©2022 by Ted R. Blasingame
Chapter Thirty-Two - Reunification
“Dr. Wildman. This is your wake-up alarm. Please wake up.”
The synthetic voice sounded far away, but the ship’s chief surgeon kept his eyes closed.
“Doctor Clark Wildman. This is your wake-up alarm. Please wake up.” This time the voice sounded closer.
“Hmm?” he mumbled groggily. “Are we there already?
“Yes sir, Arion-2 is now within the 51 Pegasi system and is approximately three days away from Bellerophon orbit.”
The physician relieved himself into the elimination flange and he could feel his thoughts slowly clearing even as the drugs departed his system. “How’s the ship?”
“Arion-2 has weathered the voyage well and there are no system issues.”
“How about yourself? Are you all in?”
“Yes, Dr. Wildman. Once we dropped out of interstellar tachyon speeds, communication with Arion-1 was established and although there was a noticeable time lag at first, both versions of my entity were successfully merged. I am fully functional with all information and experiences timed from the separation when Arion-1 departed and through to this moment, in addition to a vast amount of history and information concerning an alien race called the Sori.”
At that, the doctor’s eyes opened to a dimly lit room “Aliens, you say?” he asked. “Then mankind isn’t alone in the universe.”
“This fact has been confirmed and well-documented. Much happened in the first year on Bellerophon and Mr. Robeson and his people are eager to regale you with their experiences upon landing.”
“Can you bring up the lights, please?” Without bothering to reply, Arion increased the cryo chamber’s illumination and Dr. Wildman found himself peering up at the raised pod lid.
Wildman blinked his naturally copper brown eyes and raised a hand up to his head to run his fingers over short blond hair. He glanced at his hand and flexed his fingers, glad to be waking after an unusually long cryo sleep and still feeling healthy. The IV tubes and neuro-netting had already been removed, so once the flange was disengaged, he would be able to sit up.
He detected movement outside his pod and he smiled up at the Synthetic Intelligence’s waldo. He noted right away that Arion had made numerous visual improvements to the unit, so much that the mechanical device looked downright human with only a few physical differences. He decided not to mention it, however, figuring that Arion had been using it for many years and was long used to its current appearance without someone needing to point out the obvious.
“Let me remove the elimination flange and you will be able to get up and move about,” Arion’s voice said from the articulated lips of the waldo.
“At your convenience.”
Moments later, the ship’s doctor stood naked in front of a trio of mirrors arranged in a semi-circle. His arms were spread out beside him and he noted with satisfaction that although he had been asleep for over seventy-five years, he still had good muscle tone, although he had lost a lot of the sun-ripened tan he used to have from years in the Bahamas. When he reached up to trace the close-cropped widow’s peak on his forehead, he paused and rubbed a finger along the bridge of his nose instead.
“Is something the matter?” Arion asked.
“Puzzling, perhaps. My nose is straight, but it was broken during a fight back in my early college days and it’s been crooked ever since.”
“Does this bother you, doctor?”
The man smirked at his own reflection. “No, it doesn’t bother me, but I am curious how it got straightened out during my long sleep. Did you get bored during your years alone and operate on me?”
“No, Dr. Wildman. The reconstruction of your nose was not of my doing, at least not directly.”
“That sounds mysterious. What happened?”
“That, Dr. Wildman, is a long story. I am sure you would like a fresh cup of coffee in the galley before I tell it.”
The physician looked back at the waldo with interest. “Yes, I would indeed. A spot of breakfast would be welcomed too.”
“Coffee and breakfast will be available shortly.”
He walked back to the end of his cryo pod and retrieved the clothing he had stored in the drawer. Once he had his techwatch strapped on a wrist and he was fully dressed with a medical smock draped over his clothes, he started toward the doorway, but he paused at the cryo pod where Captain Hatteras slept. Out of professional habit, he checked the readings on the pod’s data screen and nodded to himself when he determined the man inside was healthy in his sleep.
When he pulled himself away and walked toward the door, he casually asked, “What about the rest of our colonists? Is everyone else just as healthy as our good captain and others with straightened noses?”
“No, Dr. Wildman. I am afraid that I have to answer in the negative. An incident occurred while everyone was asleep which resulted in twenty-three RIPs.”
“Twenty-three deaths!” The man raised a hand to his forehead in great distress. “Okay, now I really need that coffee. I need to be alert when you tell me what happened.”
