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THE VUDURI COMPANION
BY MICHAEL BRACHMAN
THE VUDURI COMPANION
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2016 by Michael Brachman
Cover art copyright © 2016 by Bruce Brachman
Also by Michael Brachman
The Rome’s Revolution Series
The Ark Lords
The Vuduri Knights Series
The Milk Run
*The Vuduri Knight
(*not yet in publication)
The Vuduri Universe Series
Tales of the Vuduri: Year One
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Two
Tales of the Vuduri: Year Three
The Vuduri Companion
# 1 – Pruno Dreams
Author’s note: Everything has a beginning. I had been writing about the Ark program for so long, it seemed like it was time to come up with the formal origin story. I wrote this purely to amuse myself but it became useful when I started writing The Ark Lords.
The faint chirping sound in the distance was somebody’s misguided attempt at creating a subtle but insistent alert. To Alex Haynesworth, it just made the red-hot poker seemingly stabbing through his right eyeball throb all the more.
He took in a deep breath and covered the offending orb and tried to lift his head up. A pruno hangover was possibly one of the worst conditions a human could ever impose upon themselves. Through his still-functional left eye, Alex stared at the main display and discovered it was totally murky with hundreds of overlaid images, an inevitable result of his falling asleep on the data input surface. He clicked on the Clear Viewspace icon and hit the three-fingered sequence which allowed him to answer the call.
“Alex, where are you?” his assistant, Vick Rausand shouted, his voice shrill with panic. “Everybody will be here in like two hours. We have to set up your presentation”
“Oh crap,” Alex mumbled, noting the time then shaking his head. It didn’t matter. He had nothing.
“Look, Vick,” Alex said. “I’m not ready.”
“How could you not be ready?” Vick shot back. “You’ve had three months.” The dark-skinned man took a deep breath to calm himself. “I’ve seen your preliminaries. Shaw likes them. They’re good enough.” Vick hoped the confidence he was trying to project would somehow travel the ‘net and infect his boss.
Alex inhaled and tried to remove his hand from his eye. It was no good. The eye still didn’t work correctly.
“They aren’t,” Alex said. “They’re not grand enough. These people want to spend ten billion dollars. Nothing I’ve come up with remotely matches the scale.”
Vick leaned forward, almost pressing his nose against the vidcam. “Alex, the entire company is depending on you. Just inflate the numbers. It’ll be good enough.”
“You’re wrong. It won’t be,” Alex muttered. He exhaled a deep sigh. “But I’ll be there. I’ll upload the thing in a few minutes and you can set it up while I’m on my way in. OK?”
Vick just glared at him. The connection was cut.
Alex leaned back in his chair. He was lost. The not-quite-empty pruno bottle sat next to the input surface and Alex considered swallowing the dregs. Pruno was perhaps the only liquor that smelled just as bad going down as when it was vomited up. Alex knew this from first-hand experience. But pruno was all most people could afford these days. Alex was smart enough to know it wouldn’t make a difference. He had failed and that was that.
He reached forward to clear his screen and the images popped back up, ready to be deleted. Alex cocked his head. The alignment of the images, one in front of the other created a mosaic that strongly resembled a skull and crossbones, the time-honored symbol of piracy or death. The pitiful proposal he was about to offer was nothing short of highway robbery. Maybe the brutal pattern meant death. The death of his career? The death of humanity?
“Yeah, right,” Alex said out loud to his view screen. It did not react. He couldn’t have created this effect if he had tried. The topmost image was a picture from space of an asteroid that scientists called 2009 X194. It had missed the Earth by a mere 12,000 miles, taking out numerous geostationary satellites along the way. It was the closest known non-lethal encounter with an asteroid, nearly 500 km across, in human history. On a cosmic scale, it wasn’t a near miss. It was a dead-on hit that just happened to not take out the planet.
Alex moved this picture into a tray on the right side of the display screen and looked at the next image. It was also a satellite photo of super-storm Gamma currently ravaging the coast of Japan and China. The two hundred mile-per-hour winds had caused quite a few villages and towns to simply disappear. He moved that image to the tray as well.
The next image was a 3D photo of a blast zone from the southern part of Lebanon where terrorists had claimed they had executed 500 infidels. The only consolation was this was a conventional bomb, not a dirty one so the casualties were simply those who died in the explosion.
“What are you trying to tell me?” Alex muttered. He was fascinated by the peculiar sequence of images that his falling asleep at the virtual keyboard had created. There was something linking these images together. Something obscure. “We humans are doomed as a species,” he said to the computer. “What do you want me to do about it?’
He moved the thumbnail off to the side tray and saw a news report that the Kepler spacecraft had finally ceased to function after almost 30 years. There was a retrospective summary of its findings, correlated by many subsequent missions confirming that there was a greater than 90% chance of an Earth-like planet within 60 light years of the Solar System. The TESS mission had bumped that number up to 99%. The Sagan Survey System was due to be launched early the following year and, in theory, it would be able to detect the presence of life-sustaining planets to a 99.9% probability or higher.
“Big deal,” he said. “There’s still no way to get there.” He moved the news report off to the side and looked at the next image. It was three sad-looking scientists who were overseeing the dismantling of the mini-hadron super-collider. It was being cut up and shipped off to space because there was no longer any denying that it had created multiple quantum black holes and no one could take the chance of any of them being stable. There was one scientist, Wally Grey, who claimed that the QBHs could be used to construct a souped-up ion drive that could theoretically take a spaceship to the stars using a method similar to the long-debunked EmDrive. The only problem was it would take well over 80 years to even reach Alpha Centauri.
“Ha,” Alex laughed to himself as he moved the image to the side. The next frame showed a video of a man with no fingers, smiling and waving to the camera. Alex leaned forward. Now it all made sense. There, in front of him, was the key which unlocked the mystery: it was The Ice Man.
The tiny auditorium was abuzz with people, not only from the Reynolds Corporation but representatives of the Gates/Buffet foundation, the armed forces and numerous government agencies, some identified, some not.
Alex Haynesworth stood at the podium and tapped its surface three times. The assembled crowd reacted to the noise and settled slightly. Alex nodded and the holo-projectors lit up a virtual surface about three feet in front of him.
“On behalf of the Reynolds Corporation, I would like to thank all of you for coming here today.” Alex’s name lit up on the projected surface.
“My name is Alex Haynesworth and I have been tasked with figuring out what to do with the ten billion dollar grant being offered by the Gates/Buffet Foundation. Today I am going to reveal our plan.”
There was a general murmur in the crowd as the projected image changed to show a geodesic dome floating on the water of some unspecified ocean. It had to be an ocean. The tiny waves lapping up against it ruled out anything smaller. The animated image showed the top of the dome peeling back and a tiny helicopter rising up from the opening.
“I thought about creating the world’s greatest resort,” Alex said, “one that would be immune to the super-storms that are currently plaguing the planet.”
The virtual camera zoomed inside the dome and showed a lush Garden of Eden with waterfalls and pastoral villages. Alex stepped over and the projectors gave the effect of changing his clothes from his business suit to shorts. Alex put on a simulated pair of sunglasses and grinned.
No one in the crowd cracked even a smile. Alex shrugged. He made a motion with his hand and the image went away.
“They told me you were always supposed to start out with a joke to loosen people up. I apologize. I was trying to be funny.”
A man on the front row lifted his hand and Alex caught the gesture.
