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Distant Origins: An Anki Legacies Science Fantasy for Young Adults By S Shane Thomas Characters: 36094

Updated: 2018-01-25 12:04


Within weeks of the colony's landing, a mill fire gave us the first clue that the planet held unanticipated phenomenon. I recalled Travis's concern and confusion from memory long before I relived the events through his perspective to write this history. He began to question things after the night of the fire. His hunches proved true in time.

The colony's industrial district lay quiet in the night. Flames burst angrily into life. The sky seemed an unusual inky black as smoke smothered the light cast from the moons. Waves of heat pummeled the third shift machine operators at the paper mill, battering a few unlucky souls to death. The alarm sounded from the control room sending an alert to the quarters of the Colonial Security Force members, rousing them from mid slumber. The blaze threatened to grow rapidly as it crept toward the mill's warehouse, a tinderbox stuffed full of paper reams and pallets of finished goods.

Travis Dershell dreampt of a candlelit dinner with Shelly, getting close to a moment of passion. Their waitress cleared the table at his favorite Italian venue and he poured the last of the Cabernet from the bottle. They occupied the same side of a cozy booth and Travis wrapped an arm tenderly around her. She leaned in and her lips brushed his cheek before her mouth came close to his ear…Screeee!

He jolted upright in bed. His communicator chirped the news of the mill's inferno. He raced into his Nomex jumpsuit donned his respirator, helmet, gloves, and boots. He grabbed a duffel with an axe handle sticking out the side before racing out of his apartment. He slipped the communicator's earpiece into place as he ran toward the industrial district.

Security guards and volunteer firefighters raced onto the mill yard and gathered around the water hydrant. The truck hadn't arrived with the hoses yet and there were a handful of people stuck in various rooms in the mill. Travis and a handful of volunteers raced in for a rescue effort while the bulk of the rescue forces grabbed chemical suppressant tanks and made for the warehouse area to prevent the blaze from spreading.

Travis ran toward the recovery room where some workers were trapped. Flames seemed to curl toward him with apparent interest as he raced by, slapping at his arms and chest. He sweat heavily from the run and blazing heat.

"Help us! In here!"

"I'm coming for you!" he yelled in response. His voice muffled by the angry roar of the fire.

Travis's head spun around frantically looking for the people trapped in this hell. Huddled near a tank filled with rows of vacuum discs, two workers cowered as flame menaced them, pinning them down. Travis blasted the fire with the solvent and it smoked protest and smothered. He crouched near the pair of workers, the man lay unconscious while the woman coughed and leaned protectively over her partner. Flame had them boxed in to this area and while Travis's fire proof gear had allowed him to race through, these workers would be burned without protection. He looked around, desperate to find a solution. Shiny liquid reflected fire from within the tank.

"What's in the tank?" he yelled to the woman over the roaring.

"The slurry is mostly water and paper, " she returned.

He pulled off his helmet and used it as a pail to douse the pair. He motioned for her to follow behind him as he picked up the man. They worked their way cautiously back to the mill yard. Travis's leg throbbed and he could feel fresh blood trickling down his pant leg, his stitches from Haran had torn. Flames tried to swallow the three as they shuffled toward safety. Light flashed from the newly arrived hose truck and guided them to safety.

The struggle to prevent fire spreading to the warehouse had been successful. Parts of the paper mill lay in smoldering ruin however and seven of the mill workers had perished in the blaze. Travis peered into the last remnants of the fire as the truck's hose doused it out. In the smoke he saw a human figure and he tensed, preparing to run in.

"Whoa Travis, hold on. They are all out, " said another rescue worker.

"I saw someone just now…" he stammered. He began to second guess himself. Maybe he never fully woke. There seemed to be something dreamlike and surreal about how the flames burned.

"You'd better ride along with the injured to the hospital, " the rescue worker said, nodding to the blood soaked pant leg.

******

At first I wanted nothing to do with the four who went back to Haran. I didn't resent them, pity them, or envy them. Elsaap was indifferent to them as well. With the loss of our families' lives only weeks before, Haran was nothing more than a part of life we wished to forget. Then I got to know the four through our lessons and began to hope for their success.

