©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame
Chapter Three - Preparations
“Look there, Felicia, near the curve of the Earth.” A young man was standing in magnetic footwear at an observation window looking out from the El-Five station platform. He pointed down at the marbled planet below toward a large swirl of clouds. The woman beside him was barely twenty and stood close to her fiancé, following his gaze along the proffered finger.
“I see it, Eric,” she said, “but I can’t tell where the hurricane will make landfall.”
“The area’s obscured by all the clouds, but it’s about to roll over the Florida peninsula and the island chains to the south.”
“That Category 5 hurricane will take out the local tourist economy yet again,” the young woman mused. “I’m glad we got to see the Caribbean on our cruise back in the spring before the hurricane season began.”
“You know, we could have had our wedding there. The Lucayan Resort in Freeport would have been the perfect place for it.”
Felicia looked up at the man only a few years her senior and smiled. “Yes, that would have been beautiful, but you know my heart; I want our wedding to be the first marriage on Bellerophon! The captain has already agreed to marry us on the day we land there.”
“Yes, but that won’t be for nearly another seventy-six years!”
The woman laughed. “True, but we’ll be asleep on the way there, silly. In wake-time, we’ll be departing a week from now and then once we come out of cryo, we’ll only be a month away from Belle. You won’t have to wait seventy-six years to have me as your wife – just about five weeks!”
The hurricane below already forgotten, Eric threaded his arms around her middle and pulled her close, looking deeply into her eyes. “Our cryo pods will be right next to one another. That means that while on the journey there, we’ll be sleeping together!”
Felicia laughed aloud and lightly swatted his arm. “You’re incorrigible! Don’t ever change.” Without another word, the young man bent down to kiss her and she met him halfway.
Haru Kirato cast the images from his handheld tablet to the large video screen on the family room wall of their quarters on the El-Five station. The screen doubled as a window to the outside when it wasn’t otherwise in use due to microscopic helix circuitry embedded in the glasteel pane.
On the screen were schematics for the structures they would build once they reached the new world. Although there would only be one hundred in the crew initially going to Belle, they would be required to start building the base for the start of a city inhabited by them and the hundreds of others who would be following them.
Haru and his family were all farmers by trade, and would be partially responsible for raising the livestock being taken along, but they would also have responsibilities building the colony base; everyone on the first mission would be involved in that endeavor. Haru knew that his family’s farming duties would be a full-time job once the animals and crops were established, but they would all be busy no matter what they were doing from the moment the ship’s shuttles deposited them and their supplies upon the new land.
As he studied the schematics that an engineer had forwarded to him, and traced fiber lines with a stylus, his teenage son Takuma was setting the dining table for their evening meal and wife Emiko was tending to their three-year old Daisuke. His beloved wife knew just as much about farming and construction as he did, as they had both been raised on farms less than a mile from one another, and each had gone to the same agricultural university.
The room was relatively quiet with just a subtle play of music from Emiko’s tablet, but the tranquility was shattered with a rather loud tone indicating a priority message. The woman gave her small son an affectionate pat on the behind and then looked at the techwatch on her wrist. She tapped through a menu and pulled up the missive.
“The inoculations are finally ready and are being scheduled for all personnel,” she announced. “We have an appointment for ours this afternoon at fourteen hundred.”
Haru looked over his shoulder at his wife. “Today?” he queried. “I would not have believed it to be ready until we arrived on Belle. It’s too soon.”
“BR549 collected samples of all the bacteria and viruses it could find during its two years examining Belle, and studied them during its long journey back. It’s had several years since for testing and trials and the medical department believes that the Belle Vaccine should be able to combat everything that was collected. Of course, this does not mean the AI was able to collect everything on the new planet, so we will still need to be careful.”
Haru grumbled, saving a bookmark on the schematic before he turned to face Emiko. “I have not been keeping up with medical breakthroughs for anything but our animals,” he admitted. “All of the embryos are safely frozen, but it is taking longer to put the live animals into cold sleep; mostly with the cattle. I just wish we were not taking Texas Longhorns. I’m having the most trouble with them.”
“The longhorns?” Emiko repeated. “We take those because their meat is lean, lower in fat, calories and cholesterol.”
“Yes, and despite their dangerous-looking horns, they’re also among the most docile hybrid breed and are easy to calve. I know all this.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Haru quirked up his lips into a smirk. “It’s because of those horns. You can’t just slide them into a cryo tube after they’ve been infused with the chemical cocktail for cryogenic freeze. Once they’re sleeping, you have to turn their heads almost ninety degrees for the horns to fit inside the tube with them! Every one of them will come out of hibernation with neck aches and will be cantankerous because of it!”
