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Distant Origins: An Anki Legacies Science Fantasy for Young Adults By S Shane Thomas Characters: 24689

Updated: 2018-01-25 12:04


Shelly, Travis, Elsaap, and I went to the beach in the Earth habitat portion of LARC1. In order to recreate man's relationship with the plant and animal life that society had evolved with and depended upon, the ship contained an artificial salt water ocean, a fresh water lake, a rain forest, a desert, grassy plains, and a forest of pine, maple, and elm trees. Not only were the synthetic natural environments home to the complex life-web of plant and animals, they helped the ships air purifiers to recycle the air through plant respiration, rainfall, and diatoms in the ocean.

Travis and Shelly watched us swim. We moved through the water like the eels we had evolved from. Travis held a cane on the side of his healing leg.

"I'm actually glad for the doctor's restrictions today. Those two would have destroyed me in a swimming race."

"How long until you have fully recovered?"

"Too long. My request to take part in tomorrow's scouting mission was denied. I may not return to active duty until the colony has been completely nested."

"I've been passed over for this one too. These kids may be my only assignment for the foreseeable future, " Shelly said with a smile. "It is nice to spend time with you that doesn't involve fighting and running though."

Shelly's face flashed from a smile to concern. She darted to the water line looking frantically from side to side. We were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly a bottle nose dolphin burst through the surface of the water twenty feet from the shore. A moment later I burst out next to the dolphin in perfect imitation. Then we swam within five feet of Shelly to the point of the ocean shelf were the beach dropped its full depth.

"We made friends!" I said followed by a hissed giggle. "Elsaap is helping hunt for fish, but I don't like the way their scales crunch."

******

The next day Christa flew the team assigned to the scouting mission. An archeologist and two security officers joined Dr. Lancett and Javier. From a low orbit telescope, scans confirmed that the signs of civilization visible from space were nothing more than sparse ruins. Life signs appeared in abundance, herds of grazing animals moved over sweeping fields reminiscent of the North American Great Plains before European settlement. Thermal scans over one of the planet's oceans revealed life in various sizes moving about.

"How is your aquatic piloting?" Dr. Lancett inquired. "Before we land and explore on foot I'd like to confirm that oceans don't hold hostile sentient life."

"Great plan! Let's get down there and find Bobby a mermaid girlfriend, " Javier said giving the young security officer a nudge with his elbow.

"He's still getting over Christa's rejection, " said his partner with a smirk. "Two in one day and the poor guy's bound to drink himself silly at Rick's Pub again."

"I'm right here guys! C'mon..." Bobby Rogers said. "Besides Christa said she'd love to if she wasn't already seeing someone, so that doesn't count as a shutdown."

This elicited eye rolling and snorts of choked back laughter from all except Christa, who did her best to study the gauges and look oblivious to the whole situation.

The ship slid under the water's surface and Lancett peered into a monitor that showed a thermal display with exquisite clarity. A school of creatures that bore a remarkable resemblance to sea horses approached the vessel cautiously. One poked the hull with its snout and the whole group darted away into the obscurity of the ocean depths. The shuttle descended to the ocean floor, Christa reported that they were nearly six hundred feet below the surface. Plant life thrived in abundance, creating an undersea forest teeming with animal life. The species that caught the team's attention and affection looked like a bear's head, arms, and chest with the lower body of an octopus. The creature, about the size of a watermelon, seemed not to notice the craft and batted playfully at some of the sea grass. Dr. Lancett busied himself making recordings and scanning it with the ships various instruments while the rest of the crew enjoyed its playful antics.

The vessel lurched suddenly and buried its nose in silt. Something big struck the hull. A sound like a scrub brush on steel echoed through the cabin and Christa intuited that they had only been grazed by something large.

"Is everyone okay?" she asked. After a round of startled nods she bent over the controls. "Hold on."

The ship slid back in a zig zag and a cloud of murk obscured the view. She continued the reverse motion until clear water revealed what lay outside the upturned silt. Their little octobear found itself coiled tenderly in the tentacle of its massive mother, easily the size of a whale.

"I think I've got enough data for today, " Lancett said. "Let's put down on the surface and stretch our legs bit."

They landed near the base of a mountain range. Christa stayed in the shuttle, leery of leaving the craft unattended after the evacuation they had on Haran. She adjusted some of the craft's sensors for greater accuracy on the surface and began locating and identifying life forms. A surveillance drone tracked down and observed the various species the shuttles sensors had located. The data transmitted to biologists and sociologist on the ship for analysis. The encounter with the Pneuma reinforced the colony's directive that settling on a world occupied by a sentient race could lead to hostility. The ship's population seemed eager to occupy a planet and convert the closed colony into an open air city, but the ship could continue traveling indefinitely if needed.

