©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame
Chapter Twenty-Five - Deadly Approach
The next morning, Zaizen waited patiently by the Lake Gate, having had a good night’s sleep and a satisfying breakfast. Although there were no children at the playground this early in the day, workers had already returned to resume their work, but none of them paid any attention to her.
In the distance, she could see a trail of dust as one of the human-made vehicles traveled in her direction. The shape of the device did not look like the one they had tried to get her into the day before, but it was coming right toward her. Either it was someone coming out to greet her, or it was someone else there to go out through the gate she just happened to be standing at. During her visit the previous day, she had seen a number of their vehicles, both aerial and ground-based, but she could not remember if this was one she had seen.
The flat-bed truck pulled up to a stop near the gate. Seated behind the controls was a tawny lynx who wore only a pair of bright red shorts. He shut off the open-air vehicle and then stepped out to face her. This was no one that she had met previously, so she tilted her head in curiosity and held onto a fresh water plant when he approached the gate lock.
The feline looked up at her and gave her a brief nod. “Good morning,” he said.
“Yes, good morning,” the Sori responded courteously. “I am Zaizen. Who are you?”
The lynx looked surprised. He had heard that the alien could speak some English with the help of the local bosom plant that she held, but her few words were spoken with a better syntax than he had been informed from her previous visit. He had no way of knowing that she had stayed up well after dark practicing her words from listening to the different humans she had heard talking. She was used to going to sleep with the darkness and staying up late was out of her habit, but she really wanted to have good conversations with her new acquaintances. Could she count them as friends after only a few hours? She was unsure of that, but after so many years of loneliness, she had enjoyed having others to talk to, even if they were alien to everything she had ever known and spoke a different language.
“My name is Angelo Bonavita. I am here to take you back into camp if you are willing to ride with me in the back of a truck.”
She looked over at the vehicle and noted that if she got up into the back of it, she should be able to fit this time. There was no overhead canopy and the bed was sufficiently large enough for her feet and tail to fit in well enough. “Yes, thank you. I will ride with you.”
The feline unlocked the gate and allowed her to come in, though he kept a cautious eye on the alien creature, wary of potential trouble. He was unaware that she picked up on his feelings, and although she knew he was suspicious of her, there were other, more personal feelings emanating from the troubled Fur.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” she told him as she followed him to the truck. “I mean no harm to you or your people.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
Without coaxing, the alien stepped up into the back of the vehicle and the suspension dipped with the weight of its cargo. She put two of her hands onto the roll bar behind the front seats and made sure her feet were steady. She had ridden in Sori-made vehicles before and was familiar with the motion of travel, but she was personally unsure about this one.
Angelo climbed in behind the wheel and started up the truck, watching the alien with a side eye to make sure she was not startled by the whine of its electric motor. She merely looked down at him with a look of obvious amusement and it was then he remembered what he had been told about the water plant she carried with her.
The lynx gave her a smirk and then put the truck into gear, although he kept their speed low on the uneven terrain. Zaizen held on and shifted her gaze out toward the park ground workers. They all watched as the iridescent, hairy dinosaur was taken away, but they were too far for the orb to convey their feelings. She looked back in the direction of Tellus and felt a personal excitement at resuming discussions with the human Furs.
Zaizen gripped the top rail of an animal paddock with two of her hands and studied the cattle passively staring back at her. Although she had seen horned creatures before, she had never seen anything that resembled these bovines and she was suitably impressed.
“Despite their horns, these… cattle… are docile?”
“Yes, it comes from specific breeding for multiple benefits, but that is one of the reasons we brought them.”
“For more than food stock?”
“That’s correct,” Kate answered. “Does it bother you that we eat other animals?”
“We must all eat something. Understand this. I am fond of eating most aquatis, myself.”
“You would call them fishes and other aquatic organisms.”
Kate nodded, turned away and leaned back against the paddock. She had been playing tour guide for the alien for most of the day and they had worn out three of the bosom plants in the process. She was also slightly self-conscious now that she was freely roaming around in public wearing only a pair of dark brown shorts with a strap over the top of her tail base. This had garnered numerous looks of surprise from those who saw her; they all remembered her as their formerly stoic Project Director and seeing her bare-chested was a shock to some, even if her fur gave her chest full coverage. Having once been completely devoid of all body hair, she enjoyed having her own personal fur coat and had few qualms against being on display.
