Chapter 13 – Trains and Pains

“Listen young man, Bishop West himself commanded I review the next train to the Lowell Crater.”  Don glowered at the young man operating the Electrotrak to the southern pole of Mars.  “You won’t have it on your record, because as I told you, it’s confidential.”

The man, nearly a boy, cleared his throat and looked again at the computer pad in his hands.  “Sir, I understand that, but I have been given instructions, I believe from your office, that no deviation to protocol is allowed without express written permission signed by you and by the Bishop himself.”  The young man wiped his brow, a bit of sweat appearing there.

Don rubbed his eyes and adjusted the pack on his shoulder.  “Look kid,”  he squinted at the boys name patch, “I mean Master Parks,” Don smiled feebly, “I know the rules but you also know I am your commanding officer.”  Don looked back over his shoulder down the corridor, no lights were on, they were alone.  “There is an emergency at Lowell, the new site we’ve begun digging and it requires my immediate and in person attention.  This time we have to break protocol.”  Don put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Have I ever asked you to do anything you shouldn’t do?”  Don smiled at him again, trying to look fatherly.

The boy’s eyes shone in the harsh artificial lights of the floor and ceiling, “No sir.”  He shifted uncomfortably.  He looked at the pad again.

Don sighed, he had trained this young man several months ago.  This was Parks’ first assignment, and his first time off Earth.  He would do anything he could to prove himself faithful first to the Bishop, second to Don.  Don weighed his options carefully before his next words.  “Master Parks, you have a long career ahead of you but there is something that every soldier needs to able to move forward.  Do you know why we don’t staff our outposts with Robots?”

Parks raised his eye brows and looked up at Don.  “Sir?”

“Robots boy, do you know why we don’t have robots doing the job that you’re doing right now?”  Parks slowly shook his head.  Don smiled a bit, “Because they lack the ability to make abstract decisions.  They will always follow their programing, to the T, to the letter.  They are perfect in that fashion. ”  Don cleared his throat a bit, “the issue is no one else in the entire known universe does that, that is follow the rules to the letter.”  Don removed his hand from the boy’s shoulder, allowing it to drop down by his pistol.  “If you were a robot son, I’d have to deactivate you. I’d turn you off.  That’s how important this mission is to the Lowell Crater.  But son, you’re not a robot, right?”  Don looked into the boy’s eyes.

Parks shifted nervously, considering what Don had just said.  He glanced again at Don, noticing that Don’s right hand was on his side arm.  Sweat flowed more freely.  He swallowed visibly, his voice catching a bit, “Sir I am not a robot, Sir!”  He snapped to attention, both hands clutching the computer pad, his own side arm ignored.

Don nodded.  “That right Master Parks, you’re not.  You also won’t need to be deactivated.”  Don slowly lowered his hand from his holstered pistol.  “Parks I am going to submit a note to your record for outstanding service. ”  Don looked at the entrance to the Electrotrak.  “Now we’ve delayed this transport long enough don’t you think.”  he glanced back at Parks.

“Yes sir.”  Now the stress of that moment, of breaking orders had passed, Parks assumed a new disposition, one indicating he was going to follow Don’s orders.  He dropped the pad into the satchel he wore and turned to the door of the Electrotrak typing in his security code.  The lights flashed green around the entrance handle, indicating they were unlocked.

Don struck the boy just at the base of his neck with the butt of his pistol, knocking him unconscious.  “Sorry Parks, but you’d report this immediately after I left I have no doubt.”  Don bent down next to the young man and felt his pulse, it was strong.  Don shook his head, he’d have hell to pay, but he would worry about that later.  His rank and experience would likely result in a demotion, or at worse, a reassignment to one of the small colonies on Mars.   Don rolled Parks away from the door and turned the handle to open the entrance to the Electrotrak platform.  The rush of the super cold and stale air from the corridor rushed around his feet and he looked worriedly at Parks, who began to moan slightly.  “Damn” he muttered.  He bent down and lifted Parks chest up off the floor by reaching under his arm pits. He slide him into the corridor and shut the main door behind them.  He could see through the glass the metal frame of the Electrotrak car, a lone yellow light blinking on it.
The trains were largely automated, the only function that wasn’t was the launch sequence, usually initiated from the platforms.  This particular train had been loaded by the robots and Parks job had been to download the shipment manifest, confirm the train number and shipment contents before hitting the all clear and sending the auto train on it’s way to the miners at Lowell Crater.  It was the last unmanned transport to the crater until next week and Don knew he had to be on it.  He reached into the satchel and pulled out the computer pad.  He flipped it on and scanned the contents.  Mostly tools, some water, a hydrogen cell, rations and…… Don’s eyes widened.  He looked down at the young man at his feet, still mostly unconscious.   He then looked back at the main corridor, good, no lights on.  He bent down to one knee to be near the boy, while moving near him, pulled Parks’ gun out of its holster and placed it in the jacket pocket he was wearing.  Don reached down and grabbed Parks face around his cheeks.

“Soldier!” he growled, “wake up.”  The boy moaned, “I know you’re coming to, I didn’t hit you that hard.”  Don shook the boy’s head a bit, eliciting more moans, “Wake up soldier, you have work!”  For a moment Don thought the boy would pass out again completely, but then the boy’s eyes fluttered open.

“Si.i……rrr,” he stammered.

Don didn’t have time for this.  “Look Parks, I’m taking the train, and unfortunately you’re going to have to go with me.”  Don pulled the pad out, “Tell me where these came from.”  he pointed at a line on the pad.

The boy couldn’t focus, he shook his head.  “Sorry, sir I, I can’t….”

Don dropped the pad and grabbed the boy by his lapels lifting him close to his face, “Tell me why there is a thermonuclear warhead on this train!!!”

Parks squeezed his eyes shut, “Sir, I don’t know, sir.”  He muttered.  “I just verify the train’s contents, I don’t know why they are there.”  Don dropped Parks back down from his lapel holding.

“Bull crap boy,”  he leaned down to be centimeters from the boy’s face, “It didn’t occur to you to ask someone, your immediate superior, about a thermonuclear device on a train on Mars?”  He gritted his teeth, “FUCKING robots know better.”

The boy pushed himself away from Don as much as he could, “Sir, I was given direct orders to not ask questions and to make sure this shipment makes it to Lowell Crater.”  His eyes were widening as he looked at Don’s face.

“Who?”  Don leaned closer, their noses touching, “who gave these orders?”

“W-w-est, um Bishop West sir!”  The boy was awake now.

Don almost fell backwards.  He leaned back onto his haunches, “Did you actually speak to the Bishop?”  He looked down at the boy.  The boy didn’t say anything, he only nodded.  “When?”

The boy looked at the door to the main corridor, hoping perhaps someone would save him.  No lights were on, no one was there.  He looked back to Don’s face, “sir, please, I’m just following orders, I can’t say anything more!”

Don sighed, he reached down the to dropped pad, placed it in the satchel Parks still wore.  “Alright, look, I’m taking the Electrotrak, we’ve got to get the damn thing moving before we arose suspicion.”  Don stood up, his hand on the butt of his holstered gun.  “I’m guessing you’re not going to give me any trouble?”  the boy shook his head.  “I thought not.”  Don looked at his wrist monitor, “okay I figure we’ve got 5, maybe ten minutes before someone comes to check on you, on why the damn train is still sitting here.”  He looked back at the boy, “Did you verify the contents yet?”