Takuma laughed aloud and both parents looked at him in amusement. “I’m glad I won’t be on that detail when we get there,” he remarked as he set the eating utensils in place on the table.
“Who says you won’t?” Emiko asked with a narrow gaze. “That sounds like a perfect duty for our young man.”
“Indeed,” Haru added.
Takuma rolled his eyes heavenward and shook his head. “I should have kept my mouth shut,” he muttered.
“You will not have to do it alone,” Haru said with a smile. “Mr. Bletchingdon will be assigned to help out alongside the rest of us.”
Takuma looked up with interest. Rex Bletchingdon was another young farmer just a year older, though his own family would be coming over later on Arion-2. He and Takuma had become friends over the past year and spent much of their free time together.
“My only problem with this whole mission,” Emiko muttered, “is that we’ll be so far away from Earth that if there are any major issues, we can’t depend upon getting any help and we can’t just turn around and go back. We need some kind of contingency for that.”
Haru looked back at his wife. “That sounds like you’ve been talking to Emma Bonavita. That’s the very issue she’s been grumbling about recently.”
“Yes, actually, I have. She brought it up when I logged the sheep embryos.”
“You need to give her a deaf ear; that kind of dissention is not good for mission morale. Honestly, I do not understand why she and her husband even volunteered for this. I’m sure the project leaders have already planned for all scenarios; they have had years to consider everything. I doubt there will be any surprises that they hadn’t already thought of.” Haru thought for a moment and turned back to his screen.
“We will be truly on our own until the second ship arrives,” Emiko remarked, “and then all sixteen hundreds of us will make up the whole population of the new world. Takuma will need to find him a nice young wife and have many children to establish ourselves permanently on Belle.”
“Mom!” the teenager complained over his shoulder. “I’m only sixteen! Don’t go trying to marry me off yet!”
“You are sixteen now, but by the time Arion-2 arrives, you’ll be twenty-one — a prime age to get married.”
Haru laughed aloud. “Listen, son, we still have a week before departure. If you want to take some time to mingle with Arion-2 personnel and start looking through their girls now, I’m sure we could arrange the time for it.”
Takuma’s face reddened. “Dad!”
“Haru, stop teasing the boy.”
“You started it!” The father grinned widely. “I’m sorry, son. I just don’t want you to miss out on the opportunities that lie ahead for you. Besides, I know that you and Rex have already been comparing notes on the young women of the project.”
Takuma exhaled loudly. “In my own time, Dad – in my own time!”
“Of course, son.”
“We still have an air leak around the number three emergency airlock,” Will Andresen grumbled.
“It’s the external radiation shields. Their thickness and the way they fit to the hull keeps the hatch from seating properly.”
Andresen looked over at David Gordon, a heavyset mechanic oriented upside down from his perspective. The pair of engineers were in EVA suits outside Arion-1 to solve the latest problem plaguing the final days before launch. Most of the interstellar vessel had already been loaded with equipment, supplies, live cargo and personnel. It took time to get everyone into cryo, so there had been a constant stream of traffic between the ship and the station while the mechanics, engineers and assemblers rushed to get the final checklists accomplished.
“We’re going to have to remove the shields from this section and modify them so they don’t interfere with the seals,” Andresen complained. “We may as well get started on it, although we are so far behind that we’re in the weeds right now!”
Gordon spoke into his helmet mike. “Arion, can you open this airlock for me? I need to check the clearance of the seals.”
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Gordon felt a sudden rush of cold along his spine at the context of that specific movie quote, especially done in the likeness of the original actor’s voice. “Ex…cuse me?”
“This is an emergency airlock; it can only be opened manually.”
Gordon cleared his throat. “Ah, then what good are you?”
“So good that you could not embark on this mission without me.” The SI sounded amused, so Gordon knew that Arion had been teasing him.
“Yes, that’s all true; just pullin’ your digital leg as you were doing with mine. Seriously, though, aren’t you able to activate all ship’s systems?”
“All automated systems, yes, but in the event of an emergency where all power is lost – and this includes myself – personnel must be able to access the interior or evacuate as necessary. That is why the ships are equipped with this and three other manual airlocks strategically placed around the fuselage.”
“That makes sense.”
“I can manipulate any of the primary airlocks, just not the emergency hatches.”
