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   Chapter 3 No.3

Distant Origins: An Anki Legacies Science Fantasy for Young Adults By S Shane Thomas Characters: 18274

Updated: 2018-01-25 12:04


Travis looked over at Shelly as the ship settled into its destination. The nervous expression she wore most of the day melted away into a smile. Elsaap and I chittered delightfully, unaffected by the apprehension that had gripped much of the crew. Travis supposed that if he'd undergone a near death experience, then joined strange beings in space for a couple weeks, that landing would seem like a joyride.

"Let's land every day, " Elsaap said with a gleam in his black eyes.

"Sorry little buddy, that's the last time our home would be in space. The ship is too big to leave the planet again. In fact, it can't even move a little bit if we wanted it to, " Travis said. "As soon as we get the word, I'd like to take you guys on a little adventure to explore our new home."

As we left the auditorium Shelly led them to a part of the ship that offered a view of the hollow central shaft. They took a seat at a small café near a thick glass viewport. Shelly had often come to the cafe and noted the feature. It looked rather unremarkable during the journey since the central shaft sat directly on the other side and revealed only bulkhead. Now they saw through to viewports on the other side of the cavity.

Water rushed through the chamber flooding the compartment. We rushed right up to the viewport and peered into the river, which now flowed through the colony's core. Elsaap and I jumped back into identical crouches and yipped in surprise. An eye the size of a soccer ball peered at us for a moment before a blur of murkey green scales slid past for a solid minute. We hissed out giggles and returned to the vantage point.

"I got an officer in the transportation division to take pity on me by hobbling along with this, " said Travis nodding to his cane. "He offered to let me take one of the land crafts out for a joyride. I'd like you and the kids to come with me."

Shelly nodded her approval and a smile lit up her face. Travis admired the way she smiled. He unknowingly reached up and caressed her cheek. The brief contact startled him as much as it did her, and both turned to view the river as their cheeks colored. We exited the colony and joined the whole population in tents just outside the colony for a welcome party.

Elsaap and I lost ourselves in the celebration with the humans. We may not have traveled for a generation with them, but we did leave our old lives behind to live among them. I still have pleasant dreams of that night; food, dancing, bands playing, laughter, and carefree exchanges. An elated feeling stays with me for most of the day after waking from that dream.

The next morning we made our way to the garage. When we came close there were drums pounding and lyrical screams. Elsaap ducked behind Shelly but I began bobbing my head on my long serpentine neck. Travis emerged and circled the vehicle, completely unaware of our arrival. He began strumming the song on an invisible guitar and bobbing his head. Travis glanced up and took notice of us, frozen in the middle of a guitar rift with a shocked expression on his face. He ducked his head through the open vehicle's side window and turned the volume down.

"It's Gift of Destiny. They were huge, years before the Atlantis discovery. They are classic rock now, " said Travis. "Looks like Pringar is a metal head."

"They're gonna send you back!" I yelled in imitation.

"I just finished the pre-trip safety check, and we've been cleared to take off."

"I can't wait, " Shelly said with a smile.

She had always thought screaming rock music appealed to people whose mothers didn't hug them enough as children, but she began to reconsider her position. When they caught him unaware and he had the volume up, she noticed intricacies in the music she wouldn't have expected.

Travis maneuvered the all-terrain vehicle out of the colony through a bay door. He drove down the colony's length and followed the river as it curved, cleaving the grassy plain that stretched a few miles until it disappeared into a thickly wooded forest. He smiled as he thought to himself that earning Shelly's company by being screamed temporarily deaf, electrocuted, and impaled by a spear, proved worth it. Travis looked over at the mousey brunette as her bangs blew about in the wind, his smile widened to a silly grin.

"Eyes on the road, " she said returning his grin with a quick smile of her own.

He brought the vehicle to a stop at the base of the tree line and we climbed out and began to explore the river, poking around the shore in search of local wildlife. Elsaap found a stick on the ground and began an imaginary battle with thin air.

"Get behind me Pringar, I'll save you from the monster!"

"You poke it and I'll breathe my fire on him!" I declared joining in on the game.

"Wow. I thought the allure of the stick was a phenomenon confined to little boys from Earth. I'm amazed by some of the things we have in common, " Travis said.

"It is amazing how well they have adjusted to life on the colony, " said Shelly. "Their fluency in English is nearly perfect. They have mastered our dialect more thoroughly than I have learned theirs, despite my familiarity with Sumerian."

Travis and Shelly watched as the imaginary battle got suddenly interrupted by a small purple creature slowly emerging from the shore of the river. The stick fell to the grass and Elsaap and I crept quietly up for a closer look.

"Not too close" Shelly said, "Don't scare our new friend away."