The morning after the fire, Javier Mendez and Blake Edwards met Christa at the hanger while she went through a preflight inspection. No one else can make those flight suits look foxy, Blake thought as they approached. Christa heard the men and glanced back, calling out a short greeting. Blake smiled unapologetically, knowing he'd been caught staring.

"Had a chance to say goodbye to your boyfriend?" Blake asked, trying his best to look innocent.

"We had a long goodbye, " she said flatly.

"This is going to be great!" Javier said, excitement on his face "I haven't done recon like this since you two were nothing but a twinkle in your daddies' eyes."

"I'm happy for you, " Christa replied with a smile. She had enjoyed Javier's company on the last assignment. Her father had long been dead and it felt nice to have a man from his generation to talk to. He brimmed full of life experience from Earth and Christa loved hearing stories about the home planet she had never known. This mission would keep the three of them in close quarters for at least three months. She looked forward to it too.

"I hope I haven't kept you waiting, " said an athletic woman with ebony skin and short hair. She tossed her duffel to Blake and they exchanged bright smiles.

This time Javier stared, speechless. He hadn't felt a strong attraction for a woman since his wife passed away years ago. He felt nerves give him a surge like a teenage boy. A primordial fight or flight response jolted him quickly through the hatch and into the common room of a vessel that seemed spacious compared to their previous shuttle.

"This is great!" Blake exclaimed, "I had no idea you got this assignment."

"I hope you're ready to lose all your pay to me in hold 'em!" Nicki said clapping him on the shoulder. "I got the assignment last minute, Admiral Grunden found out about my work for the Central Intelligence Agency before LARC1 departed Earth."

"What!" he gasped, "A career on Earth? I thought you were my age…"

She smiled at the compliment, "I stick to my beauty regiment, " she replied with a chuckle.

She entered the shuttle and immediately made for a large room in the rear that had recently been equipped with a padded floor and racks holding sparring equipment.

"Nicki James, nice to meet you, " she extended her hand toward Javier.

He had regained his composure. "Javier Mendez, it's nice to meet you." He took note of the rooms contents, "Are you the hand to hand expert?"

"Kru Nicki, Thai Boxing coach, " she said, "Grunden thought it would be best if we avoided using weapons."

"I wish everyone felt that way last time, " he said, his tone heavy with regret.

Christa finished her inspection while the others made small talk and stowed their bags. The shuttle pulled into orbit to begin its journey to Haran.

******

Travis's odd notion that someone had been in the fire bugged him when the investigation got underway. I remember trying to lighten his mood that week, but even after he smiled at a joke Elsaap and I made, his brooding would return. Elsaap and I began to wonder if the Anki of our childhood legends haunted this world.

The security force's fire investigator pored over every foot of the burnt out mill searching for the cause of the blaze. He saw no evidence of equipment failure, and the maintenance team followed a strict upkeep schedule. Reviewing the personnel files indicated that none of the third shift employees were smokers. He searched for evidence of sabotage but everything seemed to be in its place. The security footage of the evening confirmed the mysterious origins of the blaze. One moment the operators and equipment are humming along, then next moment fire drenches the mill in heat and smoke. It came from nowhere.

"I've never seen anything like this in thirty five years of fire investigation… not even on Earth, " the investigator said.

MARC and Governor Paperman thanked him for his report, and requested an update if any new information arose. The timing proved terrible, since the ship's fire suppression system could have doused the blaze as soon the mill workers had affixed oxygen masks. With deconstruction completed on parts of the hull which did not support a building, that system was offline. The report and surveillance footage would be reevaluated by a science team. The possibility that the fire started as a phenomenon native to their new habitat remained open.

The pair made their way out of the ship and down to the Riverside boardwalk. The new recreation area had recently been completed and they walked through with the project's engineer on a final inspection, prior to its grand opening. The shops and restaurants lined one side of the river, fresh paint adorned every one. Hull gray had been completely covered and forgotten. The buildings here looked bright and lent the waterfront an upbeat atmosphere. Following the two dozen venues, the boardwalk rounded an inlet which created a sandy cove. Water lapped gently against the shore as Paperman, the engineer, and the little Android walked its length. After completing the beach tour, they headed back toward the point where the stores met the beach. A walking bridge intersected the river leading to the aptly named New World Zoo.

