four-year hitch before going into commercial service with the Novus Group. I’ve served with Captain Smith for the past five years and was promoted to his First Officer for this mission.”

    “I’m Tasha Hayden, Chief of Security for when we reach the planet,” said Tasha. “I’ve served in various militaries and corporate security billets for the past 15 years and generally under Commander Nash’s command. I originally enlisted, but got my commission and degree with the North American Military Academy before getting recruited to come here.”

    “And what’s your salutation?” asked Javier from the other side of the table.

    “My salutation?” asked Tasha.

    “Doctor? Colonel?” asked Javier.

    “I…was a Major,” said Tasha. “I guess it still applies. I don’t know.”

    “She’ll be a Field Marshal by the time she makes up her mind,” said Ben as the others chuckled. “You can keep the rank of Major for the moment if you like.”

    “Works for me,” said Tasha as she turned to the next person.

    “Hello, I’m Doctor Mary Blevins, Chief Medical Officer and currently ship’s surgeon,” said Mary. “I received my Doctorate from Johns Hopkins Medical and did my residency in a real bad part of Ganymede before moving back to Earth. I worked at Roanoke General, St. Joseph in Denver and had just been promoted to assistant chief of internal medicine at Atlanta Memorial when I was recruited.”

    “Hey guys,” said the next man at the table. “I’m Grady Stafford and I’ll be the chief engineer for colony construction when we arrive. I’ve got almost 30 years in the construction business and helped set up colonies on five different worlds. I don’t have any fancy doctorates or anything, but do have a triple Masters in Mechanical, Electrical and Structural Engineering. I don’t have a salutation either, but everyone calls me Chief.”

    “Except my folks for the moment,” said the next man. “I’m Cyrus Hendrix and I’m the Chief Engineer on the Santa Maria. Like Captain Smith, I’ve served on various ships for the past twenty years in the Novus Group Fleet and in various engineering capacities. I helped build the Santa Maria from the frame up and know every nut and bolt on this ship. If you have a problem with a shipboard system while you’re out of stasis, I’m the man to see.”

    “Hello everyone,” said the next man with a slight accent. “I’m Doctor Javier Santiago, the Science Team Director. I have a double doctorate in Astrobiology and Biochemistry from Stanford and MIT, but I’m originally from Columbia if you didn’t notice my accent. I’ve studied extraterrestrial life from three planets along with extensive studies of the Terran species including those that are extinct.”

    “I’m Doctor Kurt Sweeney, senior agricultural specialist,” said the next man. “I got my doctorate from Oklahoma State University and have nearly twenty years of field experience in coaxing things to grow on other planets as well as the Earth. Once we arrive, I’ll be helping establish the farms which will feed us as well as helping the science teams identify some tasty stuff from the new planet to hopefully further supplement our food supply.”

    “Last, but certainly not least,” said Ben as he nodded at the last occupant of the table.

    “Hello, I’m Rachelle Marchand and I’ll be the Chief of Services and Infrastructure,” said the woman. “I think I’m about the youngest person here at 31 and don’t have a doctorate. I do have a Master’s Degree in Systems Engineering and another in Software Engineering. I have fifteen years of experience in designing and maintaining infrastructure systems and designed the upgrade to the Mars Olympus colony systems.”

    “Fifteen years?” asked Grady. “You said you are 31.”

    “I graduated from Cornell when I was 15, one of those whiz kids that was taking high school classes in kindergarten,” she replied.

    “Oh, smarty pants?” asked Grady.

    “Very much so,” laughed Rachelle. “I’ll be keeping the infrastructure running in the colony as well as overseeing the food distribution.”

    “So, is it Rachel or Ray-shell?” asked Ben.

    “Raa-shell, please,” she replied. “But I’ll probably answer to both just in case.”

    “How about lunch lady?” asked Ben as he scribbled something on a tablet.

    “Will not answer to lunch lady,” she laughed. “Regardless of how accurate it might be.”

    The group laughed as they at least had gotten introductions out of the way. Tasha had helped out in writing everyone’s names on paper as they went around the table and passed them around when she was complete.

    “I’m horrible with names,” she explained as she folded hers and set it in front of her on the table. “It can’t hurt.”

    “No, something I should have thought of to start with,” said Ben. “Good idea.”

    The remainder of the group agreed and the two scientists that had yet to speak went to the front of the room and got the computer screen started.

    “Hello, I’m Doctor James Kirk, the primary investigator for the new planet. Call me Jim, though,” said the gray-haired scientist. “But, please, no jokes. I’ve heard them all.”

    “Heard what jokes?” asked Angeline Weber.

    “You know; my name,” he grinned.

    “I don’t get it,” said Rachelle Marchand.

    “You know? James Kirk?” he asked with the same silly grin. “Star Trek?”

    “Not ringing a bell,” said Kurt Sweeney.

    “The old movies? Star Trek? Captain of the Enterprise?” he asked and wore the same grin.

    “You mean the old North American Carrier, the Enterprise?” asked Captain Smith. “I don’t remember there being a Captain Kirk in charge though. Could be before my time.”

    “I…never mind,” said Kirk dejectedly as his assistant was motioning for him to move on.

    “Is this important?” asked Ben.

    “No, not at all,” said Kirk with a sigh. “I’m going to be giving you the planetary brief as well as letting you know what we’ve discovered so far.”

    “Wait a minute! You mean ‘Beam me up, Sparky’? Is that what you’re going on about?” asked Charity Steele.

    “Yes!” exclaimed Kirk. “Although it wasn’t Sparky.”

    “Oh, I never knew his name,” she replied. “Sorry for interrupting.”

    “It’s okay,” said Kirk with a sigh. “Anyway, planetary overview.”

    “This planet, which we’re calling Novae Spes, is in orbit around a main sequence G2V type star almost identical to Earth’s sun. Diameter of the star is about 1,000 kilometers less than our sun and age appears to be about the same as our sun. The orbit of Novae Spes is almost the same from the star and receives the same amount of sunlight and radiation. Novae Spes does have an active magnetosphere, so solar radiation isn’t a major concern at the moment.”

    “The planet itself is the fourth in orbit around the star and had a diameter of 12,642 kilometers, again, almost identical to Earth. The system has eleven total major planets none of which tidally affect Novae Spes. The planet does have three moons of varying size and we aren’t sure yet how they affect the tidal forces on the planet’s oceans. We should have better data on this by the later times we wake you up.”

    “When it comes to the major differences of the planet and Earth, it has a rotational period of 29 hours and 54 minutes Earth time for one complete revolution. So, a ‘day’ on this planet is significantly longer than a day on Earth. And so far, it appears the ‘year’ on this planet is equal to 392 Earth days. Or taking that long to complete a revolution around its star. It does appear to have seasonal differences and we have identified the four seasons,” said Kirk.

    “For those of us who might need a reminder?” asked Cyrus.

    “The four seasons we’ve identified in certain regions are spring, summer, autumn and winter,” said Kirk. “Obviously, this is greatly dependent on latitude and location, but global average temperature is 16 degrees Celsius. That’s an average, mind you, and varies greatly on location. I can expand on the meteorological data in depth on potential colony locations. It does have polar ice caps as well as islands under the ice in some places. There are four major continents with about a half-dozen subcontinents and major islands with water covering approximately 73% of the surface. Weather data and systems are remarkably similar to Earth’s weather and we’ve identified all the major and minor systems and storms Earth receives.”

    “To include dust storms?” asked Javier Santiago.

    “In some locations, yes,” said Kirk. “Desert areas and places like that.”

    “But not everywhere?” asked Ben.

    “No, certainly not,” said Kirk. “We’ve also identified geological activities that mirror the Earth such as volcanism and earthquakes, so there are those hazards to work around as well. There specifically is an island chain on one of the oceans that’s entirely composed of volcanoes that continually erupt and recover the landscape. Plate tectonics is happening, but we honestly don’t have good data on how much or how fast yet.”

    “What I can do is show a time lapse video of the planet’s rotation and give you an idea of the surface rather than tell you about it,” said Kirk as he brought up the picture and the group sat forward in their chairs to see their new home. The video started and the planet looked so much like the Earth of the 20th Century they were amazed. The continents were obviously different, but the overall similarities were striking. They had all seen photos before, but never a complete revolution of the planet to include seasonal changes as it completed its revolution around the sun.

    “So much green,” remarked Kurt Sweeney in a quiet voice.

    “Indeed,” said Javier Santiago. “And the oceans are beautiful.”

    “I’m more impressed by the ice and snow,” said Tasha.

    “I’ve only seen it in pictures,” said Javier with a nod. “On Earth at least.”

    “We’ve landed over two dozen probes at various locations on the planet as well as having a dozen in orbit monitoring different parts of the planet and ecosystem. These satellites and landers will help perform meteorological duties when you arrive and we have another dozen included in the cargo area to be launched when we arrive,” said Kirk. “Today, we’d like to discuss possible colony locations so we can direct the next set of landers into that area for a more in-depth study prior to our arrival.”

    “And those are?” asked Ben.

    “We have identified seven locations that could serve as a base for a new colony,” said Kirk. “Most are in the temperate zones with good rainfall and growing conditions as well as a good supply of natural resources. We’ve stuck to one continent in the northern hemisphere in particular, though we aren’t locked into that.”

    “Why the one continent?” asked Ben.

    “Climate for one,” said Kirk. “Abundance of building materials, raw ores and things like that.”

    “Okay, let’s see them,” said Ben.

    Kirk went through his minor briefing showing them the locations as well as where they were located on the planet before showing pictures from the lander craft as well as overhead shots from the orbiting probes. Each person watched as Kirk’s assistant handed out old style paper copies of the locations to each person at the table.

    “We tend to think the first three areas on those briefing folders would be the most ideal,” stated the assistant who hadn’t given his name. “Graded one to three.”

    “Why these three?” asked Ben.

    “A range of factors,” said the assistant. “Temperature levels, soil type and composition for future farms, seasonal changes, raw materials, locations of possible strategic minerals for later mining, enough water and rainfall to replenish the local rivers, lakes and streams, etcetera. But most importantly, ease of building as we’ll only have roughly a year to build for Expedition 2.”

    The group looked at the areas and each dived into their specific skill set to see whether or not it would be suitable for the needs of the colony or not. And each decided Kirk and his assistant had done their homework enough to discuss each place in depth.

    “Why not location seven?” asked Rachelle. “Why is it last?”

    “Soil factors and weather systems,” said Kirk. “But it has the potential to be a viable alternate site if the need arose.”

    “Yeah, I can see why you like it,” said Captain Smith. “It’s a tropical paradise.”

    “Growing season is longer, but it has an annual monsoon season as well,” said Kirk. “And the soil factors just aren’t ideal for growing many Terran based crops. Obviously, Doctor Sweeney would be helpful in that regard helping identify what could make them grow.”

    “But sure is pretty,” said Tasha.

    “Yes, it is,” said Kirk. “And the temperatures are high enough year round to where cold weather would never be a problem.”

    “Maybe set up a vacation spot?” asked Tasha with a twinkle in her eye. “Little spot of paradise to relax away from the daily grind of the colony.”

    “I like that idea,” said Rachelle.

    “And I’m trying to figure out who picked you jokers,” said Ben, bringing the idea to a screeching halt. “Let’s focus on the first few, then decide to establish Paradise Colony afterwards.”

    “Just that it’s not far from your mind,” said Tasha with another grin.

    “In seriousness, I will say I don’t care for spot three and prefer spot four instead,” said Grady.

    “They were close,” said Kirk. “Spot three has slightly better environmental conditions for crop growing and water supply.”

    “But no real area for minerals or timber,” said Grady. “At least not in the quantities we’d need to establish a colony starting off.”

    “True,” said Kirk. “But spot four would have to be cleared more to establish your colony.”

    “Which also gives us additional raw materials,” said Grady. “And what are the main differences in spot one and four?”

    “Again, the aforementioned clearing of the area and the rainfall isn’t as abundant in spot four as it is in spot one,” said the assistant. “Think of spot four as being mid 20th Century Colorado and spot one as being Middle Tennessee. Far drier summers in location four.”

    “I don’t mind spot two since it’s on the coast,” said Grady. “But that could present problems as well.”

    “Yes, the ocean storms tend to be just as large and vicious as Earth hurricanes which could cause major problems with an early settlement,” said Kirk.

    “But it looks that everything else is ideal,” said Angeline Weber.

    “Yes, save for the weather patterns, it is ideal,” said Kirk.

    “Which weather can have a huge impact,” said Ben. “I’d prefer not to get washed away in the first year because a hurricane took out the settlement. However, as we expand and get later Expeditions in, it does appear to be a viable secondary settlement.”

    “So, we are thinking of focusing on location one?” asked Grady.

    “It looks promising,” said Ben. “Any objections to discussing it?”

    Nobody said anything and the discussion was had in a variety of areas that might impact the new colony as they started it up. But eventually, Ben saw the group was leaning that way. However, he wanted to keep all options open and brought up another point.

    “So, we haven’t discussed spot five or six,” he said after the discussion died down a bit.

    “I looked at them,” said Javier. “Five looks similar to the Pacific Northwest in North America. Or the way it used to look. But I’d almost say there is too much rainfall.”

    “Good for the trees, not so good for crops,” said Kurt. “More water, but less sunlight.”

    “Six is the most fertile with the most watershed,” said Angeline. “But with increased latitudes, the growing seasons are shorter and they have some pretty major snows in the winter.”

    “Equal to?” asked Ben.

    “Probably what Wisconsin or Ontario was,” said Kurt.

    “Yeah, that got cold,” said Ben. “So, location one it is?”

    “I can’t think of any other location they’ve scouted that serves all our needs,” said Javier.

    “I agree,” said Angeline. “I’m not as versed in Earth Sciences as some of my counterparts, but from what it looks like, the terrain is easy to negotiate even with the nearby mountain chain, the vegetation looks easy enough to clear and soil factors are good. Good rainfall and watershed areas…this looks ideal.”

    “Anyone disagree?” asked Ben. Nobody answered and he moved the meeting on. “Let’s discuss this specific location as well as the plant and animal life.”

    “If you would sir,” said Kirk. “We have a pretty good idea of the local vegetation as well as the local wildlife we can show you.”

    “Please,” said Ben as the screen changed and Kirk entered into his briefing, discussing the various animals they had photographed and what animals on Earth they were similar to. The problem was the scientist was getting a little too in depth for Ben’s tastes as he showed the different discoveries. Tasha took notice of this and tried to bring the conversation back into terms everyone could understand.

    “It does appear like this animal might be considered in the Macropus family on Earth,” said Kirk. “Striking similarities to the species Macropus Rufus in particular.”

    “Looks like a kangaroo,” remarked Tasha. “With feathers.”

    “Yes, that’s what the Macropus family is,” said Kirk.

    “Why didn’t you just say a feathered kangaroo?” she asked.

    “Because…it’s not really a feathered kangaroo,” said Kirk. “We haven’t been able to DNA type it yet, but I’m saying the creature looks like-”

    “A kangaroo,” said Tasha. “With feathers.”

    “Umm, yes,” said Kirk as he went to the next slide and a new creature appeared. “Now, this next animal is even more exciting as you can see. It looks like it could be related to the Hippopotamidae family back on Earth before they went extinct.”

    “Looks like a hippopotamus with a club tail,” said Ben.

    “Yes, that’s the species I was referring to,” said Kirk. “We haven’t seen them that often in the area we believe could make a good colony, but in the wetlands areas, they seem to be more prevalent just like the hippos were on Earth.”

    “Can we eat it?” asked Tasha.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Kirk.

    “Eat? You know, cook it up medium rare over an open flame or something?” she asked.

    “Uhh, again, we haven’t DNA typed it yet and honestly don’t know whether there might be toxins inside the body itself,” said Kirk.

    “Just wondering,” said Tasha. “I mean, we are going to grow crops and all, but it’d be nice to get some regular protein in our diets. So, just wondering if this hippo thing is edible.”

    “I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t know,” said Kirk.

    “Your loss,” said Tasha as Ben tried not to laugh and put his palm over his face. The others around the table tried to stifle their laughter as Kirk continued.

    “This is where it gets really exciting,” said Kirk as he wished the woman at the table wouldn’t ask so many questions and switched to the next picture.

    “It’s a damn dinosaur!” exclaimed Grady.

    “Yes, it does look extremely similar to the Apatosaurinae family on ancient Earth,” said Kirk. “You might know them more casually as the brontosaurus family.”

    “Wouldn’t it be closer to a Brachiosaurus, Doctor?” asked Tasha. “The elongated neck does tend to be more indicative of that family. Brontosaurus have shorter necks.”

    “Well, yes, but…” he stammered as suddenly he realized the security officer was far smarter than he gave her credit for originally. “Obviously, we would need more in-depth study, but I do believe you could be right and it’s closer to the Brachiosaurus genus.”

    “Interesting,” said Ben. “How many more creatures have you observed?”

    “At least three dozen species of land animals, between fifty and a hundred birdlike creatures, about a hundred insects and I have no idea on the amount of vegetation my counterpart has distinguished,” said Kirk. “One in particular seems to be almost an exact match for the Quercus rubra tree from Earth. The DNA typing is extremely close.”

    “I swear to all things holy, Doctor, if you use another Latin name I’m going to lose control,” said Ben as he glared at Kirk with a look that meant business.

    “It’s a red oak tree, sir,” said the other scientist. “Or what appears to look like it.”

    “If memory serves, that’s a pretty sturdy tree,” said Ben.

    “It is…was,” said the other scientist. “If the tree is similar, and by all indications it should be, you could be looking at an important building material for the new colony.”

    “You said you DNA typed it,” asked Grady. “How is that possible?”

    “The plant life is easier done,” said Kirk. “They tend not to move around so we can get a DNA sample far easier than animal life.”

    “Anything edible yet?” asked Ben.

    “A couple of fruits show promise,” said the second scientist. “No toxins at the moment, but the chemical makeup is different than anything we have on Earth so it’s not easy to compare.”

    “What about sea life? And the salinity of the ocean itself?” asked Ben.

    “Salinity for all we can tell is on par with Earth and other planets we’ve encountered oceans,” said Kirk. “As for sea creatures, we have yet to get a decent view on many of them. We’ve found them on sonar, but have yet to get any good photographs of them. But ranging in size from plankton like creatures up to a rather massive scale. Like twenty-five tons or so. Maybe even larger.”

    “That’s a big fish,” said Ben. “But no pictures?”