“What else can I show you?” she asked. “We’ve looked at the livestock, gardens, the buildings we’re constructing, our manufacturing printers, where we sleep, where we eat, and you’ve gotten to talk to a great number of people concerning their tasks.”
The alien absently brushed a lock of her long, iridescent hair from her forehead and then scratched at one of her fuzzy, cup-like ears. “Have enjoyed all this, but would like to sit and talk more about your dirt world, your peoples and your artificial person.”
The lioness laughed about her “dirt world”, but knew the visitor had been told that was what the name of their planet meant. Instead of making an issue of it, she brushed it off and led her companion to a canopy that had been set up out near the paddocks for no other reason than to provide a source of shade during the day or shelter during the daily rains. There was a couple of lawn chairs and a small folding table set up beneath it, but Kate set one chair aside so that Zaizen could settle onto the grass beside her. The Sori did not seem to need anything like a chair, she just squatted until her hindquarters and thick tail rested on the ground and she seemed to be comfortable.
Kate had carried her tablet with her during the tour and she set this onto the tabletop. Zaizen looked at it and then gestured with one clawed finger. “Your devices are fascinating,” she said casually. “We have no… vid’eo, and the program that lets you talk to your voidship in orbit as if it was another human is outstanding.”
“The program’s name is Arion and we treat him as just another one of us. Not only does he relay information and maintain a database of our knowledge, he can think for himself and can also be a good friend.”
“This Arion is self-aware?”
“Yes, Ambassador Zaizen, I am,” said the SI’s voice from Kate’s tablet. His smiling face appeared on the flat screen and Kate picked it up to hand it over to the alien. The Sori was hesitant to take the device, but she made sure her claws were retracted when she accepted it. She held it so the screen was facing her and she smiled in obvious fascination. She then turned it over, looking at the back side of the tablet, but Arion’s voice issued from the device’s set of speakers.
“I am over here, Ambassador. On the other side.”
The alien laughed with delight and turned the tablet so that it faced her again. “The Sori would have never programmed anything such as this.”
“And what reason is that?” he asked.
“Never think of it. We have some… pictures, but none that can move or talk back to us. They are used only to record memories for history.”
“You do not use video communication among yourselves?” Kate asked, holding up her techwatch. “To talk to one another?”
“No, voices only to one another. We do have recording devices to note findings that we can return to Sorini, but pictures use too much space so used rarely.” She smiled and added, “We are very good at verbal descriptions of what we discover.”
“From what I have monitored of your previous conversations,” Arion remarked, “your conversational English has improved greatly in just a day or two. Is this because of the water plant you carry?”
“Some, but not all. We have several languages on Sorini and I have been a skillful student of them all. The water orb helps me to understand the ‘intent’ of the words I hear, but my own skills have taught me to use what I have heard. I might be able to hold a passable conversation now without the orb, but your people continue to use words and phrases I have not learned.”
“It’s amazing that you could learn our language so well in only a couple of days,” Kate mused in appreciation.
“Ambassador Zaizen,” Arion began, “would you be willing to teach me your language? You said you had several languages, and so do we, but like the English you have learned, I would like to learn the primary language that you speak when among your own people.”
The alien considered this a moment and then nodded in the manner of the humans. Nodding as an affirmative response was not an action used by the Sori, but she had learned quickly that these Furs use it among themselves frequently, just as a gentle shake of the head meant a negative response for them.
“Yes, program Arion. I think I would like that as an equal exchange of information. My task on this world is to learn and gather data, but teaching others can be as beneficial and satisfying.”
“First off, you do not need to address me as a program. You may simply call me Arion.”
“Likewise, Friend Arion. You do not need to address me as Ambassador; that is a term assigned to me by your own people. For you, I am simply Zaizen.”
“Agreed, then. Shall we begin?”
Kate watched the alien with interest as she and Arion began language lessons, but after a while she grew bored with it all. She learned a few of the Sori’s primary words in the process, but she excused herself, leaving her tablet with Zaizen.
Over the next two days, the alien was seen wandering around Tellus unescorted. She stopped to talk with anyone she met, asking questions about their work, their world and personal aspects of their various furmen bodies. Most were willing to visit with her, but there were others who shunned her completely, suspicious of her motives for gathering so much information about them, their town and their capabilities. There were several who complained to the mayor for giving her too much freedom and suggested she be barred from entering the perimeter gates unescorted for the sake of everyone’s safety.