Even though they had been on the planet only a month, the zoo had collected a hundred specimens, which included twenty three animals. The idea for the zoo had been Paperman's and he looked exceptionally proud of it, of the whole boardwalk for that matter. Gathering specimens for observation proved a necessary part of the colony's exploration of their new home and the funding came almost completely from LARC. The retail shops had been nearly twenty five years in the making, since they spent an entire generation on the colony ship and the population grew slowly the entire time, budding entrepreneurs relied on attrition to gain tightly held shop space. Potential business owners clammored for the opportunity to begin the colonial expansion effort. They paid for the boardwalk and construction of the cove on top of the cost of building materials. The colonial government and its citizens paid nothing for its construction and gained twenty four new contributors to property tax. The Governor chuckled to himself as he imagined shouldering the burden of a Utopian society, those free loaders would likely have expected every ounce of this progress without any of those bothersome taxes. Capitalism proved to be the only system with the power to motivate its populace to reach for the stars.

The entry to the zoo forked past the promenade. The first space exhibited a cave and forest canopy. Building materials emulated mature trees while saplings promised a permanent replacement. MARC and Paperman observed as the engineer pointed out a creature gliding from the mouth of the cave out to a tree branch. It looked like a manta ray from Earth's oceans except that clawed feet protruded near the base of its tail to grasp a branch underfoot for support as it landed. It used smaller claws, which sprouted from its wingtips to grasp for fruit and insects, which it ate while peering suspiciously about. At the base of the trees, small green goat like creatures grazed. They stood about the height of a Labrador dog and contented themselves on the ground until the engineer startled a small flock of them with a whistle. They stood upright on their hind legs, milled about for a moment before their front hooves split apart and unfurled into jointed claws. They climbed into the lower branches of trees, bleating like an Earth goat. The climbers nestled near the leafy ends blending into foliage and peering about for danger.

The tall glass walls of another exhibit curved inward, and dropped ten feet into the enclosure. It appeared to be empty except for bushes and a clump of gray rocks. A zoologist entered and placed a hindquarter of what could have been one of the climbing goats near the brush and gave the plants a shake. Without so much as a grating sound, the rock pile moved like molten liquid forming into a sloth's shape and bearing down on the meat. After a short time working at its meal, the animal lay on a patch of real rocks exposing its pink face and belly to soak up the late morning sunshine. It seemed to smile like a panting dog.

An exhibit toward the end looked like a giant ant farm. Beetles the size of men with dull pink shells speckled with flecks of lime green, moved the earth about, chewing soil and spitting it onto walls of their tunnels to form a natural alternative to concrete. Paperman shuddered at the sight of them, little bugs had creeped him out on Earth, giant bugs would take some getting used to. The engineer expressed his excitement about the potential for a synthetic formula for their soil conditioning substance and the cost savings it may represent as a concrete alternative.

Another dozen displays of their new home's natural wonders adorned the path. Beyond that lay a section closed to the public and currently vacant. It would be the area eventually dedicated to closed system observation of native and Earth species mingling. The border to the colonial hull lay just beyond. Workers deconstructed the dual layer protective wall to adjoin with the Earth habitat.

They continued the tour by crossing a bridge that created an intersection leaving the original colony. It still had the cages but had a distinctly farm land feel. They saw a grass grazing pen with a recreation of a cliff face and a small plateau at its top occupied by MacDonald's grazing herd. This would be the sight of his domestication efforts, subsidized by a portion of the zoo's admission fees. MacDonald met with them for an early lunch. They dined on what appeared to be hamburgers, but had an exotic taste. There were tones of lime and an earthy taste comparable to cumin blended with gamey flavors. The farmer beamed with pride at the appreciative comments from his first two customers.

Beyond the single pen, a ranch house, and a barn stretched the undeveloped riverside until the beach and boardwalk downstream. Contented with the state of the attractions and common grounds Paperman and MARC prepared to announce the area's Grand Opening celebration in a week's time. Good news would be welcomed after the days spent speculating on the cause of the mill fire.