    “No, not yet,” said the second scientist. “Just sonar readings that give us some pretty detailed data, but they seem to know the probes are there and are avoiding them.”

    “Intelligent,” remarked Javier.

    “Very much so,” said the second scientist. “Any time something new moves into an area, the local ecosystem reacts in some way. Normally animals give it a wide berth. Same thing happened in the land areas we have probes in, but the animal population appears to have gotten used to it and have been coming closer.”

    “And the ocean water would be suitable for drinking?” asked Ben. “Provided we put up a desalinization plant?”

    “We have detected no significant pollution that would cause problems,” said the second scientist.

    “Any other dinosaur looking animals?” asked Ben.

    “Several in fact,” said Kirk. “Or large reptilian like creatures.”

    “Okay, explain this to me,” said Ben as he leaned forward onto the table. “It appears you have what we knew as the dinosaur era on Earth combined with what appears to be some modern day creatures and vegetation. Like the two eras are overlapping somehow. Idea?”

    “There possibly is an overlap on this world, sir,” said the second scientist. “If you remember Earth history, an asteroid helped bring along the extinction of the dinosaurs, the K-T Extinction. There is a possibility this planet never had such an event and the wildlife we see are part of an overlap of some kind. Smaller species are taking hold and the larger ones are dying off like it did in our own past.”

    “Provided Earth went through a megafauna stage where we had a lot of large mammals ruling the land, which we haven’t seen here to the extent we know it happened on Earth. However, we have some larger species. We haven’t seen a great amount of the ultra large species, but we have seen them often enough to see several different animals themselves. It’s quite possible we are looking at the beginning of a new evolutionary cycle on this planet.”

    “Anything remotely intelligent? Primates or that sort of thing?” asked Javier.

    “None that we have observed,” said the second scientist. “Doesn’t mean we just haven’t seen them yet, though.”

    “What about predators?” asked Tasha. The two scientists stopped and looked at each other before continuing.

    “Not that we’ve observed, but they’re there,” said the second scientist.

    “How can you tell?” asked Ben.

    “One of the landers was destroyed after being there for several days and sending back data,” said Kirk. “We have panoramic cameras on each of the landers and it didn’t detect the approach of a creature. A tree was seen falling on the probe and it later was destroyed. Sadly, the cameras were covered up.”

    “It wasn’t malfunctioning?” asked Ben.

    “No, the unit was continuing to buffer some data and pictures a short time after being knocked over. It ceased completely a short time after,” said Kirk.

    “Earthquake maybe?” asked Grady.

    “Nothing major registered and these units have seismographic sensors,” said Kirk. “There were some minor indications of a large animal prior to, but once the tree fell on it, nothing until it was destroyed. And unfortunately, the cameras were covered by the tree leaves.”

    “So, how are we certain it was destroyed?” asked Ben.

    “Because the systems went out several at a time, indicating they were being destroyed as if something was hitting the probe,” said Kirk. “That’s my assumption.”

    “Possible intelligence?” asked Ben.

    “Maybe,” said Kirk with a sigh. “We just don’t know.”

    “Where was it?” asked Ben. “In relation to the potential colony sites?”

    “About 400 kilometers from location one,” said Kirk. “Closer to location six.”

    “So, not necessarily close, but in the general area?” asked Ben.

    “Somewhat yes,” said Kirk. “The terrain is obviously different in that location, so it could be a regional animal.”

    “I don’t like guessing,” said Ben. “We need more information.”

    “We have twelve additional probes being sent,” said Kirk. “We could task one into that area for another look.”

    “Where were they heading originally?” asked Ben.

    “All were going to take advanced readings in the primary and secondary locations you selected as your settlements,” said Kirk. “Four to the primary and four to the alternate and two additional each for the next two spots.”

    “Re-task one of the alternate probes,” said Ben. “How far out are they?”

    “Three years,” said Kirk. “Earth years that is.”

    “At least we’ll get to sleep that away for the most part,” said Ben with a chuckle. “Okay, any other indications of predators or aggressive animals in the area?”

    “Any time you have a bunch of herbivores, you tend to have carnivores to even out the population,” said the second scientist. “Many of the animals we’ve seen are herbivores or that’s the meal of choice. But where’s there’s one type, you can safely assume there will be the other. Just because we haven’t seen any animals eating the others doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

    “But no specific type yet,” said Ben. “I’m not liking this at all.”

    “Neither am I,” said Tasha. “Some of the animals they’ve shown us are fairly large and it’d take a good-sized predator to take them down. You throw us into the mix and we aren’t exactly scary compared to the brachiosaurus.”

    “But we can protect ourselves,” said Javier.

    “We have the defensive capability?” asked Kurt. “For animals that large?”

    “We do or we should,” said Ben. “I took care of that personally.”

    “So, we have settled on location one?” asked Kirk.

    “I can’t think of a better place,” said Javier. “I think my counterparts agree.”

    Nods were seen around the table and Ben motioned Kirk to continue.

    “We’ll program the next set of landers to perform an in-depth study of that location. But we need to pick an alternate as a just in case measure,” said Kirk.

    “Spot two,” said Grady.

    “Defend your choice,” said Ben.

    “Natural resources, good soil conditions, reasonable weather minus the ocean storms and the oceans could be a good supply of food,” said Grady with Javier nodding his agreement.

    “Remember, we’re building for follow on,” said Javier. “We’ll need a steady food supply once the later Expeditions get there. This could serve as a good spot for an expanded colony even if we were to do the prep work to build in advance.”

    “Which wouldn’t be so bad if the storms washed out places we decided to build facilities,” said Cyrus. “We can always dig new building sites.”

    “Okay, it’s settled,” said Ben. “Next set of landers focuses on location one with additional surveys made of the other locations. As well as the single probe to the location we discussed earlier to take a look.”

    “We’ll send the necessary commands,” said Kirk.

    “Hold off on that just for the moment. I am correct in saying you have all the data collected over the time the probes have been there? A year, no?” asked Ben and received a nod. “I want to break us up into teams to study the data down to the last number.”

    “I’d like the following folks to divide up and study the data in your own fields. Doctors Blevins, Santiago and Weber will be one group with the emphasis on the biological and atmospheric data and the potential threats.”

    “Second team is Ms. Marchand and First Officer Steele. I want you two looking at potential threats to the infrastructure as well as hurdles in building said colony. As well as what it’s going to take to get us up and running with the daily schedules being that our bodies are used to a 24 hour day and night schedule. I’d get inputs from Doctor Blevins on that too.”

    “Third team is Chief Engineers Stafford and Hendrix as well as Doctor Sweeney. Again, threats facing production, building schedules to include food production and what will hurt us in the long run.”

    “Captain Smith, I’d like you to mediate between the group members if the need arises. We’re all professionals here, but we can get a bit passionate about our ideals. I’ll want you to keep the discussions civil without us breaking out into a fistfight.”

    “What I want here, folks, is a Red Team/Blue Team approach. I would like the pros and cons of each location brought to the table. Have one person be the devil’s advocate in either defending the idea or finding the negatives. We’ve got more brain power in this room than most places and I expect to see some good and bad ideas brought forward. Basically, I want everyone to agree the spot we choose is going to be the right place and we know the problems going in rather than trying to work on the fly. Questions?”

    “I didn’t get placed on a team,” said Tasha.

    “Because you and I are going to inspect the weaponry,” said Ben. “You’re the most familiar with things that go bang, you’ll help me check them out.”

    “Right,” said Tasha.

    “Captain, can we see about getting lunch served in here?” asked Ben.

    “I’ll make the arrangements,” said the Captain, curious as to what his position would be when they reached the planet. He knew the ship would be dismantled and had been designed with that sole purpose in mind, but wasn’t sure what his role would be once they arrive.

    “Captain, as a reminder, the majority of this group is on goop for the moment,” said Mary.

    “Ah, right,” said Allen.

    “Before you place that order, can you join Major Hayden and myself as we head towards cargo area nine?” asked Ben. “I’d like a quick word.”

    “Certainly,” said the Captain as he joined Tasha and Ben as they departed. Kirk watched the three leave and turned to his assistant.

    “At least he didn’t ask my name,” said the second scientist.

    “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know who William Riker is either,” said Kirk with a sigh. “Of course, you go by Bill, so there is that.”

    Ben, the Captain and Tasha made their way out of the room while the others adjusted to get into their designated teams. Once they were in the main corridor, Ben turned to Tasha.

    “You go on ahead, Tasha,” said Ben. “I’ll catch up and I don’t think the groups will get too out of control without adult supervision in the next couple of minutes.”

    “Okay, see you there,” said Tasha as the Captain and Ben stopped just outside the converted quarters to speak privately.

    “You’re wondering what your role is going to be when we reach Novae Spes,” said Ben, not as a question, but rather a statement.

    “The thought has crossed my mind, Commander,” said the Captain.

    “Your job, if you will take it, will be second in command,” said Ben.

    The Captain looked fairly stunned at the announcement before asking the obvious question.

    “Why?” he managed to ask after several moments of silence.

    “Because you’re up for it,” said Ben. “I talked with the corporate leadership before we left and reviewed the dossiers of every senior member of this expedition. Oh, I knew a bit more than the average bear going into this meeting than I let on. And frankly, you’re just as qualified as I am to run things. You’ve been in charge of ships with crews ranging from fifteen to fifteen hundred. This should be a cake walk for you.”

    “I…am at a loss for words here,” said the Captain.

    “Look, everyone who’s ever served with you says the same thing; they’d jump ship and move back with you in a heartbeat. Now, I know for a fact you can’t buy that kind of loyalty without a good reason and that tends to be leadership. We’re starting over and I’ll need that kind of leadership to help me out,” said Ben reasonably.

    “I accept the position,” said the Captain and stuck out his hand.

    “Good, because I told the corporate leadership you were my second in charge before we left,” said Ben with a grin as he shook the man’s hand.

    “Thank you for the opportunity,” said the Captain. “Even though I had no choice in the matter.”

    “You do,” said Ben. “You can turn it down.”

    “If you reviewed my file, you’ll know I can’t,” said the Captain.

    “Which is why you were chosen over everyone in there,” said Ben.

    “Again, thank you,” said the Captain.

    “Okay, I won’t hold you back any longer,” said Ben. “Be sure to remind the construction crews as well as the infrastructure teams about the schools for the children.”

    “I will,” said Allen as he returned to the makeshift briefing room, wondering what he might have overlooked in Ben’s file when he glanced over it. He had gotten to know him a little at the breakfast that morning, but still didn’t know how the waters ran in his particular brain. He decided to go over the file more thoroughly that evening to discover who he was.
     
  11. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 10


    Ben headed down the corridor of the ship and found Tasha waiting patiently by one of the cross passageways through the ship. She was leaned up against the wall waiting for him with her arms crossed looking utterly bored.

    “He accepted the second in command?” she asked as he approached.

    “I’d ask how you knew, but I won’t get a good answer,” said Ben.

    “Well, it wasn’t discussed in the meeting,” said Tasha. “You’re going to need someone to back you up and I’m junior-junior nobody. Figured it’d be someone with experience.”

    “You guessed right,” said Ben.

    “But that sure is a heady group you have in there,” she replied.

    “Feeling a bit out of place?” he asked.

    “Yeah, like the kid in high school that sits in the back of class and doesn’t say a word because they don’t understand a damn thing,” she said with a laugh.

    “Except understanding Latin,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “Four years in school and I honestly haven’t used it in a dog’s age. Adding in that dinosaur phase I went through as a kid helped figure out the names of what he was talking about,” said Tasha. “And I could see how annoyed you were getting.”

    “I was about to lose it,” said Ben with a laugh.

    “But regardless, I do feel really out of place,” she remarked.

    “And why is that?” asked Ben.

    “Because my Bachelor’s Degree in Modern Warfare Application doesn’t exactly stand up against advanced doctorates and everything else in there,” she said with a sigh.

    “You were picked for a good reason,” he replied.

    “Because you like having me around?” she chuckled.

    “No, because you are a specialist in your own right,” said Ben. “You think about that room full of folks. How many of them know how to properly evaluate a piece of terrain for defensive purposes? Evaluate threats? Go from defensive to offensive and back to defensive operations in the blink of an eye? See and know the shortfalls in a defensive strategy? Evaluate weaknesses and plan around them?”

    “None that I could tell,” said Tasha after a moment. “Except you.”

    “I’ll have my hands full keeping things running,” said Ben. “That’s why you were picked. You’ve always been smart and I always knew you would succeed me some day. This is that time where you grow your wings and fly on your own. Not to say I can’t and won’t be around for advice if you need it, but I don’t think you really will.”

    “You throw a lot on a girl for a first date,” she replied with a chuckle.

    “Well, I believe in you,” said Ben. “Not sure why you don’t believe in yourself.”

    “That’s not fair and you know it,” she countered. “You damn well know I’m as self-confident as they come.”

    “Except in that briefing earlier,” said Ben.

    Tasha got quiet since she knew he was right. She had let her own doubts creep into the meeting earlier and knew she should have been more vocal. But she decided right then and there she wouldn’t allow it to invade her decision making any longer and to take a more active role in the future with the group. And she knew that’s the reason she hadn’t been placed on a team since he knew he needed to have this little chat with her. A fact she mentioned to him.

    “Yes and no,” he said. “They can look at things you don’t or can’t consider. You’re one directional in that process and your evaluation will be very different from theirs. You may see a piece of terrain that’s ideal for defensive purposes while the science team sees a patch of toxic plants that will incapacitate your troops.”

    “True to an extent,” she replied. “I can still learn from them.”

    “Which I fully expect you to do over the next week,” he stated. “And they in turn can learn from you. I do need you more involved in this because you can see things they can’t. And in turn, they will see things you don’t. So, you will learn from them while they learn from you.”

    “Anyone ever tell you that you give a hell of a pep talk?” she asked with a smile.

    “I do try,” he chuckled as they reached the armaments storage.

    “Weapons outload?” asked Tasha.

    “I went old school,” said Ben as he led her to the crates stacked neatly. Finding the one he wanted, they unstrapped one and took it down before opening it up.

    “Yeah, you certainly did, didn’t you?” asked Tasha as she retrieved one of the rifles from the case and looked it over. “No pulse electron emitters? Mag accelerators?”

    “Packed away as well, but I wanted something that could and would work without power if needed,” said Ben. “Call me crazy, but we just don’t know enough about the planet to rely solely on newer technology. If one of the electron rifles gets hit by a large enough solar flare, it’s nothing more than a six pound club.”

    “I’ll give you that,” said Tasha. “Caliber?”

    “Old school on that as well,” said Ben as he retrieved a magazine.

    “6.5 millimeter,” remarked Tasha as she looked over the round type labeled on the magazine. “You think it’ll work on the larger creatures?”

    “I planned ahead and have larger rounds for that as well,” said Ben.

    “Smart like,” said Tasha. “Pistols?”

    “Standard 11.43 mm on those,” said Ben. “Old Mk 81 types, though new production. There are also some mag accelerator designs, but I’d prefer the gunpowder solution first.”

    “Having a senior moment?” asked Tasha with a chuckle.

    “I wanted proven,” said Ben. “And the Mk 81 was the most reliable pistol I’ve ever used.”

    “I haven’t even seen one since…Alpha Centauri maybe,” said Tasha.

    “The corporate leadership agreed with me we needed something that would work off the grid if it came down to it,” said Ben.

    “And we’re sure to have plenty of ammo?” asked Tasha.

    “Those containers to your rear? All ammo,” said Ben with a nod of his head. “And we have the machinery to produce new rounds when needed.”

    “How many weapons total?” asked Tasha.

    “Enough for everyone in the colony to have a pistol and a rifle,” said Ben. “Obviously the perimeter weapons and the heavy individual weapons are more limited. But I wanted everyone to have the capability to protect themselves since we really don’t know what we’re getting into. There are plenty of other specialty weapons packed away as well.”

    “And the perimeter defenses?” asked Tasha.

    “12.7 mm machine guns and 30 mm auto cannons,” said Ben. “We do have the assortment of anti-armor weapons, a few indirect fire and shoulder fired systems if needed as well. And plenty of explosives. I tried to imagine what toys you would want brought along and got them in record time. We do have enough electron systems and mag accelerator designs to outfit everyone, but I made sure they had old school gunpowder based designs as a just in case measure. The crew’s individual armament is likely new build stuff as well. If we really need the big stuff, the ship’s armament will be available when we start tearing it apart. And about half the aerial transports have the fitting points for weapons pods which were included as well.”

    “No shotguns?” she asked.

    “Your favorite,” he chuckled. “About a hundred or so.”

    “Thank you,” said Tasha with a grin.

    “Here’s the complete list of what’s being brought,” said Ben as he handed over a tablet. She quickly skimmed through the listing and shook her head at the end.

    “Hunting rifles?” she asked.

    “Small caliber for small game. Sometimes it’s better to have the ability to hit something without destroying it. I also have some varmint type precision rifles,” he stated. “Along with larger caliber gunpowder based hunting systems.”

    “Did you raid a museum or something?” she asked with a laugh.

    “I left the old stuff behind for the most part,” he chuckled.

    “Most of this is old stuff,” she laughed. “I haven’t even heard of some of these before.”

    “I left my personal favorite out,” he laughed. “But didn’t leave it behind.”

    “Which is?” asked Tasha.

    “A really old pistol called an M1911,” he replied. “My grandfather had one and I saw several during the North American Wars. Best pistol I ever shot.”

    “Why not use it?” she asked.

    “Only eight rounds,” he replied. “And a lot of them were steel framed.”

    “Yeah, that can get a bit heavy,” she replied. “Compared to fifteen rounds and polymer of the Mk. 81s we’ll be using.”

    “Anyway, we’ll have to spin up the security force before we arrive,” said Ben. “And I talked to the Captain already and found this tub will allow us to fire inside without penetrating the hull in one section. So, we wake everyone up a week before we get there and have them do weapons familiarization before we arrive. Sergeant Major Whitaker will be integral in that as well as getting the individuals into teams as well as what tactics you come up with.”

    “You want the primary force to carry the older designs?” she asked.

    “It’ll be up to you, but I’d hate to see a group out on a mission suddenly have no protection because their equipment failed,” said Ben reasonably.

    “And it’s easier than carrying two systems,” said Tasha continuing the thought. “As well as the technical proficiency and whatnot.”

    “Now you’re thinking like a leader,” said Ben. “I’d almost suggest leaving the pulse electron stuff for the scientists and others. They are fairly foolproof and easier to learn. Plus, a continual training program for them as well.”