The scouting party spent the afternoon hiking around the base of the mountain. Javier and Dr. Lancett collected a handful of plant samples that appeared edible. A few hours passed without any sign of danger.

"Let's head over there, " said Dr. Walters, the team archeologist. He pointed at what appeared to be a lookout tower a few miles off and a small climb up the base of the mountain.

"We'll run ahead to make sure it's abandoned, " Bobby said. The two security officers were gone before anyone could reply.

Javier Mendez advised Dr. Lancett and Dr. Walters to move slowly and he took extra care to check for paths, trails, or signs of recent movement. Aside from the brush displaying evidence of grazing animals and the trampled grass and broken branches that security had disturbed, the area appeared untouched. "I doubt we'll find anyone home, " he said with certainty.

Their communicators displayed an "All clear, " message from Bobby when they reached the base of the mountain and the three made the climb, eager to see what had been left behind.

They found a structure that made by sentient beings, but not anytime in the recent past. A six story tower, made of massive stone block, lay in contrast to the natural serenity of the view. A clearing under the tower revealed evidence that a number of wooden structures had surrounded the tower until the elements had whittled them into dust. There were hand tools, stone dishes, and various other artifacts strewn about the ruins. Trees, bushes, and grass had sprung up over the years since the area's abandonment.

"This is incredible, " Walters murmured to himself as he made recordings with his communicator's camera.

"Wait till you ride the invisible elevator!"

"You two disturbed the site in there?"

"We checked for flame spitting Pneuma, if that's what you mean, " said Bobby with a smirk. "All the good stuff is in there, so never mind this garbage."

Walter shoved a snide remark to the back of his mind as he rushed toward the tower's entrance. He gasped in awe as he stood in the entry way of what resembled an engineering room on the ship, save for a thick layer of dust. The first floor, a single room, doors lined the wall to his right, a console, what looked like a key pad, and a bank of monitors to the left, and two open cubicles lay in front of him, opposite the entry way. One had an arrow rising while the other had an arrow descending.

"Was the door open?"

"It slid open when we approached, but not everything opens. Aside from the front door, we've only been able to get to the top floor. The computer down here won't turn on, but upstairs there is a giant window with an active touch display, " Bobby said.

Dr. Walters rushed into the cubicle with the up facing arrow. He gasped and his stomach fell through the floor as he felt his body rise. He floated up. Avery Walters had never been a fan of roller coaster rides and this experience went far beyond the anxious excitement he felt at the State Fair as a kid. He did his best to stifle his nervous excitement as his rush to the top came to an end, until he looked down. Walter's head spun and his knees buckled as his mind failed to grasp how he stood on thin air above six empty stories. He had just enough sense to lean forward, hands outstretched as he fell down. Pain and relief washed over him in equal measure as he collided with the solid stone floor. He rolled onto his back, scooted clear of the entryway and gasped in air, trying to regain control of his nerves.

Dr. Elroy Lancett whooped as he sprung out of the cubicle. A look of concern replaced his childish excitement when he saw Walters. "Are you alright Doctor?" He reached a hand down toward the disheveled archeologist.

"I wasn't ready for that, " Walters said, with a nod toward the cubicle as he grabbed Lancett's hand and rose to his feet.

Lancett silently mused that his assumption of all archeologist being tough, adventurous, daredevils like the classic films, proved misguided.

"We'd better look around here a bit before you head back down. Bobby said that's the real ride."

Walters choked back breakfast, which had suddenly leaped up his throat. Bobby joined them and strode across the room, also the only one on this floor of the structure. Aside from the two cubicles that served as entryway, exit, and thrill ride, only a window lined the wall from waist to head height. Bobby called their attention to the shuttle they had arrived on, barely visible in the distance. He put both hands on the glass and slid his hands apart. The shuttle instantly grew until it filled the entire space of Bobby's outstretched arms. The two scientists gasped in amazement.

The walk back to the shuttle teemed with excited speculation. This was certainly not the craftsmanship they had observed on the planet Haran a few weeks ago. If engineers could glean even a portion of the technology from the tower, the advancements would carry human technology hundreds of years forward, overnight.

"Whoever built that tower isn't showing their face now, " Christa replied after Bobby reported the group's discovery. "I monitored life signs and the drone captured hundreds of images and behavioral observations, none of which appeared sentient." This could be our new home, she thought to herself as the shuttle returned to the colonial ship in the planet's orbit.

Decontamination passed uneventfully, as Christa often found it. Such outstanding efforts were taken to purge the colonists of pathogens that these procedures were a commonly accepted part of life. Scientists procreated all the plants and animals aboard the vessel to insure they didn't carry harmful diseases. Christa laughed at the thought of making salt water from scratch when it covered most of Earth's surface. Mankind's last great conquest, the European colonization of the American continents, became a disaster for the indigenous people, killed off to a tenth of their former number by encountering the plague that Europeans had survived generations before. What many North Americans celebrated as Columbus Day, LARC members saw as the day one race of men invaded another with an accidental biological weapon, while expanding the slave trafficking of a third race. Any means of preventing humanity from causing harm to another intelligent society must be taken.