Without further discussion, Gordon popped opened a panel beside the hatch and grabbed a wheel large enough to get the suited fingers of his gloves into its spokes. Designed to be turned in the intense cold and vacuum, the wheel moved easily. As he worked to open the hatch, he began singing a popular show tune.
Will Andresen would not have minded Gordon’s singing, had he not been thoroughly stressed, and had the other male not sung so badly, loudly, and out of tune in his helmet speakers.
“Would you please cut that out!” he groused. “You’re going to burn out a tonsil and my ears will be ringing until we come out of cryo on the other side!”
Gordon lowered his volume, but kept right on belting out off-key lyrics with a satisfied twinkle in his eyes. Annoying the chief engineer was one of life’s little pleasures.
Piale Bonavita held up a scanner to the monochromatic code label on the side of a small ceramic container. The device made a soft chirp and a corresponding panel automatically opened on a wall of them. Wearing insulated gloves, the nineteen year old woman slid the box into the storage unit and then shut the panel with a click. Without much enthusiasm, she picked up the next container from inside a large chilled chest beside her, scanned the code and then put the ceramic box into the unit that opened.
She had been storing frozen embryonic samples on board Arion-1 for the past two hours and the drudgery was getting to her. Yes, it was important to the mission, and someone had to do it, but she was sure her parents had stuck her with the job as punishment for her fiasco in the air ducts.
The young woman pushed black bangs from her forehead with a gloved finger and picked up the next container. She peered at the label before lifting the scanner. Inside were Capra aegagrus hircus embryos – a common domestic goat. Gestation for these critters was around five months, but they would not be transferred into a live host until after landing so that paddocks could be erected prior to filling them with the various livestock that would be brought along.
In addition to the animals, viable Human embryos would be included in the manifest of both ships as well, a decision not made lightly and only after years of deliberation with various humanistic organizations. Donated embryos and DNA samples came from around the world, and then only from healthy family lines that had nothing to do with social standings or financial entitlements. These precious embryos would be retained indefinitely and unfrozen only in the event of some disaster that threatened the colony as a whole. It was a backup scenario only, with hopes that they may never be needed.
Once she completed this task, which might take her another three hours, she had been promised to begin training in the procedures for embryo transfers through the terms to birth all the creatures they would want to introduce to the new world. There was no guarantee that the colonists would be able to eat any of the native life forms on Belle, so they would have to bring their own animals for food, fertilizer and farm work.
What she did not understand is why they were also bringing the genetic material for things like African lions, cougars, bears, foxes, coyotes, wolves and other predatory animals that had nothing to do with farming and ranching to provide sustenance. She could understand cats and dogs, and while they would not be taking them for food, at least those made good companions for when times get lonely before there was more humanity brought in to populate this second Earth; the dogs alone could be used to herd the livestock.
All she had been told is that the more exotic animals would be kept in storage, so that if anything should ever happen to Earth, those animals would never become extinct. It was doubtful any of them would ever make an actual appearance on the new world, unless they were released on one of the other uninhabited continents to make their own lives in the new environment, one such scenario that had been discussed. For now, however, they would be taken along merely as a conservation effort and would remain out of sight for as long as Arion’s systems could keep them viable.
Captain Samuel Hatteras of Arion-2 maneuvered his way through the zero-gee corridors of Arion-1, pulling himself along using hand rails mounted along the length of the narrow avenue. With the exception of some areas, most of the vessel’s corridors and compartments were small and close quarters. The ship was primarily designed to transport cargo, which included the sleepers. It was not a cruise ship with large areas for meals and entertainment, and its corridors were just wide enough that two people could pass one another side-by-side, but little room for more. A common feature of all Terran space ships was that free-floating, gravity-free corridors were designed as rounded tubes, while the passageways in the internal rotating sections with centrifugal-generated gravity were standardized square; a flat floor was only necessary when one had gravity.
Soft lighting was provided by glowing panels spaced apart within sections of the curved surface of the zero-gee corridors, but the uniform gray color scheme of the walls reminded the man of naval submarines he had once served in. Even the vessel under his command would eventually be trimmed out like this one.
Following behind Captain Hatteras along the narrow corridor was Archibald Grant, the chief engineer of Arion-2. They had both been invited on a tour of the nearly-finished interstellar ship, and although the layout of this smaller vessel was similar along the main corridors, their own ship would have additional decks for the greater quantities of human and static cargo.
Just as the men floated toward the ship’s bridge, they passed an open hatch into a meeting room on the right. Hatteras reached out and put a hand on the door frame to halt his flight along the corridor, having recognized Dr. Kate’s voice from the room; Grant nearly collided with him, but stopped himself in time.