    “I have to design all that?” asked Tasha.

    “Yes, ma’am,” said Ben. “All part of being a leader.”

    “I liked it better when I was just a dumb grunt,” she scoffed.

    “Don’t forget your supply, command function, support, communications-” he stated and was cut off by her waving her hand.

    “Argh! Yes, lot of work,” said Tasha with a grunt. “Now I see why you made me learn that stuff so long ago.”

    “And you thought I was being mean and lazy,” he chuckled.

    “I still think you were,” said Tasha with a laugh. “Nice to have you along.”

    “Make no mistake, you’re in charge of security when we hit the ground,” said Ben. “I’ll still be around for advice if you need it, but you’re running the show.”

    “It’ll kind of be unusual,” said Tasha. “Normally when you’re around, you are in charge.”

    “And you’ve been in charge of your own unit since I retired,” said Ben. “Just think of me as an informal adviser when and if the need arises.”

    “Like in a nice old grandpa kind of way?” she asked with a grin.

    “Like as in this grandpa could still take you out and whip your backside if you get out of line,” he replied with a chuckle. “Don’t get all sassy thinking I’m not capable of it.”

    “Okay…grandpa,” she replied with a twinkle in her eye.

    “Isn’t it time you went back to stasis?” he laughed.

    “And miss out on the fun meetings and you finally letting loose on a scientist for using too much Latin?” she asked with a laugh. “I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”

    “You going to keep me out of trouble?” asked Ben with a laugh as they closed the container and put it back in place. The straps were cinched down to keep it from moving around if the artificial gravity was to go out or the ship was impacted by an object.

    “Probably get into trouble right there with you,” she said with a grunt as she tightened the strap.

    “Which is why I brought you along,” said Ben as they headed back to the briefing room. “When we get back to the meetings, join up with the infrastructure team if you don’t mind.”

    “Got it,” said Tasha as they entered in the room. There were a couple of spirited debates going on in the various groups with Captain Smith observing and interjecting every so often. But Ben knew the hottest fire made the strongest steel and the ideas born out of this meeting might very well keep them alive when they arrived. The teams seemed to be doing exactly as he had requested with one person playing the devil’s advocate while the other members defended their ideas. But they added a twist as the opposition changed every so often, forcing them to look at their ideas from the opposing side.

    “You’ve got a bunch of smart folks here,” said Allen.

    “I didn’t pick them for the most part,” said Ben. “Honestly couldn’t tell you who’s who in the science world except a few I worked with in the past.”

    “Kirk and Riker aren’t bad folks,” said Allen. “But if you ever wanted to stereotype a nerdy scientist, Kirk would likely be at the top of that list.”

    “Smart?” asked Ben.

    “Too much for his own good,” said Allen. “After the first ASD jump he started trying to explain the mechanics behind the ASD drive and the physics of the window itself. Lost me about fifteen seconds in. I just kept politely nodding and smiling like I do with my wife from time to time.”

    “Yeah, tried that with my ex,” laughed Ben. “Could be the reason I’m divorced.”

    “I was going to ask you about that,” said Allen. “But was waiting for a more opportune time to discuss personal matters.”

    “Lasted about three years before we’d had enough,” said Ben. “I went to Pluto and filed the divorce papers right before I left. She got the house, which later got burned in the North American wildfires of ‘14 so I didn’t lose anything.”

    “Karma,” chuckled Allen as he saw one group getting a bit heated with each other.

    “No, let’s see what happens,” said Ben as he saw it was the group Tasha was assigned to and was busy defending her point. The three continued arguing, however, Tasha started using logic to defend her idea instead of passion. And the other two saw she was correct in her analysis of the situation and eventually saw her side of the argument. Tasha looked over at him as they moved on and saw him smile at her and motioned for her to continue.

    “She wasn’t that vocal during the meetings,” said Allen.

    “She needed a reminder she was an equal,” said Ben. “She felt a little…undereducated when everyone else started spouting off their doctorates and master’s degrees.”

    “I don’t have anything advanced myself,” said Allen with a chuckle. “Hell, I felt undereducated when they started going on.”

    “Never got anything past a bachelor’s myself,” chuckled Ben. “Not that I was going to mention that. However, school of hard knocks tends to provide a pretty steep learning curve.”

    “I can understand that,” said Allen.

    “No military service though?” asked Ben.

    “Not officially,” said Allen with a wry smile.

    “Meaning there’s a story,” said Ben.

    “I have been in the Novus Commercial Fleet for almost 20 years,” said Allen. “However, I was part of the conflict between Novus, the Johnson Alliance, the African Coalition and the European Union some time ago. While yes, we were a commercial vessel, we were armed and ended up taking part in the battle of Neptune L4.”

    “I didn’t know Novus was a part of that,” said Ben.

    “We weren’t officially,” said Allen. “We had just subcontracted with the Johnson Alliance to deliver supplies to the Johnson colony on Triton. We got ambushed by the African Coalition who in turn was ambushed by the European Union who in turn was ambushed by us.”

    “Sounds a bit complicated,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “Got even more complicated when Johnson double crossed us and attacked us,” said Allen.

    “Four-way battle going on,” said Ben. “Impressive.”

    “We managed to hold our own and got most of the ships to safety,” said Allen. “Not before we lost a couple in the engagement. I managed to save the Denver, my ship, and made it out. We were pretty badly mauled though and in spacedock for almost a year.”

    “That’s not in your file,” said Ben.

    “Novus tried to sweep everything under the rug,” said Allen. “Only beef I ever had with them.”

    “That’s when the Johnson Alliance got broken up?” asked Ben.

    “Around that time,” said Allen. “We purchased some assets and colonies to pay off their debt to another company, Rich Security. But yes, they were finished after that battle.”

    “They did business with Rich?” asked Ben.

    “Everyone’s done business with Rich at some point or another,” said Allen. “Including Novus.”

    “I didn’t know that,” said Ben.

    “Would you ever admit that to anyone?” asked Allen with a chuckle.

    “Nope,” said Ben with a return laugh as he saw the conversations were dying down. He headed over to the table where sandwiches had been brought in and grabbed one since he hadn’t eaten since breakfast that morning. As he quickly ate, he saw the consensus had formed that location 1 was going to be the preferred spot for the colony with the secondary location being the one by the ocean.

    “So, there is a consensus?” asked Ben as he took his seat at the table.

    “Location 1,” said Grady. “With Location 2 as the second choice.”

    “Okay, give me the reasons why,” said Ben as he took out a notepad and started taking down the items as they went around the groups.

    “Commander? I can type faster than you can write,” said Rachelle as she linked her tablet into the monitor and had the list already going.

    “I’m impressed,” said Ben as he sat down the pen. “Please continue.”

    The group went through all the positive things they could come up with as Rachelle got them typed up. It was a fairly extensive list by the time they were completed.

    “Now the negatives,” said Ben as the groups continued putting out the ideas they had brought up even if some were outlandish.

    “A lot of those can be worked around or mitigated,” said Grady as Rachelle finished transcribing the information onto the monitor.

    “Rachelle can you send that list to everyone?” asked Ben.

    “Certainly,” she replied and created a group contact list for any future distribution.

    “How did you do that?” asked Charity. “Only system administrators can create those lists.”

    “I hacked into the system,” said Rachelle as she finished up.

    “You did what?” asked Allen.

    “I hacked into your ship’s systems,” said Rachelle in an even voice. “I needed to create a distribution list and your ship wasn’t allowing me to do that. So, I hacked it.”

    “Anyone else worried about her qualifications?” asked Allen as the group looked to him for a reaction to someone so casually breaking into his computer systems. Nobody reacted, but Ben had a look of mirth in his eyes as he saw Allen didn’t seem to be too fazed about it.

    “Okay, we’ll break from here for the day and discuss these potential problems tomorrow. Take some time this afternoon and tonight and go over the list and see what kind of workarounds we have or could have for each. Also, look over the positive items to see if we might be missing something in the details which could present a problem when we arrive,” said Ben.

    “Before we go, I’d like to take a quick bio-scan of everyone,” said Mary. “I’m thinking this group is young and sturdy enough for some solid foods tonight.”

    “Best news I’ve heard all day,” said Javier as they lined up with Mary giving each of them a quick scan and pronouncing them “fit” for normal foods as long as they didn’t overdo it. Eventually, everyone was cleared and headed back to their quarters to go over the data. Ben specifically limited the time in the meeting since most of the individuals had been awake from stasis less than 24 hours; a fact Mary noted.

    “I figured they could use some additional rest and allow their brains to wake up even more,” said Ben. “I’d bet some off the ideas today honestly won’t pan out.”

    “Which ones?” she asked.

    “I couldn’t tell you, but I’d imagine this group will look them over in the next little bit and determine they were wrong about something,” said Ben.

    “Interesting,” said Mary, seeing he was, again, more intelligent than he let on. She promised to review the data herself as she knew there might be something she missed as well. Heading back to the medical bay, she thought about what they had accomplished in the time that morning and knew the rougher road was ahead of them. But with the group dynamics already being formed, would make the job that much easier when they arrived.


    ********************

    After dinner, Tasha headed to one of the cabins in the bow of the ship looking for Charity Steele. She arrived at the door and hit the buzzer to announce her presence before waiting patiently for her to appear. It wasn’t long before the door slid open and saw Steele dressed down in what Tasha liked to call “fat and comfy clothes” of sweat pants and an old t-shirt that bore the name of one of her previous ships.

    “Hi, can I help you, Major?” asked Charity.

    “Hey, the command group girls are getting together for a girl’s poker night,” said Tasha. “Want to join in?”

    “Now?” asked Charity.

    “Yeah, in a couple of minutes,” said Tasha.

    “Command group?” asked Charity.

    “Yep, me, Rachelle, Doc Mary and Angeline,” said Tasha. “You’re the only one missing.”

    “Poker night?” asked Charity.

    “Just a chance for us to get to know each other outside of the briefing room, you know?” asked Tasha. “Just too formal in there for us to learn about each other.”

    “Gambling is illegal on board,” said Charity.

    “We aren’t playing for money,” said Tasha. “I checked a set of chips out from the crew rec.”

    “And I’m the only one missing?” asked Charity.

    “Saved the best for last,” said Tasha with a grin.

    Charity thought about it for a moment before deciding it might be better to learn about her counterparts even though she didn’t have a set job yet. But she wasn’t exactly a social creature by nature and wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion. A fact she mentioned to Tasha.

    “We’re doing it in my quarters,” said Tasha. “Jammies are perfectly acceptable.”

    “Okay,” said Charity with a sigh and saw Tasha wasn’t going to relent. But she also knew maybe getting to know her future comrades out of work might help her along. She grabbed her communicator before slipping on a pair of shoes and following her down the corridor to her temporary quarters. Coming inside, she found she might be overdressed for the occasion as the others were wearing pajama bottoms, shorts, baggy t-shirts or tank tops.

    “First Officer Steele,” said Angeline with a nod. “Glad you could make it.”

    “Please, it’s Charity in here,” said Charity. “I’m not so formal wearing my sleeping clothes.”

    “I’m pretty sure I’m not even formal when wearing a uniform,” laughed Rachelle as she took a sip of the drink in front of her. “What’s this stuff again?”

    “What did the mess guy call it?” asked Angeline. “Ghost?”

    “Sprite,” said Tasha as she plopped down in a chair and motioned Charity to the empty one. “Sprite Zero or something like that.”

    “All fizzy and stuff,” said Mary.

    “It’s a 21st century Earth drink,” said Charity. “The crew loves the stuff.”

    “It’s not bad,” said Rachelle as she tossed some ice and poured a drink for Charity. “Though it could use some gin right now.”

    “Sad the ships are dry,” said Charity. “I could use a stiff drink.”

    “Might loosen you up a bit,” said Angeline with a laugh.

    “Okay, I promise to let my hair down tonight and get all silly on fizzy water,” said Charity with a laugh. “Who’s dealing?”

    “High card deals,” said Tasha as she shuffled the deck and tossed cards out face up. “Game is Hold ‘Em and…looks like the Doctor gets first deal.”

    “At least I’m not first blinds,” said Mary as she took the deck and shuffled again.

    “What in the world is this godawful classical music you have on?” asked Rachelle as the cards were dealt and she looked at her hole cards.

    “Don’t knock it,” said Tasha. “Good stuff.”

    “Who is Strait George?” asked Charity as she looked at the artist playing. “And do they not know how to spell ‘straight’ correctly?”

    “That’s actually George Strait,” said Tasha. “Renowned country singer from the 20th and 21st century on Earth.”

    “You don’t strike me as the classical type,” said Charity.

    “Got a lot of heart and soul,” said Tasha as she changed over the music to something more modern for the group. “You could do well to actually culture yourself.”

    The game got under way as it soon became apparent Charity had experience playing. She won over half the hands and was quickly putting one person out of the game.

    “She’s bluffing,” said Rachelle as she looked over her cards.

    “You go ahead and call her,” said Angeline. “I’m out.”

    “Nope, not going to call that,” said Mary as she tossed her cards into the center.

    “I’ll call that bluff,” said Rachelle as she tossed chips into the center. “And raise…nope, I’m all in.”

    “And that’s my cue to leave,” said Tasha as she folded.

    “Call,” said Charity as she matched the bet. “Full house, queens over twos.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding me!” exclaimed Rachelle as she tossed down her pair of 8s that made a trio with the one on the board. “You drew a pair of queens on the deal?”

    “Yep,” said Charity and tried to suppress a grin.

    “Don’t laugh, it’s not funny,” said Rachelle.

    “She suckered you in,” laughed Tasha. “You can buy in more if you refill the drinks.”

    “Small price to pay,” said Rachelle with a grunt and retrieved the canister they had gotten from the mess earlier and started refilling the drinks. “What do you guys think of the Commander?”

    “Well, I’m biased, so I’m not going to be much help,” said Tasha.

    “You’ve been with him how long?” asked Mary.

    “Over fifteen years,” said Tasha. “Good mentor, good leader. We’re lucky to have him.”

    “You think a lot of him,” remarked Angeline.

    “He’s saved my life more than once,” said Tasha. “Trust me, there’s nobody better under fire.”

    “And you two…?” asked Angeline with a wave of her hand.

    “No! Never!” said Tasha. “Ewww, no!”

    “Seriously?” asked Charity, who was finally warming up to the group.

    “No, we’ve just got a really close relationship,” said Tasha.

    “Never even crossed your mind?” asked Rachelle.

    “No, it’d be like sleeping with my brother or something,” said Tasha. “He’s been like a big brother to me since I’ve known him. I never saw him that way.”

    “No way,” said Rachelle. “He’s kinda hot for an older guy.”

    “Not that old,” said Mary.

    “Older than me,” said Rachelle.

    “Everyone’s older than you,” said Angeline.

    “Yeah, there is that,” said Rachelle. “Either way, he’s not a bad looking guy.”

    “Keeps himself in shape from what I’ve seen,” said Charity.

    “Certainly does,” said Angeline. “He’s close enough to my age, too.”

    “You’re how old?” asked Tasha.

    “45,” said Angeline. “You just committed the cardinal sin of asking a woman her age.”

    “Still young enough to show him a good time, I’d bet,” laughed Rachelle.

    “Do we really need to be talking about our commander like this?” asked Mary. The others got quiet as Mary sighed and moved her chips around.

    “It’s just talk,” said Charity.

    “I know, but he’s in a leadership position and all,” said Mary.

    “I didn’t realize you liked him,” said Angeline after another uncomfortable pause.

    “I don’t like him!” protested Mary.

    “Mary, you’re defensive right now,” said Angeline. “About him and about yourself.”

    “I just think…well, I’m trying to be proper,” said Mary.

    “It’s improper to call him handsome?” asked Tasha. “I can say it since he’s known me longer and we’re better acquainted than anyone else on this ship. Yeah, he’s good looking.”

    “Okay, he is handsome,” said Mary after she saw she was getting defensive.

    “Hot,” said Rachelle, prodding right then.

    “Okay, kinda hot,” said Mary. “And smart too. Can carry on a decent conversation.”

    “Knew it! You like him!” exclaimed Charity.

    “Not like that!” protested Mary. “He is intriguing though. Good mind to go with the body.”

    “Probably a good pillow talker,” said Rachelle with a grin.

    “Enough,” said Mary with a roll of her eyes.

    “Look, it’s inevitable since we are all single and we all will probably get hooked up at some point on this planet,” said Angeline. “And let’s face it, Commander Ben will make a fine catch for someone.”

    “Maybe so,” said Charity. “May the best girl win then.”

    All eyes turned to Mary as she looked around. “What?”

    “Nothing,” laughed Tasha. “I’ll put the bug in his ear your quarters are lonely at night.”

    “You wouldn’t!” exclaimed Mary.

    “Don’t ever bet against me,” said Tasha.

    “Except at cards,” said Rachelle. “Cause you suck here.”

    “Oh, bring it on, bitch,” said Tasha as she started shuffling the cards and the others laughed. Additional team dynamics were being created that night with the bonding of the five in the game; quickly creating not only acceptance of each other into the command group, but friendships that would last a lifetime. They continued playing until Charity had taken everyone else out of the game and sat talking in the aftermath. Just general chit chat of who they were and where they had been. Each learned a little more about their counterparts that evening as eventually they became tired and headed off to their quarters for sleep in preparation for the meetings the next day. They said their goodbyes one at a time and made a promise to make the poker night a more regular occurrence while the group was out of stasis. As they drifted off to sleep, they were far more comfortable than they had started that day with each other and would continue to grow in their professional relationships as well as their friendship.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2020
    techsar, squiddley, rle737ng and 2 others like this.
  12. Merkun

    Merkun furious dreamer

    pleased, or fazed.
     
    mysterymet and Grand58742 like this.
  13. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    Very well could have been the latter.

    Good catch.
     
  14. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 11



    The rest of the week passed quickly as all the data was looked over again and again until they hammered out as many details as they could think of for the location for the colony. Ben knew there would need to be increased data coming from the follow up probes being re-tasked by Kirk at the moment, but he felt they had a good start on the process as a minimum.

    “Last meeting before we head back into stasis for a nice long nap,” said Ben as the group gathered up in the conference room. “Anything pressing that needs to be discussed?”

    “One more for Doctor Kirk,” said Grady. “I’ve been going over the topography and the satellite photos of the area. I’m still concerned about the flooding aspect of the zone we’ve picked.”