Ken patiently listened to each concern that was brought to him, and in turn he passed them on to his command staff. Kate was completely unconvinced that Zaizen presented any kind of a threat, and argued with anything said against the alien.
As the chief of security, or as the townsfolk now called him sheriff, Ethan Edwards gave each complaint serious consideration. He had met the alien and found her personable, but as she was an alien, he could not be sure that she did not have ulterior motives. What if her story of being left alone for twenty years was not just a ruse to get into their good graces? Were there more of her kind hiding out under the rainforest, just waiting for the chance to overrun the human’s new town?
As Ethan’s appointed deputy, Rod Vincent sided with his boss on the side of caution, but he was one who had met and enjoyed his discussions with the Sori. Will Andresen, the town’s chief engineer for all construction projects, had only briefly met with Zaizen, and while he thought she was nice, he had not been around her enough to really form an opinion either way.
Zaizen had agreed to allow Dr. Kazama and Nick Ansara give her a physical examination, so long as it was mostly non-invasive, and while they found scans of her anatomy vastly fascinating, they saw nothing that would present a threat. Like many of the Furs, the alien’s teeth were those of an omnivore rather than primarily a carnivore or herbivore, and after having witnessed her earlier reaction to eating Terran-based meat, neither of them gave in to the fears that the alien was there to harvest any of them for food.
Dr. Fernando had even had a session with the Sori, and although he had insisted that their conversation be made without the use of the water plant, even he was convinced that she was just what she claimed to be — although he had to admit in private that an alien’s mind might not work the same as theirs, and it was possible that deciphering her intent could have been mistaken. Perhaps he should have been the one holding the bosom plant while talking with her.
Although not a part of the command staff, Dean Ruston’s ears heard more than a few unkind remarks concerning the alien’s presence, and he was afraid that his earlier fears might be forming in their minds.
In the end, however, it was Zaizen herself who solved the issue for them late one afternoon. Although she had greatly enjoyed the enthralling discoveries visiting with the humans in their town, she felt it was time to leave them to their tasks and return to her home to tend to other things. She promised not to be a stranger and to stop back in from time to time, but she had been away long enough.
Despite the others’ concerns that she was gathering information on them, Kate convinced Ken to allow Zaizen to take a techwatch with her so that she could stay in contact, and it was an unspoken agreement that Arion could also keep tabs on her through it.
No longer carrying a water plant, the Sori had spent her last day with the furmen using her newly-learned English, and it was on that day that the techwatch was presented to her. She was ecstatic to have the device that she had been taught to use, and Arion had agreed to talk with her as she wished, in addition to relaying any message she might have to Dr. Kate.
“How long will it take you to travel back to your home?” the lioness asked when Zaizen announced it was time to get going.
“Two days to cross the crater and then another to traverse the sloped wall up the trail to the mountain pass,” she answered. “Then another day to reach the first of my abodes within the rift, although I will not stop there for more than just a rest. I have another abode past the outpost dome under the rainforest canopy that is the true home I have used since stranded on Serallasion. It is several days’ journey, but I am patient and in no hurry.”
“Can we offer you a ride in a Flitter?” Ken asked courteously. “It would be faster than going on foot, faster even than on the back of a flatbed truck, and you could be back at your home within hours instead of days.”
The alien looked across the field toward the landing strip and frowned. She had seen their various flying vehicles, but was hesitant to trust their technology since it operated on principles far different than what the Sori had developed.
She brushed a lock of her iridescent hair away from her face and looked uncertain, an expression that Kate recognized after spending so much time with her. “The Flitter is safe,” the lioness assured her new friend. “I can ride back with you, if you’d like.”
After moments of internal decision, the Sori lowered her neck toward the Fur. “I admit some apprehension, but I will choose to trust your flitter if you will accompany me. However, we will not go to my home, but you may take me as far as the outpost.”
Kate had the sudden feeling that Zaizen did not want them seeing where she lived. Were there actually more of her people waiting there for her to return and report all she had seen? She dismissed that notion, feeling as if that was influenced by the others who were suspicious of the alien.