“Thank you for your reports,” Kate added to what she was saying to four of her personnel. “This is something else we can check off our ready list.”
When the visiting captain poked his bearded face into the room, all eyes went to him. Kate smiled and gestured casually toward the new arrivals. “Welcome Captain Hatteras and Mr. Grant,” she said. “These are my shuttle pilots, Dana and Sean Barringer, Joseph Kittinger and Henry Clifton.”
“Hello,” Hatteras responded with a nod toward the pilots. “I am acquainted with your names. You have good records, all of you.”
“Thank you, sir,” all four said, almost in unison.
“Captain Hatteras is the commander of Arion-2,” Kate added, “and he is also my Deputy Project Director. Once we depart, he will assume my responsibilities for all mission operations for the next five years until his own ship launches to follow us. Archibald Grant is his chief engineer, as well as his First Officer.”
“Good to meet you,” Grant said. “Who flies what?” Kate lifted her hat to scratch quietly at the top of her bald head and looked to the pilots to answer for themselves.
Sean threaded an arm around the waist of his wife. “Dana and I pilot each of the Clydesdale-class cargo shuttle trucks. She flies Sir Barton and War Admiral is mine.”
“Those are the ones big enough to carry two of the ground-based work trucks, three tractors, six shipping containers or one of the earth-movers at a time,” Dana added. “We also have four tiltrotor Flitters, each that fold up and can fit inside one of our Clydesdales.”
“Likewise,” said Joe Kittinger, “Cliff and I pilot the Percheron-class personnel shuttle planes, each of which can carry fifteen people and their allowable luggage. Cliff’s little darling is the Omaha and I fly Secretariat.”
“Little darling?” Grant repeated with a smirk.
“That’s right,” Clifton replied with a toothy grin. “Omaha, the original Triple-Crown winner was male, but since all ships are female, my little filly is my darling.”
Dr. Kate gave Captain Hatteras a look of longsuffering before she faced her pilots again. “If you will all excuse me, I am to play tour guide of our fine ship for our guests.”
“Of course,” Kittinger answered. He tilted his head toward the door and the four of them pushed off for the corridor.
Once the pilots had gone with a new conversation of low voices, Kate smoothed out her wool sweater and then gestured toward the bridge. “Shall we go, gentlemen?”
Two figures in pressure suits floated just outside one of the cargo bays as its massive door closed out the void of space. One held a tablet in a gloved hand with a corresponding stylus on a tether in the other. Ginger Martin ticked a check box and then signed off on the action with her ID number and passcode in lieu of a biometric thumbprint. The twelve shipping containers that had just been added to twenty-four others secured in the bay consisted of construction materiel they would use to build the colony town on Belle.
Although the woman’s primary duty was a construction worker, she was a headstrong survivalist and called herself a “Ginger of All Trades”. Nearly thirty years into her womanhood, she still enjoyed girly things, though she was known to get belligerent if someone claimed she could not do something simply because she was a woman. She loved working with her hands and was happiest when she was busy; she detested being lazy.
Her companion was nearly a decade younger, another construction worker who would help build the habitats. Dean Ruston had lost his father in an aircraft accident when he was fifteen, so now it was just him and his mother out to explore the universe together. Despite that he was the son of the mission’s project director, he possessed his own set of skills and work ethic so that he had never needed special treatment due to his mother’s position. He had earned enough respect among his peers on his own. Unfortunately, the one whose respect he wanted the most tended to call him a nickname he detested, gleaned partially from his surname and partially due to his full head of auburn hair.
“Rusty, we’re done. Let’s go get lunch!”
“I think Rocky is making Shepherd’s pie today.”
“That’s good enough for me. I’ve worked up an appetite. Let’s head back over to El-Five.”
“Nope – since we’re so close to launching, he’s moved his operations to the galley on board the ship.”
“Really? Had I known that, we could have stayed inside the cargo bay when I closed the door,” Ginger complained. “Now we’ll have to go back in through the airlock.”
“The galley on the ship is not a big compartment,” Dean remarked, using his suit thrusters to follow his companion to the hatch. “I hope there isn’t a crowd yet.”
Ginger consulted the digital time displayed on the inside of her helmet. “I would imagine there is by now. El-Five personnel are probably coming on board to get to his lunch. They got used to his cooking on the station.”
“So did I.”