Dr. Walters spent nearly his entire decontamination period describing the tower and its incredible technology to Admiral Grunden, Governor Paperman, and the ship's Mechanized Artificial Representative Councilors, called MARC. There were plans for further study, as well as talk of how the private sectors could

access the unit for potential reverse engineering without disrupting what could be a unique archeological site. MARC blipped through a number of the council members faces until every interested simulated party had its opportunity to have questions answered.

Grunden, Paperman, and MARC deliberated privately after their interview with the slight Archeologist, who still appeared shaken with equal parts fear and excitement from the encounter.

"The people of this colony want to take root before another generation comes and we continue losing our original passengers to old age, " said Paperman. Years of public appearances on the ship had perfected Paperman's smile. He had been Governor since around the time of MARC's last update, years before his hair turned white.

"I know everyone is excited to debark, " said Grunden, "It's on my list too."

Grunden's promotion to Admiral came only two years ago with the late Admiral Miller's unexpected stroke, which left him unable to perform his duties. Grunden still sought Miller's advice on the big issues, the two were often seen sitting together in the park near the assisted living sector of the ship.

"We know there were advanced forms of intelligent life here, but all our data indicates they left the planet hundreds or even thousands of years ago. MARC's counsel is unanimous in its support for landing the colony and giving this world a name, " said the green visage of a pudgy middle aged man, who spoke through the little gray android.

"I believe we are in agreement ladies and gentlemen, " said the Admiral, "We'll need some time to find an ideal site, and run simulations of the craft's final descent."

"Of course, there are nearly five hundred thousand lives at stake. Please take all the time that you need. After all, nothing could ever return LARC1 to space, or nudge it into a better position for that matter, " said a thin middle aged woman through MARC's display.

******

Governor Paperman announced the news of the imminent settlement to the entire population and declared the date a Colonial holiday. Preparations would begin in the morning to ready the city sized craft to enter the planet's atmosphere and settle into its new location.

The numerous industrial facilities would enter a shutdown phase. The colony's paper mill, waste treatment facility, it's power generating station, most of its two hospitals (except their emergency and life support units), as well as its hundreds of food processing, chemical plants, machine shops, textile mills, and retail centers would power down and reduce personnel to a skeleton crew. The Governor ordered that industry managers release as many people to the emergency shelters as possible during landing. LARC engineers designed them to be the safest section of the craft, every seat came equipped with air bags, emergency oxygen, and shock absorptive cushions. The rooms themselves were actually floating in a shock absorptive fluid that could also suppress fire and maintain proper air pressure. Their second and far more utilized function hid the emergency features away and the space was used for movies, theatrical productions, concerts, and town hall meetings.

The craft would separate on the day of the landing. The colonial portion was a massive oval structure. It could be seen in Earth's night sky while under construction in orbit. It stretched three miles long and a mile in diameter at its center. Windows covered three quarters of it, leaving the belly unadorned since it would be nested onto rock and soil after its descent. The part of the ship responsible for its propulsion would remain in orbit. It formed a mile diameter ring currently seated on the rear tip of the ship. Magnetic pulsers glowed all around the ring while viewing ports faced the colonial portion of the vessel. Not currently visible, the central shaft locked into place in the colony's core. Its diameter, roughly one thousand feet, ran the entire three mile distance through the colonial vessel.

After separation, the shaft would serve as a space dock for smaller vessels as well as a construction yard for a second colonial craft. The hollow core of the colony craft also had a practical function. The colony would land in the planet's largest river and the flowing water would provide hydro-electric power, and fresh water.

Credit for the ship's design remained a mystery, although humans created many of its functional components. In 2021 a deep sea exploration mission found the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Numerous corporations and a few governments funded its recovery to the surface. It became the prototype that for the colonial craft. Every scientist of note in their field studied it over the next decade. It changed the world.

Atlantis was not from Earth, scientists discovered three elements used in its construction that could not be replicated in laboratories. It provided humankind with a cache of technological advances. As of the day they recieved Earth's last transmission, scientists sill gleaned discoveries and advances from its hull. For all the information it gave to mankind, it opened twice as many questions. Evidence indicated that most of the ship's components were missing. Archeologists theorized that much of it relocated to the surface or returned to space on another vessel. Mankind's discovery had seen thousands of years of corrosion from seawater as well as a magnificent collection of deep sea coral that had previously been undiscovered.