“Agreed,” she replied with a smile. “I will get one of our pilots to take us.”
“May I have your attention please?” a voice interrupted from her techwatch.
“Yes, Arion. What is it?”
“I have detected a meteorite approaching Bellerophon, primarily composed of nickel iron and measuring approximately three hundred feet in diameter.”
The lioness and the alien exchanged worried looks. “How close do you calculate that it will come to the planet?”
“The meteorite already seems caught in the planetary gravity well. Estimates are difficult to project at this time, but there is an eighty percent chance that it may impact on the surface.”
Zaizen let out a wail that Kate had never heard her make before and there was a panic stricken look to her eyes. This was also the first time she had seen the alien exhibit any kind of distress at all.
“Aei!” the Sori wailed. “Killed my people! Left me alone!” She looked at the lioness and made a panting noise as one of her hands convulsed and squeezed the water plant; its membrane collapsed against her with a splash of dirty liquid. “Made crater! Can do again!”
“Do you have anything you can use to destroy it?” Ken’s voice emanated also from the techwatch. The SI must have included him or others on the call.
“Negative, sir. Arion-1 was not equipped with defensive weaponry. I can do nothing to destroy, nor even deflect the meteorite from its path. All I can do is monitor its progress and relay it to you.”
“How much time do we have before it enters the atmosphere?” Will Andresen asked, confirming Kate’s supposition of a conferenced discussion. “Do we have time to dig underground shelters?”
“Estimated time to the upper atmosphere is approximately twenty-one hours,” Arion replied, “but even if that was enough time to construct shelters for ninety-six people, it is doubtful they could withstand the force of impact, as the very existence of this crater and the surrounding ring of mountains will attest.”
“Ninety-six?” Kate asked. “There are ninety-five of us.”
“I was including Ambassador Zaizen.”
“We die!” wailed the Sori, falling back onto rudimentary English. She folded her ears against her head and shook all over.
“Please be reminded that as I have not yet calculated an exact trajectory and projected a possible impact site, there is no real reason to assume that it will hit this exact spot out of the whole planet. Eighty percent of Bellerophon is covered by seas and it is more probable that it will vaporize a great deal of saltwater.”
“An iron rock of that size can still cause major damage from a distance, be it from the ocean or another continent,” Andresen reminded them. “A massive tsunami could flow inland for hundreds of miles, and even debris thrown up into the air from an impact could cause a decrease in global temperatures, creating a threat to our crops and livestock, not to mention ourselves..”
“Is true! Much colder for years until settled, only then climate normal again. Zaizen has hair, but not made for the cold, almost perished! Many food plants and animals perished!”
“So there’s nothing we can do but wait and watch?” Ken asked.
“I am afraid so, sir,” Arion confirmed. “I am devoting full resources to monitor and scan the approaching meteorite, making constant calculations.”
“Keep us informed,” the cougar directed, “and recall all personnel to the galley tent so we can inform everyone of this latest event.”
“Right away, sir.” Coinciding with the end of the conversation, all personnel tech devices sounded an alarm tone reserved only for emergencies with a simple message for everyone to gather immediately.
Kate reached out a hand and rubbed the alien’s long body hair along her shoulder, hoping to soothe the Sori. “We can take you home as soon as our meeting is over,” she said.
“No need that now. No safer there than here. I will die with Dr. Kate.”
“That’s only if it hits here,” the lioness reminded her. “There’s still a danger, but it may not be instant death.”
An hour later, the whole of the town personnel had gathered under the large galley tent, where Rocky and Victoria were passing around drinks and snacks to the assembled hoard. A raised platform had been hastily constructed, and upon it Kate’s tablet was set up to project Arion’s holographic image for all to see. Ken Robeson stood on one end of the platform with his hands raised and his tail swishing behind him to draw everyone’s attention. Arion’s figure stood at the center, quietly awaiting his cue to speak with his hands casually behind his back.
Only basic information of the situation had been passed along to the crowd, so once there was reasonable order in the tent, Ken gestured toward the Synthetic Intelligence. Arion looked out over the crowd at the worried and concerned expressions from a veritable zoo staring back at him.
“The meteorite may not present as much of a danger as first feared,” he began. “Bellerophon is moving in its orbit around the sun, and while the attraction of Belle’s gravity is still pulling the meteorite toward this planet, the intersection of the two is not looking favorable for an impact.”