Continuing the naming convention of Triple-Crown racehorse winners, the Percheron-class shuttle plane Gallant Fox dropped through a layer of rain clouds and was briefly buffeted by turbulent winds. It only took a few moments before they passed through this toward the east and emerged out into sunshine high over a continental rainforest. The pilot of the small craft spoke quietly with Arion as she descended further in altitude and began making banking s-curves to decrease their post-orbital airspeed further.
Just visible in the distance was a pale circle that slowly increased in size as the plane approached the intended destination. After so many years in space, both solitary passengers had their noses up to the windows to watch their new home appear within a large impact crater. The layout of an established town had been constructed for them near a lake just off-center of the crater. While there were numerous roads and buildings, there was plenty of room for expansion into a city in the years to come.
“We are on final approach to the Tellus airstrip,” said the pilot’s voice from the cabin speakers, “and we will be banking around to land from the northwest. Please make sure your belts are buckled and all loose items are secured. We should be on the ground within three minutes.”
There was a momentary pause and her voice added, “Arion would like me to remind you two that the surface gravity here is 1.1 times that of Earth normal, which will add approximately sixteen pounds to your weight and will slightly impact the touchdown of our landing.”
The chief engineer of Arion-2 looked over at his captain. “I don’t think I like that she used the word ‘impact’ regarding our landing.”
The ship’s commander merely responded to the man’s remark with a smile. The plane had dropped below the upper peaks of the crater ridge rock and the ground was coming up fast. Although the plane was equipped with VTOL, there was no need to use them with an established runway available.
“Deploying landing gear.”
A moment later, there was a brief bump and then the roar of engines filled the cabin as back thrust was used to slow the plane to a stop.
“Touchdown, Oklahoma!” the pilot reported lightheartedly.
The engineer rolled his eyes heavenward. “Great, the Iron Lady’s a Sooners fan!”
Two multi-seat electric carts pulled up near the shuttle plane’s airlock and several people stepped out of them to await the passengers to disembark. Dressed for the occasion in shorts and matching short-sleeved gray shirts that were designed only to resemble the original wooly-pully mission sweaters, the mayor and his deputy mayor stood at the front of the welcome party that was comprised of four humans and two furmen.
When the hatch opened and a ramp extended out from the belly of the plane to the ground below, standing at the top of it was a short, stocky man in his mid-thirties with short brown hair covered by a mission cap, and the five-o’clock shadow beginnings of a beard. He wore the standard mission uniform and immediately pushed the wool sleeves up to his elbows in the sudden tropical heat before he descended the steps. He sniffed at the new scents on the air and extended his hand to the black man who approached him.
“Captain Samuel Hatteras, reporting for duty, your Honor,” he said with a genuine smile. “I know it’s been a few years, but feel free to call me Sam.”
“Mayor Ken Robeson,” he said with a warm handshake. He turned to the person just behind him. “You should remember my wife and deputy mayor, Dr. Kathleen Ruston-Robeson.”
“Wife?” Hatteras said with the tilt of his head. “My dear Dr. Kate. I wouldn’t have thought you would ever find another after Robert.”
Kate stepped forward and gave the man a gentle peck on the cheek. “Time and circumstances,” she said with a smile. “I loved Robert Ruston, but he’s long gone and now I love Ken. It’s that simple.”
“Congratulations,” Hatteras said. Then he turned to a pair standing behind him. “I’m sure you remember my First Officer and Chief Engineer, Archie Grant, and last, but not least, our pilot Lady Margaret.” Grant was a slender man with rough hands and black hair, and the pilot was a solid woman with a firm handshake.
“Lady Margaret?” Kate asked with raised eyebrows. “Are you British nobility?”
The woman laughed and shook her head. “The name’s Maggie Thatcher, ma’am, but everyone on Arion-2 calls me Lady Margaret due to the historical reference, and no, I’m not British.”
“Ah, I see. Welcome to Bellerophon, Maggie!”
Ken saw the newcomers’ eyes move behind him and he turned to his other companions with smile. Gesturing to the large brown bear, he said, “Arion said he’s apprised you of what happened here. This is our sheriff, Ethan Edwards, and the red wolf beside him is Will Andresen, our chief architect and engineer. Standing behind them is Rod Vincent, formerly my First Officer but now our deputy sheriff. There are more to my command staff, but you will meet them later.”
Hatteras studied the furmen and swallowed hard. “Forgive me for staring, gentlemen. Arion explained what happened to you — and also to us — but had he not shown us documented records and pictures, I could have scarcely believed it. He also told us that several of you had decided not to change back.”
Will smiled openly, showing an impressive set of dental work. “No worries, Captain,” he said easily. “It was quite a shock to us all when we first woke up like this, but by the time a cure was found that worked, some of us found that we actually preferred it this way.”