    “The initial lander didn’t show any evidence of major flooding,” said Kirk as he saw Grady cast the photos to the view screen. “The river is far enough away and elevation changes enough for it not to be a factor.”

    “Yes and no,” said Grady as he expanded the photo somewhat. “You are correct the elevation changes upwards of twenty meters from the river to the proposed colony location. However, I happened to see this when I was checking out the extended area.”

    They saw a small creek on the photos that broke off the river and traveled downwards several kilometers before tracking back into the river. Grady stood up and went to the photo and showed them what he was talking about.

    “This is a higher elevation than the proposed colony site,” he explained. “And it runs to the northwest of us. The river is fine, no problems there as it never comes near enough to where it could pose a threat, but this small creek leads directly down this watershed area straight into the area we proposed the farms would be and could roll into the colony itself. Now, we aren’t talking a normal rainfall, but what we called on Earth a thousand-year flood could do it.”

    He traced the route of the route of the stream with his finger and showed them the direction water could flow in a serious flood as well as where it would end up. As well as the additional path it could take to the colony site. Kirk looked it over and saw his study of the area was likely correct and could pose a risk.

    “I honestly didn’t think to look this far out,” said Kirk as he looked over the map again.

    “So, are we back to square one?” asked Ben.

    “No, I think this is still the most suitable site,” said Grady. “However, the new landers have rovers, right? Might want to send one up this area here to determine how often it floods and how high the flood stage gets.”

    “I don’t know that much about flood dynamics,” admitted Kirk. “But you can bet I’ll be learning about them before those probes get there.”

    “Will that alter the timeline on drop out of ASD while you relay instructions to the new set of landers?” asked Ben.

    “No, that’s a simple command to send to the probes,” said Kirk. “We can include that with the landing coordinates.”

    “I’d prefer to cover all bases,” said Grady. “I’d hate to bicker with Doctor Sweeney more over a new location if we can avoid that.”

    “But you do argue well,” laughed Kurt. “He does bring up a valid point. Flooding can be mitigated or as a minimum, planned around. Now, I’m no hydrologist, but I do know about planning crop fields around known flood prone areas and can help study it if you like.”

    “I’d appreciate it,” said Grady.

    “Okay, include the instructions for a rover to go take a peek at that area,” said Ben. “It’s what? Five, six kilometers away?”

    “Closer to seven,” said Grady. “Which means the water could have a good head of steam when it reaches us. Or it very well could amount to nothing.”

    “I want us to end up landing without a concern in the world,” said Ben. “We need to dot every I and cross every T before settling in on a location.”

    “I’ll make it so,” said Kirk.

    “Okay, anyone else have a nagging feeling in the back of their mind?” asked Ben.

    “Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this area here,” said Tasha as she looked over the photo. “The terrain slopes upward from the colony site to this small hill and comes down into this depression. Now, we don’t have any creatures capable of using tactics…”

    “But that’s commanding terrain,” said Allen as he saw where she was going with it. “Overlooking the colony and downhill right into it.”

    “We plan on taking out that section for building materials and potentially later using it for farmland,” said Kurt. “But Tasha does make a good point. The entire north side does give a commanding view of the colony itself.”

    “I’d feel a lot more comfortable putting in an observation post here as a minimum, but I’m wondering what the group might think of shifting the entire colony to the north and encompassing this area?” she asked.

    “It wouldn’t be easy,” said Cyrus, speaking up. “First, we picked this area specifically since it was even enough to land the ship when we eventually start ripping it apart. And wanted to shorten the distance we were traveling with the pieces which can get a bit heavy.”

    “And honestly, if we moved it north, the remainder of the colony sits in a slight depression with uneven terrain,” said Charity. “While this ship is massive and has four legs for the landing gear, unloading and taking it apart has to be done systematically or it could tip over.”

    “Really?” asked Ben.

    “It’s happened before,” said Allen. “Cyrus and Charity can plan around that, but overall, if one side sinks into the ground too far, we run the risk of the ship turning over on its side.”

    “And setting it down a little further north runs that risk?” asked Ben.

    “We’d prefer to be within a five-degree tilt when we land,” said Charity. “Ideal would be zero, but we know ideal doesn’t happen except in sappy love movies.”

    “And this would give us?” asked Ben.

    “Basic calculations?” asked Charity as she looked over the data. “Potentially up to a fifteen-degree tilt to the east.”

    “Way too much for my tastes,” said Allen.

    “When it comes to the safety of the ship, I’m never going to argue,” said Ben. “Would landing it in the original location and moving the colony north hurt us?”

    “Longer trips with the cargo and materials,” said Rachelle. “Increased area for Tasha to have to secure with troops she probably doesn’t have. And being that we are running power lines from the ship to the colony until Cyrus converts one of the engines into the new power plant, those lines just got longer as well. It’s not ideal.”

    “The hull plating is to become the wall,” said Cyrus. “And the cranes moving that can only go about five KPH with each. We’re talking moving it up to about fifteen hundred meters? That’s going to add a lot of time.”

    “Would you feel more comfortable putting in a sensor line and maybe an observation post on that ridge instead of moving the colony?” asked Ben.

    “I think that’s best,” said Tasha. “Just trying to be careful.”

    “No, I think we should be extremely prudent when it comes to security,” said Rachelle. “In theory, it’s not a bad idea, just increased logistics to make it work.”

    “Tell you what, why don’t we table it for the next round of discussions?” asked Ben. “Maybe the new landers and rovers will tell us more about the area?”

    “I think that would work,” said Grady. “I’m not opposed to moving the colony, just looking at the increased difficulty in landing the ship and moving the materials.”

    “I can wait until the next set of landers,” said Tasha.

    “It’s a good point though,” said Ben. “Okay, anything else?”

    Nobody brought anything up as Ben figured it would be best for his final proposal.

    “I’m going to toss out one last idea for the group to consider,” said Ben as he leaned forward in his seat. “This one is a pretty big one.”

    “Bigger than a new planet with 30-hour days?” asked Mary with a twinkle in her eye.

    “Actually, this one doesn’t include you,” said Ben with a laugh. “I was thinking of the drop back into stasis we will undergo tomorrow. We have three years before the next set of probes arrive and start getting us increased data. Now, I’m sure we can argue over the data we have as well as any new revelations the probes might bring us, but...do we need to be woken up yearly?”

    “Honestly, I’ve been working on additional things in my spare time,” said Grady. “Construction data, bare outline of the colony, things of that nature. I can always use a little extra time.”

    “But without the increased exploration data?” asked Ben.

    “It would be helpful,” admitted Grady.

    “Rachelle?” asked Ben.

    “The software for the infrastructure system was built before we departed,” she replied. “Obviously, some corporate computer geeks’ handiwork will fail and needs to be fixed before we get there, but for the most part, that’s a couple of days of me alone with a computer.”

    “Aren’t you a computer geek?” asked Angeline.

    “Not like that,” said Rachelle with a scrunched nose. “I have social skills. And there’s a reason the Olympus System runs so smoothly. You’re looking at the reason.”

    “So, you do or do not need to be woken?’ asked Ben.

    “I can take a little longer nap,” said Rachelle.

    “Javier?” asked Ben.

    “Obviously, there will be science data to be gone over for both Angeline and myself. However, Doctors Kirk and Riker have done an exceptional job of getting it into a readable format already. Unless there is something really groundbreaking, we can skip a year,” he replied.

    “Kurt?” asked Ben.

    “The probes aren’t looking for what I need them to look for,” said Kurt as he saw Kirk about to interrupt. “Not your fault either, Doctor. But I have a more narrow set of criteria I’m looking at. And unless you can reprogram those probes to look for what I need, it won’t help.”

    “We have a narrow window to send them commands,” admitted Kirk. “Only when we are both out of the ASD Dimension can we send updates and while we could relay new programming, it would mean our time outside the ASD window would increase exponentially.”

    “We’re already spending time outside the dimension to receive data from the planet,” said Mary. “Why not do it then?”

    “The communications systems aren’t designed for that kind of input/output process,” said Charity. “They can send or receive large packets of information. Unfortunately, they can’t do it at the same time.”

    “Hardware issue?” asked Rachelle.

    “Mainly,” said Charity. “We’re using the primary and secondary transceiver hubs to take in the data as it is as the amount of raw data is…massive. We could use one to send and one to receive, but as Doctor Kirk reminded us, that will increase our time, as well as the follow-on probe’s time, outside the dimension.”

    “System redundancy?” asked Rachelle. “There has to be a tertiary position.”

    “Used as well,” said Kirk. “That’s what we will send the commands from and it automatically switches from transmitter once it receives a confirmation to receiver helping gather data.”

    “How long would it take to reprogram the probes?” asked Ben.

    “I’d have to have Doctor Sweeney’s criteria,” said Kirk. “And probably could use Ms. Marchand’s assistance as well. But a few months?”

    “And how long to transmit?” asked Ben.

    “At the distance involved? Likely at least another week,” said Kirk. “Possibly longer.”

    “I’m not fond of that idea,” said Allen. “It already takes ten days to gather the raw data.”

    “That long?” asked Ben.

    “As Miss Steele put it, the data is massive and you can only cram so much data into our communication sets as it is,” said Kirk.

    “Kurt, I’ll leave the decision up to you,” said Ben.

    “I’m inclined to say no,” said Kurt. “Too many factors to go through that make me lean that way.”

    “Okay,” said Ben. “Tasha?”

    “Other than brushing up on my Latin so I can understand Doctor Kirk, no, no reason to wake me from my long winter’s slumber,” said Tasha as others had a laugh at Kirk.

    “I have been trying to get better about it,” said Kirk with a laugh.

    “Angeline?” asked Ben.

    “No, the same reasons as Javier,” she stated simply.

    “Any objections?” asked Ben.

    “If new important data comes in?” asked Kirk.

    “I would expect you to wake us if it’s a threat to the expedition or the colony site,” said Ben. “But there is no reason for us to keep going over the same data for another year.”

    “I have that discretion?” asked Kirk.

    “Obviously, I’d like to be consulted on that first,” said Allen.

    “Of course,” said Kirk. “I meant no disrespect.”

    “Anyone else?” asked Ben. Nobody said anything as the idea appeared to be agreed on and they would skip the next year coming out of stasis unless some groundbreaking information was found. They moved onto the remainder of the meeting items and went over the final “homework” as Rachelle called it and found they were agreeing on most of the items brought up. Ben found it odd they had come together so quickly, but this was mainly talk at the moment and the true test of the teamwork would happen once they arrived on the planet.

    “Okay, if there’s nothing else, I’d suggest we go ahead and start compiling the individual lists and thoughts on the next time we come together,” said Ben. “As well as tidying up any administrative paperwork so to speak. Doctor? What time tomorrow?”

    “Say around noon if everyone is okay with that?” asked Mary. “Have lunch beforehand.”

    “We’ll be there,” said Ben. “I do want to thank you folks for being civil and helpful this past week. It’s been nice to see so many different people from all walks of life getting together and actually not arguing constantly. I think we’ve got the basis for a great leadership team once we reach the planet and your teamwork here will lay the foundation for the rest of our groups to work together and achieve our goals. That’s important, far more important than just continuing our species. We have to learn to set aside our differences and compromise in order to avoid the mistakes of our past. And the foundation for doing just that was laid here the past week.”

    “I think we’ve learned a lot about each other over the past week. Our strengths and weaknesses and learned where to help each other in the times of need. That’s something we will continue to do going forward. And something we will need to rely on when we reach the planet. But anyway, enough of my rambling. If anyone has anything else?” asked Ben.

    “I’d like to say thank you for slipping the leash slightly on us and allowing us to get our voices heard,” said Angeline. “We’ve argued a little bit, but we have learned far more from each other and have learned we aren’t always right. So, thank you for taking a more passive approach and letting our ideas be heard instead of making a snap decision based on half the data.”

    “And I’d like to thank you for bringing myself, First Officer Steele and Chief Engineer Hendrix into your team here,” said Allen. “We honestly had no idea where we would fit into the paradigm once we arrived, but you’ve made us feel as equals in this outstanding group.”

    “Well, I do need someone to take over when I want a day off,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “What’s this day off thing you speak of?” asked Charity with a laugh.

    “That thing we’re going to be doing the next two years while you are working,” said Rachelle with a grin.

    “Permission to turn over First Officer duties to Rachelle and go into stasis?” asked Charity.

    “You really want to see this ship a flaming mess when we arrive?” asked Allen with a laugh.

    “Yeah, probably not a good idea,” said Charity.

    “I’m pretty sure I should be offended right now,” laughed Rachelle.

    “If there’s nothing else,” said Ben. “We’ll see you tomorrow if not sooner.”

    The meeting broke up as the individuals got with their counterparts to go over some last-minute data or to finish up that last little item. But the majority just socialized for a few minutes and gravitated towards each other instead of heading back to their quarters to put their thoughts onto paper or into the computer. Ben thought about several things himself as he organized his notes that would be necessary once they arrived, to include a proper chain of command. He had some time to think it over, but also knew he had the foundation of who could perform under the leadership role and who might just be “okay” to fill in every once in a while. But he knew having a proper leadership chain was important. Obviously, it could and likely would change over the next six years, but as they would be sleeping the majority of the way, his initial gut feelings would play a large role in determining that list.

    “If you don’t mind, let’s have lunch together,” said Allen as he came over to Ben. “I’ve got a few additional items to go over with you one on one.”

    “I need to catch up with Charity for a moment,” said Ben as he outlined his idea for her to Allen.

    “I think that would be a great choice,” said Allen. “They would complement each other well.”

    Ben managed to catch Charity before she left the room and called her over out of earshot of the remaining members of the command team. “Ready to go back to being a First Officer?”

    “Less work,” she laughed. “Even though I’m not really sure where I fit into this group.”

    “You are wondering what job you’ll have when we reach the planet?” asked Ben.

    “The thought crossed my mind, sir,” said Charity, still uneasy calling him by his first name.

    “I would like you to be Rachelle’s number two,” said Ben. “Assistant Director of Services and Infrastructure. I know most First Officers tend to be the ones running the ship so to speak and making sure the Captain isn’t too annoyed with the minutia that goes on. That kind of detail work will be necessary for us to get this place up and running. What do you say?”

    “I’ll do whatever you ask,” said Charity.

    “Not quite the answer I expected,” said Ben.

    “What can I say?” asked Charity with a sigh.

    “You’ve got something on your mind,” said Ben. “Don’t hold back.”

    “Honestly? She’s young, impulsive and probably used to being the smartest person in the room. And knowing such, she’s trying to show off in order to remind people how smart she truly is,” said Charity. “That can be a dangerous combination where we’re heading.”

    “That it can be,” said Ben. “Which is why I want you assisting her. You tend to be analytical towards problems and take things slowly. She is rash and impulsive and needs someone there to temper her from time to time. You’re somewhat close to the same age so it can be more peer based suggestions more than anything.”

    “If she doesn’t listen?” asked Charity. “And remember, I won’t be in stasis, so we won’t be very close in age when we arrive.”

    “You have me around,” said Ben. “But I’ve got this idea she’s a bit more receptive than you give her credit for.”

    “I don’t know her that well, really,” said Charity. “And I’m honored you want me as a part of your team. I can work with her.”

    “Good, because I’ve already scheduled a meeting between the two of you,” said Ben.

    “That’s kind of…fast,” said Charity with a chuckle. “You knew I was going to say yes?”

    “You ever turned down a mission before?” asked Ben.

    “Actually, yes,” said Charity. “Which is why I got out of the military.”

    “It wasn’t in your file,” said Ben.

    “Mutinies rarely are,” said Charity evasively.

    “That does scream for an explanation,” said Ben.

    “I wasn’t involved in it, but certainly didn’t oppose it,” said Charity with a sigh. “It was my last year in the North American Fleet. We were heading to Makemake where the colony was revolting. The ship was under orders to start a bombardment from orbit on the colony itself. The First Officer led a revolt against the Captain and about a third of the crew joined his side, a third took the Captain’s side and a third including me sat it out.”

    “The whole thing was a mess and a bunch of Marines eventually retook the ship. Well, the government decided it was too much of a mess and those that didn’t take part couldn’t be trusted ever again and bounced us out of the service. I was close enough to finishing the enlistment that I managed to get away with an honorable discharge,” she stated.

    “And the others?” asked Ben who knew about the mutiny, but little of the details as the North American Military had clamped down on all talk of the incident.

    “Those that took part in the active mutiny were given the maximum sentence for the crime,” said Charity. “Ejected into space without a pressure suit. I wanted no part of the military after that.”

    “I can see why,” said Ben. “Just that you know, I’m not like that.”

    “No, from your file, you appear to be honorable,” said Charity.

    “I’ve tried to be,” said Ben. “Regardless, I think we’ll need you helping with the infrastructure support when we get there. I know Rachelle is capable, but she’s never done anything from the ground up like this.”

    “I’ll help as much as I can,” said Charity. “Though I’m not that familiar with the inner workings of what we’ll be setting up.”

    “There happens to be plans in the ship’s central computer,” said Ben. “And it’s very likely you have access to those files.”

    “Setting me up?” asked Charity with a grin.

    “You’re management,” said Ben. “It’s not about knowing the job all the time, but rather knowing the best person for the job.”

    “A lesson learned from the military?” she asked.

    “Absolutely,” said Ben. “I knew at one point I couldn’t run with the younger guys. But I also knew which younger guys I could rely on to do the running.”

    “I never thought of it that way,” said Charity.

    “You’re still young and running,” said Ben. “Fairly young for a First Officer, that’s for sure. But Captain Smith wouldn’t have picked you without a good reason.”

    “I got called old by one of the younger crew the other day,” she said with a chuckle. “Made me feel older than I should be.”

    “But to the problem at hand, being a leader doesn’t mean you know every job, but know the right tools to apply, yes?” he asked.

    “More or less,” said Charity. “But you still need knowledge of the areas.”

    “But if you have a problem on the ship, you know who you get to fix it, right?” asked Ben.

    “I do,” said Charity, seeing he was showing her the path she would be taking in assisting Rachelle. “Okay, teach, you got me.”

    “You’ll be fine, trust me,” said Ben.

    “He never really told me why he did pick me though,” said Charity.

    “Probably because you are young, but capable,” said Ben. “But more importantly, he trusts you. And that is far more important to me than anything.”

    Charity paused to think about the situation she was in and realized she was extremely young for her position when originally selected for the Santa Maria. However, she felt she had done her duties well and had never had any problems of note. She knew she had two very important people that were trusting her right then and would redouble her efforts to perform at her peak and get the colony up and running.