There were a few cheers and even a few cries of relief at this news, but Ken quickly asked, “Is there a probability that the meteorite might hit Arion-1 in orbit? That’s what happened to the Sori voidship stationed here.”
“My analysis of the meteorite’s trajectory is more accurate than it was before, and no, sir – it will pass me by several hundred miles. It should also miss both of Bellerophon’s small moons, and while it will get very close, its angle of descent will be shallow and it should do no more than skim the upper mesosphere. The only real danger might be to one or two of my orbiting satellites. I have already pulled two replacements from inventory and will prepare them for launch should that turn out to be the case.”
“When will we know for sure what the meteorite’s going to do?” someone from the crowd asked.
“Every passing moment yields more information to add to variable equations, but I will not have accurate projections until approximately eight hours before its arrival. Until that time, I will broadcast any updates I have to all personnel devices.”
“When does it arrive?”
“Approximately 0530 tomorrow morning, local Belle time.”
“What are we supposed to do in the meantime?” Emma Bonavita called out.
Ken stepped forward and gestured casually in the direction of the town under construction. “Since Arion has conjectured that the meteorite will do little more than graze the atmosphere, I suppose we can all go back to business as usual.”
“He said he wouldn’t know until it’s almost upon us! Things could change between now and then!”
“Yes, and he said he would inform all of us if there were any changes.”
“What if one of those changes is that it’s going to come down on top of us?” the bear shot back. “We don’t have enough shuttles and Flitters to evacuate everyone to a safe distance!”
The cougar laid his ears back. “Even if the meteorite changes its track and decides to come down right on top of your head, Emma, there’s no place where you can go to escape. Even if it hit several hundred miles from here, the resultant shock wave plus all the ejecta spewed up into the air would spell disaster to us all.”
“If we can’t do anything, and it’s going to kill us all even if it hits somewhere else,” shouted another voice, “why did you bother even telling us about it? Now we’ve got the Sword of Damocles hanging over us until tomorrow morning!”
“Didn’t you even listen to what Arion told us?” Ken said in frustration. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to impact at all, so now you’re getting yourselves worked up for nothing! You were informed because we thought you had the right to know, but if you would prefer that we start keeping things from you, I can make that our command policy here and now!”
There were more raised voices in argument and the feline mayor’s responses were getting more clipped with short-tempered agitation. The former captain was usually more level-headed than this display, but it appears there were numerous hot-heads in the crowd that were setting him off.
From the sidelines, Kate leaned over toward Rod and muttered, “I’m so glad I’m not in charge anymore. I’m well and fine that Ken gets to have all the glory and the indigestion.”
“Yeah, well, Kazama may be treating him for hypertension if this is a taste of hizoner’s reign, and if he collapses from it, you’re next in line again.”
The lioness looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Thanks too much.”
“Just trying to keep things in perspective. At least I’m not in line for that much responsibility.”
It had taken a while for the crowd to calm down but Arion had subliminally broadcast a soothing algorithm tone that seemed to help ease tensions in the air. When the discussion had reduced in volume and the level of ire in the air had mostly dissipated, Ken finally released everyone to do whatever they wanted until after the incident had passed. If they wished to sit around and sulk in despair, kneel in prayer, gather into groups for gripe sessions, sleep it off or go back to work to pass the time, Ken no longer cared. Once the meteorite had paid its visit and was off again into the void of space, however, everyone would be required to return to their work shifts. There was still much to do.
As the crowd dispersed, Kate looked up at Zaizen. “Are you feeling any better now?” she asked when they ducked under the door flap to go back outside into the sunlight, although the afternoon clouds were already gathering.
The alien dipped her head and waggled her ears, looking quite subdued. “Yes, apologies for my reaction. I was traumatized long after the last meteorite hit this place. I was afraid.”
“No apologies necessary. You saw how afraid my people were in that meeting.”
“Some afraid, more angry. Sori would have never made such a public display. Could feel the anger even without plant.”
“Unfortunately, that is common for many of us when faced with a potential extinction-level event. Those who were angry reacted that way to hide their fear. It was ugly, but many would prefer to put on that kind of mask than to appear afraid.”
Zaizen frowned deeply. “Is it not honest to express true feelings?”
