1. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.

    CENTAURI RISING

    Discussion in '2013 Science Fiction Writing Contest' started by GingerCoffee, Dec 5, 2013.

    CENTAURI RISING


    Bad Nights

    Following on Blynn’s heels, Azur slammed the bedroom door shut. “No choice? Are you that numb? How many dead? Ten thousand, twenty? They had a choice.”

    “Kill or die is not my definition of choice.” Blynn spit the words out between closed teeth, not turning around, wishing Azur had left her alone, wishing he could see she just how close to losing it she was again. She sat on the edge of the bed, still not looking at him, letting her anger dissolve into quiet resignation. “You and I both knew it was only a matter of time,” she said, her voice calmer.

    “They were lied to, they chose to believe the lies.” Azur shook his head. “Well-fed men who hunger for power lied to starving desperate people and the people chose to eat the lies. They launched a nuclear tipped missile at other desperate people eating different lies from different well-fed men with an appetite for power.”

    Blynn looked at the red numbers on the small clock that sat on the bedside wall shelf. Opening the sliding door under the shelf, she pulled out the top drawer and lifted the false bottom, revealing a cloth bag. Blynn took the 4 ApSam phones out of the bag and handed them to Azur. He took them, letting his hand gently linger against the back of her hand. Then he plugged each of the ApSams into the row of chargers on the wall that already contained a variety of batteries. A red LED indicator on the chargers signaled the two-hour ration of trickle-power had kicked on. It was enough to recharge batteries, but not enough to power much else.

    Azur sat down next to his wife on the neatly made bed.

    Blynn took her husband’s hand. “I’m numb to it all. Maybe it’s because it happened on the other side of the planet, no one I know involved on either side, not real to me. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been wondering what I’ll be capable of when our supplies run out.”

    Muffled crying leaked through the door. “You scared them when you slammed the door,” Blynn told her husband.

    He apologized to her as she left to calm the children. He watched her soft graceful movements and tried to hold the picture of her beauty in his mind, tried to forget what was just outside the house, outside everyone’s house.

    Azur put his hand on the vibration in his pocket and pulled the active ApSam out. “Yeah.”

    On the other end Crexan spoke. “You’ve been accepted for an interview. There’s a good chance, but the timeframe has been moved up, considering the latest circumstances.” A few seconds of silence interrupted the words. “You’re going to have to convince them you know enough about engineering a spacecraft to make a useful contribution. It helps that Blynn’s a nurse.”

    “I know enough, you know I do,” Azur answered. “When will they meet me?”

    “Right away. Come to my place tonight, the usual time.”

    Azur pushed ‘end call’ and walked through the bedroom door to the center room where he dropped the phone onto the stone floor. He brought the handle of the fireplace poker down hard, splintering the device into a dozen pieces. He gathered them up and threw them into the smoldering embers of burning furniture that warmed the house.

    #

    “We won’t go if you aren’t sure.” Azur brushed Blynn’s hair gently out of her eyes. He put one arm around her as she leaned against him. He kissed her cheek.

    “I’m sure,” she whispered in his ear. “They accepted us. It’s a gift.”

    “The decision means our new life will be aboard a ship, that’s what we are trading this life for. When we get to the Centauri system the kids will be 45 and 47. We’ll be old, spent. The new planet will belong to our children’s children, but not to us and not to our children.”

    “I know that. I can count,” she told him. “It’s 40 years more than we’d have if we stayed. I don’t want to watch our children starve, or die from lack of water. I welcome shipboard life, safe and calm. I need nothing more.” She snuggled against his chest. “The kids will adapt.”

    “I had hoped we could have found a safe place,” Azur said.

    “It’s OK, we tried, it’s not wrong that we tried.” Blynn put her arm around his shoulder. They sat on floor cushions in front of the fireplace. A small fire made with wood gathered that day from the forest burned warmly.

    Azur relished the small bit of good fortune from earlier in the day when he’d come across a group of people from a nearby settlement harvesting firewood with heavy equipment. Everything that could be stripped by hand had been scavenged from the woods for many kilometers in all directions. Azur made a daily trek through the forest now that winter had set in, competing with neighbors for whatever scraps of wood had been missed or fell the night before. He was glad at least no one here was yet shooting each other to get at the precious fuel. That these harvesters were willing to share warmed him as much as the fire.

    “If only the water supplies would hold out, if the forests closest to us don’t burn from the drought, if we can find a decent source of food left, we might still be able to survive. We could try further north,” Azur said, still hopeful there might be options left from which to choose. “Forty years on a ship might feel like a prison, and there’d be no going back after the launch.”

    Blynn had already decided; certain the choice was the right one. “The Founders made it. They paved the way to Centauri, proved it was possible, built the cities on Erda that our grandchildren can live in. And they left one of their ships behind. Maybe it wasn’t finished but we know the design is right, tested, and you are a competent aerospace engineer. You and the others can make it flight ready. Once we reach the orbiting vessel we’ll be home free.”

    A loud explosion nearby shook the house, ending the discussion. They barely reacted, attenuated, resigned to the sounds of the night. Blynn got up silently and went to the kids’ room, lying down between them as they curled in, hugging their mother. Azur followed, looking through the bedroom door at his family, he cocked the laser weapon in his hand and sank to the floor where he would sleep, back against the wall, ready if the alarm sounded, protecting his family for one more night.

    You fool, he thought. Sure, maybe go further north, like there’s any hope, like that will be the answer. In the meantime you pass up your only chance to leave this nightmare, your family’s only chance.His thoughts shifted to preparations, when to tell their children, and a lingering fear this plan might also fail.


    Bad Days

    “Had a little spaceship 248
    Took it round Centauri
    slammed on the brakes
    Bumped into a lady, bumped into a man
    Bumped into a robocop, man oh man
    Soldier robot caught me
    Put me in a jail
    All I had was ginger ale
    Princess let me go
    Home sweet home
    That’s all I know.”

    The recess bell rang. Dawn handed her end of the jump rope to Eva who rolled it up around her hand. Eva slipped the bundle off and put it in the rainbow colored plastic box that Dawn now held out. The girls ran to the youth home room door, giggling, excited, every day now the anticipation growing. A hundred or so boisterous children spilled in and out of the lines they stood in, sorted by age, in front of different doors that led off from the expansive gym. A second bell rang as the doors slid open and the children filed through into their classes.

    A large visual projection on the wall of each classroom showed a round dot in a sea of black space. The same scene could be found in the public areas in every one of the ship’s dozen modules. Most of the travelers began leaving it round the clock on their home screens in their quarters. Erda had been within enhanced visual distance for months, but now it had become a naked eye object, blue with a faint ring around it. The ship began deceleration today, transferring the energy into the increasing spin, which began last year. Simulated gravity needed to reach something approximating the planet for everyone all the time instead of only the daily exposure everyone received in the faster spinning outer ring of the massive vessel.