    “I’ll do my best, sir,” she replied.

    “Outstanding,” said Ben. “I’m sure Rachelle is waiting for your lunch date.”

    “Interesting way of setting me up,” she chuckled.

    “Greased the skids slightly,” said Ben. “See you in a bit.”

    “Two years of a bit,” said Charity. “Sleep well.”

    “Keep the Captain out of trouble,” he stated as she departed after shaking hands.

    “No chance of that,” she laughed as she departed the room. Ben and Allen departed to grab lunch in his quarters and talk over the progress they had made that week. And made a simple agenda for the next time the command group would be out of stasis so they wouldn’t go into it blind. As they finished up, Allen sat back in his chair.

    “Something I’ve been meaning to speak to you about,” he stated as he got comfortable.

    “It seems important,” said Ben.

    “We did encounter a problem after we departed,” said Allen. “Something I waited for you to come out of stasis so we could talk it over. Again, we should have talked it over before now, but it just kept getting bumped down the list of items.”

    “A problem with the ship?” asked Ben.

    “Kind of,” said Allen. “But a bit bigger.”

    “Oh?” asked Ben. Allen talked over the situation with the Poe family stowaways as well as his temporary solution to the problem.

    “You put them in stasis?” asked Ben.

    “The known penalty is getting dropped off at the nearest colony for prosecution,” said Allen. “Not really a viable option here. Nor is the secondary sentence.”

    “Ejected overboard,” said Ben knowingly.

    “Sorry, I’m not going to kill a man for trying to save his family from the inevitable demise of the Earth, no matter how illegal it is,” said Allen. “So, I leave the decision up to you.”

    “What’s his background?” asked Ben.

    “Honestly, we had to crank up the Infonet computer just to find out,” said Allen as he referred to the computer with records of nearly everything history and knowledge related to the Earth to include most known population statistics living and dead. The databanks were massive even in the age of advanced digital storage and had more knowledge that any known device in the galaxy at the moment.

    “And?” asked Ben.

    “Seems like his story more or less checked out,” said Allen as he went through the man’s history from practically his time of birth up to getting to the ship. “Obviously, the records are going to be a bit hazy when he was living in Old City, but he was telling the truth about losing his spot in the dome when the building burned.”

    “Wife? Kids?” asked Ben.

    “Wife bounced from job to job, never held anything down more than six months or so,” said Allen. “Mostly temp type of work with no specific emphasis on a career path. Last three years, she hasn’t worked. Tending to the children according to her. The first child seemed to be okay. Decent grades in school, but nothing stellar. Just an average kid honestly.”

    “How did he have two children with the dome restrictions on population?” asked Ben.

    “Wife got pregnant and they decided to thumb their nose at the law,” said Allen. “Wasn’t her fault necessarily as a bad batch of pregnancy preventers got sent out. Checked that aspect myself. Anyway, said they didn’t believe in abortion and had her delivered in Old City. I guess she never was enrolled in school or anything. Nothing further.”

    “I always thought the laws on that were pretty draconian,” said Ben. “Is there anything to make the case he’s a corporate spy or agent of the government?”

    “Nothing,” said Allen with a shake of his head.

    “If he was government, they’d go to great lengths to cover his background,” said Ben.

    “It’s not just that,” said Allen. “Novus kind of…downloaded most government and some corporate servers and data storage. At least the main players. We have some serious intelligence files we probably shouldn’t have in those databanks.”

    “Oh?” asked Ben.

    “I didn’t look you up,” said Allen with a chuckle.

    “I’d prefer you didn’t,” said Ben with a laugh. “But how detailed are we talking?”

    “Let’s put it this way, remember that President of the old United States that got assassinated in the 21st century?” asked Allen.

    “The one that was killed right before the military coup and the…events that followed?” asked Ben.

    “Yeah, the purge that we don’t like to talk about,” said Allen. “Whole lot of gallows went up during that time.”

    “Anyway, the assassin was lone wolf terrorist allegedly?” asked Ben.

    “Yeah, he wasn’t alone,” said Allen with a chuckle. “And the old American military knows who helped him. Might have even known a little more than they told the public.”

    “Inside job?” asked Ben.

    “No, just dissident elements of the opposing party,” said Allen. “Hence the purge in the aftermath. The military knew what happened and went after anyone even remotely connected to include politicians they thought were a threat.”

    “Not a good century,” said Ben. “That single event led to the Second Civil War if you could call that massacre a war along with the Dissolution and Annexation of old Canada. The EU-American War, the Russian-American War, the EU-Russian War, the Second Sino-Russian War, the Indian Invasion of Australia, the Indo-Islamic Union War, the Latin American-North American War and Annexation and the Third American Civil War. Along with a whole slew of other smaller conflicts along the way.”

    “And never called it World War III although it was exactly that,” said Allen.

    “More or less,” said Ben. “The historians thought there was enough time in between each and each was distinctive enough not to call it that.”

    “History is written by the winners,” said Allen.

    “I’m not sure anyone won anything,” said Ben. “Because we’re still at it.”

    “One single event,” said Allen. “Interesting reading along those lines from the classified North American Intelligence units with the focus on the ‘why’ of it all.”

    “I might have to take a look,” said Ben who often wondered “why” it all got started. Big kids on the block are eventually going to fight was probably the most logical explanation of it all. “Anyway, back to our problem.”

    “We tossed everything they came with overboard while still in ASD. Scanned, rescanned and did every test we could think of on the six sentimental items they brought that we allowed them to keep,” said Allen. “And searched and scanned the ship for any additional personnel or surveillance devices before the last drop out of the ASD Dimension. As well as taking detailed emissions scans while we were out of ASD.”

    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but if something gets tossed overboard while in the ASD Dimension, it doesn’t come out, right?” asked Ben.

    “Yes and no,” said Allen. “Kirk would have a better answer, but all the probes and sensors they’ve ever tried it with got torn apart and dropped out at random spots. Biggest piece, if memory serves, was only three centimeters or so.”

    “So, we can hope it was destroyed,” said Ben.

    “Nobody makes a transmitter that small that can be picked up as far out as we’re going,” said Allen. “At least that we know of.”

    “Speaking of, I never asked before we got underway,” said Ben. “But exactly how far are we going? I never saw the coordinates or star charts.”

    “It’s…a bit complicated,” said Allen. “But we are making thirteen jumps to the system.”

    “Thirteen?” asked Ben.

    “Thirteen,” said Allen.

    “Are we taking an odd way in to keep from being tracked?” asked Ben.

    “No,” said Allen with a shake of his head. “This is the only known route in.”

    “So, explain to me exactly why we’re making so many jumps,” said Ben.

    “God’s plan,” said Allen with a wry smile.

    “That might take some explaining on your part,” said Ben.

    “Okay, you understand I’m not really supposed to be telling you this,” said Allen. “And nothing I say here is on record? Nobody is supposed to know the routes in and out, even you. The only reason Charity and I know the routes in is if one of the navigators die.”

    “Completely off the record and never happened,” said Ben.

    “Right…and I can flat guarantee you are going to call me a liar before this is all over,” said Allen. “It’s a lot to swallow.”

    “I’ll keep an open mind,” said Ben.

    “Okay, some background is probably in order,” said Allen. “How much do you know about the Alvarado-Singleton Drive? Specifically, how they work.”

    “Not too much, really,” said Ben. “I mean, I know the principle behind it more or less, but not really the details or science.”

    “Join 99.9% of the population out there that doesn’t understand the science behind it,” said Allen. “I don’t even think Alvarado or Singleton really understood it either in the beginning. They just knew it worked and how to make the drives to make it go.”

    “Okay,” said Ben. “Go on.”

    “Anyway, you know it opens a window into another dimension for transport between two locations. We used to call them wormholes, though the theory on that was kind of wrong. The principle was sound, just how they worked wasn’t correct. Anyway, you open a doorway into this dimension and travel to another doorway. Basically, the ASD creates the doorways we use. Now, what most people don’t know is the ships have to be in a certain position in order to enter the doorway. As in very specific X, Y and Z axis to get through the doorway. Otherwise, we abort and have to try it again,” said Allen.

    “I always wondered what they were talking about when the called it a missed approach,” said Ben. “But please, go ahead.”

    “Well, we’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years, but we still have to be in a certain position. Now here’s the tricky part. Once inside this dimension, we must maintain a reasonably steady course. You can’t maneuver inside the dimension or you fall out of it and who knows where you end up. Oh sure, you can deviate for a degree or two over a short period of time, but, by and large, you must keep on a certain track and you cannot just stop,” said Allen. “So, once committed, you have to go all the way or get lost in space.”

    “That I didn’t know,” said Ben.

    “Scientists are still studying the dynamics of how the dimension works and why it drops you out at random points instead of a somewhat predictable area,” said Allen. “Probably won’t figure it out in my lifetime, but however…”

    “Basically, the Novus Group started sending out probes about two decades ago looking for a new planet to colonize. Low and behold, one had a malfunctioning ASD and dropped out in certain places. Now here’s the really interesting part. It made a jump back into the ASD dimension though with different coordinates due to the malfunction. Nobody is sure why or how, but it just kept jumping and they were tracking it the entire way,” said Allen.

    “Wait a minute, you can’t track anything within the ASD Dimension,” said Ben.

    “You are correct you cannot track them within the ASD Dimension unless you happen to have followed it into the portal,” said Allen. “However, they can be tracked immediately upon exit. At least the Novus Group figured out how to immediately lock onto it and determine its specific location. Most can’t do that little feat. And don’t ask me how because I couldn’t tell you but trust me that it can be done.”

    “And we weren’t followed?” asked Ben.

    “No,” said Allen. “We ran a full and complete sensor sweep to include making sure nothing was cloaked following us around.”

    “How did you do that?” asked Ben.

    “The aft pulse electron cannons got a workout,” said Allen.

    “Sorry, just my paranoid side showing out,” said Ben. “Please continue.”

    “Anyway, Novus more or less ignores this probe as they believe it’s malfunctioning, but they still collect the data just in case. And it ends up making about a dozen more random ASD jumps before coming to rest in the system we’re traveling to,” said Allen. “Now, this is where it gets weird. Somehow the ASD engine just shuts itself off at that point like nothing ever happened. It comes into the Novae Spes system and notices a planet with a viable oxygen atmosphere and starts sending back data. Of course, you know the rest or you wouldn’t be here.”

    “Which still doesn’t explain my burning question of ‘where are we going.’ Or the next question of why other nations and corporations can’t find this place,” said Ben.

    “You believe in miracles, Commander Nash?” asked Allen with a sly grin.

    “I’ve seen a lot of things in my time,” said Ben. “A miracle isn’t necessarily on that list, but I do keep an open mind to a lot of things.”

    “The system we are heading to,” said Allen and paused for effect. “Is 37,000 light years away from the Earth.”

    And the conversation came to a dead stop with that announcement. Ben’s brow furrowed up as he thought Allen was playing a joke on him and not telling him the truth.

    “That’s impossible,” said Ben after the silence got uncomfortable.

    “I never said it would be easy to hear,” said Allen.

    “It’s a proven fact the largest ASD jump ever made was 4,500 light years to Kepler 177,” said Ben. “You are telling me we’re going a quarter of the way across the galaxy?”

    “Almost a fifth of the way, but yes,” said Allen. “And taking about the same time as that jump of 4,500 light years did.”

    “How?” asked Ben after several moments passed.

    “Honestly couldn’t tell you,” said Allen. “As Kirk explained it, there isn’t an automatic correlation between time and distance in the ASD dimension. It doesn’t make sense due to the laws of physics we understand, but you could spend a second longer and maybe be 10,000 kilometers closer. You spend two extra seconds and you end up being five million further.”

    “I should probably learn more about this,” said Ben.

    “Kirk is the resident expert,” said Allen.

    “Without asking Kirk,” said Ben with a chuckle. “It just seems like 37,000 light years is…incorrect? Like someone did something wrong on the calculations.”

    “If you think I’m lying, want to check the star chart position from our last drop?” asked Allen.

    “No, I…I believe you,” said Ben. “Trusting you might be a better way of putting it.”

    “Like I said, I can’t explain it,” said Allen. “The best scientists from Novus Group can’t explain it. Again, we know so little about the dimensions we travel through that this warp might be different than the others. More compacted maybe? Just can’t say.”

    “So, we truly are going out where nobody can reach us,” said Ben.

    “Very unlikely the other folks can find their way here,” said Allen. “Thirteen jumps to be precise and some are located in the middle of nowhere so to speak. The only way of being able to find us would be if someone else followed a ship and knew the coordinates to punch into their ASD systems. Even then, if they were even a fraction of a degree or a second off, they would end up nowhere near where we are going.”

    “God’s will,” said Ben after a moment to think about it.

    “I’m not really religious,” said Allen. “My Grandmother that raised me was. And she would have told me the same thing. Just trust in God’s will.”

    “I’m not religious either, but I also don’t believe in coincidence,” said Ben. “You mean to tell me this thing malfunctioned before finding its way there?”

    “That’s the story,” said Allen.

    “It’s not easy to believe,” said Ben.

    “Occam’s Razor,” said Allen. “Either choose to believe this was all a great big accident or someone, somewhere was tossing a little Divine Providence our way.”

    “I’m not sure God is a logical explanation either,” said Ben with a half a smile.

    “So, you’d prefer to stand on the theory this probe found the system through thirteen ASD jumps of precise headings and times and shut down by accident?” asked Allen with a grin.

    “I think I’ll leave the philosophical debate for another day,” chuckled Ben.

    “Let’s face it,” said Allen. “We are dying as a species. Man wasn’t built to live on another world even though we’re trying. Artificial gravity and domes will only take us so far. This place gives us a fresh start and our own history gives us a guide to avoid the pitfalls of our ancestors.”

    “All true,” said Ben.

    “Maybe there is a higher power out there looking out for us,” said Allen. “Who knows? Call it God or whatever you want, but the statistical probabilities of more than a dozen random jumps by a malfunctioning probe that finally ends up at the most Earth like planet we’ve ever discovered are too high to suggest coincidence.”

    “Might want to get out that old Bible of mine and start reading,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “Good way of living your life,” said Allen. “Moral compass and all. We certainly could do worse in starting over as a civilization.”

    “Certainly gives us something to think about when we start over,” said Ben. “Laws and how to live our lives in a dignified manner rather than trying to rip ourselves to shreds.”

    “Well, that’s up to you, Commander,” said Allen. “You’re the leader of this Expedition and from what I was told, going to be the leader until the colony gets on its feet enough to hold elections. It’ll be up to you to decide what’s right and what’s wrong and who knows how long that might be.”

    “Pretty big job,” said Ben.

    “As well as the punishment involved in breaking said laws,” said Allen. “I don’t envy you in the least. I just have a small crew of over 200 to deal with when it comes to infractions. You’ll be establishing laws for an entirely new civilization.”

    “You aren’t making this any easier,” chuckled Ben.

    “The things worth doing in life aren’t easy,” said Allen as the entry bell to his quarters rang. Turning on the camera, he saw Mary standing outside his quarters.

    “Hi Doctor,” said Allen. “Please come in.”

    “Thought I might find you here,” said Mary as she looked at Ben. “You realize you were scheduled to go back into stasis a half hour ago?”

    “I let time get away from me,” said Ben as he checked the clock on the wall. “My apologies.”

    “Well, it’s not like another hour is going to hurt,” she said with a smile. “But we do need to get it over with just like taking bad medicine.”

    “If I may ask, Allen has given me some serious stuff to think about and if it’s okay, I’d like to hold off until tomorrow,” said Ben.

    “I shouldn’t,” said the Doctor. “But…if it’s important, we’ll schedule it for the same time tomorrow. 1300 hours okay?”

    “Sounds great,” said Ben.

    “You sure it can’t wait until the next time you’re out of stasis?” asked Mary.

    “Honestly, I want to do it while it’s fresh in my mind,” said Ben. “I could wait, but this is important enough to postpone the stasis for a day.”

    “Okay, tomorrow then,” said Mary with a smile as she departed.

    “She’s a good doctor,” said Allen. “She was a last-minute pickup by Corporate and has been a godsend to the crew.”

    “Mind you I’m stealing her when we get to the planet,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “No, not like that,” said Allen. “My wife just wouldn’t understand.”

    “Your wife is on board?” asked Ben.

    “And our two kids,” said Allen. “Only way I’d make this trip. We’re here with you ‘til the end of this crazy journey.”

    “What does she do?” asked Ben, getting to know some of the figures who would turn out to be important when they arrived.

    “She’s a teacher,” said Allen. “Elementary and Secondary education.”

    “I didn’t think a lot of children would be coming until the later Expeditions,” said Ben.

    “We have a total of fourteen children of various ages on board with some of the crew and another thirty-seven in stasis with the colonists,” said Allen. “I thought you were familiar with who we were bringing.”

    “I never saw the complete manifest and only knew of one child,” said Ben. “And to be honest, I wasn’t really digging the idea. But family is important.”

    “Luckily, we can keep them on the ship until the new colony is secured,” said Allen. “Additional provisions were put on board for just that purpose.”

    “Still, children add a whole new dynamic to the equation of getting this place off the ground,” said Ben. “And even more down the road.”

    “Most will be in their teens by the time we arrive,” said Allen. “It’ll be nice to have a bunch of strong teenage boys to lug around the heavy stuff.”

    “There is that,” laughed Ben. “Okay, unless you need me, I’ll be in my quarters.”

    “Before you go,” said Allen as he reached into a small storage area near his chair. He pulled out a Bible that had to be 200 years old at the least and handed it over. “Just in case you might be looking for a start to those laws.”

    “Might not be a bad start,” said Ben. “I’ll return it tomorrow before I get into stasis.”

    “And on the other problem?” asked Allen. “The stowaway family?”

    “They’re in stasis at the moment?” asked Ben.

    “In peaceful slumber,” said Allen.

    “I’m going to have to think about that one,” said Ben. “I mean, I don’t like the way this came about, but it’s not like I think we should kick them out either.”

    “Still, being rewarded with where we are going?” asked Allen.

    “Your ship and you had the chance to boot them off,” said Ben.

    “Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen,” said Allen.

    “Point being, we can’t really pass judgment,” said Ben. “We are starting a new civilization and trying to cut the ties from the old ways. Maybe everyone gets a clean slate. I mean, how are we going to start over by enforcing the same rules we just left behind?”

    “Everyone does get a clean slate, but we still have to have rules,” said Allen.