“All right, serious it is,” he said. He walked back to the podium. “I will get right to the point. I am proposing that we spend the ten billion dollars to save the human species before the Earth is destroyed.”
The crowd gasped. “Destroyed by what?” someone asked.
“By any number of things. I’ll get to that.”
“So how?” the same person asked. “How are you going to save the species?”
“By sending people to the stars,” Alex replied. There was a hushed sound over the audience at first but then the buzzing started as each person turned to their neighbor.
“You can’t do that,” someone else said. “There’s no way to get there.”
“Yes there is,” Alex said firmly. “I’ll show you.”
The holo-jectors lit up again. The images projected were identical to the random photographs he had pulled up while sleeping off the pruno from the night before.
“Let’s assume the Earth is doomed,” Alex said. “Whether it is a super-storm or a nuclear war, whatever.”
“There’s no proof that these have to happen,” someone from the second row offered.
“No, you’re right about that,” Alex replied. He brought the image of 2009 X194, clearly labeled, as it receded into the distance after its near miss. “But geologists have proven that the Earth has been hit at least six times by asteroids big enough to destroy nearly all life. It’s just a matter of time before we encounter another planet-killer. It could be in ten years, it could be in ten thousand. Meteor, comet, no matter, something bad is definitely going to happen someday.”
“So you propose we build a planetary shield?” someone asked.
“No,” Alex replied. “You’re missing the point. It doesn’t have to be an asteroid. It could be a plague. It could be the gamma ray burst from a hypernova. Who knows? I’m not saying what it is. Just that it will happen. Man has to get off the Earth to guarantee survival. We can’t keep all our species’ eggs in one cosmic basket. We have to spread out.”
“We already have a base on Mars. Wouldn’t it make more sense to build that up? What about setting up a colony on one of the moons of Jupiter?” someone asked.
“No,” Alex said. “Those places are not really suited to human life. The TESS satellite has given us clear evidence that there are many Earth-like worlds within even just a 60 light-year radius. And after the Sagan mission is launched, we’ll know exactly which ones they are to a virtual certainty. So why not send people to where they can live without pressure suits or fear of radiation.”
One man stood up. He was not wearing a tie but still carried the gravitas of very important person.
“Dr. Haynesworth,” the man said, “There are so many flaws with your argument that it is hard to know where to begin.”
“Try me,” Alex said.
“Certainly,” the man replied. “First, how would you get there? We have no propulsion systems capable of traveling that distance.”
“We might,” Alex said. He flashed up the picture of Wally Grey. “This man, Dr. Wallace Grey, has a theoretical design for harnessing quantum black holes and turning them into a star-drive.”
“How would that work?” the man asked.
“Scientists have already confirmed the existence of multiple QBHs within the mini-hadron collider currently being shipped into space. Dr. Grey thinks he can stabilize the QBHs and feed them single atoms of xenon at a rate sufficient to keep them healthy. Each atom enters the event horizon of the black hole and exits almost immediately as Hawking Radiation and a shower of subatomic particles. By containing the output in a resonant chamber with a single exit port, the net result is thrust. The amount of thrust created would be negligible but over time, it could be used to get a starship going as fast as 1/20th the speed of light. That means that Alpha Centauri can be reached in 80 years or so. Tau Ceti can be reached in 250 years. It may be possible to supplement the fuel with interstellar hydrogen or helium and go even further.”
Another man leaped up out of his seat. “How the hell are you going to keep people alive for 250 years? This is crazy.”
“No, it isn’t,” Alex said calmly. The projected image changed to the smiling man, waving with his fingerless hand.
“This is Sven Ausland,” Alex said. “You all know him as The Ice Man.”
“What’s that got to do with anything,” the first man asked.
“You all know his story. He’s famous,” Alex said. “He fell into a crevasse 17 years ago and his body was found last year. He’d been frozen solid all that time. When they thawed him out, a quick jump-start of his heart and he was fine.”
“What about his fingers?” someone asked. “Doesn’t look fine to me.”
“He had frostbite. His fingers were dead before he was frozen completely. If it were done under the right circumstances, all of him would have been intact.”
“You can’t freeze people,” the second man said. “Their cells burst. It’s been tried numerous times with animals and they always wake up dead.”
“Sven proves otherwise,” Alex said condescendingly. “Before he was frozen, he had become completely dehydrated. There was enough room in his cells to handle the expansion of the intracellular fluid. Basically, he was freeze-dried.”
The crowd was becoming agitated. There was too much truth and information for them to absorb all at once.
“So relate the two back. How does freezing people get them to the stars? During a trip of such magnitude, there would be radiation, micrometeorites, who knows what. There is no way to build a spaceship that could last that long. We don’t have the technology.”
“You are exactly correct,” Alex said. “I don’t intend to build a super-spaceship. In fact, I’m proposing we build the cheapest spaceship possible. Think of it as a flying tin can.”
“How will sending a tin can to the stars guarantee the survival of the frozen people?”
Alex paused for a second. The way the man phrased it made it sound silly, even to him but he pressed on.
“We use statistics. If all of our money goes into building a single space-worthy super-ship and something bad happens, everybody dies. So instead, we build a cheap starship and put each frozen passenger in a radiation-proof, micrometeorite-proof container. Like a coffin or more accurately, like a sarcophagus. Once they’re in space, we open up some vents within the crew compartment and then we wouldn’t even need active refrigeration. The cold of interstellar space will keep them frozen.” Alex pointed his finger in the air. “However, as you correctly pointed out, some of the people will die, to be sure, but most will live. If we send 500 people on one of these Arks, at least half should survive the trip and it would be more than enough to build a colony when we get there.”
“Where would you send these ships, these Arks?” the second man asked.
“According to TESS, our best targets would be Alpha Centauri, Tau Ceti, Beta Hydri and 82 Eridani. If we can figure out how to collect interstellar gas or dust, we could even try for Nu2 Lupi. Even without the Sagan mission, of those 5 stars, we have greater than a 99% chance of finding a viable world in the habitable zone.”
“Who gets to go?” the first man asked. “Based upon your math, it seems like a suicide mission.”
“It might be,” Alex said. “But so might be staying behind. I guarantee you we would have no shortage of volunteers. I know I’d go. We just ask for the best and the brightest and we see where it goes.”
There were three uniformed men from the U.S. Space Force sitting in the third row. One of them, a general, stood up. “Mr. Haynesworth,” he said. “Do you really think ten billion dollars will cover the cost of this whole program?”
“Probably not,” Alex said, “but certainly enough to do feasibility studies. “Look,” Alex spread his hands out, palms up. “I don’t claim to have all the answers. But we have to start somewhere and this,” he said pointing the floating virtual Ark, “is somewhere.”
“What are you going to do for defense? What if the people who get there find hostile indigenous life or some other kind of danger?”
“Like I said. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I freely admit there are a lot of details to work out,” Alex said. “But somebody has to do something and this is my best idea.”
There was general murmuring among the crowd. The three uniformed men, including the general, literally put their heads together. After a few minutes, all three nodded. The general stood up again.
“Your idea is intriguing,” said the general. “And on its surface, it actually has some merit.” He looked down at his two peers then back to Alex. “Since you’re going to need some kind of security forces, there is probably a way we can merge the interests of the U.S. Military with your goals. If that ends up being the case, we should be able to help with the funding, too.”