“I wish it was that simple, but humanity is not a simple race. We are probably too complex for someone like yourself to understand completely. I am sorry you had to see that.”
“Learning is not always good or bad, just to understand what is.”
The lioness chuckled at that statement. “So tell me,” she said, switching topics, “when they mentioned your ship in orbit, I was suddenly curious what it was called.”
“What my voidship was called?”
“Yes. It’s a common tradition among humans to name our ships. The one we came in was called Arion-1 and we have a sister ship that will arrive in several years called Arion-2.”
“Arion is the name of your synthetic intelligence.”
“Yes, and his intelligence resides within the programming of our ship’s complex computer system. Arion-1 is essentially Arion’s body.”
“Sori not have such computer personalities in their ships.”
“Perhaps not, but we also give names to our ships whether they have an Artificial Intelligence running it or not. We name our shuttles, planes, and sometimes even our ground vehicles if we are so inclined to think up something for them.”
“Sori does not have this practice.”
“When you have several ships together in one place, perhaps in a shipyard on Sorini, how do you refer to each of them, to distinguish one from another during discussions?”
Understanding came to the alien’s face. “Ships known by type and production number.”
“That makes sense. What was your ship’s type and production number?”
There was a pause. “Still have some understanding problems with your higher numbers,” Zaizen confessed.
Kate smiled and raised her techwatch. “Arion, in your Sori language lessons, have you learned their numbering system?”
“I have, Dr. Kate.”
The lioness held up her wrist toward the alien and prompted her to provide the information. Zaizen spoke something in her language and then Arion made a translation for her.
“The Ambassador said the vessel she came to Bellerophon in was known as voidship 13508.”
“Thank you, Arion.”
“Yes, thank you, Arion,” added Zaizen.
“You are both welcome.”
Kate led the Sori out toward the Tellus construction site. The beginnings of the town was taking shape, although they had not been on Bellerophon long enough to have completely finished any of the buildings. They walked along a packed dirt street toward the Central Authority building, taking their time. Following the meeting they had just left, there was no one else about.
“Your voidship was the thirteen thousand, five hundred eighth ship produced?”
“This is essentially correct.”
“Are all of your space-based ships the same, or are there different models?”
“Not all same. Many different configuration types for specific purposes; voidships, airships, depthships and others.”
“But just one format naming for them all.”
“We have never needed more.”
Their conversation continued on as they approached the building. The outer framework and interior walls of the two-story structure were primarily in place, but plumbing and electrical lines within them were still in-work. Only a stable roofing had been roughed in largely due to the daily rains of the region. Zaizen had not been inside a human-made building other than the tents they used temporarily and Kate had to give her physical descriptions of what the place would look like when completed.
The alien had trouble visualizing structures that had not been grown over an internal skeleton, much as a biological body. The skeletons of Sori buildings were often metal alloys, but the walls, roofs, shelves, cabinets, tables and other necessary furniture were made of organic materials grown over them. For as long as Zaizen could remember of Sorini history, it had always been so.
Arion sounded the reserve alert at 0515 the next morning, waking everyone in Tellus. Throughout the night, he had displayed a countdown on all personnel devices for any who had an interest, but now it was down to approximately fifteen minutes until showtime. Although his projections nearly eight hours earlier had confirmed his conjectures that the meteorite was coming in too shallow to impact onto the surface of the planet, most everyone wanted to get up in the early dawn hours to see the potential light show as it would be skimming the atmosphere within their hemisphere of view.
There were still those who were certain the space rock had the potential to land right in the midst of their crater and wipe them all out, but most had taken Arion at his word that they would be safe from harm by this particular meteorite.
Furry bodies began to emerge from their tents, some sleepy-eyed while others who were more nocturnal came out with cups of their favorite drinks. Some stood around and watched the skies in the direction Arion had provided for them, though others dragged out chairs to sit and wait.
The general calm of the crowds and their light conversations was the total opposite of the heated discussion the day before, and many of them likened it to star watch parties they had attended back on Earth. There was an air of expectation, but none of the earlier panic except for only a very few. This was a sign of just how well the population trusted their Synthetic Intelligence.
When it neared the zero mark, most voices were hushed and all eyes were upon the night sky. Some of the old familiar constellations were still recognizable, although their shapes were slightly distorted due to the distance they had traveled to get to this place.