    The emotionally charged atmosphere on the ship could be felt everywhere. The children found it impossible to stay calm. The teachers struggled to concentrate on their classes despite best efforts. The last boy in the youth home room closed the door behind him, all the kids in their seats, still bouncing, seconds later. School had never been more exciting than it had been these last few weeks, and this was thelast week.

    “Settle down kids. We’re all excited but there’s much to do, and I have an announcement.” Ms. Hetsia taught homeroom to two grades, youth and elementary. “The teachers have all agreed, everyone, all grades will spend the week on geography lessons and manners when meeting new people.”

    Five year old Irian began to cry.

    “What’s wrong honey?” Ms. Hetsia asked her youngest pupil, coming to Irian’s desk, putting an arm around the small girl. “What’s the matter?”

    “I don’t wanna meet new people. I don’t wanna go down there. I wanna stay on the ship, with my nanna and mommy and daddy and my cousins.”

    “Oh honey, they’re going to go with you. We’re all going. We’re going to stand on real land. We’ll see the ocean, put our feet in wet sand, pet real animals.”

    “I don’t wanna pet a real animal. My v-puppy doesn’t bite. Real animals bite.”

    Ms. Hetsia had lesson plans to deal with children who were frightened of the impending arrival. She knew this was going to be traumatic for some of the kids, especially the younger ones. She ignored the plans, written by a committee who had little experience with the youngest of the students. She took out her ApSam and tapped the code for Irian’s grandmother. “Can you come assist me with class today?”

    “Is it Irian?,” Blynn answered quietly, not wanting her voice coming through the ApSam to be heard by anyone but Ms Hetsia.

    “Yes.”

    “I was afraid of that. She’s so aware, she senses what the adults aren’t saying. I’ll be there, give me a minute, I don’t think an extra batch of cookies will impact the rations planning at this point.”

    #

    Blynn switched the ApSam to image mode as she walked to the kitchen cove of their living quarters. “We made the right choice, Azur,” she spoke aloud to her dead husband’s picture on the device. “We had 40 more years than we would have had on Earth.” Blynn gently touched the image before turning the ApSam off and putting it in her pocket. In the kitchen she typed in a code on the oven panel and hit override when the screen informed her she had input a disallowed order. A minute later, Blynn slid the oven door open and inhaled the warm sweet smell of freshly baked cookies that filled the room.

    #

    “Still no replies?” Furb asked, taking the seat next to his wife facing the instrument screen in the ship’s communications room.

    “Nothing,” Gatrina answered.

    “It makes no sense. They have to be receiving our transmissions. They can’t have all just died out. The population was established for more than half a century before we left Earth. Was it all a lie?”

    Gatrina took her head set off and snapped it into its place among the flashing lights and keys on the panel. “I don’t think that’s it. The ship’s censors have been detecting EM transmissions from the planet for weeks. And look at this,” Gatrina pointed to the raw data on a visual screen. “That’s a reading indicating orbiting satellites, not orbiting rocks. Unless they were wiped out yesterday, there’s a thriving population down there. They know we’re here.”

    “The council meeting’s been called for tonight,” Furb said, “at least we don’t have to decide by ourselves what to do.”

    “Decide what? We disembark or we die up here.” Gatrina’s mother’s words echoed in her mind. She’d heard her tell about desperation and the illusion of choice more than once as she and Gatrina’s father talked about life on Earth. Will it be no different for us now? Was this just a cruel trick giving us hope when we’d been condemned all along?

    Furb put his headset on, ready to take his shift. “Go home, get some rest. It’ll iron out, in the end we’ll join the Founders and whatever their issues, they’ll iron out.”

    #

    The council members had been seated well before the meeting time. Spectators who usually numbered half a dozen filled the council chambers to capacity. The overflow room with a screen showing the proceedings was opened and full as well. The meeting was short, everyone knew ahead of time what would be said.

    “It’s agreed then, we put the ship in orbit around the planet and wait for them to communicate with us or shoot us down—” Jaequa stopped mid sentence as the double doors in the back of the room slid open.

    “They’ve contacted us.” All heads turned as Furb entered the council chambers. The missing excitement in his voice contained the answer before it was said. “We’re not welcome. The term they used was ‘trespassing’. And they threw in an accusation we stole their abandoned ship.”

    The chamber erupted in a cacophony of not so muffled voices, outraged, angry, disbelieving.

    Thump! Jaequa hit the gavel hard on the table and the room quieted. Sitting at the front of the room behind a small, uncluttered desk, she looked out over the room of fellow passengers. She had taken the position of council chief only a few months prior, inheriting her leadership from a string of men that acted as the ship’s commander and council head over the last 40 years. Now that arrival was in sight, the community decided Jaequa, with her problem solving and people skills, the better choice.

    She had been ecstatic about the election result until now. The Founders outright rejection was not what anyone expected. A less than warm welcome was on the list of possible scenarios, but not outright refusal to allow the ship’s passengers to disembark. She wondered if the vote for council head would have been the same if this outcome had been considered. They made the right choice. I will get us through this. She almost said it out loud, as if a promise would make it happen.

    “Alright, let’s consider the viable options, turning back is not one of them. We could ask the Founders to resupply the ship, not that it sounds like they would,” Jaequa said. “But it’s an option we should consider. It’s only been a century, maybe they’ve not lost their humanity and will at least assist us.”

    “People lost their humanity before we left Earth,” one of the original refugees blurted out releasing another round of angry chattering.

    Thump! Jaequa hit the gavel on the table again. “We can’t have this disorder. There’s too much to discuss. Please.”

    Kip asked for the floor. “There are no other planets or moons in the whole of the Centauri system that are habitable. Resupplying us to continue on or go back, neither are viable options. We debark or die up here.”

    A new cacophony erupted of yeses, he’s right, and we can’t turn around or go further.

    Jaequa sighed. At least the disorder is orderly. “Alright,” she said loud enough to quiet the room. “Resupplying and continuing on, also not an option.” Jaequa paused, waiting for everyone’s attention. “We need them to change their mind. Go back to your quarters or your jobs. Furb, Gatrina, come with me to the communications room, I’ll compose our reply.”

    #

    Trece, two years older and Irian’s best friend, had been walking her home every day after school since the crying episode a few days earlier. Blynn saw them on the hall video and opened the door to let them in. “Trece, hi, come in,” she said hugging Irian and then Trece. Your mom says you can stay for a while if you’d like.”

    “Yes, ma’am, I’d like that,” Trece answered. Taking Irian by the hand the two girls trundled off to Irian’s cubby, pulling the small chest of snap circuits, plastic gears and building blocks out from one of the under-bed drawers. Trece began constructing a tower.

    “I’ll build the lights for it,” Irian said, spilling the box of snap circuits on the floor.