“That’s great!” Alex said. He looked around the room. “Obviously, this isn’t the end,” he said. “It’s just the beginning. Every one of you is welcome to offer any suggestions you might have. This is just a springboard.” Alex pointed straight up. “A springboard to the stars.”
One person in the audience began clapping slowly. Another joined him then another. Soon, the entire audience was on their feet, giving Alex Haynesworth a rousing round of applause. And so it was, on this very day that the Ark program was born.
Alex never told anyone about the pruno.
# 2 – Before the Piranha Rats Came
Author’s note: Of all the stories I have written before
became Rome’s Revolution, I believe this was my finest piece of
work. I spent the most time polishing it so that it hooked the reader and made
them want to read the rest of the novel. However, when I boiled the three
novels down into one, this was the very first casualty. It only links into the
plot in the most peripheral way and there were plenty of opportunities to weave
in certain elements later in the book. I’m glad Silas Hiram finally gets his
day in the sun. I hope you enjoy it.
Year 2165 AD
Silas Hiram exhaled sharply as he lifted the split log and replaced the two pieces within a slot on the side of the wooden fence. The wood dried so fast here and became so brittle it was inevitable that the full log would split. He wrapped a soy-stalk tie around the frayed ends and then looped it around the post to keep the two ends in place permanently. He squatted down to inspect his work and decided that it was complete. Now came the time he hated; now he had to stand up straight. Instinctively, he put his hands on his hips, arching backwards as far as he could go and then some. His back was bad and getting worse, but he had learned that pushing it way past its natural limit let him recover enough to straighten up and walk normally, or at least good enough to fool Mary. He chuckled to himself after he did it because Mary wasn’t even home to see. She and the boys had left early in the morning to visit the neighbors and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow.
That his back hurt all the time made no sense, of course. This world had far less gravity than Earth. But lying supine, dehydrated, in a cryo-hibernation chamber for 80 years caused some type of degeneration that affected him more than the others or so he thought. Before they launched, the scientists had assured all of them that there would be no aging, no ill effects at all, from being frozen for so long, but his body told him that just was not true. Back on Earth, stem cell soup would have fixed whatever had gone wrong but here on this virgin planet, their medical technology was primitive by necessity. Under these circumstances, there was nothing he could do but grin and bear it. However, this was a small price to pay for all the wonders and freedom this planet had to offer. At least his sons were born on this world and they would grow up right and strong and tall.
Silas was coming to the end of a long day. In fact, every day was a long day because of the planet’s speed of rotation about its axis. The human body could adapt, of course, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t tired. Some days he felt like he was catching up to his real age, which would have been well over 90 if he had been awake the whole time. To anyone else, they would have guessed he was in his late forties.
Silas looked up into the azure sky at Beth as it set in the west. In the binary star system of Rigil Kentaurus, there were two stars. The brighter of the two was called Aleph and the dimmer B-star was called Beth by the residents of New Earth. New Earth was the fourth planet out from Aleph, a G2V star, virtually a twin of Sol. Aleph’s companion, Beth, was a deep orange, K-class star. Though both stars had several planets, each star had only one habitable world located in the comfort zone. The one orbiting Aleph was far superior to the one circling Beth and was the natural choice between the two for man’s first colony world.
When Silas first arrived on this world, Beth had trailed behind Aleph by several hours past sunset. That meant that the sky did not really get dark until many hours into the night. But with the sureness of the complex celestial mechanics behind it, Beth slowly advanced and now led the way, ahead of Aleph, by about one half hour. When Beth was out during the early evening, at an apparent magnitude of –18, it was far, far brighter than the full moon of Earth. At night, Beth was a spotlight that drowned out all the constellations and stars that surrounded it. Due to an unfortunate alignment of the stars, that meant especially the one group of stars that Silas cared about. But this would not be the case tonight.
Silas carefully stooped down to gather up his tools and materials and placed them in the wood carrying bucket he had crafted. He looked back to the west and decided to watch Beth as it set completely. Beth was a deep orange to begin with but now, at sunset, it took on a blood red color that was absolutely spectacular. For just one night, Silas thought to himself good riddance. Now all he had to do was wait for Aleph to set.
He turned his head east to west and saw no signs of Nuna, their single moon. It, too, had just set; yet another piece of the astronomical puzzle. Silas was also thrilled to note it was absolutely cloudless this particular day. Weather was always the final variable; but it would not be a factor tonight. Tonight the viewing conditions would be perfect.
“Tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night,” Silas sang to himself. West Side Story was so far removed from this world and its people but Silas had always loved it. He laughed; it was a good thing there was nobody around to hear him sing. He was completely tone-deaf. That didn’t change the fact that on this day, both suns were finally setting in the exact right sequence at exactly the right time. Tonight really was the night!
Aleph was just starting its descent toward the horizon and its color was beginning to deepen from its usual yellow-white, taking on the rosy-orange hue of all suns at sunset. And just for one moment, her color perfectly matched that of Beth at its brightest. During this exact instant, it struck Silas viscerally that the two stars truly were sisters. Not just because of their proximity, but because the fate of one rested upon the fate of the other. Their orbital mechanics may be intricate, but to the twin stars, it was how they always had lived. In the future, there would be other binary star systems occupied by man. Of that, Silas was sure. But there would never be a system exactly like this; so perfect, so balanced. He knew he was among the most privileged people to have ever lived.
When their colony ship launched in 2065, no one knew with absolute certainty as to whether the either of the two terrestrial-type planets circling the binary stars in their respective habitable zones would be suitable for human life. The decision to orbit and land was left to the AI, their artificial intelligence engine. They couldn’t take the chance of reanimating someone before the determination was made. If they reanimated even one person and then were forced to move on, that person would have had to remain awake. No one could survive being put into cryo-hibernation twice. And if they had to move on, because of the incredible distance between star systems, it would have been a death sentence for that unlucky soul. So instead, they built a ship where human decision was not a requirement. Fortunately, of the two candidate planets of Rigil Kentaurus, this one was found to be more than habitable. This beautiful world, their New Earth, was already teeming with indigenous life. While it was a little drier than they would have liked, there was enough water for life to start and therefore enough for the colonists to live on.
New Earth had an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere and was nearly a duplicate of Terra except for the fact that the oceans occupied less than one quarter of the planet’s surface and were fairly shallow. Also, there were far fewer planets around each star than in the Solar System and there were no gas giants here. Eons before, the binary stars had swept all the Jupiter-type planets clear leaving only the rocky terrestrial-type worlds remaining. Maybe the lack of gas giants caused fewer comets to be flung to New Earth, which limited the amount of water on the ground. Nobody knew. That kind of scientific investigation was a luxury they could not afford at this early stage of colonization. New Earth’s mass was about 80% of Earth, but it was far richer in some of the heavier elements making it slightly denser so the gravity was about 85% of Earth-normal. This fact alone probably explained why Silas was able to function at all, given the degeneration in his back.
Silas turned and looked at his soy fields. The plants were flourishing despite the relatively arid conditions. The soy plants were ideal because they provided much-needed protein for both the humans and the animals. Their shredded stems could be woven into a hemp-like material that could be used for clothing and construction. Aleph was brighter than Sol. That, coupled with the lighter gravity, caused the soy stalks to spiral upwards in wild shapes trying to capture every golden ray. The soy plants, originally from Earth, had adapted and were thriving here as were many of their crops.