Parks, still laying on the floor, half propped up nodded, “yes Sir, just a moment before you arrived.”

Don nodded.   “Good.  I take it this train has environmental systems, enough to take it to the Lowell Crater?”  Parks nodded.  “Good.  And are their any robots?”

“Sir?”

Don glared at the boy, “Are there any active robots on the train?”

“Oh, yes, yes sir.  Two.  One is a general maintenance bot, the other is a war bot.”

“A war bot?  What’s its primary directive?”

Parks cleared his throat, “to guard the warhead.”

Don groaned.  “Shit son, this didn’t cause you concern?”  Don walked towards the end of the connecting corridor, to the entrance to the train.  For a moment forgetting the boy on the ground.   He leaned his face against the thick glass leading to the train.  “What in the hell is going on here?”  He started to turn back to the soldier, when he was struck.

The boy was on him, suddenly very awake, and very strong.  he had hit Don, but his timing had been off as Don turned just as he swung.  As a result the blow glanced off Don’s chin.  He didn’t stop though and threw his full weight into Don’s midsection, knocking the wind out of him.

Don fell back against the wall, for a moment surprised, but he was a soldier, and had fought before.  He brought both his fists down on Parks back while bringing up his knee. He allowed the wall to leverage his balance and center of gravity.  This combination forced Parks to fall away from Don to his right.  Don had a second, “Parks stop!”  the boy was up again, fists swinging, and suddenly he had a knife, surely pulled from his boot.  “We don’t have to do this, you must know there is something wrong here!”

 

Parks shook his head, grimacing at the pain in his neck, he slashed the knife at Don, who side stepped, “No sir, the only wrong doing so far is that you attacked a soldier.”  He trust the blade at Don again, Don jumped to the side, sliding along the wall.

“Parks, stop, you cannot best me!”  Don’s gun was out and he leveled at the boy.  “STOP!”

Parks saw the gun, shook his head and grimaced, “Sir, you won’t shoot me.”  He started to step towards Don, knife in the lead.

The roar of the gun was amplified by the small space, deafening.  For a moment neither man moved, then, as if in slow motion, the knife fell from Parks’ hand to the ground.  Parks looked at Don, his other hand reaching to his stomach, blood welling out.  “Sir?” he muttered as he dropped to his knees.  He fell forward on his face, his head hitting the top of Don’s boot.

Don slowly lowered his weapon, a bit of smoke drifting from the barrel.  He slid it into his holster.  He slide his boot out from under Park’s head, which thumped on the cement floor with a sickening sound.  Blood was pooling under Parks’ body.  Don quickly reached down and pulled the satchel and computer pad from Parks’ lifeless body, slipping it onto his shoulder.  He stepped over the body and went to the door leading to the Electrotrak platform.  He entered his own access code and the door to the train slide open, even colder air poured down.  Don reached behind him and pulled the hood of his coat up around his face, activating the protective cover.  He pulled it, like a ski mask and the seal on the neck magnetically activated, protecting him from the immediate air of the surface.  There was atmosphere on the platform, but it wasn’t intended to sustain breathing for more than a moment.  Don walked to the door of the train, the yellow light still blinking.   Don entered the door code and the light above the train blinked green and slowly the door of the train slide open.  he activated the timer to launch the train in two minutes.  Don looked back at the body of Parks, laying in his own blood, which was already beginning to freeze as the warmth of the corridor was compromised by the platform’s freezing Martian air.  He shook his head and stepped onto the train, leaving the door of the platform room open.  He knew that when the seal from the train was disengaged the Martian atmosphere would completely freeze Parks’ body. That would buy Don a few hours time probably before a manhunt was launched for him.  Enough time that he would make it to the mining colony at Lowell Crater.

He activated the door code and the train door began to close.  A red light flashed and the body of Parks slide behind the closing door.  The train became pitch black.  Don activated his mask’s light and turned to look into the train.  It was filled with crates, each marked with numbers.  Don knew that the computer pad he carried would tell him what was contained in each crate.  He looked around and spied the main console for this train car.  Walking to it, he activated the car’s lights and environmental controls.  A claxon alarm sounded, scaring him, then the train threw itself into motion.  The sudden and forceful acceleration threw Don to the floor, and he nearly broke his arm trying to soften his landing.    “Damn,” he said out loud.

He allowed himself to stay on the floor for a moment, his body, his hands were shaking. Not from the fall but from the fact that he just murdered a soldier.  “Shit” he said.  He took several deep breaths, placed his hands palm down on the train floor and stood up.  For a moment he couldn’t catch his balance, then it occurred to him that there was no gravity enhancement on this train.  No wonder he felt so light, and no wonder he was having trouble staying upright.  “Computer,” Don called out.

“Computer active,” came the response.

“Computer activate gravity controls.”

“Unable to comply, this train is not programed for artificial gravity.”

“Damn.”  He said out loud.  “Computer, what is the estimated time of arrival at Lowell Crater?”

“Our estimated arrival time is 22:00 hours, Martian.”  Don looked at his wrist monitor, good, nearly 4 hours.

He looked around the train again, now with the lights on.  “Computer what is the oxygen and ambient temperature in this car?”

“The oxygen level is 21%.  The temperature in the car is 12.6 degree Celsius.”

Don smiled, reaching up he opened his hood and released the magnetic clasps holding it in place.  The car air was cool, and smelled stale, but it wasn’t cold and it was breathable.  Satisfied he took the satchel off, removing the computer pad.   he dropped the satchel and turned on the pad, “Now where was that…..”  he flicked the screen with his finger nail, scrolling the roster.  “There!”  The code was listed as TN911TERM.  Only a soldier of his rank even knew that code was for a high yield nuclear device.  They had been banned after the war, but of course the Church was the only power to enforce the ban, she still had the weapons.  These devices were the size of a water melon, and could yield enough force to destroy 350 square kilometers of area.  They had one purpose, to completely destroy a target.  Released in a cavern, like the mine at Lowell Crater, well, nothing would be left.

The device was listed in crate number 2304, train car number 6.  Don looked around, “Computer, what train car number is this one?”

“This is car number 4.”  Don sighed.  He had to get to the crate and see the device himself, but he knew there was a warbot waiting for him.  “Computer” he said again, “In which train car is the maintenance robot located?”

“Maintenance bot 6453 is located in car two.”  Don nodded and said aloud, “Then it’s off to car two I go.”

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Chapter Twelve – The Inevitability of it All

Date 6,253,101 B.C.E.

Neomis looked out the window on the world swirling below.  He loved the view they had from the station spinning around Kieaa.  How many times since he had been had he seen the sun rise and set?  Hundreds, an effect afforded only because of their unique place in the atmosphere.

It had been two days since they had disengaged the space elevator, a precaution taken in case the world below had a catastrophic event from a passing asteroid, but that fear had been misplaced, and the asteroid it seemed would strike, but in the depths of the ocean, washing the shores in the water, floods, tsunamis.  Their new little family of apes would be safe, as they were so far inland.  They disengaged the elevator because they could not risk any damage to the this, the station.  However, now it was disengaged, without the Mothership, they would not be able to re-engage the elevator.  They were going to be forced to use the small shuttle to take them from the station to the surface, and to take the last of the apes, now encoded with genetic modifications so as to evolve more fully into the same species as Neomis and his people.