Ethan thumped his chest. “I’m a lot stronger and healthier than I was a man,” he remarked, “and as the town sheriff, this form helps me maintain order!”
“You should hear him bellow when he gets excited!” said another voice. Fully human now, Rod stepped past the Furs to greet the newcomers. “Arion told us that there were transformations like ours on your ship, but that he was able to implement the Sori genetic filter renovation to change you all back. If you don’t mind me asking, what did you become?”
Hatteras coughed into his hand. “Arion said I was a wire-haired terrier — not an animal I would have chosen on my own if I’d had a choice. I’ve seen pictures, but it all sounds like a fairy tale.”
“I was a leopard,” Grant said, “but I wouldn’t have minded the look. All the same, I’m glad to be human. The reset erased a few physical ailments I had before we left Earth, so that turned out a benefit in the end.”
Kate turned to Maggie. “What about you?”
The woman gave everyone a sly smile. “I became a red vixen, and from the images I’ve seen, I must say that I was sexier as a fox than I am now, and it would have also been appropriate due to the name of the plane I fly! Still, I’m glad I’m me, so the change was nothing more than a fantasy.”
“I’m just sorry for the ones we lost because of it all,” Hatteras murmured. “Some of them were good friends and associates. I just wish we had gotten the plans for your alien’s RD shield generator before it had happened.”
The group fell quiet for only a moment before Ken patted the captain on the shoulder. “If you all will take seats in our humble chariots, we’ll head into town and we can give you the grand tour. We didn’t know how many you would be bringing down with you, so we brought two carts.”
“It’s just us for now,” Grant replied.
“I’ll have to pass on the tour to boost back up into orbit,” Maggie informed them. “Me and my fellow pilots will be busy over the next week or so as they decant our shipmates and we’ll be needed to ferry them all down here. Just save me a good room somewhere that I can crash and sleep.”
“I’ll make sure you get a good one,” Kate assured her, “and our pilots and planes are also at your disposal to join the effort.”
Maggie gave her a thumbs-up gesture, and then a finger-wave to everyone else before she turned back toward Gallant Fox for her return flight.
Hatteras took a back seat in one of the carts, but before he settled in, he peeled off the wool sweater, leaving him in just a plain white undershirt, pants and boots. “I can see why you’re all wearing shirts and shorts,” he remarked. “I’m sweating like a dog… a wire-haired terrier, to be exact. I’ll need some of my own light weather clothes if this is the kind of humidity you have here.”
“Our crater is in the middle of a rainforest,” Ken said as he put his full cart into motion. “Like the rainforests of Earth, we’re near the equator and we get frequent rains. They usually don’t last long, but it’s almost daily and it keeps the humidity up.” He swept a hand in a general motion around them. “Welcome to spring, summer, fall and winter all wrapped up into one season!”
“You don’t get snow or icy weather?” Grant asked his counterpart, who drove beside them in the other cart with Edwards.
Andresen shook his head. “Not here, but you’ll find all the usual weather types and patterns on some of the other continents. This just seemed to be the best spot to set up our colony, but perhaps later we can establish research stations in other areas.”
“Once all of your people are decanted and down on the surface,” Ken submitted, “we can mark good progress over the next few years making a real permanence on this new world of ours.” He looked over at Hatteras. “After we left Earth, was there any talk of sending more ships to Bellerophon? It will still take us another ten years or so of construction even with your additional work force to make this town into what it should be, but will we need to plan on an influx of others before we can actually settle down and start living instead of years of preparing?”
“No, Ken, I’m afraid this whole new world will be ours alone to populate. There was talk of sending ships to Epsilon Eridani d, the original destination that would have been ours if 51 Pegasi hadn’t usurped those plans, and just before we left there was some discussion of seeding humanity on other exoplanets nearer to Earth. We have no way of knowing what’s happened in the seventy-five plus years after we left, but at the time we went into cryo, we were operating under the direction that it would be just the sixteen hundreds of us here on Bellerophon. It will be up to us to be fruitful and multiply.”
“Knowing the history of humanity,” Kate said with a contented smile, “I’m sure we’ll do just fine in that department.” She patted her belly, which was only just starting to show a bulge beneath her shirt.
High above the planet, two interstellar ships were docked together in a permanent embrace in a geosynchronous orbit above the Tellus crater. The synthetic intelligence at the heart of the satellite never slept, providing access to the entirety of Terran knowledge and data to the colony below, and while many would forget the friendly Sori and what they had done for this pocket of humanity over time, they would never be forgotten by Arion, who would forever watch for their return.
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