The cargo portion of their Ark brought them the seeds, animal embryos, mining and metal-working equipment, tools, farming equipment, some vehicles and dozens of other items deemed necessary to start a civilization. Each person also brought some clothing and a smattering of personal belongings. The allotment wasn’t much, but something was better than nothing. A strict weight limit made each person very discriminating as to what was absolutely essential. Silas, along with the others who chose farming as an occupation were given the opportunity to acquire the whole of the living portions to grow. Protecting their bounty was up to the individual farmers.
On this farm, the chicken wire and fencing kept all the native herbivores at bay. The assorted plant-eating creatures that lived in the woods around his farm were very slow and very stupid. This fencing was more than adequate to keep them out. His livestock knew better than to try and wander outside the perimeter if they wanted to keep the ‘live’ part of their title. At this latitude, the only creatures they really had to worry about were the batwolves and assorted lurkers. Those predators were more cunning. And vicious. When they first arrived on New Earth, they lost some livestock and one or two of the colonists to the carnivores, but things were under control now.
The whole concept amused Silas. Of course the predators were more cunning. The very idea of a stupid carnivore made no sense. They wouldn’t last very long if they could not outwit their prey. Since man was the smartest creature on Earth, it would be hard to deny that man was the deadliest carnivore that ever lived. The predators here could not outwit them. The cows, horses and pigs were safely tucked away in the barn. The chickens were cooped up in their coop. The sonic generators and a little prudence kept all the remaining risks manageable.
Silas surveyed the rest of his spread and couldn’t see anything else that needed attending, at least not tonight. Buoyed by this knowledge, there was a spring in his step as he walked back toward the farmhouse, noting the lengthening shadows with a deep satisfaction. He had tried mightily all day to distract himself so that he wouldn’t count the hours, minutes and seconds until the twin sunsets. That only seemed to make the passage of time run more slowly. But now it was finally the appointed hour. As he walked by Mary’s herb garden, Silas inhaled deeply. The air smelled so fragrant, even delicious. He wanted to treasure every moment of this experience. Today of all days, everything seemed right with the world. He wasn’t sure if it was good or bad that he was experiencing it all by himself.
Their farmhouse was a modest, two-story affair made of stone and wood with a cupola mounted on the near side of the roof; the side that faced west. The first floor windows were small and barricaded against any unforeseen and possibly mean-spirited trespassing creatures. Silas noted that the railing on the far side of the front porch had split again, but since they rarely used it, he would have to attend to it on another day; certainly not today. Over all, it was a good house; it had character. And it was more than enough for Mary and the boys to call home. His old cryo-hibernation chamber, called a sarcophagus, was stowed away out back. Even with just one rod, the sarcophagus produced plenty of power for their minimal electrical needs. This was fortunate because they had to give Mary’s sarcophagus and one of his power rods to the community central store in trade for the starter crops and embryos.
On this world, there was no money. Every transaction was made using barter or good will. The lumber Silas needed to build his house was purchased with the sweat of his brow and Mary’s flair in the kitchen. The labor was free. All the colonists took turns helping each other build their houses. A house-raising was always a joyous affair and a chance for the members of their little community to see one another, sometimes the only chance.
The mining town, where the landing team had set up the materials fabrication facility, was booming. The particle beam drillers had uncovered vast amounts of high-quality ore and the smelting furnaces were producing a steady stream of metals and composites. The vehicles they brought with them had been commandeered for hauling ore with the promise of manufacturing community-use cars and trucks ‘any day now’. While Silas might reap some of the benefits, he knew that his boys would live long enough to see a true civilization flourish.
Silas stopped in the kitchen and drew himself a flagon of beer. Brewing it was one of his hobbies and he was getting really good at it. Mary had protested when he put in the small squares of barley and hops, thinking the plots would have been better suited to other, more useful types of plants, but he had made a believer even out of her. In fact, she was taking some of the new batch to the neighbors to try. He was garnering quite a reputation for himself. The possibilities for barter were endless. The neighbors were still experimenting with grapes and their last few bottles of wine were quite passable. Things were getting interesting!
He went back to the door and made sure it was secure. Since it was night time, there was no chance that Mary would endanger the boys by bringing them home after Aleph set so he knew it was not a problem throwing the deadbolt. He took the time to straighten the family portrait that was taken only two years ago. Standing there was his beautiful Mary with her auburn hair. This world had been good to her. She hadn’t aged a day since they arrived here. Next to her stood Willis, the older one, with his freckles and curly red hair. Where had he gotten that color? And then there was Bryce, the handsome one, with not a single self-centered bone in his body. Silas loved his family and missed them even though they had only been gone one day.
He took a sip of beer and made his way up the stairs to the second story foyer where there was a parsons table. He set down his beer, reached up for the rope hanging from the ceiling and lowered the trap door to the attic. He had to wrestle a bit with the folded steps nestled against its frame; they were sticking. Retrieving his beer, he made his way up the collapsible stairs, which groaned, complaining mightily of his weight. This damned brittle wood, Silas thought to himself. But the steps held and once in the attic, he set his beer down, this time on a stool perched at the top of the retractable steps.
To his left was a large wooden handle, recessed into the wall. He pulled it out until it snapped into its extended position. Taking both hands, he began to turn it. Despite the creaking noises, the clamshell roof opened easily. He cranked it steadily until the dome reached its fully opened position. The eastern sky, partially obscured by the roofline, was turning deep indigo and already he could see several stars popping out. His neighbors thought he was nuts to build an observatory when there were so many other pressing issues, but Silas Hiram was dedicated to preserving his interests and needed this to pass on the legacy of Earth to his sons.
He walked to the center of the room and did something he knew he would regret. With a grunt, he lay down on the thinly padded mat there, setting his beer aside. He would get up shortly and haul out his telescope, but for now, he just wanted to watch the fabric of the stars unfold. His mind wandered to the sky. He tried to imagine the exquisite cosmic ballet that led up to tonight. New Earth spun about its axis, giving them day and night. New Earth also orbited Aleph, giving them a full year. Beth swung around Aleph, every eighty years, Aleph’s faithful companion.
While Aleph was the king of the sky, Beth was certainly the queen. And as queen of the heavens, Beth did not want to yield; she wanted to rule the night sky. But no matter how Beth twisted and turned, she always had her date with destiny. Right now, in April of 2137, Beth was just past periasteron, the closest the two stars would come. Beth’s luminous grip on the sky was at its strongest but was also responsible for her early departure. And even Nuna, their New Luna, could only stay in one place for a few days. The moon circled New Earth once every 21 days. Only yesterday, at the new moon, she had obscured the constellations Silas yearned for. But there was no malice behind Nuna’s soft glow. She had no such aspirations. Nuna’s role was to stabilize the orbit of New Earth, eliminating any wobble and give them the conditions they had today. It was the same way back on Earth. Perhaps the moon’s influence on the tides also gave life an opportunity to develop or perhaps come onto land. Maybe that was how it started it here but just took longer to develop.
Beyond that, there was a grander plan, more than the days and weeks and years; more than the 80-year star cycle. Aleph, along with her sister Beth, spun about the Milky Way in her own path as well. Today they were 4.4 light years from Earth. In another million years, it would be five. In a few billion years, nobody would even know they were once neighbors. But today, the unalterable day, April 25, 2137, the one star that Silas craved would finally peek from between the peaks of the western mountains. This star would be lying there in the sky; waiting for Silas to gaze upon her, well after Aleph had set for the night.