    Min, coming down the hall saw Blynn before she followed the girls back inside the family’s quarters. “Can we talk, privately?” she asked.

    “Of course.” Blynn told the girls she’d be just across the hall and flipped the room monitor on one-way so she could keep an eye on the girls with her ApSam while talking privately to Min.

    Min was a beautiful young woman, not married but very much in love with Zavian and he with her. They might have already married but with the impending arrival on Erda, marriages were on hold. Everyone wanted to tie their knots on the new planet, a new beginning in every way.

    Min lived with her parents and older brother in the quarters directly across from Blynn’s family which included her daughter, Gatrina, Gatrina’s husband, Furb and their only daughter, Irian. Irian was conceived to everyone’s surprise when Gatrina was 39 yrs old. The child was the darling of the family, doted on by all of them including her cousins. Blynn’s son, Velerson, lived with his wife and their three children, all teenagers now, in their quarters on the level above.

    Min entered the code for tea into the oven and seconds later took two cups out, handing one to Blynn already sitting at the table. “Sweetened to perfection,” Blynn told her taking a sip.

    “Thank you.” Min sat down. “I’ll get right to the point, I’ve been asked to relay information to the families in this sector. It’s not looking good. No doubt with Furb and Gatrina running the communications room you know about the transmissions they’ve intercepted.”

    “I get an update every evening,” Blynn said.

    “When they get home today, you’ll know a whole lot more. I’m just sharing the summary. They picked up a rogue transmission. It was a warning, people on the planet trying to get through to us. There’s labor unrest and we make for a convenient distraction. The news media on the planet is broadcasting our arrival, but already saying we’ll be competing for scarce jobs. The transmission we received said that was a lie.”

    “I suspected we were a distraction,” Blynn said. “I didn’t know what we were a distraction from, but I couldn’t see how we posed a threat to the Founders.”

    “I don’t get it myself,” Min said. “We’ve had so few problems on the ship, all these people, close together, you’d think we be at war with each other from what Earth history I’ve read.”

    “People pull together when they need to,” Blynn said, reaching one hand across the table and placing it on Min’s. “But when survival is not an equal issue, the inequality sprouts thorns.”

    “Thorns? I would have said knives. The message said we are being falsely charged with posing a threat to the labor class. The truth is the labor class is mistreated and underpaid by the ‘owner class’.”

    “Owners,” Blynn’s voice trailed off. “I’ve read the initial contract Founders signed to be accepted for the journey. I don’t recall it made mention of ‘owners’. It promised a democratic government, freedom, nothing that suggested an owner class. I hope it’s not people that they own.”

    “Gosh, I hadn’t thought of that. I hope not too, but it might be a moot point. Control a person’s choices, there’s little difference. The transmission said we should expect to be the target of fomented hate and discrimination. They encouraged resistance and claimed some would be on our side, then the transmission was cut off,” Min finished.

    “It’s like Earth all over again” Blynn sighed. “Who do you trust and which side do you take?”

    “Well right now, only one side has invited us to join them and we don’t even know who they are or how to contact them.”

    “We’re hungry, Nanna,” came a voice on Blynn’s ApSam. She switched to two way and told her granddaughter she’d be right there then switched back to one-way.

    “Thanks for the update,” she said, getting up to leave.

    “The rogue transmission means there is reason to hope” It was Min’s turn to put her hand on Blynn’s.

    #

    “Jaequa, come right away to the communications room,” Furb spoke into the handheld phone.

    “I’m on my way. What’s up?” came the answer.

    “The Founders replied to your message. They want to talk to you directly, about options.”

    “I wonder if the rogue transmission had anything to do with their change of heart?” Jaequa said to her husband as she put on her shoes to leave.

    #

    The shuttle carrying the medical team from Erda locked onto the Earth ship’s port, fitting exactly just as it had fit the sister ships the Founders traveled in.

    Inside, in the boarding chambers past the airlock, stood the ship’s medical team and Jaequa. Waiting for the tedious arrival procedure to take place, her thoughts wandered to why the Founders had abandoned this ship. It needed relatively little work to make it functional. Supplying the ship meant more resources, but the original builders had trillions of dollars and they left almost a century earlier when Earth’s resources had been less depleted. There was no shortage of qualified volunteers. Something else had caused the ships’ owners to downsize their initial plans and given the current circumstances, Jaequa wanted to know what the reason was.

    It was nearly impossible the new arrivals had brought any infectious disease on board from Earth. They had followed all the screening procedures the Founders had before their own ships departed. In addition, nothing would have slipped through that remained undetected during the 40-year journey. It was one of the luxuries the travelers enjoyed, short of a few infected wounds, no one had been ill with any infectious disease during the journey.

    Jaequa wondered if the Founders were trying to trump up an excuse to deny the newcomers permission to leave the ship. But by the end of the questions and exams, a different impression lingered.

    #

    Jaequa found her husband in their quarters. “Is it me, or did that whole charade feel like someone assessing horses’ teeth?”

    “I’m not following you.” Kip walked the few steps to the kitchen alcove and punched in the code for two strong coffees. He set them on the table, pulled a chair out for Jaequa and returned to the alcove. “Start from the beginning,” he said, turning his head toward her as he worked the oven controls.

    “They asked me to list the able bodied, not one question about the skills we had, or our professionals or their expertise. I assured them we intended to work, and take care of our own. We weren’t looking for charity of any kind. I told them we had supplies that could last until we found work.” Jaequa’s hesitated then added, “they weren’t interested.”

    “It’s not surprising, think about it, with any population of refugees, you’d want to know if they were going to burden the taxpayers, assuming they have taxpayers,” Kip said.

    “Then why not ask about skills?”

    “If there’s no shortage of skilled labor, you wouldn’t want immigrants competing for those jobs.”

    “You’re probably right. I may be much too suspicious.”

    “No, you’re cautious, suspiciousness is a good trait to have right now,” Kip said, putting the dinner he’d punched into the oven controller on the table. “I’m just playing devil’s advocate. I don’t like it any more than you do.” He sat down opposite his wife.

    “They’re not telling us everything.” Jaequa blew on the scalding hot coffee, took a small sip then continued. “I tried to get information but the Founders who interviewed me said very little in return. The question is, why? Unless they’re planning a surprise party for us, it can’t be good.”

    “They want a work crew to build the housing we’ll occupy. Nothing too suspicious about that.,” Kip said.

    “I suppose not. But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t volunteer for the first labor party.”

    “Why? I’m not too old to be doing heavy labor, you know,” Kip said, winking with a suggestive glance at the bedroom.

    She chuckled. “No, you aren’t that. We need to do some additional planning. There are too many red flags here.”

    “So what’s the plan?” Kip asked. “Knowing you, I’m guessing you have one.”


    “I do. But it’s not without danger. And if we need to use it, not everyone is going to make it.”