******

Dr. Avery Walters returned to the tower to face his fears. That hellish invisible elevator had to be overcome if he hoped to unlock the secrets of this planet's abandoned technology. He'd been to the medical center and received a prescription for motion sickness pills. His satchel also included a spare change of undergarments, just in case. Walters put together a team consisting of Shelly, an engineer named Sam Martin, and Bobby Rogers the CSF officer who had already been to the tower. Walters had a suspicion that Bobby had a gift for discovering artifacts and hoped it would be a benefit to have him along. A small part of him felt on edge about the possibility that Bobby would find a self-destruct button.

The four took a ground transport toward the mountain and followed it along its base for a half hour until they reached the site. Sam Martin lugged an enormous case of diagnostic equipment into the entry room. Walters had been over the details of his initial encounter a half dozen times with the curious engineer since the team received the assignment. He thought Bobby's take on the story sounded much more entertaining and possibly more insightful, since it didn't revolve around conquering ones inner fears. He liked stories about alien technology and discovering ancient ruins, but this archeologist definitely did not seem adventurous like the one he'd grown up watching in classic movies.

Sam went over to the invisible elevators first thing. He rode up with equal parts excitement and curiosity. He studied the walls, which were a smooth metal rather than the stone ceilings and floors. Until the rest of the tower's secrets lay uncovered and possibly transported back to the colony, he would need to leave the mechanism in the walls intact. Taking it apart and seeing what makes it tick seemed necessary, but it would prevent them from accessing what lay between the bottom and top floors of the tower.

The view screens upstairs were another story altogether. With the help of Bobby, Sam had discovered that the screen comprised about thirty smaller screens that could be popped out of place by prying a small indention on their bottom edge. He removed two from a corner that didn't reveal much besides the ruins where they had parked. Sam secured a plastic sheet in place to keep out the elements until a more permanent arrangement could be made. The screen looked like a clear pane of glass when Sam held it up and looked at Bobby. He touched the surface with his pinched thumb and finger, and then splayed his digits. Sam first saw pores on Bobby's face, then a giant crater of skin, then a colony of microorganisms thriving and multiplying. How could a single layer of material contain such a powerful magnification tool? He and Bobby played with them for a few minutes before carefully wr

apping them in packing bubbles and tucking them into a satchel.

Down below, Walters inspected the doors located between the entry way and the invisible elevators. There were no discernable latches, levers, handles, or knobs. Pushing had no effect and there were no places to grasp and pull. Shelly seated herself at the console and intently studied the blank display screen. There were keys without symbols, and she considered resorting to button mashing. Her gaze drifted up and she noticed a series of characters a foot above the console's display. The characters were similar to the written language the Pneuma used, which she had mastered during the past weeks in Elsaap and my company. It said Station 2.

She began thinking about the implications. Could their stories of the Anki have been an accurate verbal history? Did some of their species develop physical and mental abilities which enabled them to travel between planets?

Shelly spoke Sumerian in the Pneuma dialect "How do I turn this on?"

The keyboard lit up with a symbol on each key. A gentle hum resonated through the room. The display screen whirred to life and shone a drawing of the tower on the right while it listed a menu option on the left. The drawing indicated that there were four rooms between the top and bottom, confirming their visual assumption. The menu listed the following options: inventory, tower security reports, archives, and instructions.

"Hey! You got something working, " said Walters, lurking over Shelly's shoulder, far too close for comfort.

"I can read it too, " Shelly replied, "Please get Bobby and Sam, I'd like to have us all together before I start exploring the system in case something unexpected happens."

"Of course, " he said. Walters made his way hesitantly, hoping he wouldn't throw up or faint.

When the entire team had assembled she began looking through the instruction category on the menu and learning how to operate what had once been a defensive outpost. Shelly handwrote notes as she went and stayed in her place going over the information for most of the morning. Unbeknownst to her, the remaining members of the team had gone outside and Walters had set up an excavation of a particularly promising building foundation.