As New Earth swung about its home star, because it was tilted on its axis, they had seasons too. Just like on Earth. Their new year started with their beautiful, still spring; a spring that filled the heart with joy and hope. That was followed by the warm summer that made things grow. All you wanted to do was bask in the suns and soak up all their rays. Then came the fall when the leaves changed from their yellow-green to a deep crimson. It was staggering in its beauty. And then came the winter, fully four months long, with their sparse snows and dry frigid air. Silas and his family had learned to pack away supplies until the spring. They spent many a day and an evening looking at the fire, in awe at the peace of this world.
As Silas stared upward, he also marveled at what had to be more than coincidence. The fact was that New Earth was just the right size and just the perfect distance from Aleph for life to get started. How could a planet know where to coalesce such that it was located in the habitable zone? That their Earth could do it and it happened on New Earth too gave Silas hope that this scenario could be replicated over and over again across the universe. And not just the habitable zone of the star but of the galaxy. To think, not on this world, but perhaps another, they could encounter another sentient species. Oh the talks they would have! Mankind would find out once and for all if his remarkable ascent to intelligence was the norm or something special. The idea of aliens did not scare Silas, it excited him. The animals here, given another hundred million years, might have achieved the same. But now that man had arrived, the natural order of things would be disturbed. But to Silas, that did not matter.
Soon the sky became dark enough and the tiny pinpoints of light were bright enough that the heavens above looked like a velvet tapestry. There was no light pollution on this world, or at least not yet, so the black of night, now that Beth was fully hidden, was the blackest he’d ever seen this early in the evening. If there were no other reason to migrate to an alien world, this would be reason enough. This night sky was magnificent beyond comprehension. The sky on Earth was like a piece of dense grey cloth with the occasional rhinestone. The sky on New Earth was so dark you could get lost in it, your mind soaring between the stars. It was like a voyage of discovery where there was simply too much to learn.
Silas started counting off the constellations one by one, trying to orient himself. Their system, called Rigil Kentaurus, also known as Alpha Centauri, was so close to Earth, cosmically speaking, that the constellations and stars appeared more or less the same as on the star charts he had brought with him. Of course, the constellation Centaur, for whom his new home star was named, was missing one element of its foot, for that was Aleph, the sun that had just set. That was only one of two major differences in the night sky. Under closer scrutiny, one could see that there were plenty of minor ones.
Finally, when enough time had passed, Silas tried lifting himself up but he knew immediately that was impossible. Instead, he practiced the ritual of movements required to stand; it was a complex choreography. He spread his arms wide then drew his knees up, pushing off with his left arm and twisting his knees to the right using their weight to roll him over. He swung his right arm straight up over his head, rotating about his center of gravity. He pulled his right arm out, continuing his turn until he was flat on his stomach. From this position, he drew his arms beneath him as if he was going to do a pushup. This next part was easier. He rocked backwards until he was on his hands and knees then sat back on his haunches. Thank heaven for the lighter gravity. Arms spread, his left knee came out and he used its strength to force him up.
There! He’d done it. Without the shooting, searing pain that normally accompanied getting up after being flat on his back; he was now standing straight up. He turned to the west. Silas could see the Milky Way in all its glory spanning the entire sky. That he could see it at all with his naked eye amazed him, even though it shouldn’t. Back on Earth, in Pennsylvania, they had long since lost that ability even on the darkest of nights. Many of Silas’ friends had never even seen the Milky Way, but most did not care. Silas did.
He searched and searched until finally he found what he was looking for. Sitting very low on the horizon was the zig-zag of Cassiopeia. He held his right hand up, straightened his arm and used his hand to blot her out. Even lower on the horizon, partially obscured by the mountains to the west, he found the inverted V of Perseus and with his left hand, he blotted him out as well. He extended both thumbs to form a frame and within that frame was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. If Mary were here, he’d tell her that it was not as beautiful as her, of course. On this night, it was only the eighth brightest star in the sky, but to him, it was the most important. He knew its name was Sol, but he just thought of it as The Sun. And though he could not see it, he knew he was looking at Earth.
Since their arrival, back in 2145, there had not been one word, not one transmission from their home planet. Their telemetry had ceased receiving input only a third of the way into the flight, way back in 2093. Their engineers had determined that there was nothing wrong with the equipment. Earth had simply stopped sending data along the tight-beam sometime late in 2081. Silas hoped that condition would be rectified some day, but for now it was out of his control. The lack of communication made no difference in their day-to-day lives but still, losing that connection seemed to make them feel yet more isolated if that was even possible.
He stared at Sol for a long time, waxing nostalgic. He knew why he and Mary were here. He knew why they had chosen to raise their children on this alien world. The pollution, the overpopulation, the natural disasters, the wrecked ecology, the continual random acts of violence loosely called terrorism; these were the problems that had driven Silas and Mary and the other colonists to seek refuge among the stars. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t miss his ancestral home, knowing none of them would ever see it again. Earth was the birth-world of his species and that would never change.
He walked over to the corner of the room and opened the tall cabinet that was standing there, removing a large blue canvas bag and setting it on the floor by bending only his knees. Unfortunately, as he was pulling it out, he accidentally knocked a medium-sized plastic box to the floor, which popped open upon impact. Silas bent over to pick up the box, the lid and the pen and the small notebook that had fallen out. He yelped as he straightened up due to the sharp pain that shot up from the base of his spine to the base of his skull. Then he laughed. What else could he do, it hurt so much. He was so conservative in his movements; he spent so much time trying to avoid these incidents but he was never vigilant enough.
He carefully set the box and lid on the shelf and put the pen and his journal in his pocket. He knew he’d be making some notes tonight so there was no sense in buttoning the storage box up just yet. The airtight box kept the hardcover journal (which was nothing more than a schoolboy’s assignment book) crisp and clean from the humidity that paradoxically collected up here in the summers. If only there was some way to capture the moisture and harness it for more useful things besides feeding the mold that had accompanied them on their long journey. The attic always smelled musty because of it. He usually kept the cupola open a crack but it wasn’t enough to get a clean smell.
Returning to the business at hand, having learned his lesson for the hundredth time, Silas squatted down rather than bending over and unzipped the case. He pulled out the tripod and set it up without much fuss. Then he got out his trusty 90mm catadioptric telescope, which was built around a Maksutov-Cassegrain reflector. He had to fiddle with the mounting screws, but finally got it attached to the large, heavy-duty tripod and carried the whole affair to the center of the room, placing it on the mat. He flipped on the power switch and watched it go through its initialization procedure. He chuckled when the handset warned him against pointing the telescope into The Sun. This was exactly what he planned to do! Of course, the makers of the telescope had never envisioned it operating in another solar system. Thank goodness that the telescope’s internal database had been modified for the night sky on Rigil Kentaurus. The company had been all too thrilled to make the effort for him. Maybe they left that warning in to amuse or comfort him.
The telescope swung around asking him to line up the finder on Vega, which was easy. What had been called the Summer Triangle on Earth looked just the same here. But unlike Earth, on this pristine world, within this blackest of skies, there were so many stars in-between. After centering the red dot finder on the star, he told the telescope to move on. The telescope needed a second star to complete the alignment and the handset indicated to him to find Sirius, which from this planet appeared as part of the constellation Orion. Silas looked through the clear eyepiece, trying to visualize the three stars of Orion’s belt, but something was wrong. He took his eye off the laser finder and looked up. Orion was unmistakable. And there was Alnitak and Mintaka, the two ends of the belt. But Alnilam, the center star, was nowhere to be found. At first, he thought it might be a high-flying cloud or possibly a circling batwolf obscuring it. Perhaps if he waited a moment, it would come back into view. He waited and he waited. He waited a long time, but Alnilam never reappeared.