He pulled his gaze away from the world below and looked at his communication station. Still no word from Gugulaania, the silence had Neomis worried, of course Galela reminded Neomis that if Mothership had started the final journey to the south pole, communication could be spotty or cut off entirely.  They still received the locator beacon feedback from Mothership, so whatever had happened to their family, it had not yet terminated all communications on the surface.

Neomis had been  raised on Gugulaania, it had been the only home he had ever known.  He knew that this father, Neomin, also had been raised there, but when Neomin was a child, Mothership and her power reserves were strong.  By the time Neomis was old enough to be aware, he and his people were confined to the inner colony, near the equator of Gugulaania.  The out laying colonies were being abandoned, and transportation to those habitats eliminated.  The Mothership continued to provide everything they needed, shelter, air to breathe, warmth, everything.  But for those of their people located around the solar system, it was a different story.  Many explorers were working on stations around the great gas planets, the largest of which, the fifth planet out from the center star, had provided a wealth of learning and discovery.   There was a small icy moon that had some of the earliest signs of life and the scientists in orbit there had reported that perhaps they could colonize that small system in a space station.  Those explorers died hoping that someday they would be rescued, that their research could be used to recover the decline in Mothership.  This hope slipped away and they waited for a rescue that never came.  No doubt by now their ship, being unattended and not powered, had slipped into the atmosphere of the gas giant.

All this, the exploration, the space stations, occurred before the actual decline of the Mothership was well known.  Once it was discovered Mothership’s power supply was expiring, and it was learned that they could not support stations on other planetary bodies besides Kieaa and Gugulaania, those explorers were abandoned.  Most of them had anticipated Mothership would retrieve them, and likely that had been the original plan from her A.I. program, but it seems a flaw in the programming was that Mothership failed to communicate her  demise to her children.  Once they discovered Mothership’s cascading power failures, and in communicating with her, they found she had known  of this catastrophic event nearly two centuries earlier.

Neomis sighed, his hand resting on the computer console.  Each device on the station was interconnected, powered by the same source as Mothership herself.  The power, a fusion technology that they had not been able to replicate, because they hadn’t needed to in centuries, could almost be felt, humming around them.  Neomis and most scientists knew that technology was a combination of biomechanical and quantum mechanical integration of energy packets and fields.  The use of gravity waves to manipulate matter, both its form and function, was the heart of the technology.  A heart that only Mothership knew how to care for.  The hundreds of centuries his people had spent in space, traveling to this solar system, then the hundreds of years settling on Gugulaania, well no one thought to learn the inner workings of Mothership.  Likely no one could have.  As the technology advanced, thousands of years ago, the science and calculations needed to use and comprehend Mothership was no longer something his people had the capacity to do.  Only Mothership and her computers had the computing power to know herself and her own workings; this removal from needing to know or work with Mothership’s computers resulted in freeing his people to become writers, artists, philosophers, lovers.  They explored more the meaning of life from their libraries and lectures.  They did not need to build, grow, construct.  Those things were all done for them.

He moved his hand away from the computer and looked over his shoulder at the lab door leading to his little family of apes.  Most of the apes had been brought back to the surface, this last group of 50 of the original 200 individuals who had been genetically modified, imprinted with the key genetic codes of his own people.  Neomis smiled.  This was a last desperate act of species preservation.  One hundred years prior when the idea had been suggested, and finally approved by Mothership as viable, they had set on working with the apes.  Neomis’ own grandfather had lead the first group to Kieaa, and they had found the apes that they wished to work with, the ones who were the closest match to their people’s genetic codes.  It was most fortunate that this solar systems origins of life were shared in common with his own people’s some billions of years prior.  The earliest microbes which evolved into life must originated in the same region of space as their home world, many solar systems apart, because genetically speaking they shared an ancient common ancestor.  He smiled at the thought of the apes.  The wonder of it all, here they were millions of light years apart from his people’s home world, and sitting in the room next to him were his cousins, not so different than he.  Perhaps if he and Mothership hadn’t intervened these apes might have eventually evolved into a species perhaps not so different than his own.  Now though, they had accelerated that process, and what would have taken perhaps many tens of millions of years, would now take only a few million.  The original plan of course had been to even further accelerate the evolutionary process, that plan was the one being initiated by Neomis’ grandfather, but once Mothership had revealed that she would fail, nearly completely, before that could to pass, they simply wanted to accelerate the process as much as possible.  They knew that they would not live to see these apes evolve much, but in terms of the age of the universe, it would a relatively short amount of time indeed.

Neomis stood, he lifted his arms above his head and stretched.  He felt the fibers in his body pull and tighten.  He was delaying what he had to do next, which was prep himself and the apes for the journey back to the surface.  The effects of the asteroid strike had been much less severe than anticipated and the flooding and damage to the surface was minimal.  They had more time than the surface of Gugulaania, Mothership had divested greater power reserves to them than the surface of Gugulaania.  He frowned at that thought, the inevitability of the loss of life, the loss of his parents, friends, his people was overwhelming.  Sighing he walked over to the lab door and entered the sequence for entry.  The room had to be under pressurized for him; the thick duplicative Kieaa atmosphere, so heavy with nitrogen and oxygen was nearly impossible for him to breath.  While he could breath in it for a few minutes, he would rather not.  His own lungs were designed by Mothership to better breath on the nearly non-existent atmosphere of Gugulaania, which was mostly composed of carbon dioxide.  Though his people in their home world had evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago to breath a nitrogen/oxygen mix, not unlike that of Kieaa, his people arriving in this solar system knew they had to modify their genetics, their bodies to adapt to Gugulaania.  Once it was clear several hundred years ago that they would never be able to settle on Kieaa, and that Gugulaania would be their home, Mothership began the process in working with the geneticists and biologists to adapt their lungs and bodies.  Gugulaania did not have a sustainable atmosphere, but with the modifications and with Mothership’s ability to create oxygen from the Gugulaania atmosphere.   This essential technology was another mystery to most of the scientists, knowledge lost to complacency.  He reached into a small wall compartment and slipped on a breathing apparatus.  The door to the lap slipped open and the lights came alive.

Simbia was already at the door to her habitat, a smile on her lips.  She cooed at him, making hooting noises to him indicating her pleasure at seeing him, and no doubt expecting food.  He smiled at her, “Ah dear Simbia, I know, I know.”  He unlatched the door and she jumped out at him.  The artificial gravity was much less here than on Kieaa, and so her powerful muscles launched her at him.  He grunted as she hit him, though she was quite large, Neomis still had greater mass than she.  He swung her around his body in a spinning motion, much like one would spin a child in a circle.  He laughed as she held onto him.    “I missed you too!”  He allowed her to nuzzle his neck.  He looked at the other apes, now all attentive and watching closely.  While they all had some sort of bond, Neomis was especially close to Simbia.   He had known her only for a few years, she was a young ape, and her mother, Sulki, had been a very good mother.  Sadly though she had disappeared some time ago on the surface, taken no doubt by a predator, which had left Simbia an orphan, and thus Neomis had adopted her.  She was one of the first apes he had modified, using his own codes in her genetic sequence.  The modified sequences focused on higher cognitive functions, speech and bipedal walking.  Other more subtle modifications would affect the apes’ development of self awareness, conceptualization of time and abstract thinking.