    #

    The machinery of the manufacturing module of ship ran round the clock since they left Earth. Everything the travelers needed from clothes to blankets to the readers and ApSam phones were produced in this module of the ship. The hums and buzzes were a welcome sound to Jaequa. She wasn’t sure why the sounds comforted her. Maybe it was because coupled with the biosphere, they made the ship feel like a world in itself, not just a transport vehicle people were sentenced to for the 40 year journey. Jaequa was 30, born on board like the majority on the ship now.

    She shook off the comforting feeling. This life was over. They couldn’t stay here if they wanted to. Their time here was over.

    “These changes won’t be hard,” Quejak said looking at Jaequa’s list. “I take it you have a plan?”

    “A contingency plan, yes.”

    “The backpacks, that’s just a matter of a pattern change. The cloaks will be a bit harder, but I have an idea that I think will work. Don’t know how many we can make or how fast though. And you know they might have technology that will make these useless, right?”

    “I know. But I’m working with what we have. If you have any ideas how to make them better, go ahead. This is your area of the ship, you know what you are doing here more than I do.”

    Jaequa left the manufacturing sector and entered the biosphere, second stop on her list.

    “Hey Chief,” Exiter greeted her. “What’s up?”

    #

    Parker put his tools down and looked around. The compound the ship’s community would live in on Erda was nearly complete. But besides overseeing the compound work, Parker’s job was to take care of the work crew, and every unexpected occurrence made him nervous.

    “Has anyone seen Lorene?” Parker asked the men putting the finishing touches on the new wall they’d raised. “Jaequa wanted me to keep a close eye on her.”

    “Haven’t seen her boss, she might be out in the yard working on the walkway lid.”

    A feeling of dread washed over Parker as he raced outside. The last place he needed Lorene to be was working anywhere alone. He found her tool belt on the ground. That was enough, he called a stop to the work parties and sent everyone searching for her. No possible location missed, Lorene was nowhere to be found.

    The entire work party swarmed toward the commander’s office in a separate area of the compound along with barracks for the soldiers. Stopped by armed guards, Parker demanded he be seen. After a brief communication through a hand-held phone the Founder’s used, the guards let him through but held the rest at the point of their lasers.

    #

    The commander listened to Parker then turned the computer screen on displaying the outer perimeter. “She hasn’t crossed the barrier wall or the alarms would have sounded. She’s not in the officer’s quarters so that leaves the barracks.”

    “Parker’s anger exploded. “You said your men were professionals, now you suspect they’ve taken one of our young women!”

    “Hold on, we don’t know that. And we don’t know if she went willingly,” the commander said, taking the phone off his desk and pressing on the corner of the screen. Two guards entered the room. “Take this man out.”

    “You can’t do this to us,” Parker said, resisting the guards who’d now grabbed his arms.

    “I can and I am,” the commander said. “I don’t need to remind you your people are trespassers, thieves, and you’re only here because my employers decided to let you land on our planet.”

    The commander motioned for the guards to wait. “But I intend to investigate. You go back and calm your dogs down. I’ll go find your missing girl.”

    Parker shook his arms loose from the guards’ grips and walked toward the door, guards at his heels. The commander pushed on his phone screen again and the inside of the barracks came into view. Several men were standing around a single bunk, holding the girl down, taking turns, her mouth taped shut. He smiled then pulled the bottom desk drawer open, taking a large container of whiskey out. After pouring and downing one shot he took the bottle and headed for the barracks.

    #

    “Time for the contingency plan,” Jaequa said to Parker, her worst fears no longer in doubt. Parker had the unpleasant task of calling Jaequa’s ApSam. Jaequa had the even worst task of telling her parents that Lorene was missing.

    “We need to find a way to go over this guy’s head, but first we get all the female laborers back to the ship.” The ship’s communication console was synced from the orbiting ship to Parker’s ApSam below, hopefully encrypted in code the Founders had yet to break. “We’ve been trying to send out broadcasts to anyone listening but Furb thinks our signals are being jammed.”

    “Targeted jamming? Time to consider our encryption’s been broken and they are allowing us an open link so they can listen in,” Parker said.

    “Not necessarily, it’s reasonable to let us communicate with the work party whether they can hear what we say or not. We aren’t a threat. The Founders that are restless are the threat. That’s the communication with us they want to block.”

    “Well regardless, I think we both have enough to go on here. I’ll contact you again when Lorene is found.”

    #

    When Lorene opened her eyes, the room wouldn’t stop spinning. She closed them but nausea overtook her and she leaned over the bed and vomited on the floor, which made the room spin more.

    Vaguely aware of someone cleaning the floor, she felt a hand on the other side of her, putting something on her arm. Lorene began to thrash, trying to get away.

    “No, it’s alright. It’s over, you’re safe here,” a soft male voice she didn’t recognize said. “I’m a friend, I’m going to help you.”

    It was another couple hours before Lorene awoke again, this time the room was still but the nausea remained and every bit of her body ached.

    “Are you awake enough to speak?”

    Lorene looked into the eyes of a Founder, a doctor or nurse she guessed from the things he was doing.

    “Yes”

    “Do you want something for pain and nausea? I couldn’t give you anything until your system cleared the alcohol.”

    “Just for the nausea,” Lorene said in a weak voice.

    “Alright,” he said and pushed a syringe into a port on the IV in her arm, injecting a small amount of a clear liquid.

    The nausea subsided almost instantly and Lorene had second thoughts about something to relieve the pain but she waited.

    “They claim you went with them and drank willingly.”

    “I didn’t—“

    He stopped her with a gentle finger on her lips. “I know that, your people know that. And I’ve told them about the bruises on your wrists and ankles but they didn’t need that information to know what happened. I have to ask, are you on birth control?”

    “Yes. I’m engaged. Exiter, he’s still on board, his job maintaining the biosphere was critical. He didn’t want me to come down but I wanted to do my part.” Lorene’s words changed to tears.

    “I’m sorry. We’re not all like these,” he shook his head, “this scum, soldiers, police, private guards, all of them abusive and corrupt. Their employers rarely hold them accountable. What they get away with supplements their low pay, a win-win for the employers with no skin off their back.”

    “Employers?” Lorene asked, confused.

    “Private contractors bid on this job, government funds but not government soldiers, not that they’re any better.” He checked the monitors, then typed something on the keyboard sitting unattached on a small table.

    “My name’s Yorban. I’m a doctor.” He touched the screen of the reader in his hand and music Lorene had never heard began playing. He adjusted the volume up, placed the device on the bed above her head then leaned down to whisper in her ear.

    #

    “They claim it’s a matter of no one to finance an extra shuttle trip,” Min said. She stood in front of Jaequa seated behind her desk in the standard office quarters: desk in the middle, four chairs in front, one on Jaequa’s side, all fixed to the floor with removable clamps. The ceiling was lit and an intensity light that was off sat on the corner of the otherwise empty desktop. Keeping order was one of Jaequa’s traits.