Finally, he could not wait any more. He made a note then finished the alignment procedure by fixing the red dot finder on Sirius. At long last came the moment he had been waiting for. He commanded the telescope to point at Sol which was just setting behind the mountains to the west. Riveted, Silas stared at it through the Barlow doubler eyepiece until it dipped below the horizon. Once it was gone, it tugged at his heart but he put those feelings aside. Now that the conditions were right, he could not wait until tomorrow when his boys would be home and they could see it for themselves. Yes, on this world, tomorrow was always a better day.
# 5 – Lacy Henry
Author’s note: Hanry Ta Jihn, Jack Henry, has always been an integral part of my future history. He was a rebel, a leader and a martyr. He showed the people of Earth how to free themselves of the yoke of tyranny represented by the first Ark Lords. However, for Rome to have been his far future descendant, Jack Henry had to leave at least one child behind. This is the story of Lacy Henry who we finally got to meet in The Milk Run. As she told Aason, she was more than a girlfriend but less than a wife. That was going to change when Jackie got back from the Battle of Chicago but, of course, we know that never happened.
Year 2671 AD
Lacy sat in her favorite wooden chair, one leg tucked underneath, rocking back and forth, holding her extended abdomen. Even though the chair creaked, it was a soothing sound. She stared out the window, not really focusing on anything beyond the groaning chair and her self-massage. The room itself smelled musty. Pa had tried to fix the leak in the roof so many times but nothing stopped the inevitable bloom of mold and mildew right after it rained. And it rained a lot. But Lacy was not even tempted to open the window. The wavery illusion of the air rippling across the fields told her it was another blistering hot day. The piercing must was vastly more tolerable than letting the blast-furnace heat into the darkened room.
Lacy lifted her eyes to the sky. She held her hand up to block the sun and tried to imagine if Jackie was doing the same thing right now. It had been over a month since the love of her life went off to wage war against the Ark Lords and he should be coming home very soon. Normally that thought comforted her but as the days wore on the comfort was slowly being replaced by a sense of unease.
The gentle stirring of the baby growing inside her drew her attention back down to her stomach. It was as if the baby was telling her, Mommy, don’t worry, Daddy will be home soon.
Lacy smiled. How could one so young be so wise? She shook her head. She just had to be patient. She looked up again and saw a tiny cloud of dust off in the distance. It might have been just a dirt devil but it did not dissipate. Instead, the cloud grew larger and resolved itself into a single man atop a horse, heading their way.
Her heart froze for a moment. She leaned forward. Could it be Jackie finally coming home? She put her hand over her eyes trying to peer harder. With a start, she realized it wasn’t Jackie. The rider was too tall and wore all black. Jackie always favored white shirts, especially in the heat of summer. As the rider pulled up, she could see it was Red June, Jackie’s best friend and first lieutenant.
Lacy sat back heavily in her chair and closed her eyes. Her sense of dread was now fully formed. If Red were here, that meant Jackie was not. She heard Red knock on the front door. Pa answered. There was a brief exchange and the sound of two sets of boots led up to her room.
Pa knocked softly on the door. “Lacy,” he called out gently, “Red’s here.”
“Sure, Pa,” Lacy answered back. Tears were beginning to flow from her eyes. She unraveled herself and stood up. She turned to face the door as Red entered the room.
Red June was a large man, well over six feet tall. It only took him a few strides to close the distance between them. He took off his hat and placed it down by his side. Wordlessly, Lacy stared up at him and Red shook his head side to side, very slowly.
Lacy’s knees buckled. Red grabbed her under the arms before she fell. Lacy’s whole body shook as she wailed with great, wracking sobs. Red gathered her in, wrapping his long arms around her, holding her close while she cried.
Although her sorrow did not diminish, after a time, she stopped her crying. Somehow she had already known it would come to this. Red sat her down on the bed and kneeled in front of her so he could look up into her eyes.
“What happened?” Lacy whispered.
Red took one of her hands and cradled it between his. “We beat them,” he said. “Jackie figured out a way. We found a weapons cache that belonged to the Ark Lords and we used their own weapons against them. We killed every last one of them.”
“And Jackie? How did he…” Lacy’s voice trailed off.
“I’m sorry, Lacy, but you have to know. They had something. A disease weapon. If they had gotten to it, they would have used it to kill us all. Jackie died preventing those bastards from getting to it. And they never will. Jackie made it so they’ll never be able to find it again.”
Lacy put her hands up to her face and started crying once again. It was quieter this time. Red waited patiently while this bout passed. When he felt she was ready, he reached over and lifted her chin so she would look at him again.
“Lacy, you have to know he died a hero. He sacrificed himself so that all of us, everyone on the Earth, would be safe now and forever. He’ll go down in history as one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
“I should have gone with you,” Lacy said grimly. “I could have helped.”
“No,” Red replied. “There’s no place for a pregnant woman near a battlefield. And you’re carrying Jackie’s child. You have to stay safe so his legacy lives on.”
Lacy rubbed her abdomen with both hands. “It’s a boy, you know,” she said obliquely.
Red cocked his head. “How do you know?”
“I just know,” Lacy said more firmly. “It sounds crazy but he talks to me sometimes. He tells me things.”
“If you say so.” Red shrugged. He stood up and reached behind him and withdrew a revolver that had been tucked into his waistband. It was one of the M9 9mm Berettas that Jack Henry and Red had liberated from the armory they found deep beneath the Tevatron.
He pressed a button and the clip ejected. He pulled the chamber back and the single round popped out. Red caught it and set it down on the bed, along with the clip.
“What is that?” Lacy asked, her voice sounding hoarse.
“It’s kind of a miniature firestick. We call it a handgun.”
“What is a firestick?”
“The Ark Lords had these weapons. Long sticks that fire metal bullets, Jackie called them. And this is a version that fits in your hand. It’s just as deadly, though.” He reached down and picked up the bullet. “When you fire the weapon, these things come shooting out and can tear through anything. Especially flesh.”
“Why are you showing it to me?” Lacy asked, her voice trembling a bit.
Red turned the gun around and handed it to Lacy who took it from him. She wrapped her delicate hand around the handle and her index finger naturally found its way to the trigger.
“Jackie insisted I give it to you personally and teach you how to use it. To protect yourself.”
“Protect myself from what?”
Red looked out the window. He stared off into the distance for a while then turned back to look at Lacy.
“Once the Ark Lords find out we captured one of their war wagons, all of Jersey is going to turn red with blood. We want to make sure it’s their blood and not ours.”
“What is a war wagon?”
“It’s a horseless carriage. We can use it to recharge the lightsticks we’ve stolen from them. And it has a cannon. Incredibly powerful. It can destroy a whole village in a single shot. It never occurred to them that we would be able to use their own weapons against them. We already know they have no defense. We have the power now. And we’re going to use it to wipe them out once and for all.”
“I still don’t understand why I need this, then,” she said, holding out the gun.