She snapped a zoomed in picture with her communicator, then she and Travis joined us for a closer inspection. The creature looked like a three foot long salamander. Its lazy eyes passed over us without evidence of concern. It climbed onto a nearby rock and began sunbathing. The purple river dweller held our attention for a few minutes more, then Travis invited us to his favorite diner for lunch. We enjoyed a new view that the diner did not have while enclosed within colony walls.

******

I'll never forget watching the collosal starship shed its hull and transform into a city. Those first weeks, watching the humans settle in were breathtaking. Construction teams worked to dismantle sections of the outer hull which did not serve as walls for the various buildings and industrial centers onboard. The metals and tempered glass would be used to expand the colony beyond the footprint it occupied in space. LARC would auction the materials off to the various industrial sectors and use the funds for its exploration efforts to the nearby stars. Feeling wind, rain, and sunshine in the colony would be a refreshing change since so many years had been spent indoors. Geologist worked with construction teams to inject compounds into the soil below the colony which would convert the foundation from loose soil to a substance as hard as granite. It would also affix the colony to its new foundation, preventing it from shifting due to erosion or earthquake.

Colonial Times, the daily newsfeed reported that Governor Paperman planned construction of a riverfront boardwalk and recreation area. The open air venue would provide new restaurants, an arcade, retail shops, a local wildlife zoo, and a manmade cove with a sand beach. While everyone in the colony looked forward to life on a planet again, or for the first time for many of its young residents, developing a safe outdoor recreation area would keep the civilian public content while LARC teams explored the terrain and determined which flora and fauna posed a risk to health and safety.

Dr. Lancett strolled down the corridors, which he reasoned would soon be streets, on his way to the Earth habitat to meet up with his wife Helena who busily tended to the colony's hydroponic food crops, since early that morning. While in the long run, adjusting to the planet's natural light would be a great energy savings, some of the plants nearing harvest appeared to have undergone shock.

"Elroy, what do you make of this?" inquired the short blond who had retained her youthful beauty well into her middle years.

"It is every bit as round and lovely as the first day I laid eyes on it, " he said with a grin as he continued to eye her bottom.

She scoffed, "The leaves on the pole beans Romeo. I think it's due to the new light source." Helena knew how to care for her shocked pole beans, but this was her way of getting him to talk.

"Growth will likely be delayed a week or so while the plants adjust to their new light source. Harvest any edibles you can and pinch the flowers, it will allow the plant to focus on its recovery."

"I'm excited for our date, you haven't taken me out in ages, " she said in a playful tone.

They were actually going on an expedition to gather wild samples of native species that his initial analysis proved had agricultural potential. Their romantic life however, remained a source of constant joy and thirty four years of marriage had only intensified their attraction to one another.

Equipped with rough canvas root bags, spades, and a ground transport with a truck bed, they ventured near the tree line and scanne

d the forest for their target specimens. One vine, a plump yellow fruit which had a texture like cucumber and tasted like a melon. A root vegetable, deep purple in color, had a round shape like a potato but has about as spicy as a chili pepper. Many taste testers instantly grabbed the toxicology report to recheck that they had not been poisoned. A bushy plant, the height of a man, produced a fruit that looked like a yellow tomato with deep green speckles but had such a high sugar content that it tasted sweeter than candy.

As they searched, the couple discussed the potential implications of an accidental release of Earth's plant and animal species into their new home's environment. Colonization held some of Earth's greatest advances, like the introduction of corn into the European diet. It also held some of Earth's largest setbacks, like the extinction of the Dodo bird when dogs arrived on their island paradise with man. If a species from Earth found itself free in an environment where it had no natural predators it could flourish until the point when it eliminated its food source. The invader could outperform a local that had thrived for millennia and contributed to the delicate balance that the ecosystem maintained.

LARC's objective on the matter outlined decade's worth of research and cataloguing of the current natural state of the planet. There were likely unlimited medical and commercial resources in the local environment that would be threatened by the introduction of Earth species prior to their research. Plans to construct a new ecological dome would allow Lancett and his team to create a hybrid environment and observe the effects of mingling species.

"Here's a local tomato!" Helena said, "Elroy help me dig up the roots, would you? I'll get the bag ready."

******

On the base of the mountain Bobby, Simon, and a rancher named Ryan McDonald held their rifles to their cheeks, peering through the scopes at a herd of plump animals grazing among rocks, twenty yards up the slope. The wildlife had not learned to fear humans so the usual efforts of odor and visual concealment that a game hunter undertook proved unnecessary. Three muffled cracks fired and the herd darted off into nearby brush. Three of the animals only made it a few leaps before falling onto their flanks, tranquilizer darts protruding from their orange brown hides. A thick matt of fur promised a potential substitute for wool. The security officers and the rancher placed their rifles in the cab of the transport and ambled over to their quarry.

"Old MacDonald had a farm…ee eye ee eye oh, " Simon sang. He taunted the rancher all morning with the ridiculous children's song.