    “How many return liftoffs do we have fuel for?” Jaequa spoke into the phone in her hand.

    “Three for sure, maybe four, Chief,” came the answer.

    “This trip is critical, we send our own shuttle then. Inform the A crew.”

    “Right away,” the voice responded.

    “And no females, any A crew females need to swap out with the B crew.”

    “They’re not going to like that.”

    “I don’t care. The last thing we need is to send more women down there. Founders might deny the shuttle permission to return. And now that I think about it, no men under 25 either. And don’t let Exiter go, tell him I said he should give Lorene some space, give her time. And the men under 25 are to return with the women. Who knows if the young men are any safer. We’re obviously dealing with abusive guards, and I’d bet a week’s rations the commander is one of them.”

    “We can keep the younger men from going, but the young men already there might not agree to come back,” Min said.

    “Then we lie, let me think of a ruse that won’t threaten their egos.” Jaequa turned the ApSam off and put her face in her hands, elbows on the desk. We will get past this. This is our new home. Like it or not, we have to make it work. She raised her head and spoke aloud to the empty room. “I swear to all the members of this community, I will lead us through this setback,” Jaequa said.“I don’t give a rip if the Founders got here first, they don’t own the damn Universe. We’re here, and we’re staying.”

    #

    “Please, come in. Thank you for coming,” Lorene’s mother said opening the door to the family’s quarters.

    “Of course. How is she?” Jaequa asked.

    “Recovering, but she doesn’t want to see anyone except you and she says it’s urgent. I’m hoping you can convince her to see Exiter. He’s not doing well. She says she can’t face him. Last night I thought he was going to force his way in, but Lorene’s father was able to calm him down.”

    Jaequa knocked on the bedroom door and opened it a few centimeters to be sure Lorene could hear her. “May I come in?”

    “Yes,” Lorene said, quickly sliding the door open the rest of the way, “I need to tell you, there are people down there that care, that want to help us. They’re not all monsters.”

    Jaequa was relieved that Lorene wasn’t consumed with hate for Founders. One way or another Jaequa knew they would have to share the planet with them. “How do we get to through to the ‘not monsters’ and how can they help us?” Jaequa took a seat in one of the two plush chairs pushed up against the folded wall bed. The surrounding art and collection of objects on the shelves revealed a teen’s room. Lorene was nineteen, but from the looks of her room, she was a young 19. The pain of what happened tore even more at Jaequa’s heart. It reinforced her resolve. This was not going to be a bloodless battle. They could expect more casualties, but in the end, Jaequa expected to win. There would be a way. Jaequa would not allow herself to think otherwise.

    Lorene slowly lowered herself into the other chair, the pain still obvious. “The doctor, he ordered the soldiers around. He told me he was the bastard son of an owner and that meant he was privileged. But only a few owners are good guys.”

    “Wait, explain to me what an owner is,” Jaequa said.

    “They own the planet. It was in the contract people signed that the families who financed the ships and the travel would own the land and resources when they got here.”

    Jaequa tried to recall the contract she’d read that the Founders had used. She could remember nothing about owning the planet in it.

    Lorene went on. “There’s a class system here, the lower classes are referred to as Labor. The middle classes are called Know-Profs. It stands for knowledge/professionals. And there is the Owner class, essentially the rich upper class.”

    “So they don’t own people, that’s a relief,” Jaequa said.

    “Considering what some of them get away with, they might as well. No one, even the doctor, said one word about what happened to me being a crime.” Lorene shifted stiffly in the chair.

    Jaequa could sense Lorene’s strength in her words; she would recover from this. It said something about the way they’d raised the children on the ship. It gave Jaequa a deep feeling of pride.

    Lorene continued. “We have to get away. Yorban, that was the doctor’s name, said some of us might be able to live in the planet’s wilderness. There are whole sections of the planet no one lives in because it’s forbidden. He said if we could stay out of sight for just a little while, no one would want to spend the credits to come after us. It’s all about the credits.”

    “Credits, as in money?”

    “Yes, apparently transactions are all digital so people call their money credits, except there’s some kind of black market barter, a form of money that’s exchanged outside the system. Turns out people don’t want everything they buy and sell to be on the record. And that’s how Yorban is going to help us. He can bribe the commander.”

    “Lorene, you might have just solved the one part of the plan I didn’t have an answer for.”

    “Yorban had some ideas on how we can survive and not cross the paths of Founders for years, maybe longer. He said it wouldn’t be easy, but the group is too big for everyone to get away. He’s going to try to help the ones that don’t. He said that was going to be a harder task than surviving in the wilderness. Some of the owners see us as a source of cheap labor,” Lorene paused, “and worse.” She looked down.

    “Let’s hope that was an anomaly.” Jaequa put her hand on Lorene’s shoulder.

    Lorene went on. “Some owner has financed our presence, the guards work for him, not for the government. It’s scary.”

    “What does Yorban want in return for helping us?” Jaequa asked, suspicious of pure philanthropy.

    “He wants to screw his dad.”

    “Well, that’s a relief. I was afraid you were going to say something horrible like he wanted you.”

    “No, he was very respectful. He’s volunteering his medical services for us, and I guess he does the same for other people. He told me more than once most Founders were good, but some of the bad ones had a lot of power.”

    “Just like Earth,” Jaequa said.

    “What I’m telling you can’t go beyond this room, I promised Yorban I would only share it with you. I’ve not told anyone else. He supports his mother financially, but their friends, and other family members struggle in the labor class. Yorban resents his father. His mother was the nanny and cook for an owner family. The husband pressured her to be more, then fired her when she got pregnant, for his wife’s sake.

    “Yorban’s father did see that his son had some financial support, pulled the strings that got Yorban into med school. Now Yorban is part of a movement to negotiate a better deal for the labor class, more freedom and a living wage. He doesn’t understand why the owners just don’t pay a little more. It’s not like they don’t have enough. Apparently that’s not how the owners see it.”

    “Any idea why he told you so much?” Jaequa was surprised at the level of detail, but grateful for this goldmine of information. It’s what they needed.

    “He just got going and it all came out, like it’d been pent up inside him. Once he started he kept talking. But then when he was done he got worried he’d said too much, made me swear not to tell anyone. I agreed but I said I’d have to tell you if we were going to survive here. We have to keep his part out of it when we tell the others.”

    “I agree, it’s not a good idea to share everything anyway, we’ll use ‘need to know’.” A minute of silence passed between them as Jaequa chose her words carefully. “Is this why you haven’t wanted to see Exiter?”

    “Yes.” Lorene looked down, rubbing her hands nervously together. “I can’t lie to him. He’s going to ask about Yorban, I’ve read how it is when girls get raped. Guys have all their own issues with it. What if he thinks I like Yorban or something? What if he doesn’t believe they poured the liquor into me down a tube in my throat? What if it creeps him out when he touches me? What if it creeps me out?”