“Come Simbia,”  he pulled off him and lowered her to floor so she could walk.  “Go, release Membia.”  Membia was a young male, a close friend to Simbia and a very gentle ape.  He would in normal circumstances, if left to develop on the world unmodified, likely have been the lowest order of ape in the group, maybe even an out cast.  As it was here though, he was showered with affection from Neomis and Simbia, his status raised amongst the other apes.  Simbia darted to Membia’s habitat, his bright eyes were shining through the glass front, glittering in the lab’s bright lights.  He hooted at her as she opened the door.  He was more cautious than she, and he didn’t immediately leap down to the floor.  Instead he looked to Neomis, his hand extended out to him, palm up.

Neomis smiled and walked over to Membia,  he brushed the palm of Membia’s hand, “Yes young man, you may come out.”  Membia carefully lowered himself to the floor, immediately Simbia was hugging him and they rolled onto the floor together, excitedly hooting.  The other apes joined in the ruckus, and for a moment Neomis thought he would go deaf.  He clapped his hands sharply once, and immediately the apes grew silent.  “Simbia, Membia come with me.”  The two apes joined their hands and followed Neomis to the far door of the lab, using their free hands to support themselves as the lumbered along just behind Neomis.  Neomis opened the door and immediately felt the dissipation of the gravity, a relief for him, he looked over his shoulder at the two apes following him.  They had paused at the door entry.  The artificial gravity here was much closer to the levels found on  Gugulaania, but the apes had done just fine walking in the lighter gravity previously.  Neomis smiled, he knew they were curious and that the promise of some fruit would entice them.  “Darlings,” he said to them, “come and I’ll give you a treat.”

That was all it took and the two apes jumped into the hall following Neomis.  He smiled at them, the brushed past his legs, running towards the end of the corridor  It wasn’t a long hallway, but it lead to the main station hanger, where the spacecraft rested that would be used to transport them all back to the surface below in a few days.    The apes loved the adventure, and Neomis tried to let them roam around the station as much as possible.  Of course they could get into trouble, and without Mothership directly monitoring the station and servicing for immediate repairs, he had to be cautious.  But he couldn’t bear the thought of them in their little habitats for much longer.  They were already showing greater signs of intelligence, communicating very differently since the modifications.  They hadn’t yet formed the cognitive ability to form words, after all they didn’t have a voice box, but their abilities to grasp more complex phrases and words was astounding.  He sighed as he walked behind them, oh how he wished he had more time, that he would see them grow into the intelligent beings that he knew they would.  He just wished that he would be the grandfather to their children.

They got to the end of the corridor and the apes were waiting for him, hooting and calling, almost running circles around him.  “Settle down, you’ll be able to go in an play.”  He activated the artificial gravity for the hanger, waiting a few moments while the air pressure changed as well.  This space, because it was so large, was easier to allow the apes to play and run.  They would be able to hang off the shuttle craft in the hanger, and they would have access to enough space to really release energy.  Not only this, but the gravity was approximately 60% of that on Kieaa, so this would really give them a workout compared to the lesser gravity of the lab and the station in general.  Not only this, but it was a very oxygen rich room.   The apes now pulled at his hand hanging by his side.  He smiled down at them, lifting his hand to stroke Simbia’s head.  “Dear, just a moment longer.”  He smiled when the indicator light blinked, “see, there is now the right air to breath and more gravity to make you feel normal.”  He felt his own face to make sure his breathing apparatus was properly affixed.  Since they had taken the apes in a more permanent fashion, he wore it nearly all the time.  Really only his own personal lab had the mixture of air that didn’t require the mask.

“Neomis!” he heard a voice at the other end of the corridor.  “There you are!”  It was Galela.  The apes heard her too – and recognized her and began immediately to hoot and call out to her in greeting, but so great was their desire to go into the hanger they did not run to greet her.

“Galela, you’ve come just in time, I’m going to exercise these two and do a bit more work on the shuttle.”  He reached down again to stroke Simbia’s head.

“And the others aren’t worthy?”  She asked jokingly as she approached him.  She got close to him and kissed his head, ignoring the apes pawing at her as she did so.  She looked down at them, “you little beasts,” her tone was playful, “you only like me because you know I have fruit.”  She reached into a pouch at her side and pulled out fruits from the planet below, small skinned fruit that grew in vines as bunches.  They were very sweet, and the apes loved them.  She gave each ape a bunch of them.  She looked at Neomis, “You’d better let them in there or they’ll tear down the walls.

Neomis nodded with a smile, “Okay my darlings, in you go.”  He activated the door, and the air whooshed around their feet, chilled, but not stale.  The apes immediately darted into the room, carefully carrying their precious fruit, each going to opposite corners to eat the treat.  Neomis looked up Galela.  “Are you well my dear?”

Her eyes gleamed in the bright lights of the hanger, now blinking on in succession from the entrance to the back, where the large space doors stood closed.  “I’m very well.  I’ve monitored the asteroid strikes, little catastrophic damage, well at least for our troops of apes.  There will be rain and wind, but we survived with no loss of life.”  She stepped into the hanger, expecting Neomis to follow, which he did.  “There is no hope though for the elevator.  I was working with Ramudu, he had been in contact with Mothership the longest, but as you know, she’s not contacted us in nearly two days.”

Neomis nodded, “He told me though the location beacon was still active.”

She nodded, “It is, and that’s a good thing, it means that whatever is happening on Gugulaania hasn’t destroyed everything.  She turned back to him, “but it also means that we’re more alone than ever.”  She looked at the shuttle craft in front of them, ignoring the apes running around the room, “Can you fly this thing without Mothership?”  She looked back at him.

Neomis looked at the shuttle, just behind her.  He saw the apes there, running under the machine, playing near hoists holding it in place.  “I do not see that we will have any choice other than to do so.  I’ve run the simulations that Mothership provided last week, and I’ve memorized the manual controls.  Acting like flying and actually doing it are two entirely different scenarios, but I have to do it.  They,” he motioned at the two apes, “Cannot live here.”  He lowered his arm.  “Nor can we.”

She looked down at his face, her head turned sharply to his eyes.  “Don’t Neomis, don’t think about it.”

He smiled at her, he knew she hated to hear him speak thusly.  “Galela, it is simply the reality, the truth of our situation.  Our priority now must be to reconnect with Mothership, hopefully with Neomin and Normia, and to get these creatures home.  They are already changing.”  He started to walk towards the shuttle in front of them.  Galela followed him.  “Did you read the results from their intelligence test?”

“Yes, it was remarkable.  Their progress is unprecedented.  Now if only we had time to place them in the gene sequencer longer, advance their individual evolution, rather than relying on nature to take it’s course.”

“Even if we could, without the power from Mothership, there is nothing to be done.”  He stood just below the front nose cone of the craft, he reached up and touched the cool metal.  “Just think, we’ll be the first to fly one of these machines alone in nearly five hundred years.”  He looked at her.  “How did we arrive at this place Galela, how as a people did we forget everything we ever knew.  When did we stop doing, and just became learners?”

She stood next to him, and placed her hand over his, “When you have everything you need, how do you know what you are missing?”

He looked at the two apes, rolling around wrestling with each other, having found a long cloth to drape over themselves like a blanket.  “Our future in these creatures will be very different than our past.”  He smiled, “I’ve made sure to include the marker for curiosity. I want them as they evolve to long to search, to find, to discover.”

She smiled at him.  “Careful dear, don’t give them too much.”  She looked at the apes and smiled.  “Funny, they seem less beastly to me today.”