    “Look, we’ve probably both done things in our past we aren’t proud of,” said Ben. “And we’ve both probably broken a rule here and there. How can I fault this man for trying to make sure his family is safe? If I had a family and knew there was a colony carrier going out while the Earth was dying, I might have done the same thing.”

    “I had a family and I wasn’t going to leave them behind,” admitted Allen.

    “There you have it,” said Ben. “I did bring along a couple of people I consider friends. Professional competence aside, I think the world of Tasha and Kendrick Whitaker whom you haven’t met yet. They’ll both be great assets to the colony, but also trusted friends.”

    “Same thing with Charity,” said Allen. “She’ll grow and learn along the way, but she really was a little young for a First Officer billet and frankly, not corporate’s first choice.”

    “So, we’re both kind of guilty of doing what he did,” said Ben.

    “Maybe a little,” said Allen with a half a smile. “So, keep them on ice?”

    “Yeah,” said Ben. “And figure it out when we get there. Can’t keep them in stasis forever and we’ll have to wake them up eventually.”

    “And then?” asked Allen.

    “He’s a worker bee type, right?” asked Ben. “Maybe he’ll be good for Grady. Make him work and earn his keep.”

    “And the wife?” asked Allen.

    “Oh, I have this feeling there will be some work we’ll find for her along the way,” said Ben. “Of course, we have no idea until we get there.”

    “I’d imagine we’ll all need to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty eventually,” said Allen.

    “It’s going to be nice building something up instead of tearing it down,” said Ben.

    “Very true,” said Allen. “I won’t keep you from what’s on your mind.”

    “I’ll see you in the morning,” said Ben.

    “Until then,” said Allen as Ben departed.
     
  15. Merkun

    Merkun furious dreamer

    "The first child seemed to be okay. Decent grades in school, but nothing stellar. Just an average kid honestly.”

    What about the second kid?
     
  16. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    Briefly explained in Chapter 6 about being off the grid since she was an "unauthorized" child.
     
  17. squiddley

    squiddley Monkey+++

    no info on the second child.
     
  18. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    “Wife got pregnant and they decided to thumb their nose at the law,” said Allen. “Wasn’t her fault necessarily as a bad batch of pregnancy preventers got sent out. Checked that aspect myself. Anyway, said they didn’t believe in abortion and had her delivered in Old City. I guess she never was enrolled in school or anything. Nothing further.”
     
  19. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 12


    Ben wandered into the mess still thinking of the discussion he and Allen has just finished up. Ben wanted a cup of coffee to think over the potential new laws and judicial code for the colony. As he mindlessly sipped at the cup and wrote down some thoughts on an old notepad, he felt someone approach from his front. He looked up to see Jim Kirk stopping in front of him.

    “Hello, Commander,” said Kirk as nodded politely. “Mind if I join you?”

    “Please,” said Ben as he motioned to the seat across from him.

    “I wanted to take the time to get to know you better outside the briefing room,” said Kirk as he got everything ready on his plate. “I feel we might have gotten off on the wrong foot.”

    “The continuous Latin terminology was getting a bit much,” said Ben with a chuckle. “Okay, square one. I’m Ben Nash.”

    “Jim Kirk,” said Kirk as he shook the outstretched hand. “I do want to apologize for getting slightly…giddy over the discoveries we’ve made so far. It’s just an exciting time for the science contingent on board and we may be overreacting slightly to the new discoveries.”

    “No apologies necessary,” said Ben. “You are a doctor and a scientist, obviously, but what’s your specialty?”

    “I honestly don’t have one so to speak,” said Kirk. “I’m kind of a general kind of scientist. I’ve studied and taught biology, chemistry, physics, geology, botany. You could say I’m a jack of all trades, but master of none. I mean, my original doctorate was in advanced chemistry, but I’ve since expanded into a whole lot of other areas.”

    “So, obviously smart,” said Ben.

    “I wouldn’t want to inflate my self-worth,” said Kirk. “But I am intelligent.”

    “I suppose you would have to be in order to study this new planet alone,” said Ben.

    “Oh, no,” said Kirk. “Doctor Riker is exceptional as well. We have a good working relationship when it comes down to it. What I don’t know, he fills in and vice versa. Add in Doctor Blevins from the medical side of things and we make a powerful team.”

    “How were you picked?” asked Ben.

    “Honestly? I was rotting away in an obscure small college working on minimal grants and limited research. I hate to admit it, but I really didn’t have a direction I was moving at the time. But I knew one of the Vice Presidents of the Novus Group from when his son was a student in one of my advanced physics classes. He recruited me when they first discovered the planet and moved me to a secret location to study it,” said Kirk.

    “And Doctor Riker?” asked Ben.

    “He worked as a research assistant with me some years before and is sharp,” said Kirk. “I brought him on board with the research almost from the start.”

    “Sounds like a good team,” said Ben.

    “And don’t let Doctor Blevins fool you either,” said Kirk. “Most medical doctors wait another ten years to get an assistant chief position. She’s far too modest in my opinion and probably one of the best medical doctors I’ve ever seen for her age.”

    “She did kind of downplay her experiences,” said Ben.

    “Maybe modest was putting it too lightly,” said Kirk. “She’s top notch.”

    “So, in basic terms, what else can you tell me about the planet?” asked Ben. Kirk spent the next several minutes describing the environment as well as the local system they were traveling to. As well as some of the possible dangers they could face upon arrival.

    “And the fact it’s closer to Novae Spes than we would like doesn’t change the fact we have no other options,” said Kirk.

    “So, this star may go supernova?” asked Ben. “And it’s how close?”

    “Within about a thousand light-years give or take,” said Kirk. “And it could go in the next ten years or next ten thousand. We just don’t know enough about the subject to quantify a time. But this will certainly give Doctor Weber something to study and expand our knowledge.”

    “Enough to cause problems?” asked Ben.

    “Again, we cannot be certain,” said Kirk. “For certain it’ll make the night sky very brilliant for a period of time. But when it comes to the long term effects, we just don’t know enough about the field to make an educated guess.”

    “It’s certainly something I’d like to know about in advance,” said Ben.

    “But honestly, there is no defense against it,” said Kirk. “We just don’t have the technology to stall any kind of natural event like that.”

    “Still, you think it’s worth going for?” asked Ben.

    “Our home planet is dying,” said Kirk. “We have no other option.”

    “Still have the colonies around the Sol System,” said Ben.

    “With no real room to grow,” said Kirk. “Not unless terraforming works on Mars and even then, they have no active magnetosphere so people will still have to live under domes.”

    “There is talk of terraforming the Earth,” said Ben.

    “Which will take a minimum of five to ten years,” said Kirk. “And even then, scientists are divided on whether it will work.”

    “Oh?” asked Ben.

    “That’s not something they let the general public know,” said Kirk. “With obvious reasons.”

    “It would induce panic on a level never seen in our history,” said Ben.

    “Exactly,” said Kirk. “And furthermore, scientists are divided on whether to attempt the terraforming or let the Earth naturally heal itself and start over.”

    “Which would take how long?” asked Ben.

    “Impossible to say,” said Kirk. “Minimum of ten thousand years, but probably longer.”

    “Yeah, that’s not an option,” said Ben.

    “Might be the only option they have if terraforming fails,” said Kirk.

    “Regardless, there are still living conditions off world,” said Ben.

    “And again, no real room to grow,” said Kirk. “And you think the fighting is bad now? Just wait until the mass exodus of refugees from Earth when the system finally collapses.”

    “We really are humanity’s last hope,” said Ben, reflecting on what probably would happen.

    “There is a distinct possibility that someday the children of Novae Spes will help repopulate the Earth,” said Kirk. “Oh, I know how absurd that sounds, but it’s true.”

    “Still a lot of fighting in between,” said Ben.

    “Not where we are going, though,” said Kirk. “At least hopefully not.”

    “Not planning on it,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “Let’s face it, it’s in our nature to be tribal and fight,” said Kirk. “From the ancient times where man first fought with sticks and rocks over hunting grounds to the current conflicts over living space and resources. We have it written into our DNA practically.”

    “I’d like to unwrite it,” said Ben.

    “Fresh start,” said Kirk with a nod. “We have that fleeting opportunity to change the entire course of our species if we do things right. To recognize the mistakes we made and start over. Not many species ever get a second chance. We cannot waste this.”

    “You don’t have to convince me, doctor,” chuckled Ben.

    “No, I realize that,” said Kirk. “Sort of.”

    “Can you qualify that statement?” asked Ben.

    “I’ll be honest, I opposed your appointment to the position of leader of the colony,” said Kirk. “As a minimum, the overall commander position, but the security chief might have been okay.”

    “Because I’m a soldier,” said Ben.

    “Yes,” admitted Kirk. “Honestly, I don’t know many military personnel at your level, but the ones I do prefer fighting as opposed to thinking rationally.”

    “I know I won’t convince you in a single setting, but I am different,” said Ben.

    “Convince me,” said Kirk. “I’m not stubborn enough to refuse to admit I’m wrong.”

    “Deeds, not words,” said Ben. “Look, I can sit here and tell you until I’m blue in the face about how much I abhor confrontation and prefer diplomacy. No true soldier ever wants battle, but they must be prepared for it. You likely won’t believe me because you really don’t know me and have let others taint your perception. I can understand that and even agree to an extent my counterparts haven’t set the best track record in that regard.”

    “That’s kind of an understatement,” said Kirk with a chuckle.

    “But there are two sides to that coin,” said Ben. “You have the politicians making decisions to go and fight and the soldiers do that fighting.”

    “Soldiers can refuse,” said Kirk.

    “Not without repercussions,” said Ben. “Which you probably know all too well after the North American Civil War and the soldiers that refused to fight for either side.”

    “That wasn’t exactly our finest moment, no,” admitted Kirk.

    “Regardless, there are some of us that just got tired of fighting over nothing. Or some perceived slight that was used as rationale for attacking another company or nation to gain what they had,” said Ben. “There were, are rather, some of us that had a sense of honor and stepped to the side.”

    “You retired because of that if memory serves,” said Kirk.

    “Officially, I had enough years in to retire,” said Ben. “But the fire had gone out.”

    “Still doesn’t change your nature,” said Kirk.

    “Again, I’m not going to convince you I’m different,” said Ben. “I’d rather show you.”

    “And I’ll be willing to alter my opinion on the matter,” said Kirk.

    “Not like you really have a choice,” said Ben reasonably.

    “True,” said Kirk with a laugh. “Though I do admit, you letting the teams get a little passionate about their ideas interested me.”

    “And you were wondering why I didn’t assign you or Riker to a group?” asked Ben.

    “Actually, yes,” said Kirk, wondering what explanation he could come up with.

    “Because you already have the data they were going over,” said Ben. “You know the shortfalls in the locations, the problems they might face, but they needed to discover them on their own. The group might have been too ready to accept your analysis of the situation at face value instead of learning it for themselves. And we will need to learn to look at everything from all angles rather than accept the resident expert on this planet.”

    “The other thing is a fresh perspective,” said Ben. “You can get target fixation for lack of a better term and overlook some tiny, but hugely significant piece of information. They go into it with a fresh set of eyes and don’t take for granted the data you might have seen countless times before. It’s the little things that will keep us alive in the long run and they need to be looking at the little things on this planet.”

    Kirk sat back in his chair and looked at the man in front of him, realizing right then he had far underestimated him in his leadership position. It was something he often used as a professor in making his students discover things for themselves instead of being told the answer. They learned far more in taking the steps of discovery on their own than being spoon fed.

    “I underestimated you, Commander,” said Kirk.

    “Not bad for a dumb army guy, huh?” asked Ben with a smile.

    “Your stock certainly has gone up several points in this meeting,” said Kirk with a nod.

    “I’ve been doing that for practically my entire career,” said Ben. “Take Tasha for example.”

    “The one that’s far smarter than she lets on?” asked Kirk with a chuckle.

    “Yep,” said Ben. “She lured you right into that one with the knowledge of Latin.”

    “I was fairly speechless,” said Kirk.

    “Anyway, I discovered her not long after she joined and saw she had a good mind for tearing things apart and looking at the individual parts as they interacted to affect the whole. She might have made a dynamite engineer or scientist, but wanted to shoot and blow things up,” said Ben. “I made her discover the information she needed to make a decision. To evaluate all angles of a situation and learn to find the risks and mitigate them if at all possible. Information is key to everything we do in life, well, except her marriages, and it was my job as a mentor to open that brilliant mind and let her learn things for herself.”

    “I did notice she wasn’t married,” said Kirk.

    “Not currently at least,” chuckled Ben. “But three ex-husbands in her wake of destruction can attest she’s not easy to keep up with. Anyway, I’m approaching this job in the same manner. I’m sitting back and letting the brilliant minds discover and evaluate the data we will need to survive.”

    “But interjecting when needed?” asked Kirk.

    “If needed,” said Ben. “But I’d rather them work out their differences internally and compromise instead of having to pick a side.”

    “You could give a few politicians a lesson in that,” said Kirk.

    “I think I am a politician now,” chuckled Ben.

    “Only when Novae Spes holds its first elections,” laughed Kirk.

    “Politics and the military are never a good mix,” said Ben. “Despite some of my counterparts trying to prove me wrong at every turn.”

    “You are a principled man,” said Kirk. “I would tend to think you would have blended in well in a bygone era of honorable military members. Warriors, if you would, like the old Samurai of Japan. You appear to have a code of honor about you they could have identified with.”

    “Thank you,” said Ben. “I think.”

    “It was a compliment,” said Kirk. “The code of bushido is something many of our current military members could and should learn from.”

    “Many do until they are within that system,” said Ben. “But they tend to get corrupted over the long run when the rules of engagement are relaxed. But on that Bushido thing, I’m not allowed to go cutting off heads of those that disrespect me, right?”

    “Perhaps that little part we’ll leave to history,” chuckled Kirk. “And what rules of engagement are you looking at for Novae Spes?”

    “Self-defense mainly,” said Ben. “I realize we might have a dangerous animal on the planet that’s been tearing up our probes. But also recognizing the fact we are going to be the guests there until we get ourselves established. Now, if these animals come after us, I can make no promises that we won’t go after them since we are mankind’s last best hope and all. But I decided in advance to adopt a live and let live approach.”

    “Interesting,” said Kirk. “I was amazed at the probe’s destruction as well. They are built fairly sturdy for the mission they were on since we knew little about the planet. So, I was understandably curious about what kind of creature could destroy it.”

    “If some alien species suddenly moved into our backyard, we’d go tribal and defend our lands,” said Ben. “This isn’t entirely different.”

    “But whether the two tribes can coexist is the question at hand,” said Kirk.

    “I don’t want our first act on the planet being the extinction of an existing species,” said Ben.

    “I would certainly hope not,” said Kirk. “Anyway, no wife or children?”

    “Divorced and no kids from that deal thankfully,” said Ben. “You?”

    “No, just never found the right one and time got away from me,” said Kirk.

    “Plenty of fish in the sea on this and later expeditions,” said Ben. “Never too late to make your first big mistake.”

    “Indeed,” laughed Kirk. “But not likely.”

    “Never say never,” said Ben.

    “The colonists, of which I had a hand in picking just that you know, were chosen with the implicit intent of the propagation of the species,” said Kirk. “I’m an anomaly.”

    “Oh?” asked Ben.

    “Yes, many were chosen because they are experts in their field, intelligent, in reasonable shape and most importantly, still of breeding age,” said Kirk. “I know that sounds fairly cold when I put it that way, but in order to survive and thrive as a species, we will need children.”

    “You’re what? In your 50s?” asked Ben. “I’ve known men that have children that late.”

    “It’s not that,” said Kirk. “As in any future husband might not understand.”

    “Yeah, that could be tough to explain,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “It is what it is and using the excuse of expanding the race of humanity might not be understood,” chuckled Kirk.

    “Depends on how she looks,” chuckled Ben. “I’ve known a few gay men that have been swayed by some powerfully beautiful women.”

    “I won’t say never, but highly unlikely,” said Kirk. “However, I’m reasonably certain you have caught the eye of a couple of the women around here. You’re a good-looking man and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them started vying for your attention before long.”

    “I’m the leader,” said Ben. “I’m going to have to be highly selective on any courtship I might give a whirl to.”

    “And please don’t take my statement as anything but an observation,” said Kirk.

    “Of course not,” said Ben. “I do appreciate it, but women are my thing.”

    “You are correct though, your dating can cause problems,” said Kirk. “But since you’re setting the rules, nothing wrong with reintroducing polygamy into our colony.”

    “Who wants the trouble of more than one woman in their life?” laughed Ben.

    “Or one?” asked Kirk with a laugh.

    “You could be onto a good thing,” said Ben with a laugh. “Except for that whole propagation of the species thing and I like women too much.”

    “That tends to be a pretty serious roadblock,” said Kirk.

    “But no gay members of the expedition?” asked Ben.

    “None that we are aware of,” said Kirk. “Most are married or show patterns of going after the opposite sex. We kind of have to plan it that way and let nature take its course.”

    “Might need to be some prodding along the way,” said Ben.

    “A situation someone on this ship might find a little joy in,” said Kirk. “The Captain’s wife, I don’t know if you’ve met her, fancies herself a modern matchmaker. She does enough with the single males and females on this ship and will probably be overjoyed to have another 500 or so to play with when we arrive.”

    “Hopefully not me,” said Ben.

    “I wouldn’t doubt it in the least if she made you the ultimate challenge,” said Kirk.

    “I’d rather let nature take its course as you said,” chuckled Ben.

    “Don’t tell her that,” said Kirk. “She will take that as a challenge.”

    “What can I do to put the retrorockets on?” asked Ben.

    “Probably get married,” said Kirk with a laugh.

    “Yeah, I’m old fashioned and won’t get married just to make the town gossip leave me alone,” laughed Ben. “I was understandably curious that none of the command team are married.”

    “Except the Captain and Cyrus,” said Kirk. “And I believe Mister Stafford as well. However, two of the three weren’t specifically part of the initial team selected for the job. We looked at certain criteria for each and found every one of them dedicated to their jobs and, for lack of a better term, workaholics. There basically was social interaction in the lives of the members, but they tended to focus on their jobs rather than seeking a stable home life. Perhaps getting to Novae Spes will change that.”

    “It didn’t mention marriage in Grady’s file,” said Ben.

    “I believe it was his ex-wife he got back with,” said Kirk. “They had been talking about reconciliation for some time before the Novus Group approached him and decided to tie the knot again before leaving.”