Atlantis, now restored, remains afloat in the Atlantic, traveling from one coastal city to the next enabling people to take a pleasure cruise on the artificial island in one of its many resorts. Scientists also occupy the sector which suffered the least damage and many had not left their station for years. In 2031 LARC, the League of Atlantis Reborn Colonies, began. They also completed plans for the propulsion section. Its construction exceeded all expectations. Crews completed colony and propulsion ring in less than four years. The inhabitants spent five years living on the vessel while in Earth's orbit. LARC felt satisfied that the colony stood ready for its voyage after numerous test flights to other planets within the solar system.

LARC formed a corps of soldiers, explorers, pilots, and scientists to operate the craft as well as to conduct exploratory missions. On this mission they made up fifty thousand individuals, roughly a tenth of the colony's population. The League selected the remaining population composed of families from diverse background and all walks of life. LARC selected those who could already fill the positions the ship needed in its industrial sector first, to insure it departed properly manned. Next, diversity became the chief consideration, a handful of families from different countries and cultures filled out the roster. Artists, writers, and musicians completed the population. LARC aimed to enable every aspect of life of Earth to flourish on the ship and its destination world.

While the League manned the craft and made exploratory and military decisions, the Governor, elected by the general population, ran the civilian areas of life. Approving new small business, reviewing lending practices in the colony, and hosting community events were among the chief responsibilities. The Governor also worked with an elected city council to determine the appropriate tax needed to keep the civilian sector functioning. LARC funded itself by selling the various industries raw materials harvested from asteroids and unpopulated worlds it had encountered as the colonial vessel flew toward its destination. The League also held shares in many of the industries aboard the ship and funded much of its crew member pay through the income generated from dividends and selling shares to shipboard civilian investors. Humanity loved capitalism so much they began to spread it across the galaxy, became the prevailing joke aboard the city sized craft.

******

Geologists, biologists, and construction teams where all dispatched in shuttles to the surface to prepare the site were the colony would land. The biologists, led by Dr. Lancett took every effort to evacuate the local wildlife from the area. They catalogued species while relocating animals. While most simply fled the strange newcomers, others tried to fight to protect their dens and territories, others still tried to hang around and befriend the scientists.

I think this scouting team had a much easier time than when Shelly's group came to Haran. I waited in eager anticipation of a report along with the half million inhabitants of the colony. Looking back, I should have savored my time in space. I didn't get another chance to leave my new home for years after that.

"Easy there little fella, don't get too hasty banging keys before I upload my findings, " Lancett said to a small green primate who took an interest in his computer set up.

"I'll bet you and your family are the first to be adopted as pets."

The creature looked into Lancett's face and chittered along as if it were in reply.

Construction teams set up blockades around the area to prevent the creatures return. There were motion sensors that activated sound and light sirens to scare off any would be intruders. Anything within the site when the ship set down would be crushed.

The geology team surveyed the site and determined the appropriate places to set explosives. Soil would be removed from where the round belly of the ship would rest, two thousand feet below the surface. The river which would soon run through the center of the ship dammed into a temporary reservoir on the day of the colony's landing.

The sight of the craft from the planet's surface looked incredible. At dusk the science and construction teams could see it clearly like a giant silver football floating in compliment to the three moons the planet hosted. The colonists on the surface snapped pictures with their communicators and sent them to ship board friends and family on the last day when the entire ship appeared orange. The color came from a gel developed to reduce temperature from the friction that would be caused by entry into the planet's atmosphere. It would also prevent the belly from tearing on stones when the craft set down.

The surface team relocated to the glacier covered peak of the mountain which rose above the landing site. Lancett and his hundreds of surface bound companions watched in silence, making recordings with their communicators in the dusk as the propulsion ring separated from the colony.

On the propulsion ring Grunden and his crew watched in the same anxious silence. The religious offered up prayers for their friends and family aboard the colony as its thrusters pushed into position to break orbit and enter the atmosphere.

"This is one operation I'm glad I don't have to pilot, " Christa remarked to Javier as they watched from the glacier.

Beacons placed throughout the landing site interacted with the colony's autopilot, which performed thousands of calculations per second. First the craft's rear facing thrusters positioned the colony for its entry, then as the massive craft screamed into the atmosphere front facing thrusters slowed its approach. If the craft were not slowed, the impact would not only obliterate the colony, but the dust cloud that would engulf the planet would choke out most of the life native to the world as darkness and dust covered it surface for more than a decade.

The massive craft filled the sky in front of the glacier as it descended.

"Hang on… it might look better over there, " Lancett said with a smirk, breaking the anxious silence.

Christa barked a sharp laugh, dissolving her nerves. She elbowed the meaty biologist and returned her attention to the event. The thrusters flared to double their size at the last thousand feet before the craft slid neatly into its home.

Cries of joy and relief erupted from every man, woman, and child as the colony completed the journey that had taken twenty five years and spanned countless miles through space.

Pop! A cork flew off the Champaign bottle in Javier's hand and a smile broke the nerves free from his expression. This marked the end of the longest chapter in any of their lives.

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