He was almost offended, but knew her humor well enough to know she wasn’t entirely serious.  “I think Galela, we might actually have become the beasts.  Beasts of complacency.  We forgot the discovery and wonder of self reliance and became too much children of science and technology.”

She frowned.  “Were we?”  She shook her head, “I mean are we?  This world below us, so full of life, of wonder.   I can’t help but wonder if this entire journey of our people all these centuries was our destiny, meant to be perhaps.”  She looked around.  “We all wonder why Mothership didn’t teach us to care for her. She could have.  Perhaps some part of her wanted us to be at this place, so as to force us to figure it out.  Maybe even she wanted us to be the parents of this new world, give life and meaning to new children.  Our world, where our lives are so old and mundane had stopped living a long time ago; Mothership knew that perhaps it was time we fade away.  It could be, in all her great power she knew that the lives we have been living for centuries was empty because we were not truly living any more, we were only existing.  It wasn’t until we arrived in this solar system that our scientists started to learn, observe, discover.  So then, I believe that on some level our extermination is the beginning of new wonder for the future children of this world.  Our time has run its course, time to let it go.”

He sighed, removing his hand from the craft, he reached up to her shoulders and turned him towards him.  “Speak not of these things my dear Galela.  Our lives, our past, it exists in our future too.  These creatures, these apes, Simbia and Membia  and all the others are not the result of complacency.  They are the result of a great and ancient people, a people who were lost but have found hope not in their own present, not in the offspring of their loins, but found hope in the future of these adopted children.”  He pulled her close to him.  “We are not lost my dear.  We’ve simply come home.”

The two apes had come over to them and had sat at their feet, grooming each other.  Neomis felt the hand of Simbia on his leg.  He knew that this was meant to be.  Galela trembling in his arms.  She was crying.

Chapter Eleven – Faces Set in Stone

2375 A.C.E

“Ben I’m telling you, we have to go to the South Pole!”  Meruna stamped her left foot in emphasis of her words.  Her hands clasped a crumpled piece of paper, a photo.  In her eyes shone a righteous indignation, a fervor that was intoxicating.

Benjamin smiled at her,  coyly.  “Meruna, Meruna,” he cooed at her, stepping up to her, grabbing her by the shoulders, fingers lightly massaging her, “calm child, be calm.”  He smiled down at her, the frown around her mouth was adorable, like the smile of a child who knows it is absolutely right, no matter the consequences or reality.  He allowed his hands to drop down to hers, still clutching the photo, “here, now, let’s look at that again.”  He pulled her hands open and lift the photo out of them.  He stepped back from her and sat lightly down in the small chair at her desk.

The reality was she shouldn’t have been in his room.  Not really, as only other men should have come in here alone, a rule established to protect women who were members of her particular sect in the Church.  He nearly smiled up at her.  He had justified allowing her entry on her own on the first day she arrived on Mars telling her, “I am no man to you Meruna. I am the voice of the holiest spirit, wind hissing from the very mouth of God.”  She nearly had fainted at these words.  Trust in him had been built from the first time he had captured her all those years ago at the hospital when he had returned from Vesta.  He had chosen that medical center because he knew that she was there, he knew Samuel’s daughter, an orphan, had found work at that miner’s hospice.  That first time he had seen her enter his room, he on the bed, nearly dead from the wasting sickness of zero gravity work, and she, a nineteen year old at the beginning of the prime of her sexuality.  He had been careful to leave at his bedside his old bible, his leather bound daily prayer book, his rosary hanging on the corner of the bed behind his head.  He had been careful to ensure that his hospital garments were bleached as white as possible. He had ensured that the lights near his bed table reflected off the sheets around him, because he knew, he knew that this girl who had never had a father, a strong male in her life, would want him.  She would want him to be that father figure, that male presence.  Oh he had planned it for weeks while still on Vesta.

He knew that it was unusual to work so frequently on mining missions in the asteroid belt, but he had been able to do it.  The days after he had been laicized and fired from the Church his rage was great and his thought was to get off world, lick his wounds, and find a way to take revenge on Samuel.  Finding work as a miner had been an easy matter, he had made several friends in the capital of Brazil, in Brasília.  His work leading up to expulsion from the Church had gained him many admirers, especially because his focus as a military priest had been to support the power and infrastructure of the  Church herself.  So many men had become wealthy and because they knew that Ben had focused on preservation of the power of the powerful, well they remembered him.  His first work as a miner had been on the Moon.  A long established mining operation, pilfering the last remnants of Helium-3, used so frequently in the fusion rockets of the inner solar system transportation systems and ships.   The consumption of this element meant the ever growing search for it, and the rocky inner solar system seemed to be prime for it.  Thus his career as a Helium-3 miner was born.  The mining foremen loved Ben; his military background meant he wasn’t afraid to take orders, but nor was he afraid to give them.  He always pushed the limits of his gear, breathing apparatus, space suits, fuel limits.  He was always on the envelope’s edge, and was always producing the highest results.  Thus when he finished a project on the Moon and applied for Vesta, they made an exception to the 1 year on as a miner, two years off.  Vesta had been especially a desirable asteroid to mine, so rich in gold and platinum that it was a number one miners request.  On his downtime when working at Vesta Ben had been researching everything he could about Samuel.  He knew that following the last battles in Paraguay Samuel had met a local woman, that they had fallen in love.  That Samuel, even though attempting to cover up this illicit affair was careless.  Ben learned that after the woman contracted cancer from the radiation sickness, Samuel had arranged for his daughter to go to one of the many orphanages created by the Church.  Ben knew that Samuel fled South America, back to Europe, and eventually to here, Mars.

Ben smiled and looked up at Meruna, drawn back from his thoughts, “So you believe this,” he motioned at the picture, “is real?”  His dark eyes flashed and his brows came down upon them.

Meruna hesitated, “I know I found it in that priest’s room with a letter from Bishop West himself.”  She sat down quickly, “Ben tell me, what does this mean?  How could something like this be here?”  She leaned forward, “I know I am called to be here for these poor lost souls, I mean looking at that priest, what’s his name, Wayne” her frowned deepened, “he looks so ridiculous with all the cosmetic work he’s had done.  Is not vanity a great sin?”  She shook her head.  “this thing,” motioning at the picture, “must be a test for us.  I have no doubt that what ever it may be, it is an opportunity for us to share the true power of the church.  No longer must we fight, for if those who doubt us, doubt our faith resist, they shall be cast aside, set afire and destroyed in their own ignorance!”  She leaned up on her elbows to stare into Ben’s eyes, “Benjamin, there in all these hundreds of years has been no evidence of other life out there except microbes and bacteria.  Nothing else has been found because we are it, we are the reason for creation and this place, Mars,” she swept her hand around the room, “is the final testament to our ownership of the universe.  It’s endlessness is only the hem of God’s cloak and we are fortunate to be swept into existence upon it.”

Ben sat back in the chair and smiled.  Ah this was a familiar story from her.  Passion for the universe and it’s expanse.  Once space exploration had begun again after the war, many scientists were certain extra terrestrial life would be found.  And they had been right, life was found all around the solar system, just none of it complex.  At first as they were able to peer further and further into the universe, many believed other intelligent life would surely be found, yet as they searched, as they listened, nothing came up, nothing was found.  The Church, because she offered hope after the war spun space as a place not to ignore, but to plunder.  Life on Earth was forever changed, nearly extinct were most sea creatures, most large animals and so she taught that God had provided the rich vastness of space as the place to refill what was lost.  That everything they ever needed would be replenished.  People in their own limited sight and suffering began to see and hear what they wanted; they were able to finally have a place to take from again, to grow rich, have resources, have power.  And the solar system began to provide this and more.