It only took a few minutes to cycle the airlock and then they helped one another get out of their pressure suits in the chamber just outside. This was one of Dean’s favorite parts of EVA with this particular partner, and while they were not a couple, it gave him an excuse to get up close to her. She seemed oblivious to his interest, perhaps due to the age difference between them, or she was just choosing to ignore it.
Without a word between them, they stowed their suits properly in the lockers and then headed through the narrow corridors to find their food. From the airlock where they had entered, the galley was located toward the opposite end of the ship inside one of the internal rotating levels for habitation.
When they neared the aromatic scents in the air, they were surprised to learn that there were only three individuals in the galley. Chef Piers Roche was in an apron, bustling around in the kitchen, preparing for what looked like a second wave of hungry personnel. The dishes stacked up in the sink was a clear sign that some had already come through.
The lean cook was a Frenchman whose parents had had a sense of humor naming him. Roughly translated into English, the family surname meant “rock”, and although his first name was in honor of his mother’s father, it also translated as “rock”. Rather than go through life potentially known as Rock-Rock, he had acquiesced to respond to Rocky and suffered the nickname with good natured humor.
Standing in front of the stack of dirty dishes was a burly young farmer quietly rolling up his sleeves in preparation for the task ahead. Rex Bletchingdon had drawn KP duty, but he had already eaten enough of the Shepherd’s pie that he simply figured it was his due to help in the kitchen and proceeded without complaint. Before he began, however, he stole a furtive glance at Rocky’s nutritionist standing at a nearby counter peering at a recipe on her tablet. She was easy on the eyes and he wasn’t the only one within the ship or station personnel who enjoyed her assets.
Victoria Barbicane looked up when Ginger and Dean entered through the galley entrance and smiled. “I’ll be right with you,” she said, bookmarking her place and sliding the tablet into the large leg pocket of her pants. She brushed away a few bread crumbs from the front of her blouse and then looked up at her customers.
When she moved over to the ordering counter, Ginger took a half-step sideways right into Dean’s side, effectively breaking his watchful gaze focused upon Victoria’s blouse. She looked over at him with a carefully neutral expression, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.
“Shepherd’s pie, please,” Dean managed to get out, “if there’s any left.”
“You’re in luck,” Victoria answered, “we didn’t have as big a crowd as we expected, probably due to our relocation, but there could be more on the way.”
“There could be more people or more pie?” Dean asked.
Victoria smiled. “People.”
“Two, please,” Ginger requested.
“Coming right up. You can get your drinks at the station over by the bulkhead.”
“Mind your manners,” Ginger whispered to her companion when they were away from the kitchen. Dean glanced over at her with a raised eyebrow.
“Of course,” she teased. “Usually it’s me you’re ogling.”
The young man frowned. “I’m sorry, Ginger. I can’t help it. You’re nice to look at and I like spending time with you.”
This made her laugh again. “Rusty, I’ve always known how you feel about me. You’re not exactly subtle!”
Dean’s face turned deep red and he swallowed hard, uncertain how to respond. Ginger slipped an arm around his waist and pulled him close. “I don’t mind the attention,” she said quietly. “It’s flattering, but I need you to know that I do have a boyfriend.”
“Of course you do,” he managed to mutter just loud enough for her to hear.
Ginger turned him to face her directly and then gave him a tender peck on the lips. “Please don’t sulk. You’ve got a nice build yourself, and I know for certain that some of the girls like ogling you also. I like spending time with you too, so please don’t avoid me now.”
“Who’s your boyfriend?”
“Barry Sandon; he works in hydroponics, but he doesn’t get jealous easily. He already knows you like me, but isn’t worried that I will leave him for you. He knows we often get tasked together.”
“Right, thanks — I think.”
“You’re okay, my friend.”
“Hey, lovebirds, your food’s ready!”
Ginger turned toward the tray that Victoria had brought over to them and grinned widely. “Rusty, here, is a close friend, but we aren’t together. I have someone already, but this guy is available if you’re interested!”
By this time, Dean was ready to be on Earth so he could find a rock to crawl under. Ginger retrieved their food tray and Victoria took the opportunity to turn toward the young man. “Well, in that case, I wouldn’t mind an interested look or two,” she whispered saucily. She put her hands up across his broad shoulders and leaned in to give him a gentle peck on the lips just as Ginger had done.
She snickered at his stricken expression and then waggled her fingers toward him. “I must get back to work now. Enjoy your lunches!”
Dean was sure she embellished the sway of her hips as she walked away and Ginger could not help laughing aloud at his embarrassed demeanor.
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