“Because they know about Jackie. And if they ever found out about you, that you were carrying his child, they’d sacrifice everything to kill you. We need to keep you a secret and failing that, we need to keep you safe. You only have to use this weapon as a last resort.”
Lacy nodded her head. “I understand.” She turned the gun left and right. She held it up to her eye and looked down the sight. She lowered her arm and placed the gun on the bed, next to the clip.
“I need to know something,” she said.
“Anything,” Red responded.
“What did you do with Jackie’s body? Did you bring it back with you?”
“We couldn’t,” Red answered sadly. “It just wasn’t practical. We buried him underneath the rubble of the Ark Lords palace.”
“What do you mean rubble?” Lacy asked.
“Jackie’s dying wish was that we use the cannon and level the place. He made me swear that after we defeated the Ark Lords, we would bury them and their vehicles and their spaceship and their weapons. Every place they’ve ever been on the Earth. He wanted to make sure that there would be no trace, not even a hint that their race was ever here. I swore to him that even if it took a thousand years, we’d erase everything, like they never existed.”
Lacy took in a deep breath then let out a long sigh. She nodded sadly.
“Thank you, Red,” she said. “You are a good friend and a great man.” She stopped and looked out the window. “Can I ask you for one more thing?”
“Anything, Lacy,” Red answered.
“Some day, when this is all over, will you take me and our son out there? To where Jackie died?”
“Absolutely,” Red replied. “I’ll take you to his grave. We’ll make sure he has a proper headstone. The whole world will come to revere that place as where the Rebellion against the Ark Lords truly began.”
# 10 – How Binoda Met Fridone
Author’s note: Binoda and Fridone were Rome’s parents. Binoda was a full-blooded Vuduri and Fridone was a 23-chromosome mandasurte. Their union was very unlikely. Some would say impossible. This is the untold story of how they met and fell in love. They produced a child by the name of Rome who eventually changed the world, if not the galaxy.
Year 3430 AD
The wriggling brain matter that spilled out of the patient’s head made no sense, at least to the Vuduri surgeons who had just removed a section of the victim’s skull. To the Overmind, it was final proof.
“I know you are out there,” it said to itself . “And I know how to draw you from your hiding hole. Then I will destroy you once and for all.”
The open air transport slowed but did not stop. Binoda timed her leap and delicately jumped off the runner, landing in perfect form having practiced the maneuver for years. Without looking up, she walked to her front door which opened as soon as she was within two meters. As she did every day, upon entry, she turned to her right and sat down heavily on the sofa placed against the wall.
The animals had been surly today and Binoda’s shoulders were tight with strain and fatigue. Despite her training and physical conditioning, it had been a grueling experience and her muscles ached. She leaned back and forced herself to relax, trying to drive the tension from her tired frame. Looking down at her jumpsuit, it had started the day in pristine condition. The entire suit was pure white but by the end of the day, it was now soiled up and down with dirt and other animal stains. It smelled as well. Binoda needed to strip down and shower but right now, she was too tired.
She took a deep cleansing breath and closed her eyes. Immediately, the Overmind spoke to her so clearly, it was as if the words were spoken aloud.
“Binoda,” the Overmind said.
“Yes?” she replied, surprised that the Overmind was addressing her directly. This was something she had never experienced before.
“You are relieved of your current duties,” the Overmind said. “You are now assigned to a new task.”
“What is it?” Binoda asked, straightening up. This was so strange. She could not help the small amount of fear that had crept into her mental voice.
“You will go to the island of Havei. There you are to seek out and find a mandasurte scientist by the name of Fridone. You are to seduce him and mate with him.”
“Mate with him?” Binoda asked somewhat horrified. “I am not designated for reproduction.”
“I am changing that,” the Overmind said. “Ovulation will be triggered at the proper moment. You are to conceive a child and after you are pregnant, you are to return to I-cimaci.”
The power behind the Overmind’s voice was too strong. It made Binoda’s head hurt. Normally, the Overmind did the thinking for her but its words were forcing her to think for herself, to process the information being transmitted.
“Please go stand in front of the workstation,” the Overmind commanded.
Binoda did so. This sector’s OMCOM activated its video link. Binoda stared at a reflection of herself in the computer monitor.
“I have designed a conditioning program to prepare your body for the task at hand,” the computer said flatly. The outline of Binoda’s body was highlighted in bright yellow. There was a secondary outline in glowing green that was shaped differently.
“Why me?” Binoda asked, unable to formulate a more specific question.
“There are several reasons,” the computer replied. “First, your brain is clean.”
“What does that mean?” Binoda asked.
“It is not your concern. It is simply a criteria that would have excluded you had it not been that way.”
“You say exclusion. What about inclusion. What included me?”
“You have several salient characteristics which make you ideally suited for this job based upon your lineage. For example, your ability to vocalize. The mandasurte communicate only by speech so it would not be feasible to send an ordinary, silent Vuduri.”
Binoda’s shoulders slumped. Her image in the computer display slumped along with her. She had always considered her strong voice one of her greatest weaknesses. It was a trait that funneled her into animal husbandry rather than data management which was her passion.
“That cannot be all,” she said. “There are many Vuduri who know how to speak with their voice.”
“Agreed,” said the computer. “We have analyzed the physical characteristics that the mandasurte consider most attractive. Your face is quite symmetrical and you would rank highly in physical beauty when compared to other mandasurte women.”
“So I have a pretty face and can talk. That still does not seem to make me the leading candidate to take on this job.”
“Your physical appearance already approximates the mandasurte ideal of a woman and with our training program; you will match those parameters or exceed them. You will change from your current physique to the one highlighted in green.”
Binoda stared at the display trying to imagine her body morphing into the outline suggested. She shook her head. “I do not agree. I am rather ordinary in stature.”
“Not at all. You are eight centimeters taller than the average Vuduri, nearly the same height as the mandasurte scientist in question. And your breasts are above average size. We have determined that mandasurte men are attracted to this feature. Our training program should increase your bust size to some degree. We have developed form-fitting clothing to enhance and promote them. Mandasurte men seem almost mesmerized by a woman with large breasts.”
Binoda looked down at her chest. This was something she could not deny. She had noticed how she stood out from her peers but never thought it made a difference. The Vuduri discounted physical appearance placing an emphasis on physical fitness.
However, none of this mattered. As a good Vuduri, she had to follow the edicts laid down by the Overmind. She had no choice.
“What do I have to do?” she asked resignedly.
Six months later, Binoda stood in front of the full-length floor mirror that had been installed in her apartment, regarding her physical form. She had spent the last half year exercising furiously to tone her body in a way that OMCOM had calculated to be most attractive to the mandasurte males.
She turned to the side. She ran her hands down her abdomen, observing that it was rock solid and flat as a washboard. She pulled her shoulders back and noted with clinical pride that her not-insubstantial bosom jutted out even further due to her strengthened pectorals. Her all-white jumpsuit was tailored to be tight-fitting and accentuated her curves even more.
Turning back to face the mirror, she lifted her hands and stroked them along her lustrous, dark brown hair which had grown to shoulder length. Normally, she kept her hair closely cropped but OMCOM had informed her that mandasurte males responded better to longer hair. At this length, the natural gold highlights were more pronounced. She leaned forward and inspected her skin. There were no creases or lines. Her eyes glowed fiercely with the reflected ambient light bouncing off of her tapetum.
There was nothing more she could do. She was ready to go out and begin her seduction and manage the mandasurte elite. The Overmind had commanded it and who was she to question its orders?