Ryan felt accustomed to this. However, the fact that it came from a grown man instead of a ten year old playground bully seemed unusual.

The animals didn't have hooves as they expected, instead they had paws with a remarkable similarity to human hands, only much larger and rougher. A glance at the remaining herd shed light on the evolutionary quirk. They were scaling a sheer rock face a couple hundred feet tall, on the way to a plateau with grass and trees. One of the creatures leaped three body lengths straight up and cleared the ledge. Watching them move felt incredible. Figuring out a pen that could hold them would be a real challenge. MacDonald would need the entire herd to have enough stock for his domestication and breeding program.

They each took an animal over their shoulders and carried them to the transport. Simon recounted his tale of Haran to Bobby and MacDonald. He noted that they had domesticated pigs and already had fields of crops.

"We could have sent the entire security force along with a volunteer militia to overrun their government, " Simon said with a hard look on his face. "Those eel men have no weapons except their fire, shock, and sonic breath."

"That sounds pretty tough, " Bobby replied "You guys killed a handful just on a meet and greet. An invasion force would cause heavy casualties all around."

"They only have a range of about ten feet, we could attack from armed shuttles and level their army. All this building would be unnecessary, and we'd have all the cheap labor we could want."

MacDonald looked disgusted, "Why kill them when we could become allies over time?"

"They live in the Dark Ages, we saw their soldiers execute the entire farm's people just for talking to us, " said Simon.

"Except those two yellow kids that Shelly adopted, " Bobby said.

"We should have left them to die, " Simon hefted his quarry onto the transport. They rode back to the colony in silence.

His comment elicited a disapproving glare from Bobby.

******

MARC and Admiral Grunden walked the three mile length of corridor that became docking ports and would soon be the staging area for construction supplies for a second colonial vessel. MARC's face shimmered from one board member to the next as he and Grunden reviewed plans for harvesting raw materials from the three moons for their ship building program. They speculated on the time that would pass before MARC's next update arrived. At his last update, technology proved incapable of sending a signal over that distance any faster than their voyage took. However discoveries on Atlantis were continuing at that point as well as what LARC1's scientists continued to discover independently.

In one generation there would be a new colonial craft and enough people to make a second journey. Initial telescope data indicated that at their current propulsion capability, they could reach a system with a habitable planet in less than seven years. The two planets could communicate instantly with one another and even construct crafts for commuting. Their largest hope laid in the promise of new propulsion plans with MARC's impending update and hopefully a permanent communication system with Earth and LARC's headquarters. In light of Haran, a solar system defensive fleet took priority. Grunden and MARC opted to build ships that could hold around a thousand men and had offensive capabilities as well as the ability to touch down on a planet's surface and launch back into space. Earth boasted a fleet of twenty at MARC's last update. Advancements made by the engineers and physicists on the colony had enabled the crafts in that class and smaller to travel four times faster than the colonial propulsion ring moved. A fleet of six would complement their station and they would construct the colonial portion next, saving the construction of a new propulsion ring and shaft until last.

All their strategy could potentially be augmented by two unknown variables. The first came from ruins like the tower, with its invisible elevators and its incredible viewport. There were potential scientific discoveries beyond Grunden's imagination. A race with those capabilities didn't simply cease to live. This could have been their outpost. They could have moved on, out into the stars, just like humanity had done. If they left one of their craft behind intact, or even plans for the ship on in their databases, they may not need to await MARC's next update to communicate with Earth regularly. Grunden, MARC, and Paperman had already dispatched as many minds as could be spared to investigate.

The other unknown rested on the planet Haran and with its inhabitants. Despite their lifestyle and low tolerance for strangers, Elsaap and I showed a very high intellect. Leadership saw a very real potential for trading domestic items such as tame livestock and precious metals.

MARC's face display changed into a thin man in his middle years. "Admiral we would like you to assemble a team to infiltrate Haran's capital city and begin dialogue directly with its leadership, " he said. "Perhaps lower ranks in their army acted without direct knowledge from their superiors."

"I agree, with Earth so far away it would be unwise to avoid a relationship with the neighbors. I'm going to handpick a team that can negotiate as well as perform a fair amount of espionage."

They plotted out a mission that would last for several months. The team would spend their first month traveling and in orbit, making maps of Haran's population and demographics. Their time would also be spent becoming fluent in the native language with daily lessons over the communication screen on their craft. Shelly, Ellsaap, and I would instruct remotely from the colony. The next phase would put their craft on the ground within a few miles of their government to establish a handful of native informants. They could pay the Pneuma spies whatever they desired including relocation to the colony for their entire family. Once the team gathered enough information, they would meet with Grunden and the board to discuss direct contact with the head of Haran's government. Every member of the mission would be a capable fighter, but there would be no intentional combat. A hothead like Simon Urlitz on this operation would not be tolerated. Swift diplomacy would likely be out of the question after their first encounter erupted in blood.

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