    “I see,” said Ben. “Last minute kind of thing?”

    “No, from what I understand, they were well on their way before we even considered colonization,” said Kirk. “Just one of those things that happens, they didn’t realize what they had until it was gone and found out they really were good for each other.”

    “No kids though?” asked Ben.

    “Not that I’m aware of,” said Kirk. “I did notice your choice of the security senior enlisted man brought along his children.”

    “Actually, they were selected prior to him being picked,” said Ben. “Novus had overlooked him in the initial selections and I brought him on board.”

    “Nice to have families around though,” said Kirk. “I wondered about how some of the colonists dealt with leaving family behind to come here.”

    “It seems like many of them lost parents or loved ones along the way,” said Ben.

    “Perhaps,” said Kirk. “Regardless, one has to wonder if the secret may be out on our new planet. A slip up or even by design. It’s hard to think nobody talked.”

    “Maybe they did,” said Ben. “But it’s to my understanding this place isn’t easy to find.”

    “I take it you talked over the route with Allen?” asked Kirk.

    “Not the specifics, but distances involved, yes,” said Ben.

    “Quite an amazing story,” said Kirk. “Tell me what you thought of it.”

    “I’m just trying to wrap my head around it is all,” said Ben.

    “Wrap your head around what?” asked Kirk.

    “How this planet is so…earthlike,” said Ben. “What are the possibilities we find such a compatible planet in this galaxy?”

    “Actually, the odds are pretty good,” said Kirk.

    “No way we find such a pristine inhabitable planet like Novae Spes by sheer accident,” said Ben. “Even Alpha Centauri 5 had to be terraformed for five years before it became even remotely earthlike. Sure, it had a compatible atmosphere and water on the surface, but we still had to transplant nearly everything to grow there.”

    “We have almost six hundred billion planets in this galaxy. And that’s just the planets we know about so that number is probably far higher,” said Kirk. “The odds decrease dramatically when you factor in the numbers like that.”

    “But still,” said Ben.

    “Let me use an analogy,” said Kirk as he folded his hands. “There are hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of grains of sand on the Earth, right?”

    “Sure,” said Ben.

    “What are the odds two grains are going to be almost identical? Maybe extremely minor differences in the two, but same size, structure, composition, etcetera?” asked Kirk.

    “I’d say it’s possible,” said Ben.

    “Extremely microscopic variances aside, it’s highly probable we have two grains almost alike,” said Kirk. “Key emphasis being on the ‘almost’ portion of that.”

    “Yes, almost,” said Ben.

    “If someone was to take the time to study each and every grain on sand on Earth, they very likely wouldn’t find just two grains almost alike, they’d likely find hundreds if not thousands that were nearly identical,” said Kirk, getting back into his professor mode of teaching an important point.

    “I guess it’s more probable than possible,” said Ben.

    “That’s basically what we’re looking at,” said Kirk. “I mean, the data points to the fact the planet is eerily similar to Earth in most aspects.”

    “Most,” said Ben.

    “Land mass is a difference, atmospheric composition is slightly different, the magnetosphere is possibly stronger, but the plant and animal life has developed and adapted like Earth’s did,” said Kirk. “You think the probability of only one in six hundred billion planets evolved to be like Earth is accurate?”

    “When you break it down like that, I guess not,” said Ben.

    “Honestly, there could be tens of thousands of nearly identical earthlike worlds out there. Six hundred billion planets in the Milky Way we know about, and not even a fraction of those have been studied in depth. And look at what we’ve found? Almost thirty that have an atmosphere compatible with humans? Five of those have life that’s evolved. Another hundred are candidates for terraforming. This is just in the local neighborhood to Earth so to speak. We’ve got an entire galaxy we haven’t fully mapped and cataloged yet. I’d say the odds we in our favor we were going to find a world we can start over with and not have to worry as much about adapting,” said Kirk.

    “Divine Providence,” muttered Ben with a chuckle.

    “I’m a scientist, so trying the theological route likely won’t earn any points,” said Kirk with a chuckle. “But there is something curious about the way it all unfolded.”

    “Have a better explanation?” asked Ben with a half a grin.

    “Not that I’m prepared to present,” laughed Kirk. “However, I will admit the circumstances are probably far greater than that three hundred billion to one odds.”

    “I suppose we could believe someone is somewhere out there looking out for us,” said Ben.

    “Again, scientist here,” said Kirk. “Though, like a good scientist I will say nothing has ever been disproven about a higher form of life. And until such time as God is disproven, I’ll keep the option open.”

    “It’s good you have an open mind,” said Ben.

    “Just like you, some of my colleagues tend to try and prove otherwise,” said Kirk.

    “I thought it was a prerequisite for the job of scientist,” chuckled Ben.

    “Typically,” said Kirk. “But some get set in their ways and stop learning.”

    “I’d suppose it’s a good thing we have you then,” said Ben.

    “Ands too,” said Kirk. “Of course, that remains to be seen.”

    “We can table that discussion for our first year anniversary on Novae Spes,” said Ben.

    “I’d like that very much,” said Kirk. “I have enjoyed our talk today and will try to be more cognizant of those big science words going forward.”

    “You don’t have to dumb it down entirely, just enough for a simple old soldier to understand,” said Ben with a chuckle.

    “I’ll try,” said Kirk. “See you in two years.”

    “I look forward to it,” said Ben as he took his coffee mug back to the dishwashing area and wandered back to his quarters. The questions of “why” and “how” still cascaded through his head as he tried to at least put some thoughts on paper as to the new code for Novae Spes. Eventually, he had to set aside the notepad as he knew the questions didn’t have good answers but were distracting enough that he wouldn’t be able to work. Perhaps the answer would be revealed in his dreams as he changed clothes and laid down on his bed, wondering what he might discover in the next few years.


    ********************​


    “Did you finish up what you started last night?” asked Mary as she prepared Ben for his drop into stasis.

    “Not really,” said Ben. “Too many distractions.”

    “The big ‘why’ of it all?” asked Mary.

    “How did you know?” asked Ben.

    “You think you’re the first person to ask that?” asked Mary.

    “Probably not,” said Ben.

    “Would you change it if you could?” asked Mary.

    “Absolutely not,” said Ben.

    “So, why bother asking yourself a question that doesn’t have an easy answer?” she asked with her head tilted slightly to the right. “The overwhelming question of why doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m sure philosophers and historians can question that for eternity later on. But we need to be focused more on the ‘what’ we are doing instead of the why. We know why we are going to Novae Spes; now what are we going to do when we get there?”

    “I can see you’re just not another pretty face,” said Ben.

    “Flattery will not answer that question raging through your skull,” said Mary with a smile. “But the compliment is truly appreciated.”

    “I was hoping to distract you from thinking what a dummy I am,” he chuckled.

    “You are anything but,” she chuckled as she finished inputting the settings on the stasis pod. “Ready?”

    “As I’ll ever be,” said Ben. He gave her one last smile and was rewarded with a smile of her own as she closed the pod door and started the device. Even though her words made sense, Ben still tried to logically think through how lucky they were or whether it was Divine Providence guiding them to their new home as he drifted off into stasis.
     
  20. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 13


    Estimated Time of Arrival: 36 Earth days


    “Thankfully this is the last time,” said Ben woozily as he came out of stasis and was assisted by Mary into the seating position.

    “But you’ve done so well,” said Mary with a chuckle. “Model patient.”

    “Yeah, about that,” said Ben. “I’m not seeing anything.”

    “I’m sorry?” she asked as she turned to him and away from the monitoring equipment.

    “Blackness,” he stated.

    “Get the Beta Wave machine fired up!” she ordered to a nearby med tech. “Get 250 milligrams of Retivive 3 ready to go! Now! Stasis blindness!”

    The remaining med techs quickly leaped into action and started the machine that had sat unused since they departed, but was an important piece of equipment for one of the nasty side effects of stasis. Another tech came over with an IV solution as Ben winced as the needle penetrated his arm and he was rolled to the machine.

    “What’s going on?” he asked.

    “Possible stasis blindness,” said Mary as they got the helmet looking device and placed it over his head. Strapping it in, the machine was still going through the startup cycle.

    “Should I be worried?” he asked.

    “You’re in the best hands of the galaxy,” said the med tech. “Doc Blevins is the best.”

    “Don’t flinch, but I’m about to administer a shot,” stated Mary as she came over with the syringe and got his other arm ready.

    “I don’t like needles,” he chuckled.

    “You like being blind more?” asked Mary as she saw the machine still starting up. “Going forward, we will have this machine already on and calibrated whenever we wake people up.”

    “Yes, doctor,” said the med tech as he saw Mary administer the shot to Ben as he winced again at the intruding needle. She gave the solution exactly two minutes to get into his bloodstream before seeing the machine was ready to go.

    “Ben, you need to close your eyes,” said Mary. “This won’t hurt, but since we have the lights up at the moment, it could harm your eyesight.”

    “I understand,” he said in a semi-worried tone.

    “Nothing to this,” she stated as she locked the device into the specific area of the brain that controlled his eyesight and triple checked the proper frequency was set before having it confirmed by two other people. Being that the machine was designed to manipulate the brain waves of the targeted patient, she had to be absolutely sure it was safe to proceed.

    “Targeted location locked in,” she stated. “Firing at 25% strength.”

    The machine did little more than blink to indicate the signal had entered Ben’s brain. She waited a couple of moments before getting the lights dimmed once again and checking.

    “Nothing,” he said. “There was a flash of light a second ago.”

    “Resetting at 50%,” she informed those in the medical bay. After several moments, she hit the button to activate the device and it pulsed once again. And again, she waited to check his eyesight for several moments.

    “Good right eye, left eye still not functional,” she stated after several tests and getting his input. “Resetting coordinates and preparing to fire again at 50%.”

    She waited several moments before activating the device again at the small portion of his brain that controlled that part of his eyesight. Again, she waited as long as she thought possible and opened his eyes to check.

    “Good reaction on both eyes,” she stated with a sigh and hearing him state he could see her as well as the peripheral areas. “Don’t you dare do that to me again.”

    “Sorry?” he asked.

    “Not particularly your fault, but you get blamed anyway,” she stated with relief.

    “The man always gets blamed,” he chuckled. “No lasting problems, right?”

    “We’re going to keep you overnight to make sure,” said Mary. “But probably not.”

    “With or without a shower?” he asked.

    “There are shower facilities right here and clean scrubs,” she stated as she checked his med sensor pack for anything else that could be amiss. “If I have to tie you to that bed and lay on top of you to keep you here, that’s what I’ll do.”

    “Well, that sounds…interesting,” he grinned. “Maybe even a little fun. But in my current condition, you might give me a heart attack.”

    “Wait! No! That’s not what I meant!” she exclaimed.

    “I know,” he said with a groan as he adjusted on the scanner. “Just playing.”

    “I didn’t mean it that way!” she objected.

    “I know,” he said with a chuckle. “Don’t be so serious.”

    “I’m sorry,” she said after blushing up.

    “Don’t be,” he grinned. “But do I need to continue wearing this helmet?”

    “No, I think we’re okay,” said Mary as she disconnected the device and removed it from his head. He was assisted into moving around the room slowly as his body continued the wake up from stasis. Goop was brought in and he managed to get half the bowl down as well as half a bottle of water.

    “So, are we there yet?” he asked after setting the bowl to the side.

    “Not quite,” said Mary. “The plan was to wake you guys up a month out so we can have last minute planning and whatnot.”

    “Right,” said Ben.

    “But Allen got a little anxious and woke you nearly a week early,” said Mary.

    “Something important?” he asked.

    “I don’t think so,” she remarked. “Just being Allen, I guess.”

    “But everything else is going okay?” he asked.

    “Except for you giving me a scare, yes,” she replied with a warm smile.

    “How often does that happen?” he asked.

    “Depends on a variety of factors, but maybe five percent or so,” she stated.

    “But correctable?” he asked.

    “Yes, 98% success rate on the first try and 98% on repeated attempts,” she declared.

    “Good,” he stated and spooned another part of the goop into his mouth. “And a good thing this is hopefully the last time I’ll have to eat this.”

    “Hope so, too,” she said. “Whenever you’re feeling a bit better, I’ll arrange for fresh scrubs and some shower stuff to be made available.”

    “You’re going to abandon me?” he asked with a grin.

    “My, you woke up sooner this time, didn’t you?” she laughed. “No, I have to file the medical report on what just happened and grab a bite to eat myself. Probably something like a doughnut that I’ll eat right in front of you.”

    “Oh, that’s so not right,” he stated.

    “Honestly, we have to justify using the Beta Wave machine since it does affect your brain patterns. So, a detailed report on why we used it and specifically what happened,” she stated. “I’ll be right over there, so it’s not like I’m leaving you.”

    “After my shower, obviously,” he chuckled.

    “Yeah, that’s helpful,” said Mary with a grin as she had one of the med techs grab some items for a shower. “But only after you’ve finished your supper.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” he stated and grabbed the bowl to finish eating. He did seem to be coming out of stasis a lot easier this time other than the blindness. And he recalled Mary stating it would become easier as they went along. After finishing the bowl and almost the entire bottle of water, he headed to the shower area slowly and found they had everything set out for him. Heading inside, he saw he still wasn’t moving at full speed, but was feeling a little better than the other times he had come out. He doffed the scrubs and set the medical device on his chest to the side before hopping in the shower and getting cleaned up. After coming out, he dried off and put on the new scrubs before going back into the bay holding the sensor pack.

    “Looking worlds better,” she stated. “But that sensor pack goes back on.”

    “Really?” he asked.

    “Yep, doctor’s orders,” she replied. “Until I’m comfortable you’re out of the dark, both figuratively and literally, you keep it on.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” he stated and removed the scrub top and got it back on. Looking around, he was pointed at the nearest bed while she continued putting in the report from earlier.

    “How did you know?” he asked.

    “Eyes in the back of my head,” she stated. “Go lie down and I’ll tie you up in a moment.”

    He chuckled as he headed to the bed as instructed. Lying down, he felt far more alert than he had coming out of stasis before, a fact he mentioned to Mary as she finished up the report.

    “It’s the Retivive 3,” she stated as she looked over his med stats. “It has the side effect of making a person more alert like a dose of caffeine. And furthermore, it’s sold on the black market as an aphrodisiac.”

    “Oh,” he stated. “Last time I was kind of sleepy, now not so much. And truth be told, I am feeling a bit more umm, frisky than usual.”

    “It’ll wear off in a bit,” she stated and sat down next to him. “So, please do your best to remember it’s an artificial stimulation and behave yourself.”

    “If I must,” he said with a grin.

    “Doctor’s orders,” she stated with a return grin.

    “I do have to say thank you for saving my eyesight,” he stated, attempting to be professional, but thinking Mary was quite attractive even in her hospital scrubs and white lab coat.

    “It’s my job,” she stated. “But I do appreciate the gratitude.”

    “Appreciate it enough to let me off the goop this time?” he asked with a grin. “I promise to not be so naughty unless being naughty gets me a decent meal.”

    “My, you are feeling frisky!” she laughed. “And the answer is no.”

    “You’re no fun,” he objected with a grin.

    “Doctors aren’t supposed to be fun, especially in the medical bay,” she stated.

    “So, if we were out of the medical bay?” he grinned.

    “I think you’re pushing it a tad bit too far,” she said in a serious tone. “As the old saying goes, this too shall pass and you’ll realize you aren’t being yourself right now.”

    “I…I’m sorry,” he said as he got control of himself for a moment.

    “Look, you aren’t the first patient I’ve had that made a pass at me,” she stated. “And certainly not the worst looking one either. But that Retivive is affecting your system right now whether you know it or not.”

    “I understand,” said Ben.

    “Trust me, I’m flattered and all, but in military parlance, this is the shot across your bow. I can handle the flirting and innuendo since I know what’s happening to you, but some of the other ladies on this ship might not know what’s going on and you might say something that affects your ability to command respect later on,” said Mary reasonably.

    “Okay, I promise to behave and eat my goop and drink my water,” he stated after realizing she was right and he wasn’t really himself at the moment.

    “And sleep,” she reminded him.

    “As soon as it comes,” he stated with a nod.

    “Okay, I’ve got some additional paperwork to be done, but if you need anything, just let me know,” she stated with a smile.

    “I’ll try to rest,” he stated and leaned back on the bed, but asking for a tablet so he could get a jump start on the data collection over the previous two years. Mary sighed and knew he wouldn’t be put off and got a spare tablet to give to him to hopefully make him less fidgety. He started looking over the data and it wasn’t long before she heard slight snoring coming from the bed. Heading over, she saw him fast asleep with the tablet still in his hands, gently snoozing away. She managed to get the tablet out without waking him and whispered “roll over” in his ear. He complied with the request and adjusted himself on the bed after which she used a spare blanket to cover him up.

    “He seems like a good man,” said one of the nurses as Mary came back over.

    “He is a good man,” said Mary. “We are lucky to have him as leader.”

    “I was meaning in more than a leadership role,” she replied. “You two are close in age now and he seems to like you.”

    “I think I’ll be the judge of who might be good for me,” said Mary with an annoyed look.

    “He makes you laugh, something we don’t see a lot of,” said the nurse. “I’m just saying he’s certainly worthy of a closer look even if the Retivive is affecting his brain at the moment.”

    “Well, that’s a little bold of you,” stated Mary.

    “We’ve been together for seven years,” said the nurse. “You know I speak my mind.”

    “We have a lot of work coming up in the next couple of weeks, so a romantic interlude is off the table at the moment even if it is with a charming and handsome man,” said Mary.

    “You’re a good doctor and have been a great boss,” said the nurse. “We’d just like to see you happy outside the medical bay as well.”

    “Thank you,” said Mary as she saw the nurse wasn’t going to be put off. She returned to her desk to finish up the daily paperwork as well as getting the schedule set for waking the other team directors the day after next. And started working on a plan to wake the entire compliment of the initial colonists to be presented at one of the staff meetings. Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep at her desk as the nurse went to wake her.

    “Doctor?” asked the nurse.

    “Sorry, dozed off,” she stated and wiped at her face.

    “Nothing else going on at the moment,” said the nurse. “You can head to your quarters.”

    “No, I’d like to be immediately available in case of problems,” she stated. “I know Doctor Chambless is on duty, but Commander Nash is my patient at the moment.”

    “You aren’t that far away,” said the nurse.

    “I’m okay, I’ll just crawl up here and catch a cat nap,” said Mary with a groan as she moved to the other available bed in the area. Before she knew it, she was back asleep and the nurse covered her up with a chuckle. She headed into the next compartment to let Doctor Chambless know Doctor Blevins was asleep in the next bay in case he needed her throughout the night.