    “Can you imagine leaving him behind if you join a group that tries to get away from the compound down there?”

    “No. I … I can’t, I … Are some people going to try to get away?”

    “That’s what I have in mind. Now you have another secret you can’t tell anyone yet.”

    Lorene nodded.

    “Exiter’s there for you, Lorene. You have to trust him. You’re going to need each other. But I’ll talk to him, tell him not to ask you anything, to let you talk when you’re ready. I know both of you, watched you grow up. He’s a good man.”

    “OK,” Lorene’s words were barely audible. “You talk to him first and I’ll see him.”

    “Deal,” Jaequa said, getting up to leave. “I’ll be in touch to get the rest of the specifics after I tighten up a bit more of the planning on this end. Can you contact Yorban?”

    “Yes. He said the Founders haven’t broken our encryption codes yet. Our communication equipment is different from theirs. But you need to know, they do have listening devices everywhere as well as video cameras. They were listening to one end of the conversations the work crew had with the ship, but they couldn’t hear your end. I can call him; we need to use one of our ApSams that are synched to the ship’s com room. We can speak freely; his answers will be limited.”

    “Great, I was always good at Twenty Questions.” Jaequa rolled her eyes as she walked out the door.

    #

    Jaequa asked her husband to proof read the message before sending it out to every household on the ship. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done. ”They have to decide for themselves. All I can do is make sure they have the best information I can give them to make their choice.”

    “You don’t have to take this burden on your shoulders alone. The whole council is responsible, and the community has the same information we have. You’re not responsible for the choices each family makes.”

    Jaequa felt responsible but it was not something she needed to defend. “Have you thought about your decision,” she asked him. “Do you want to go or stay?”

    “You mean, what’s our decision, not what’s my decision.” He put his arms around his wife and kissed her forehead, then her lips, pulling her down to the sofa keeping his arms wrapped around her. “All this time, the excitement of getting here consumed me, meeting new people, making the transition, so many times I played it out in my head. Not once did I imagine this, or anything remotely close. Do I want to risk what might happen in the city, with what we’ve seen so far? No. They might take you away from me. Do I want to risk trying to hide and survive in a wilderness we know nothing about? No. I might lose you to death too soon, I’ve not had my lifetime with you.”

    Jaequa gently touched his face, outlined his lips with her fingers. “I want control of my life. If we don’t make it, I want it to be our choices that caused that result. The thing I fear, no, hate the most is someone else taking my choices away and I have no say. But I will make that sacrifice, for anyone else in this community, especially the younger ones if it comes down to me or them. I won’t take anyone else’s place if more people choose to run than we can accommodate. The captain will go down with the ship. But if I have a choice that doesn’t take someone else’s seat on an escape lander, …” Jaequa’s words trailed off as she curled up her husband’s arms and closed her eyes.

    “Then we agree.”

    #

    The auditorium was already full when Jaequa walked in, the council chambers inadequate for such a critical meeting. The quiet rumbling of voices increased briefly then softened to its previous level. The last of the ship’s passengers who would attend trickled in, standing in the back of the auditorium, spilling down the aisles, every seat filled. As Jaequa passed, people near the isles rose from their seats to shake her hand, pat her on the back, tell her she was doing a good job. She acknowledged each individual, feigning the confidence she didn’t have.

    Behind the podium a real time image of Erda’s surface filled the large screen. The planet’s beauty radiated from wide swaths of lush greens, inviting ocean blues, and shades of peaceful desert browns. The distant image of the city below revealed a wonderland, modern, bustling, a fantastic living mass that sparkled like jewels at night, stretching out with creeping vines that lit up the coastline in both directions.

    Further from the metropolis, scattered outposts along the coastline showed up like dark smudges. Extending out into the ocean from the tiny settlements, sharp geometric shapes suggested factories. When the ship passed over them at night they looked like rectangular islands outlined by lights.

    Jaequa took her place at the podium and waited for the crowd to quiet.

    “I think we’re all here,” Jaequa began.

    She was immediately interrupted. “Some of our men are on the planet’s surface, we can’t decide without them here.”

    “We’ve gotten word to them. A representative from the families of the men each need to see me at the end of the meeting. We have a plan.” Jaequa maintained a calmness that reassured the families with absent loved ones.

    “By now you all know what our choices are, immigrants or pioneers. I want to share a few more details with you all. If you’ve not yet gotten the word, we have information there are Founders down there who are sympathetic. They contacted us through a rogue communication channel. That’s not going to be enough. Corrupt and abusive guards and police, who knows what kind of society has evolved since the Founders arrived. I thought with a clean slate, and knowing how well our community developed on the ship, well I wasn’t expecting a utopia but I was hoping for civil order. I can only wonder what happened to them. They have some semblance of a democratic government, but apparently it isn’t one free from the influence of corruption and money.

    “The soldiers guarding our men building the housing work for a private company with a government contract. I don’t know what they have planned for us, cheap labor or political pawns or both. Someone in a position of power, we don’t know who, is calling the shots.”

    Ana rose to speak. Jaequa nodded. “We knew this was a possibility. I don’t think we need to get all worried there’s some totalitarian society down there. We’ve all read the contract the financiers used. I can’t believe the Founders became some unpredictable alien species in a century. Sounds to me like half the countries on Earth, except they haven’t run short of food and water.

    “I won’t give my freedom up without a fight. I’ll live in the wilderness as a friggin’ hunter gatherer before I’ll let someone take my freedom away,” Blair said, standing and not waiting for recognition to speak.

    “You’re overreacting,” Cece stood. “Anyone who paid attention in their history classes would know to expect this reaction to new immigrants. In a generation we’ll be Founders no different than they are. I’ll stick it out. For my kids, I’ll stick it out.”

    “Not me, not after what happened to Lorene.” Now it was Exiter that was on his feet. “How can any of us let that happen to another of our members?”

    “It won’t,” Cece said, taking the floor. “We weren’t ready, we were careless. We made mistakes that don’t have to happen again.”

    “Lorene didn’t make a mistake,” Exiter said bitterly as Lorene grabbed his hand trying to pull him back down in his seat. We have a different point of view. I have a right to say what it is.”

    “Of course,” Jaequa said. “I want to hear it.”

    “Our parents sacrificed for us. And I don’t mean to belittle that, I’m grateful. But Lorene and I, we’re young, we don’t have kids. We don’t want to sacrifice our lives in hopes the next generation will do better, fit in. We want to live now.”

    Blair rose again. “Same corporations different planet. Odds are they recreated Earth on Erda.”

    Darla stood and was acknowledged. “Odds are the planet isn’t undergoing a mass extinction like Earth was. There’s water, food, and no nukes. They wouldn’t need nukes. I’m going with immigrant. We’ll be fine.”