Ben stood and walked behind Meruna, gently placing his hands on her shoulders.  “Meruna, my dear, you needn’t worry about the find at the South Pole, I agree with you, it’s a test, but it’s not a test for the likes of or I, it is a test for these “priests” on Mars.”  The word priests came out sounding like it was poison on his lips.  “No doubt our beloved Bishop West is simply putting out there that this world, Mars, our home, is going to under go a trial.  The war on Earth may be over, but the war here is not.”  He leaned down, his cheek near to hers, “Meruna, I will send someone to the south pole, but you my dear have a mission here.”

She looked up at him over her shoulder, “I do?”  Her eyes curious.

“I need you to meet with the Bishop.”

She gasped, “really?”  A smile came across her lips, “He never meets with anyone anymore, not after the last attempt on his life!”  She stood, pushing through his arms over her shoulders as if they hadn’t even been there.  She spun around, “Do you think he’ll remember me?”

Ben nodded, remembering himself. It had been 2366, only a year after he had met Meruna in Brazil.  The hospital he had recovered in was still his home, but he had already worked out a plan to leave it, to head to Mars in the next year or so. He had heard that the colonization for permanent habitation had been started in earnest, and he had heard that the priest Samuel, now called, Don had applied to transfer there.  Don would have been in the second wave of permanent settlers, giving him the authority of seniority on the planet.  A position he had long relished.  Benjamin knew that Bishop West had employed Samuel, Don, to him as his first aide and as an emissary to the Mars colony Mercy.  At first the only miner going to Mars were hand selected by Bishop West, or his emissaries and so to get an assignment there was near impossible.  Generally once a miner went to Mars, he didn’t come back. It was too far, it was too expensive  and Mars was becoming a permanent job.  The Church knew this and saw it in the rosters of the returning workers.  It also knew that these men stayed longer and longer, they wouldn’t do so without some semblance of normalcy, and so they began creating that normalcy in the types of settlers going.  Trade not only of the minerals and resources of Mars was being conducted, but trade of the cultures of Earth.  The planet couldn’t be treated just as if it were an outpost on the edge of habitable space, it had to be treated like it was the center.  So when Bishop West came to Brazil he was there not to recruit for new miners, he was to recruit for women, children, bakers, bankers, doctors and entertainers to go to Mars.  The day the Bishop had come to the hospital was the day that Meruna had embraced the life of a holy woman.

Ben had been watching the Bishop’s entry to the hospital from an upper window down on the plaza leading into the main entrance.  He didn’t think the Bishop would know him, and even if he did, he doubted he would recognize him.  Space changes a man, ages him, hardens him, freezes him, boils his blood.  But Ben wasn’t sure that the attendants with the Bishop would be so blind.  Instead, he watched.  Telescopic binoculars give him the closeness of view he needed and the audio device planted in his ear, feeding off of Meruna’s own bible transmitter gave him the sound.  With Ben’s coaching and influence, Meruna had been selected as one of the young woman to present a gift to the Bishop, the rare manakin feathers laced into the chain of a rosary whose beads had been made of polished ivory.  Ben remembered the exchange of the two Meruna first to the bishop.  “Your excellency, I present to you this simple gift of prayer, the words of your lips to recite and echo the trials and tribulations of the Blessed Virgin.”  She passed the rosary into his hands.  The Bishop, a fat man, grotesque and know by most priests to be obsessed with young girls leaned in close to her, drawn by her innocence, her beauty, “Daughter, such a gift.”  his fat fingers caressing her cheek, “Tell me child, is it of your construction?”  Meruna, always looking for a father figure practically purred, “yes my lord, I found the feathers in the jungle, and the ivory rescued from an abandoned home.”  The Bishop grabbed her shoulders, “The jungle!  Such bravery!”  he leaned to kiss her forehead, “My child, you must pray with me tonight, on this very rosary.”  The bishop looked over at his aide with him, “Make arrangements, tonight, at the hotel.”  Meruna stood in shock, in awe at his power, his authority.  And thus it had begun, Meruna became a favorite of the Bishop then and Ben knew from that moment he could call her back to him, wherever he may go, and always have an in, a way, to be near the bishop.

Ben pulled out of his musings and looked at Meruna, standing before him, nearly floating in the gravity of Mars, “He’ll remember you, in fact I believe he knows you arrived here.”  Ben sat back down.  “Meruna,” he said softly, “sit down.”

She looked puzzled, “What is it Benjamin?”  She sat down.

“I’ve not been entirely honest with you about this priest, Father Don.”  He narrowed his eyes carefully but lowered his head so she couldn’t see them.

“What do you mean?  Father Don?  isn’t he the head priest here?”  Her voice’s timbre climbed.

“Yes, yes he is, this is true.”  Ben played off as if what he was saying was painful, and perhaps some part of it was.  “Meruna, this is the priest who falsely accused me all those years ago, back in Paraguay.”  He heard her gasp but did not look up.  Silence. Finally he looked up and saw she was crying.  “Child, why do you weep?”

Meruna was looking over Ben’s head, perhaps at a light above him, “I so wanted to like this priest Benjamin.  There’s something about him, something familiar.”

Ah of course, that was it.  “Hmm, perhaps there is Meruna. Did you meet him with the Bishop?”  Ben knew she hadn’t, by the time Bishop West was in Paraguay, Samuel, Don, had already been prepping for the trip to Mars.

She shook her head, “No, I don’t think so.”  She wiped her eyes, clearing the tears.  “I just know your faith Ben, and cannot imagine that any other person would not see it.”  She looked at the crumpled picture now laying on the table in front of her.  “I mean your faith sees through the deception of these things,” motioning at the picture.  “I saw it and immediately thought it was true, you see it and immediately take it as an opportunity to be more faithful.  This priest, Father Don, he must have been blind like I am, all those years ago in South America, to not know the truth about you, just like I don’t know the truth about this thing at the south pole.”

Benjamin, for a moment was taken back by her earnestness, her fervor in believing in him.  He felt his teeth grind in his mouth.  Swallowing he leaned closer to her.  “My child, daughter.”  Words chosen because of their power, “your wisdom is like the brightness of the sun.  Father Don indeed is mislead, but we shall guide him to the truth, but first Meruna, we have to guide the Bishop.”

She looked startled, “The Bishop?  But he’s so wise, so holy.”

Ben repressed his chuckle, and instead cleared his throat before continuing, “Indeed, he is child, but even he needs guidance.  For I believe he does not see this object found at the south pole as a test but rather as the truth.  We must guide him, show him that the find on the south pole is no more an object of alien design than the very stones and sand of Mars herself.”  He leaned back, “Meruna, do you remember the rosary you gave him, back in Brazil?”

Meruna paused, “The Ivory one?”  Ben nodded, “Yes, I suppose so.”

Benjamin, reached into his front shirt pocket, pulling the rosary out, the feathers nearly bald, but the ivory shining brightly in the LED lights of the room.  He slid it on the table towards her, over the photo of the object at the south pole.  “you must return it to him.”

Her eyes widened, “But how?”  She stopped speaking for a moment, lifting the rosary, “Will he even remember this?”