    ********************

    Estimated Time of Arrival: 34 Earth Days


    “I see everyone is up and all bright faced,” said Ben as the Directors had their first meeting since waking out of stasis. “And just so the kids know, we’re almost there.”

    “Rachelle beat you to it,” laughed Mary. “First thing she asked out of stasis was ‘are we there yet’ to the med tech.”

    “Hey, don’t act like everyone else wasn’t wondering the same thing,” said Rachelle.

    “Of course, we were,” said Allen. “Though it’s been a bit longer for us.”

    “But we are how far out?” asked Ben. “I mean, how long until we make orbit?”

    “Projected to be 34 days,” said Allen.

    “And everyone will be woken up by then,” said Mary. “At least woken up by the time we make orbit for sure.”

    “A job I don’t envy since you have to do it in limited batches,” said Ben. “Speaking of, we will be properly provisioned for 800 folks, right?”

    “All the unused compartments are actually quarters,” said Allen. “Some will have to have multiple personnel using them, but by and large, the quarters are ready to go. As for the galley, they have been making plans for this and are ready to go as well, though we will have to eat in shifts once more people are woken up.”

    “Sounds like everything is planned out,” said Ben.

    “Are we going to pass any of the other planets on the way in?” asked Angeline Weber.

    “We will pass fairly close to one and another will be in sensor range,” said Allen. “I might assume you would like to take a look?”

    “If at all possible,” said Angeline.

    “I’ll let the science team know you’ll be bugging them,” said Allen.

    “The more advanced astrophysics teams and equipment will be on the later Expeditions,” said Angeline. “But I wouldn’t mind getting some basic information in the meantime.”

    “I’m sure we’ll have some down time for you to play,” said Ben.

    “I hoped I wouldn’t become only a weather forecaster while we were here,” she chuckled.

    “Important job though,” said Ben. “And yes, before you say it, expanding our knowledge of science is important as well.”

    “He catches on pretty quick for a dumb military guy,” said Javier with a smile.

    “Yep, I sure do,” said Ben with a chuckle. “But we’re almost there, in one piece for the moment and still on schedule I take it?”

    “Actually, I was going to inform you this morning, but Charity, Cyrus and I will have to leave in about fifteen minutes. We’re dropping out of our final ASD jump and going conventional the rest of the way in.”

    “I’ve never seen a ship drop out of ASD,” said Tasha.

    “Neither have I,” said Ben and others said the same thing. “Anything special?”

    “No, but then again, I’ve seen it dozens of times,” said Allen. “I think we could cram you guys into the forward observation area if you’d like.”

    “I’m game,” said Ben. “Anyone else?”

    The remaining directors stated they wanted to as well and Ben called the meeting into adjournment for the moment. They headed towards the small observation deck near the bow of the ship located immediately below the bridge and found comfortable seating. The entire crew was at their stations for the drop as a countdown started indicating they were only ten minutes from the last drop near their soon to be home. The group were fairly chatty as they realized it was an important final milestone in their journey and were excited about “almost” being there. The countdown continued as they looked out the windows and saw the occasional streak of light in the dimension they were passing through. The on-board computer started calling out the countdown continuously at the 30 second point and Ben saw the group mouthing the countdown along with the computer.

    As he looked forward and the time neared zero, he saw four square shaped areas appear to the front of the ship, growing towards each other and in size. Eventually, the squares merged and Ben could see part of the Milky Way through the windows as well as additional stars in the background. They appeared to proceed slowly towards the window as the star field continued to grow and a definitive line was seen approaching. They looked closely at the line, seeing the utter darkness on one side as well as light from the stars on the other. The line passed by the windows as they turned to see it, though it was past that portion of the ship. Another half a minute passed before Allen’s voice was heard over the ship’s PA system.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, we had completed our final drop from ASD and will be proceeding on conventional power towards Novae Spes. Our journey is nearly complete, but do not let complacency set in at this time. We are too close to accomplishing our mission for us to let our guard slip and put our passengers at risk. So, I implore you to see this to end. But I am proud of everything you’ve accomplished for so long to this point and will be with you all the way to the very end,” he stated.

    “Navigator, I need a position check, please,” said Allen as he shut off the intercom.

    “Position is verified as just outside the Novae Spes system,” said the Navigator. “About 22 kilometers outside the ASD drop of the probes we sent out.”

    “Not bad,” said Allen as he keyed up engineering. “Chief Hendrix, you have authority to fire the main engines for an approach burn.”

    “All hands, this is Chief Engineer Hendrix. Please prepare for main engine ignition and conventional propulsion for the remainder of the journey in. Main engines will be firing in approximately seven minutes,” said Cyrus over the intercom. Since the engines hadn’t been used for over seven years, all safety protocols were implemented just in case something went tragically wrong. However, eventually, the engines fired as they were supposed to and the craft accelerated into the Novae Spes system on a heading towards their final destination.

    Ben gathered the group as they headed back to the conference room and found their seating once again. Allen and Charity joined them several minutes later after a conventional course had been plotted and the ship turned back over to the normal crew.

    “Cyrus won’t be joining us for the moment,” said Alan as he and Charity came back into the conference room. “He wants to keep an eye on the main propulsion systems.”

    “I was kind of meaning to ask,” said Ben. “Being that we’ve been out here for over seven years, aren’t the engines due for an overhaul or something?”

    “You have to remember, the majority of the time we’ve been here has been spent using the ASD systems,” said Allen. “Our main engines are fairly low hours compared to everything else.”

    “I didn’t think of it that way,” said Ben. “Okay, so let’s go ahead and review what we know and what we set aside for this moment.”

    The group spent the next hour discussing the items they had previously agreed to as well as getting additional inputs from Kirk and Riker. Eventually, they found the area they planned was working out just as well as they’d hoped. They finalized the exact landing location as well as going over the colony plans for building. They all knew it would be a monumental task, but certainly one worthy of their time and effort.

    “One thing we haven’t really discussed so far is something fairly important,” said Kirk once they finished with the business at hand.

    “Oh?” asked Ben.

    “A calendar for Novae Spes,” said Kirk.

    “We’re pretty sure we can get a calendar for Novae Spes going by the time we arrive,” said Kirk. “The rotational period is exactly 392 days around the star and the days are down to the second 29 hours and 54 minutes. Odd, but we knew this going in.”

    “Twelve months doesn’t add up to an even amount of days,” said Angeline who did the calculations in her head.

    “It doesn’t really,” said Kirk. “So, you are faced with a choice. We can either modify the existing Gregorian Calendar with additional days here and there or we make the months even by going to 28 total days per month and adding two months.”

    “Adding them where?” asked Grady.

    “Probably an additional month in the summer and one in the winter since the seasons are slightly longer,” said Kirk.

    “Yeah, that won’t be weird or anything,” laughed Rachelle. “And coming up with new names? I move to nominate the first new month be called the month of Rachelle.”

    “How about we discuss this as scientists and professionals?” said Ben, but added a grin.

    “Hey, can’t blame a girl for trying,” said Rachelle with a grin back at him.

    “Okay, on a serious note, would adding two extra months be a good thing or bad?” asked Ben.

    “New planet, new rules and it seems like we’re trying to adapt the old rules to fit our needs,” said Javier. “Not that it’s a bad idea.”

    “I do want to remind folks we aren’t going to be prepared for this,” said Mary. “I won’t get into the astrophysical debate, but remember, our bodies were created and have had millions of years to adapt to a 24-hour day. We’re going to a place where we will certainly not be accustomed to. Perhaps even our children and grandchildren will be adapting and evolving if they ever do. Could take multiple generations for our bodies to adapt to a longer day.”

    “And this helps the current debate?” asked Ben.

    “Just that we will very likely not be able to adapt to the Novae Spes days and nights,” said Mary. “Just as a mention, not a debate.”

    “That’s really not going to make much difference in the initial start,” said Javier.

    “But it does bring up a good point we will need to discuss going forward,” said Ben. “Work-rest cycles and how our bodies will hold up.”

    “Perhaps afterwards,” said Mary. “But it is worthy of discussion.”

    “No doubt about it,” said Javier. “I was wondering what the physiological impacts were going to be myself.”

    “Okay, regardless, we’ll have to fashion new clocks,” said Kurt, jumping in. “And figure out exactly what an ‘hour’ and a ‘minute’ will be on this planet.”

    “Doctor Kirk?” asked Ben. “Have you thought about that?”

    “I have a little,” said Kirk. “My counterpart has more in-depth knowledge of the subject.”

    “Doctor Riker?” asked Ben.

    “I’ve given it some thought, yes,” said Riker. “We could keep the measurement of Earth time with a single condition. We have a leap hour.”

    “Leap hour?” asked Tasha.

    “Yes, the days are exactly six minutes shorter than an Earth day. We have leap years in Earth where we account for the extra time we spend revolving around the sun. Just slightly different as the times aren’t the same. But somewhat equal given all things. So, every ten years, we have a leap hour to make up for the lost time,” said Riker.

    “We jump forward an hour every ten years? That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Grady. “Losing six minutes a day won’t hurt us so to speak.”

    “And all this is set up to a 30-hour day?” asked Javier.

    “It’s the closest we can come and still make it somewhat familiar,” said Riker.

    “And the other option?” asked Allen.

    “We start from scratch and do it that way,” said Riker. “Maybe something metric based, but the numbers just are real funky on that.”

    “I’d prefer not to do funky,” said Ben. “People are going to need something vaguely familiar on this new world even if the days are considerably longer.”

    “I’ll be honest, this is my first and I believe the best choice,” said Riker. “I haven’t spent a great deal of time on alternatives.”

    “I wouldn’t expect you to,” said Ben. “It’s logical. Any disagreement?”

    “I think it’ll work,” said Angeline as the other agreed or stayed silent as the subject was above their heads.

    “Start making new clocks,” chuckled Ben. “Does this extended day mean I get to work you guys harder for longer hours?”

    “I’m wondering if that might call for Novae Spes first workers union,” laughed Kurt.

    “Okay, we’ll play that one by ear,” said Ben. “How about the years?”

    The group had been thinking on that subject while the others were discussing the days and hours. And it looked like they had some fairly interesting ideas they were pretty passionate about. And that passion brought arguments to the table. A few were quite during the debates and watched as the doctors, scientists and experts argued.

    “I don’t know,” said Tasha, wading into the subject after seeing a break.

    “Know?” asked Javier.

    “It’s just seems like…like maybe we’re too eager to do away with everything we came from,” she replied. “Like we’re trying too hard to wipe the slate clean and start over with this calendar.”

    The group thought about what she said and saw she was correct. It did appear they were trying very hard to bury their own past and change everything for the sake of changing it.

    “I’m pretty sure you aren’t a scientist using common sense like that,” said Angeline with a smile. “She is correct. While we are going to a new place to rebuild, we are trying too hard to wipe away our past. The answer is right in front of us when it comes to days, weeks and months.”

    “So, fourteen months?” asked Ben. “We could keep a standard seven-day week. Right?”

    “We’d have 56 weeks in the year,” said Kirk. “But yes, 392 is divided by 7 into exact weeks without moving New Years Day around. And fourteen months exactly at 28 days apiece.”

    “So, News Years Day would fall on the same day every year?” asked Cyrus. “Sunday please.”

    “And no real need to rename the days as far as I’m concerned,” said Charity, speaking for the first time and the group nodded agreement. “They work for the moment.”

    “As well as the months, too,” said Javier, but finished as he saw Riker was about to inject his thoughts. “Not forgetting we’re adding two and will need to name them.”

    “So, one additional summer month and one additional winter?” asked Angeline.

    “The seasonal changes would allow for that,” said Kirk. “Based on what we’ve observed.”

    “Okay, so: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, new month, August, September, October, November, new month and December?” suggested Kurt.

    “That’s only four months between the new ones,” said Rachelle.

    “At what month is spring typically coming around?” asked Ben.

    “Around the fourth month or so,” said Riker as he did the calculations in his head. “If we go ahead with the proposal for fourteen months.”

    “So, let’s move the winter one from in front of December to between February and March,” said Ben.

    “And the summer one after August,” suggested Mary. “September on Earth is when you start to see the seasons change. Or they did.”

    “She’s right,” said Javier. “It makes sense.”

    “The seasons on Novae Spes do change around the time of this proposal,” said Riker.

    “So, January, February, new month, March, April, May, June, July, August, new month, September, October, November and December?” asked Kirk. “That’s agreeable?”

    “Works for me,” said Javier as additional nods were seen around the table.

    “And I have an idea for the two new months,” said Ben. “And no, they don’t include the months of Rachelle and Tasha.”

    “You really are no fun,” laughed Tasha.

    “How about the two months being named after Alvarado and Singleton? They really are the ones responsible for getting us to our new home,” said Ben.

    “So, August, Singleton, September and February, Alvarado and March?” asked Angeline.

    “If I may,” said Kirk. “I’d swap the two.”

    “Okay…” said Ben and waved his hand.

    “Wayne Singleton was kind of a dour fellow and didn’t have much in the way of personality. Very serious and cold man,” said Kirk. “Kristina Alvarado was far more cheerful with a good disposition. I’d think it fitting if the months were similar to their personalities.”

    “And you know this for a fact?” asked Ben.

    “Yes, I met them both at separate times in my life,” said Kirk. “Singleton should be a winter month and Alvarado should be a warm summer month. Just a suggestion of course.”

    “I like it,” said Allen. “Fitting way of memorializing them for eternity.”

    “Anyone disagree?” asked Ben. “It’s settled. So be it!”

    The last words were spoken in loud voice like an ancient Greek God making a proclamation. The group laughed before moving on to additional data from the planet.

    “When are we looking at landing?” asked Ben.

    “Projected to be the last part in the fourth month,” said Kirk. “That would make it March.”

    “This is going to take some getting used to,” said Tasha.

    “New world and all,” said Ben. “Right in time for growing season.”

    “We couldn’t have planned that any better,” said Kurt.

    “A day in particular?” asked Ben.

    “Depending on the travel routes and if we have any delays?” asked Riker. “But probably between the 24th and the 26th day of April…never mind, March.”

    “I told you it’ll take some getting used to,” said Tasha.

    “Indeed,” said Riker. “Anyway, I’ll be able to pinpoint it exactly after checking the data a final time.”

    “But looking in time for spring on NS?” asked Kurt referring to the informal name they had given Novae Spes for an ease of discussion.

    “Yes,” said Riker. “There are some cold spells in the fourth month, but for the most part the later portion of the month starts the seasonal warming trend.”

    “Normally, it’s nice to plow the fields under in the later portions of the winter, but it is what it is and we’ll make it work,” said Kurt.

    “And it won’t upset the growing cycle?” asked Ben.

    “Nah, we’ll be fine especially with a longer summer,” said Kurt.

    “Okay, anything else before we break for lunch?” asked Ben.

    “You just want to have a working lunch in here?” asked Mary.

    “Actually, I’d suggest using the mess while you can for an individual meal,” said Allen. “Once the colonists start waking up, it’s going to get crowded and it won’t be easy for the cooks to prepare individual meals.”

    “So much for rank has its privileges,” said Ben. “Okay, we can still do a working lunch, but do it in the mess hall as that chicken fried steak sandwich is calling my name right now.”

    “Oh, that is good,” said Grady.

    “I haven’t had that in a while,” said Cyrus.

    “I see I’ll have a run on cholesterol pills hear real soon,” said Mary with a chuckle.

    “Who knows what kind of rations we’ll be on in six months’ time?” asked Ben.

    “Can’t argue with logic,” said Javier.

    “You too?” asked Mary with a laugh.

    “It does sound kinda good,” admitted Rachelle.

    “It’s a good thing your cholesterol count is already low from being in stasis,” said Mary.

    “We have a killjoy doctor,” laughed Angeline.

    “Anyway, we’ll dismiss and head to the mess to finish up,” said Ben. “Though I’d like to talk to you for a moment, Doctor.”

    Four heads turned and looked at him at that announcement and he realized there were multiple doctors in the room right then. “I meant Doctor Mary.”

    The group departed except for Mary, continually chatting as they headed through the corridors to the mess where the majority of the group ordered the chicken fried steak sandwiches.

    “I wanted to apologize again for the, well, my behavior the other day,” Ben said apologetically.

    “I was quite flattered,” said Mary. “But also realizing you were under the influence of a pretty powerful drug at the time.”

    “Well, I mean, it wasn’t just the drug interacting with my brain,” said Ben. “At least I don’t think so.”

    “So, you were flirting for real?” she asked.

    “No!” he objected. “I mean, not that it was on my mind. Not really, I don’t think. I mean, you are a very attractive woman even without me having a mind-altering experience.”

    “Sounds like you’re still flirting a tad,” she said with a serious face, though her eyes betrayed her attempts to hide it.

    “I, no…I mean, you’re very…I’m just trying to make sure…make sure nothing is…was said that could compromise the boundaries of, umm, professionalism between us,” he stammered.

    “You’re cute when you get flustered,” she chuckled.

    “Is that a medical diagnosis?” he asked, relieved she seemed to take his apology.

    “Yeah, for the most part,” she grinned. “But if you really want to make it up to me, don’t order that chicken fried steak sandwich.”

    “We call my lack of social graces even if I order something healthy?” he asked.

    “I think so,” she said and crossed her arms.

    “Small price to pay,” he admitted.

    “Well, Commander, let’s not keep the rest waiting,” she said and nodded towards the door. They headed into the galley where Ben started looking over the “healthier” alternatives to what everyone else was eating at the moment. He had almost decided on an item when Mary ordered for them both.

    “Chicken fried steak sandwich for the Commander with potato salad and slaw on the side and I’ll have the lemon fish with broccoli and snow peas,” she stated.

    “I thought I was eating healthy?” he asked.

    “I just wanted to see if you’d go through with it,” she said with a grin. “The intent was there, so that’s good enough for me.”

    “Thanks for being so understanding,” he said with a smile. They received their meals in short order and headed to the table with the rest of the command group. The group continued their business far into the lunch hour before eventually finding their way back to the conference room to continue discussing and planning the eventual landing and follow up actions. They had a lot of ground to cover, but also realized their work so far was finally going to be put into practice. Provided, they had another month before making orbit, they felt a sense of urgency to get everything right and make sure everything was perfect by the time they hit orbit.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2020
    rle737ng, Srchdawg-again and techsar like this.
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