Her journey began with her taking an intercontinental shuttle from the starport to the south of I-cimaci flying non-stop across the Western Hemisphere to an island in the Pacific that the Vuduri called Havei. From there, she was given a ride down to the docks where the ship belonging to the mandasurte scientist named Fridone was currently moored. She stood at the base of the gangplank and shouted out the nonsense phrase that OMCOM had taught her.
“Ahoy,” she called out.
A handsome man with a full beard and salt and pepper hair came to the side of the ship.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Are you the Vuduri scientist?” He laughed to himself. “Is that not an oxymoron?”
Binoda put her hands on her hips and straightened her back, causing her chest to thrust forward a bit as instructed by OMCOM.
“The Overmind has requested that we collect data on the migration patterns of the red Opah. I am not so much a scientist as a data archivist. We were told that you are the foremost authority on this particular fish. The Overmind is considering building a farm and raising the fish domestically. I was told you would be willing to share your findings with us.”
“Of course,” Fridone said with a grin on his face. The woman seemed so formal but then all the Vuduri were like that. “Come on board.”
Binoda nodded and took two steps up the gangplank and nearly slipped. For whatever reason, OMCOM had insisted that she wear shoes with three inch heels and despite the fact that she had practiced walking in them for months, she never really got the hang of it.
She decided it would be more prudent to hold onto the railing on her way up but as she was reaching for it, her other foot slipped and she lurched forward and banged her head on the railing, chipping a tooth. She also split her lip. Blood started seeping down her chin and dripped onto her pure white jumpsuit.
Fridone hurried down the gangplank and bent down to help the woman stand. Instinctively, Binoda put her arms around his neck as he was helping her up by clasping her around the waist. When she was fully erect, he took her hand and supported her the rest of the way up to the deck of his ship. Without letting go, he led her into the cabin and sat her down on a bench located against the wall. He retrieved a cloth, doused in cold water containing some ice chips and applied it gently to her lip.
Binoda looked up into his eyes and something gave way inside her. It was completely unlike anything she had ever experienced before. The Overmind had been yammering inside her skull the whole time reminding her about her mission but without knowing how, Binoda turned down the mental volume until she could not hear the Overmind at all. It was as if she were disconnected as would happen if someone had been Cesdiud but right at the moment, she did not care. Her eyes were locked with Fridone’s eyes. It was as if she was staring into his soul, even though she had no concept of what that meant. She lost grasp of the concept of time. She just stared and stared, without knowledge of how long.
Fridone smile at her dazed look and patted her on her cheek. “I hate to leave you like this but it is getting on in time. If we do not leave soon, we will miss the main schools. I thought it would be easier to relate the migration patterns if you had something geographic to associate. Do you mind if I launch?”
“Yes, yes,” Binoda said, coming out of her reverie. “I mean no, I do not mind. Do whatever you need to. I will be all right here.”
“Very well,” Fridone said. “Just stay here and keep the ice on your lip. I will come back for you after we are underway.”
“Thank you,” Binoda said and Fridone left the cabin.
As soon as she was alone, she relaxed the control she had exerted over the Overmind’s communications. It chastised her for disregarding its instructions. Its scolding was not helping her to concentrate on the mission at hand so Binoda shrugged and simply turned the Overmind off again. She heard noises emanating from the front of the ship which she associated with the gangplank being withdrawn. She was rocked in place as the vessel’s EG lifters moved it away from the dock and headed out of the main channel.
Despite the cold compress, Binoda’s lip and the bone underneath was throbbing. She reached over and took the yellow slicker that was draped over the edge of the bench and rolled it into a pillow. She laid down on it and stretched out on the bench, closing her eyes.
That was a mistake.
The ship was already making its way into open water and the chop was causing the bow to raise up and drop down in a somewhat rhythmic motion. A wave of nausea washed over Binoda. She tried to push it down but with a sudden start, she realized she was going to vomit.
She leaped up and ran out of the cabin, heading directly for the railing. She barely made it there when her insides clenched and she threw up in explosively over the side rail. She felt something gathering her hair but right now she didn’t have time to figure out what it was. She tried staring down at the water and that helped a little but she kept throwing up long after there was anything left to expel.
Finally, when she had a momentary break, she turned and saw that it was Fridone who had gathered up her long hair and held it back so that she didn’t get any more vomit in her tangled mane.
“Thank you,” she said but then another wave of nausea hit her and she had to lean over the side again.
“I know this is going to sound stupid,” Fridone said from behind her, “but instead of holding the railing, press your wrists against it. It is an ancient cure for seasickness.”
It did sound stupid but right now, Binoda would try anything. She pressed her wrists about the width of three fingers from the joint directly against the railing. The motion of the ship caressed her inner wrists causing a slight tingling sensation and to her utter shock, her nausea dissipated completely.
For a moment, she luxuriated in relief then she tentatively lifted one hand and small amount of nausea returned. Fridone took her wrist and applied one finger to the exact right spot and the nausea disappeared again. Binoda turned in place and replicated his motions, one finger on each wrist. To her surprise, her self-ministrations worked. It was then that she noticed an acrid odor rising up from her chest. She looked down and saw that her first bout of nausea had not all gone to sea. The ocean breeze had blown some back. Her jumpsuit was sour-smelling and stained.
“Let me get you something to change into,” Fridone said and he led her back into the cabin. He produced a blouse and a pair of trousers.
“I will leave you to change but do not take your eyes off the sea otherwise your symptoms will come back.”
“Thank you,” Binoda croaked.
She waited until he left the cabin then quickly pulled off the ruined jumpsuit and changed into the mandasurte’s clothes. She dashed over to the bench and found the damp cloth she had applied to her lip and used it to try and wipe out some of the vomit that had gotten in her hair. She was more or less successful. Spotting a string on the bench, she used it to tie her hair into a ponytail. Somehow that made her feel more human again.
Finally, she emerged from the cabin and found Fridone at the bow, using the steering paddles to point them further south toward the open ocean
He turned in place to regard her. He shut off the EG lifters and the ship slowed down, gliding smoothly on the water. The chop of the ocean was far more gentle now that they were not moving.
“How do you feel?” he asked. Despite her bloody and swollen lip and unflattering clothes and loose hairs everywhere, Fridone could not help but find her incredibly attractive.
“I am embarrassed,” Binoda said. “I have been nothing but a burden. You have been very kind, however. Thank you.”
“It is not a problem.” Fridone pointed to a barrel sitting against the railing. “Let us sit down and you tell me why you are really here.”
Binoda did not hold back. She did, indeed, tell him the motive underlying her visit. At first, Fridone did not believe her. There had to be more to it. To prove her veracity, Binoda produced a pair of Espansor bands. The Overmind had given them to Binoda so that she could control Fridone’s mind but now that she was disconnected, the link would bidirectional. The bands malfunctioned or perhaps they did not and the pair discovered they were Asborodi Cimponeti.
Their love for one another was instantaneous and soul-deep. Nine months later, little Rome was born. What the Overmind did not count on was that Binoda chose to remain with the love of her life rather than return to I-cimaci. While unexpected, the end result still fit within the Overmind’s agenda. For now, it would not protest. It had a much larger plan than worrying about Binoda’s disposition.
As for how it turned out? The rest is (future) history.
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Copyright © 2016 by Michael Brachman
Cover art copyright © 2016 by Bruce Brachman