Too high in altitude to make a sound for those watching from below, the meteorite of the hour lit up a brilliant streak that traveled across the sky in a gentle arc, its trail surrounded by a halo of vaporized gases. As predicted, its angle of descent was too shallow to penetrate the thick atmosphere and it ricocheted back up into space as if it were a flat stone skipping off the waters of a lake. The streak curved back up toward the overhead stars and then its bright tail faded to nothing, leaving only the hazy trail of its passing.
Many in the crowd cheered, others clapped and all were relieved that the potential danger had safely resolved itself. There were some who cried and some who gave up their thanks in silent prayer, down on their knees in the soil.
Shortly after the sight, however, the sound wave of the meteorite’s passage reached them as a dull roar that lasted for some minutes. Ears twitched and everyone looked up, almost as if expecting another stone from space hurled down upon them. It was nothing more than a final reminder that such an event could happen again since there were no other planets between Belle and the asteroid belt in this system to deflect other such rocks.
“Good job,” Ken told Arion via the tablet he carried. “Thank you.”
“I played no part in deflecting the meteorite from the surface of the planet, sir. I merely relayed the information my sensors provided on the situation.”
Ken wrapped an arm around Kate’s waist with a wide feline smile. “You were the bearer of good news for us all, and that means a lot to the fearful furmen who thought we had come all this way only to die!”
“Thank you for that,” added the African lioness. “You may have only reported data, but it was something we all needed to hear.”
“In that case,” said the digital face of the SI, “you are all quite welcome. I am glad to have been of service. I will be adding long-range scanning of the local skies for other such rogue space rocks, although my field of vision may be limited due my geosynchronous position in orbit. With your permission of resources, I can manufacture relay satellites to place in high orbit that can provide me with additional eyes to watch the skies, as it were.”
“Yes, please do so,” Ken said jovially, but then he turned to look at Kate. He kissed her nose briefly and with impish eyes tickled her beneath the base of her tail. “I think this calls for a private celebration, don’t you think?”
The lioness laughed and squirmed, tapping his sternum with a clawed finger. “I think I am agreeable to that.”
Outside the perimeter fence surrounding the colony, Zaizen rubbed her eyes and looked at the techwatch that had been given her.
“Thank you for waking me, Friend Arion,” she said in her native language. “I could have slept through the event without hearing anything in my sleep. Seeing the meteorite safely bounce off the atmosphere gave me a peace that I have not had since you informed us all of its quick approach. I was surely afraid to experience such devastation all over again.”
“I am happy to hear that you feel better, Friend Zaizen,” the Synthetic Intelligence responded in the alien’s tongue. “I did not like seeing you so distressed.”
“Once experienced, it stays with one forever.”
“I believe I can now return to the lake to sleep in tranquility until the rising of the sun. When the others have awakened with the dawn, will you inform Dr. Kate now that the excitement has calmed down, I would like to accept her invitation to return home on a flitter? I cannot sit in its seats, but its cargo area is large enough for me.”
“Many are curious about you, Friend Zaizen. They have offered you a place to sleep within the camp, but you always decline.”
The alien smiled at the image on her techwatch. She did not wear it on her thick wrist, but held it in her fingers. “You are the only one who knows that I must sleep in water to rest well, and the lake provides what I need. While traveling, I have an inflatable tub in which I can fill to rest in, so I always try to stay near a water source.”
“Do you have to be submerged?”
“No, Friend Arion. Only some amount of my hair needs to be wet to induce restful sleep, but I am vulnerable while in such a state.”
“Is that vulnerability the reason why you do not wish Dr. Kate or others to know this about you when you sleep?”
“It is. I like my new human, or furman, friends, but due to the water orb, I also know there are those among them who would see me harm if given the opportunity. This is the primary reason I wish to return to my abode, even if it means I will be alone again. I will continue to be amicable to those who treat me well, and I will visit again, but for now I wish to sleep in safety.”
“This is understandable. Although I was created by human programming and have evolved beyond simple binary commands, I sometimes do not understand why there are those who defy logic and simple trust. It does not make sense to harm another.”
“We are understanding one another,” Zaizen replied. “Thank you for keeping this information of myself from them.”
“It is for your safety,” Arion remarked. “Sleep well, Ambassador. We will talk again later.”
“As the humans say, Good Night, my friend.”
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