Benjamin nodded, “yes, according to my sources, he had lost it some years ago, it had been his favorite thing from Brazil.” He didn’t tell her that she had been his favorite thing.  “There’s more.”  Benjamin stood and went to a drawer in the wall, opening it he pulled a long bag out.  He carefully laid it on the table.  “In this are the feathers needed to recreate the rosary.”

Meruna’s eyes widened even further, “but, but, how?” she sputtered.

Ben smiled as he sat back down.  “Museum find.”  he shrugged.  “It is not important, what is important is that you must give this to the Bishop tomorrow, after the mass, before dinner.”  He reached over the table and took her hand, pulling it away from the rosary beads.  “Meruna, we have the chance to restore the Bishop’s faith.  We have the chance to light a fire in all the faithful here on Mars, and from Mars, we have a chance to renew the faith of the galaxy.”

She stared at him, her eyes bright.  “And what of that priest Don?”

Ben smiled a crooked smile, “Oh his faith shall be tested.  He will either survive the test.”  Ben stood up to go behind her again, pressing his hands on her shoulders, “or he’ll die.”

She froze beneath him, becoming nearly solid for a moment.  “Die?”

Ben pulled her out of the chair, gathering the feather bag and picture, pressing them into her arms.  “If he has no faith, then he is already dead.”  He kissed her forehead and guided her to the door.  “Go Meruna, rest, pray.  Create that rosary.  Tomorrow shall be your day.”  She nodded, stumped as to what else to say.  She started out the door, then spun around to him.

“Benjamin?”  she asked.

“yes Meruna.”

“Will you pray for me?”  she shook her head, “no not for me.”  She stepped close to him, “will you pray for Father Don tonight?”

His eyes flashed and he fought to control himself.  “I’ll pray tonight, don’t you worry.”  He kissed her forehead again, “Go child.”  He pushed her out the door.  “Computer, seal the door.”  the lights flashed and the doors sucked itself closed.

He looked around the now empty room, her scent still filling it.  He shook his head, “damn that girl,” he thought.  He sat down at the desk and opened his computer monitor.  He pressed the screen.  “Computer,” he said, “call Father Wayne.”

After a few moments Wayne appeared on the screen.  “Are you insane, this can be traced!”

Ben didn’t smile or respond back.  “What does Samuel know?”

“Samuel?”

Ben glared, “Don.”

Wayne looked as relieved as he could, “Oh him.  I don’t know, he seems to know a lot about the South Pole.  He knows a lot about you…..”

Ben snarled, “knew!”

Wayne was taken back, “what?”

“He knew a lot about me, past tense.  he knows nothing about me for twenty years!”

Wayne nodded, “yes, I suppose so.  Anyway, he seems to think you’re someone’s puppet he called you a hydria.”

Ben smiled, “Mythical creature, hard to kill.  Appropriate.”  He leaned close to the screen, “What else?”

“He knows something is up with Bishop West.”

Ben’s eyes widened, “Like what?”

Wayne leaned away from the screen, as if trying to get away, “He didn’t say, just that this was all related to the find at the south pole.  I told him I didn’t know anything.”

Ben nodded, “You don’t know anything fool.”

Wayne tried to look annoyed, “Look, I’m trying to play this cool, Don may not be the brightest bulb but he’s no dummy.”

Ben glared, “Don’t underestimate him, he’s smarter than he pretends to be.”

Wayne looked over his shoulder, as if someone were coming in his room, “Look we shouldn’t talk on these things, you don’t know if they’re being monitored.”

Ben didn’t react, “Look Father Wayne,” he hissed the word father, “You have to get Meruna in to see the Bishop tomorrow, make sure he’s ready.”

“What do you mean?”  Wayne looked puzzled.

“Just make sure he’s ready for a beautiful girl, that he has time alone tomorrow night.”

Wayne nodded, “I’ll make sure.”  Wayne looked again over his shoulder then leaned in close to the monitor, “Is what they found at the south pole real?”

Ben glared and without answering disconnected the communication.  “Idiot” he said out loud.  He noticed a piece of paper on the floor, the picture, it must have dropped when Meruna left.  he swooped down and picked it up.  He looked at it again, frowning.  He brought it beneath a light, and then noticed something he had missed before.  In the lower left hand corner he noticed an image, carved into the stone, the face of chimpanzee or some other similar ape.  He gasped, “What the hell?”

Chapter Ten – Hope is Found

Date 6,253,101 B.C.E.

Neomin pushed himself upright from the floor.  He hadn’t expected to thrown so suddenly to the ground when the power went out, he had been up on a short ladder adjusting his telescope when the power failed and then found himself slammed to the ground.   He must have lost his balance on the ladder – something that surprised him as he had never fallen, but the power going out, the air escaping around him, the sudden biting cold.  He looked around, a few blinking lights shone out at him from various places of self powered apparatuses.  He knew he only had moments before he froze and all the air was evacuated.  Fortunately he knew the lab like his own inner eye and moved quickly but carefully to the emergency locker where he found the breathing apparatus and slipped it on over his mouth and nose slit.  He pulled a small garment on over his head and activated the heater within it.  In mere seconds he was breathing and felt the warmer garment pulse against his skin.  He fumbled around the locker for a moment, then making a small clicking sound with his tongue of satisfaction he turned the hand light on.

He shone it around the lab, he was the only one here this evening, he knew that Normia was working in sector 4A, connected to 4B.  He was in sector 3A.  Fortunately 3A wasn’t a habitat but 4B was – connected to the main living quarters.  Nearly 200 of his people were there.  He knew immediately that the power had failed, a more common occurrence in the last few months, but one usually relegated to the outer pods.  This outage was the inner sanctum, the last place thought to have enough power to last until their mission was complete.

“No time to worry about that now,” he told himself.  Neomin turned towards the main door which lead to the corridor to sector 4.  He had one thought on his mind, Normia.  “She’s powerful,” he said out loud as he pushed the manual override sequence on the door, “stronger than I, and certainly more brilliant.”   He barely felt the air move around his legs, a bad sign meaning that most of it had already evacuated.  The slow, almost leisurely warning lights pulsed down the corridor. It was only  11 meters long or so, made of a material sourced directly from the stone.  He knew that as the power faded, the molecular bindings powered by Mothership, which created the very corridors,  would break down and the structure itself would return to the sand and stone of the planet itself.   Such power his people had once had, but they had grown compliant, lazy, indulgent in the power of Mothership.  They believed that her power would not expire, that somehow, even though trapped for hundreds of thousands of years on this planet in their interstellar journey, they could make do here on this fourth planet, maybe even extend the lives of their ancestors on the third one.  He shook his head as he jogged down the corridor, oh how he missed Neomis.  The boy, no he thought, the young man, would by now have retracted the space elevator.  That elevator, another marvel of his people, technology largely lost and forgotten.  Passed literally away as his people had started to die.

How, he wondered, had his people once so powerful, so knowledgeable end up stranded between two worlds nearly fifty five million kilometers apart.  Resources not reproducible on this world, abundant and plentiful on Kieaa, yet not accessible because they had waited too long to attempt to access them.  The Mothership, strange as it sounded, had not told her children that she was dying until it was too late.