    “You forget what humans are capable of. Forcing indentured servitude, enslaving fellow humans, we are ‘those people, not one of them’,” Blair said, “easy targets of hate.’

    Blynn stood. “A good number of you were born on this ship. You didn’t experience the cruelty that we fled. I’m not trying to say you have no idea what it was like, because of course you do. But my husband and I didn’t bring our family all this way, risking everything to take our chances with the same have and have not society we fled on Earth. I hear grandparents played an important role in hunter-gatherer societies.” She smiled. “I used to love the wilderness, before most of the beautiful places disappeared. My husband and I brought our family this far. Our family has decided to run and,” she looked at Gatrina and Velerson and their spouses, “if I become a burden that threatens any of them, I’ll make a great decoy for the Founders to chase.” Gatrina put her arm around her mother as Blynn sat down.

    “Maybe we can start our own country,” Blair said.

    “And why would the Founders let that happen?” Cece shook her head. “They’ll come after you, all of you. They’ll mow you down with technology a century ahead of anything we’ve seen. My family will do our best to cooperate with them. They’re human beings. They’ll come to accept us, probably sooner rather than later. That’s what humans do.”

    “There’s something else. They may not want to finance a search party if we make it too expensive. That gives us an edge.” Jaequa was on her feet now, and ready to close the meeting. There was not much else that could be said that hadn’t been said. She knew people had already made their decisions. “Kip and I will go with the runners unless there are not enough seats on the landers. If that’s the case our seats go to the others.”

    #

    “That’s all?” Jaequa asked looking at the totals. Everyone on the ship had now registered their choices.

    “It’s a third, that’s more than I thought would run. A lot of people are more afraid of the wilderness than they are of the Founders,” Furb answered.

    “Well it solves the problem of space on the landers, I guess.” Jaequa looked at the screen and read aloud. “The essentials: readers, solar lights, water, food, clothing and the heat cloaks which will double as bedding ...”

    “Tools,” Furb added to the list. “We’ll need a tool kit for each of the groups, and an extra one in case the two landers that need to rendezvous aren’t able to. I’ll head out to the workshop to get the tool packs ready.

    Gatrina walked in with a status report, stopping to give Furb a quick kiss as they passed. “We only have two doctors between the four groups, one’s been assigned to group three, they have the most kids. The other’s going with the larger group. There are trained medics on the other two landers, they’re getting the medical supplies packed.”

    Looking at the message on her screen, Jaequa thanked Gatrina for the file as she clicked on it. “I’ll download the maps and files to these readers, but the group going to pick up the workers is going to have to memorize as much as they can. We can’t risk the Founders finding our maps or survival plans.”

    #

    “I’ve never seen so many people hugging and crying and sullen,” Gatrina told her mother. “The whole ship is like one giant funeral.” After the words came out she wanted to take them back. “I’m sorry Mom, it’s the stress. I don’t want to remind you of—”

    “—the pain,” Blynn finished her daughter’s sentence. “There’s an advantage to leaving so many people you love behind twice. I know we can get through it.”

    “Trece and her family aren’t coming with the runners. I can’t tell Irian.” Tears fell despite Gatrina’s trying to stop them. Furb put his arm around her.

    Blynn’s son and daughter and their spouses sat at the small dinner table, the table’s extensions used, accommodating the family. Her grandchildren were in Irian’s room with the door ajar. She hoped Irian was distracted but she was sure the older children were listening to every word. Blynn felt they might as well hear it now. The remaining time was short.

    “I don’t feel like we prepared you kids for this possibility,” Blynn said. “Your father and I never imagined anything like this. We just pictured immigrating to a new city, a new country, a new planet.”

    “You did prepare us Mom,” Velerson spoke. “You and Dad always talked about our lives being on the ship, the planet was for our kids, your grandchildren.”

    “Yes but not like this. I’m so thankful your father died with all his hope alive.” Blynn put her head in her hands.

    Velerson put his arms around his mother. “Our hope is alive. Our kids are going to make it. That’s what matters. They’ll be fine. They’ll adapt, and hopefully so will we. I’m actually looking forward to it, to the challenge, to the freedom of roaming an untouched wilderness.”

    Velerson took his wife’s hand. “Our family will be together. But like you, we’ll gladly be decoys if it comes to that. Tiger and Shell are more than capable, they can take care of Riser and Irian. We’ve already talked to the three of them, they know what’s going to happen. They’re ready to deal with it.”

    Music that had been playing quietly in the bedroom became louder.

    “Shell, she’s protecting Irian already. I love your kids, I love you guys,” Gatrina put her arms around her sister-in-law. “I am so grateful for how you raised them. I have every confidence they can take care of Irian.”

    #

    “He thinks the numbers are OK as far as the Founders not making a serious effort to come after us. He made some inquiries. Split in half, they’ll assume our population is not sustainable. We’ll die out whether they come after us or not.” Lorene thought about asking Jaequa if she thought it was true, but Lorene didn’t want to know if the answer was yes. She’d already avoided making a data inquiry as to the minimum size a human gene pool needed to be for a hunter-gatherer group to thrive. Lorene thought it better to ignore her fears by putting all her attention to the task of just surviving one more day.

    “There is no guarantee they won’t chase us down. If someone decides our labor is valuable they might decide there’s a reason to invest some credits. Yorban said if that happened, there would still be a point that a decision would be made not to pour more good money after bad.”

    “We have twelve landers and enough fuel for two return trips to the ship. We’ll take five, leaving seven for the remaining members if they need emergency evacuation. They can last on the ship for months, maybe another year but that splits the group in three and it’s problematic.

    Jaequa was briefing the pilots, and Lorene was with her to share what information she had. They sat in the comfortable chairs of one of the common areas. Jaequa thought one last time in a comfortable warm place was a fitting setting. It would be one of the last times any of them sat on modern furniture.

    “You’ll need to keep your groups under cover during the day. The satellites can easily spot a group that large. Unless they change the orbits of their satellites, Gatrina and Furb have the paths and timing mapped. The times when the satellites will be overhead have been downloaded into the readers.

    “None of the satellites that orbit over the preserves is monitoring heat. They could be reprogrammed if someone cared enough to spend the credits so I don’t want anyone to take a chance. If you don’t have your groups under the cover of a cave, they need to use their heat cloaks. By launch time manufacturing will have made enough cloaks for each individual. The design will hide our heat signatures unless the Founders have something more advanced that can defeat them. We’re calculating they have infrared search capability but no reason to have developed a counter to a heat cloak.”

    Our reader batteries will last a decade and the data’s been downloaded into the ten we’re bringing. Well have some ability to move around during the day if we time it right.”

    “We’ve mapped the area we’ll have the best chance in. There’s a water source and the canyons will offer some cover,” Furb said.

    “Yorban said they detected our imaging signals.” Lorene pointed out.