Shelly rose to her feet, and stretched slowly. She realized that it had been more than a few minutes she spent seated in from of the display. The midday sun shone bright outside and she joined the rest of the team. The linguist explained the basic voice commands to the others over lunch. Bobby and Sam were eager to get a look into the other rooms. Walters seemed to turn green when she explained how to tell the invisible elevator which floor to take you to. Shelly thought he might decide to continue his outdoor dig rather than brave the tower's mysteries. She felt a bit surprised when he trailed nervously behind the group as they entered the tower again. Shelly mused that he seemed more timid now than on their handful of dates last year.

"Open, " she said in Sumerian. The door slid open to reveal a closet with what looked like metallic backpacks on hooks. There were dozens of them in the cabinet. The four each took one in hand and began exploring their find.

"Shugarra, " Shelly said. The instructional indicated that every warrior must don a shugarra before engaging in battle. She placed the pack between her shoulders and fumbled with the straps for a moment to get a snug fit. She felt the weight of the pack against her back. It seemed lighter than it aught have been. After a moment she felt it become cool, as if it were regulating its own temperature. She experienced a mix of curiosity and anxiety for a few minutes until the others started grabbing their own shugarra. Bobby and Sam followed Shelly's lead and put them on. Dr. Walters chose to analyze it on a table top, poking into spots and trying to peel back what looked to be the top flap.

Shelly pronounced the Sumerian word for activate. A bolt of cloth shot out the nape of her neck and stopped a few feet above her head. The stiff mass looked taught before fanning itself wide, then closing itself over her head and neck. She shrieked out in startled surprise, hands clawed at her neck, all became silent and black. The moment passed and she regained vision and hearing, but not her own. She sucked in a gasp of relief, only not air, at least not normal air. Shelly felt like she'd jogged around the block and had a pot of coffee. Sam, Bobby, and Dr. Walters gaped in amazement.

"Ms. Crispin… Are you alright?" Dr. Walters asked. He looked like he would cry soon.

"I feel great, but this took me by surprise, " boomed a strong voice, laced with power and authority. Shelly Crispin stood amid them, a silver mask fitted tightly over her features. Somehow it brought out her beauty, Bobby and Sam both took her in and wondered how they hadn't noticed her before. Walters bent and retrieved her glasses that had clattered to the floor, he extended them toward her. A hand reached for them, from the midpoint of a wing. Beyond the hand the wing extended two arm lengths. The tip of the silvery translucent wing brushed a far wall. Startled, Shelly drew her hand back and the wing folded neatly up into itself twice. It looked like nothing more than webbing running from forearm to hip, at the base of the pack she had called a shugarra. Her shoulders and chest had also been robed in the silvery cloth, giving her a muscular fa?ade. A fan of silver tails trailed to her calves.

Sam and Bobby quickly spoke the activation command. Shelly watched their transformation take place in the span of one halted inhalation. What were these devices capable of? Enormous wings and a tail would indicate flight, or at least gliding. Her curiosity drove her out the door and into the cool of the afternoon. She spread her hands wide and crouched. She could hear Dr. Walters's timid words of caution from the entryway. She leaped with all her strength, arms and wings spread wide, face to the sky. Shelly felt her jump reach its apex, thrust her wings, and began flapping in a rhythm. The shugarra clearly augmented her strength, she could feel the power to work the massive wings pressing against her own back, chest, and shoulders. The wind on her face felt good and she continued to flap a moment taking in the experience.

Shelly looked down. Much further down than she expected. Her team consisted of three dots the size of grapes. She froze from the realization of what had happened. Perhaps the extra jolt of energy from putting the shugarra on had lent her a bit of courage before her common sense had time to return. As Shelly halted from her flapping, she felt herself gently gliding down. She tipped her left down and her right up a bit and began to slide toward the ground in a gentle spiral. Moments later the ground approached and she trotted onto it, bumping into Walters as she made her final stop. The man trembled in her grip and he asked about her wellbeing.

Sam and Bobby needed no further encouragement than her safe return. They crouched and burst into flight. Having had a moment to observe, they beat their wings with far less vigor. The pair hovered near the crown of the tower for a moment, and began to glide gently down.