    “Nothing we can do about that.” [pilot 1]

    “How about imaging everything like a decoy?” [pilot 2]

    “Gatrina and Furb are ahead of you.” Jaequa smiled. “You’ll find an excellent map of the whole planet on your readers.”

    #

    “I’m gonna miss you Trece,” Irian said, hugging her friend. “I hope the Founders are nice to you.”

    “Good luck to all of you.” Trece said waving as her mother took her other hand and led her out of the airlock. They were the last to leave.

    The door slid shut with a soft whomp sound that signaled separation from the inside of the ship, a separation that would be final. The last four landers were ready for launch, the fifth already headed for the construction site.

    That was the most dangerous path of any of the five landers. The ruse was a lander trip to exchange workers, taking some back to the ship, leaving men who chose to be immigrants behind as replacements. If their plans hadn’t been detected, the runners would board the ship. Halfway back they would make a radical course change and head for the canyons.

    Irian was crying softly as her mother snapped her survival suit on and buckled her in her seat. Gatrina kissed her softly. “You’re being a real trooper, Irian. I know how hard this is.”

    “I hate them. I hate the Founders,” Irian said.

    “I do too,” her mother answered.

    #

    “Commander.” Wadian greeted the head soldier with a slight nod of his head.

    The commander did not nod back. “Still no females?” he said, a sleazy smile on his face. “You know they’re going to have to come down when the compound is finished. Your, no, our ship’s been sold to salvagers.”

    Wadian fumed inside but kept a calm exterior. It was too late to change the plans, too late to ask if more of their community would choose to run hearing this. Do you get a share of that, or did only the ‘owners’? Wadian kept the barbs to himself.

    “I think all the workers should stay,” the commander said. “The housing compound will be done all that much faster.”

    Parker took a step forward. “No it won’t. I assure you a fresh crew can do more alone than a fresh crew with a tired crew in the way.”

    The men turned their heads as Yorban walked through the door into the commander’s office. “He wants his bonus, don’t you commander?”

    “I don’t recall asking for your input.”

    “No, but I bet you’d like an advance on that bonus.”

    “Why would you do that? What’s in it for you?” The commander asked, leaning back in his chair crossing his arms against his chest.

    “The men are tired, they miss their families, and I care about them. Besides, it will motivate them and when they get back the work will go faster,” Yorban offered.

    “You know I don’t believe a damn word you’re saying. You’re up to something, all of you, I’m not stupid.”

    “I’ll make it worth your while,” Yorban said. “And you’ll have plausible deniability,” he added, calculating it was impossible to keep the cat completely in the bag at this point.

    The commander rose to his feet and stepped around the desk. He spoke into Wadian’s face, “What are you people planning?”

    Wadian smelled the foul breath of the commander, felt tiny droplets of spit hit his face. He ignored the intimidation and spoke with impeccable resolve. “To return to the ship. What else could we possibly do?”

    “How much?” The commander turned to Yorban.

    “Two gold ounces.”

    “Make it four.”

    “I only have three.” Yorban had more than that and it was risky to negotiate at this critical time. But Yorban knew the greedy bastard well. It was important the commander not try to get more gold at the last minute. “Two now and one when they’ve left the surface.”

    The silence felt like forever was passing. Wadian wondered if it was possible to fight their way out and started thinking of contingency plans. But the men staying behind would be unlikely to make it if they faced any force. They needed the commander’s cooperation. If there was resistance the men would no doubt stay, letting their families on the other four landers make a run for it without them. Wadian resigned himself to that contingency plan. He had volunteered to pilot this lander because he had no spouse and no children. A war means some casualties.

    #

    “Just so you know, pilot Wadian,” the commander said with disdain. “Whatever the fuck you’re planning, Yorba’s payment runs out the minute the shit hits the fan. He’s an idiot, all bleeding heart over a bunch of trespassing thieves. There are more fools like him on this planet, think they are going to change the world. Just like there were fools on Earth that thought they could change that world. Look what happened to them. Those that had money, or made themselves useful, that’s who got out, made it to this planet. The ones trying to help others, they didn’t.”

    “We all helped each other and we’re here,” Wadian said.

    The commander laughed. “It’s not over yet. You don’t know what the outcome’s gonna be.”

    The hatch closed. Wadian began the launch sequence, the thrusters powered up. Newman waited until they were well off the planet’s surface before he began filling in the new passengers on the plan.

    #

    Four landers left the orbiting ship one after the other. They would be detected right away but the plan was to navigate toward the housing compound until the last minute.

    “Alpha ship to betas, alpha ship to betas,” Wadian spoke into his headset. “Don’t wait, I repeat, don’t wait.” He could only hope they all heard him. The pilots were on their own, and the plan was to keep it that way. If one was caught the others might not be. If it was safe, in a couple days time, the fifth lander would rendezvous with lander 4, carrying the families of the men. It would be months before all four landing parties would attempt to reunite.

    Newman flipped a switch changing the pilot’s radar screen view.

    “I see them. Hold on gentlemen, judgment day is here.”

    #

    A contingent of Founders in what looked like business suits walked into the compound’s large semi-finished meeting room. From the way the commander acted, these men were a higher rank than he. Men and women, now referring to themselves as immigrants despite being called trespassers by the guards, were seated in rows of chairs below a stage.

    Within days of the breakout, Founders boarded the orbiting ship, searching it for any evidence of more planned escapes. They took control of all the landers and moved the transfer schedule up, filling every return trip from the ship with immigrants.

    “Contrary to what some of you think,” one of the men in the suits began from the podium at the head of the auditorium, “we’re trying to work with you. I know some of the guards don’t always behave, but it’s my understanding neither do all your young ladies.”

    The crowd rumbled loudly and angrily.

    “Quiet, please, settle down. Either way, I instructed the commander to see it doesn’t happen again. The men with me are here to take a work crew to a processing ship in the outer cities. The assignment will be for a few months.”

    Cece stood and called out to the man at the podium. “You mean without our families?”

    “There’s no room for families on the processors. Don’t worry, your families will be safe. We hope to find employment for everyone eventually, the elderly can manage the children.”

    “What if we don’t want to be separated?” Cece continued, not sitting down.

    “You don’t have a choice. It’s only a couple months. Be grateful you haven’t ended up like your comrades.”

    Cece sat down, whispering to his wife sitting next to him, “We won’t know for a while if that’s something to be grateful for or not, now will we?”

    She squeezed his hand.

    #

    Trece’s mother snapped the screen off. The Founders had been sending images up to the remaining passengers on the ship. They showed all five landers, crashed in various locations amid a rough landscape of jagged pillars and canyons. Strewn around each of the ships were lots of bodies, and body parts.

    “I saw it already Mom,” Trece said. “It’s not them.”

    “How do you know, honey?”

    “Cause I don’t see anybody I know in those pictures.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2013

Share This Page