The three aviators chatted excitedly about the experience while Dr. Walters scribbled page after page of notes. They felt excited to be alive, while the archeologist felt excited to see the planet's unknown history come alive. The abstraction from the invigorating thrill of the moment kept him from fainting. Walters felt thrilled about the discovery, and equally thrilled that he had not been in one when it left the ground. The invisible elevators were a big enough shock.

Shelly taught Sam and Bobby the word to disengage the shugarra while she sat comfortably in the shade of the tower and probed its other features. The others searched for artifacts by reciting the "Open, " command she taught them. By requesting information in Sumerian she saw a menu visible to her as if it floated two feet in front of her left eye. There were no indicators of who made them or any information about their society. As she expected, any data she gleaned related to the function and features of the shugarra. The equipment generated energy by the exhaust of the wearer's breath as well as the heat of their body. This powered its motor for the charge required to initiate the reactor and begin converting its own energy, which could in turn revitalize its wearer. Food and sleep could be withheld indefinitely while within an activated shugarra.

Shelly learned the command to engage energy bursts from the palm of the shugarra's glove. The burst surged where her eye made contact when she uttered command. The others ran out the entrance of the tower, Shelly smirked and shrugged, a small tree lay in splinters and disarray.

The shugarra did more than enable flight. It could also function underwater, could bore through the earth, make its wearer invisible, and augment the wearer's strength. Shelly had no aspiration toward testing these features after she had experienced flight and its firepower. It seemed best to save some adventure for another day. She found the visual display's ability to detect sources of heat as well as kinetic energy very useful. The feature allowed her to observe motion through solid objects. She spied the men in the tower traveling in the elevator and rifling through the cabinet they found the shugarra in. When Shelly looked down she saw a small animal burrowing ten or twelve feet below the surface. By focusing on the creature and closing one eye she zoomed in, the same way the tower's display monitors had. The burrower had four clawed front digits and a tail and it appeared to be the size of a Saint Bernard.

Sam Martin would not sleep until he could take this shugarra apart and build one from scratch. From what he observed that would require an awful lot of coffee. It had technology built in that mankind hadn't even imagined yet. The possibilities for alternative applications were limitless. He sat at the console on the ground floor of the tower and inspected the shugarra he had worn for seams or any evidence of craftsmanship. It looked as if the thing appeared out of thin air rather than being assembled. He began imagining the type of tools necessary to take it apart without potentially destroying it. There must be a powerful energy generation system tucked into it, so the utmost caution would be used not to cause an explosion.

Bobby Rogers dug through the cabinet and its partner. There were thirty six shugarra in total, not a bad haul! Counting the magnification screens they removed from the top level, they had been successful fortune hunters. This did not stop Bobby's search for more marvels from an alien past. He wished that Shelly would save her research for another day and help him get to the other levels of the tower. It was midafternoon and they needed to report back to the colony in person before dusk. After an hour of poking around he went outside to wait near the linguist as she completed her notes on the shugarra's functions.

"How about we try getting that elevator to put us on another floor?" Bobby asked as soon as Shelly had tucked her notepad into a cargo pocket. "Imagine what else we could find here!"

"Travis was right about you, such an inquisitive guy."

"He ought to know, we've been friends since we were kids. We even did boot camp for CSF together."

Bobby knew that she and Travis were getting close and hoped she had some foxy academic friends to bring around. He held out a hand and helped Shelly to her feet. Together they reentered the tower.

Shelly stood just outside the elevator and spoke the Sumerian phrase for second level and walked into to tube. With a whisk and a floating sensation she entered a dark room, and took a few tentative steps forward to make room for Bobby. She heard a woosh behind her and spoke the command for light. Another woosh and Sam pressed the two forward into what looked like sleeping quarters. Three sets of triple bunk beds lined the walls. Racks set between the beds were empty. Sam reached out to touch a mattress and it crumpled to dust under his hand. The trio poked around a bit before concluding that nothing here held interest.

The third floor held a waterless lavatory set up. There were multiple stalls as well as an area for bathing. It didn't work like the sit down throne they used, but it beat a shovel and a thick patch of trees. Their sanitary facilities impressed Sam. Sure, they were no flying backpacks but this could advance waste reintegration beyond what the ship currently used.

The fourth floor looked equally domestic, but there were more items of interest than a toilet. It contained a kitchen and dining area. An open faced shelf, loaded with local fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and meat. How the food stayed fresh provided a topic of intense consideration. Sam went back to the transport for his diagnostic tools along with Dr. Walters. The pair reappeared moments later, Sam holding a tool box and Walters clutching a sick bag which he had packed in order to leave the site undisturbed.

Dr. Walters immediately stuffed his empty bag into a pocket and made a recording with his communicator. So much of a culture could be determined based upon their diet. Here sat not only evidence of what they ate, but fresh leftovers! If the beds hadn't shown such evidence of age, it would have appeared as if they walked into a building while the inhabitants were simply out for the day. Walters began examining what must have been kitchenware and speaking to himself while snapping pictures and recording notes.

Sam Martin thought a device that preserved food for thousands of years could be revolutionary. As a bachelor in his late thirties, much of his time spent in the kitchen consisted of discovering and eliminating the things that grew in his fridge from the takeout he had placed there only weeks before. This could change everything, if humanity had these when he left Earth as a boy, his parents could have loaded up on Grandma's German chocolate cake. Maybe he still had time, his imagination would not allow for her passing. If he could reverse engineer one of these and send blue prints to Earth when they reestablish contact, Grandma could whip up a few dozen cakes and send them on the first commuter.

Bobby Rogers eyed the meat ravenously. Much of their voyage and his life had been spent on a nearly vegetarian diet as shipboard necessity. If LARC1 inhabitants bred, fed, and slaughtered livestock onboard at a level that most Earth bound humans enjoyed, they would have only been able to transport one in five colonists. LARC would have run into problems running out of space to produce the grains and vegetables necessary to feed both the livestock and the colonists. Meat consumption remained popular however, but in the same way that gold and platinum jewelry were popular. It became wildly expensive and therefore the wealthiest enjoyed it more frequently while the colonists with more modest incomes savored it on special occasions. Bobby's last steak had been a gift from his parents when he graduated CSF boot camp. Sure, that thing in the cabinet must be older than the hills, and who knows what animal it came from, but it looked like a million bucks, or like it would cost that much. A steak that size sold for a couple years pay, back in the colony.

Dr. Walters and Sam both agreed that the contents of the kitchen should stay in place until they were better understood. Bobby became eager to see the fifth floor, to avoid breaking the rules and eating the ancient pot roast.

The fifth floor split into two chambers. One held an open room filled with medical equipment and an operating bed. The group clustered around the bed, examining the instruments cautiously. Sam couldn't even guess what some of the complex machinery would be used for, but most of the tools here treated wounds inflicted on a battlefield. This place looked like a defensive outpost, where first aid would have been likely.

A shrill high pitched scream rang through the room. Shelly looked up startled as Bobby and Sam whipped their heads first in her direction, then in the direction of the other room. Dr. Walters backed out nervously babbling while tears rolled down his cheeks. Bobby motioned the others to crouch near the elevator tube as he drew his sidearm and crept cautiously into the dark space.

A muscular figure hid on all fours in the dark. Shadows played off nine alcoves against the back wall. People? What would a person be doing here? The colonists hadn't been approved for exploration this far out.

"Everything's okay, " Bobby said. He spoke the Sumerian word for light and a gasp escaped the small crouched figure. It looked inhuman. It rose to a height around four and a half feet. It stood on two legs with knees bent opposite that of a man, thick powerful thighs atop long thin forelegs. The torso and arms were similar to that of a man. Slicked back ears lay on the top of his head and trailed to the middle of his back. Its face looked remarkably human except a bit more pointed near the nose and mouth. Bobby thought he looked like the result of a rabbit evolving into a human.

Shelly Crispin poked her head around the corner of the entryway and spoke to the being in Sumerian. "We would like to help you."

"Help fight? We don't want another fight, " the creature moved a few steps forward with his hands out, fingers splayed in a submissive gesture.

Bobby lowered the pistol and made room for Shelly in the entryway.

"We don't want to fight anyone. We came to this world to start a new life. You are the only intelligent life we have encountered." Shelly asserted.

"The others…" he turned and keyed a console to the side of the chambers. There were gasps of breath from eight of his fellows.

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