He reached the door at the end of the corridor.  He peered through to the pod, what was it, 4C he thought.  he couldn’t see lights on, and knew the power was out here too.  He glanced down at his garment, still warm, holding air against his smooth skin.  He had a few minutes at least left and the respirator would work for several minutes.  He pulled open the door and stepped into the pod.  He cast his light around the pod, this space was mostly empty, used as a meeting hall and gathering space for dialogue.   They hadn’t used it in sometime.  There were two corridors connecting to other pods, one down to pod 4B and the other connecting a great distance to 2A, where he knew power had to be on.  He almost went to 2A, but growled at himself, Normia was in 4A, he had to go to 4B first.

He mashed the buttons this time, growing more desperate as he felt the cold air of Gugulaania creeping in around him. He darted down the hallway, his thoughts racing, thinking of his own creation, evolution.  While his people had allowed their own genetics to be modified hundreds of years ago to be better adapted to this atmosphere, there were limits.  Their home world, so many hundreds of light years away, had an atmosphere similar to this world’s, at least as it had been millions of years prior.  His race had build their great Mothership as a home away from home, almost literally a living space craft. Beside her in that interstellar journey traveled thousands of other crafts, most of which were lost in some fashion or another in the many generations’ journey from there to this solar system.   He hadn’t even thought about the old home world since he was a child.  Here on Gugulaania, hey had at one time had schools and classes teaching about that world, that solar system.  His old home world was said to have been a marvelous place, ancient, but dying as its molten core had slowed and nearly stopped.  As a result of this the world had begun to loose it’s atmosphere and was too close to the central star to sustain life for long.  He knew that his home world had colonized other planets in that solar system,  but that Mothership was built so as to extend their race beyond the confines of one system.  They believed, and their technology allowed for it, that to sustain themselves as a people for an eternity they would need move out of their solar system and find new worlds to colonize.

He arrived at the next door at the end of the corridor. He wiped the frost forming at the glass window away and peered through. He could see another room, this should be pod 4B. It was too dark, but he could see the occasional light blinking at computer consoles.  He looked around the corridor he was in and found the communications relay.  He flicked a few switches but there wasn’t power.  He could really feel the cold now and knew that the small electromagnetic field generated by his tunic wouldn’t last much longer. He needed to replace the tunic, which was mean to act as a floatation device really, not a long term solution.

He pulled the manual override and felt the sudden suction of air around him as it was released from the pod into the corridor. It nearly knocked him down.  He cursed himself because he hadn’t realized this room was still sealed and that there was enough air inside to have survived, but now it was lost.  He swung the light around the room and spied on one wall the lockers, the same as those in all the pods, created by Mothership several weeks ago to provide the essentials for survival incase of cataclysmic events, just like this one.  Running to the lockers he pulled out another tunic, activated it, slipped it on after removing his current one.  There, now he had another 10 minutes at least. He pulled two other tunics out and slipped them into a knapsack hanging on the locker door.  He pressed a small button on the side of his breathing apparatus.  A robotic voice crackled, “5 minutes of full breathable air, 10 of sub breathable air, 15 of minimum sustainability. ”  Neomis frowned.  He hated to carry another apparatus as they were cumbersome but he feared he didn’t know how long he would need air.  He knew that if he were directly exposed to atmosphere of Gugulaania he would likely die, even with the tunic and mask.  He dropped the secondary apparatus into his satchel and moved on.  He spied the exit door leading to the next corridor to 4A.  He ran to the door and opened the corridor.

For a moment he allowed his hand to linger on the door, the rough sand beneath a reminder of the power of Mothership.  Her ability to reform matter from existing materials into usable shapes, forms, all of it, well it was why they had survived for as long as they had. The last of the metals, circuit boards, and other essentials elements, many of which were not found on Gugulaania, from the home world as well cannibalizing the transport ships had made the space station above Kieaa possible, but had lessened their ability to survive here.  He knew it would be a short matter of time before the walls of this city would simply crumble and melt back into the landscape.  He and his people would be lost, forgotten.

He darted down the corridor, his heart pounding.  He was cold, suddenly he realized just how cold Gugulaania was.  For a moment he panicked and thought he should go back to central pods.  But then the light of Normia’s eyes seemed to appear before him, so powerful he almost reached out.  “No you fool.  She lives still you must go to her!”  His great stride lengthened and the end of the corridor came near.

He fell over her body.  He cried out at first, not expecting it, then realizing there were likely many more to be seen in the pod.  He looked down at the large figure at his feet.  It was Soliminia, she was a scientist in charge of environmental controls.  He reached down and felt her neck, checking for a pulse.  There was none, she was frozen, almost solid.  He looked back at the door and noticed the manual lock had been activated.  “Curious,” he said out loud.  He managed to pull the lock back and the door pushed open.  The room beyond was gathering space, a communal dining room really.  Several bodies could be made out in the luminary he held.

It appeared that this room had been warm much later as the first body he contacted was not frozen solid, but he did not find any life therein.  He saw a door on the other side of the room, a central command hub console was there, he could sound the general alarm. It operated on a separate system, though he wondered if anyone was left to hear the alarm.  He shook his head, no, he mustn’t be defeatist.  He ran to the console and turn the dial to active the back up power.  It immediately came on and he pressed the numeric sequence to activate the emergency code.  Lights flashed in the dome above him, in a sequence indicating the direction to head to a still active habitat pod.  Good he thought, now, where was Normia?  He looked at the door he closest too, leading to the last pod in group 4A.  She had to be there.  He opened the door and ran into the corridor.

He was aware that the lights were telling him to go back the way he had come from, not a surprise, the group of pods at section 1 still had to function as they were not connected to this group. He knew there was another connecting corridor from the last pod to the central hub, but he was afraid of what he’d find.   He saw lights through the thick frost of the last door.  His heart raced for a moment and yes they were moving!  He forced himself to run faster, nearly falling ahead of his own feet as he pushed himself.  Finally at the last door he started to open it when he heard a voice on the other side, “Neomis!  NO, STOP!”

He sobbed when he heard her voice, “Normia!!”  He wanted to rip the door down, dart in, but he knew better.  “What happened?”

He could almost feel her smile, “Olimpia is a genius of course.  You can’t open the door until you regulate the corridor and close the other access door, did you close it as you went along?”  She knew he hadn’t, she was still his wife.

Even in the midst of the terror he felt he was still her husband, she still melted him.  “My dear I shall return!”  He ran, this time faster than before even and pulled the door closed at the end of the long corridor.  His apparatus beeped a warning, “Air levels below normal, 2 minutes breathable air.”  He had been ignoring the damn thing, lost in his panic. Grateful he pulled the other apparatus out with him, he held his breathe and pulled the expiring one off and placed the other on.  It conformed to his face and immediately the air washed over his nose and mouth. He dropped the expired apparatus to the ground.  Turning he darted back to Normia.

She stood at the other side of the door, a breathing apparatus on her face.  He could see Olimpia standing just behind her right shoulder, her long fingers wrapped around Normia’s shoulders from behind.  Their large eyes capturing the luminary in his hand like pools of precious water.  “Welcome back dear.”

Neomis smiled, “I knew you were still alive.”

Her eyes widened, “Of course, I had Olimpia protecting me.”  Olimpia nodded in agreement.  “Okay so we have an override, there is still air in the systems, it just needs a bit of power and you are carrying it with you.”

“I am?”

Normia nodded, “Yes, the luminary.  I had forgotten that they are powered by the same energy source as Mothership’s core computer. I sometimes forget how she looks out for us, offering us bits of solutions when there seems none to be found.  What you need to do is open the power coupler just on the right of the door near the floor.  Be quick, because the luminaries power supplies are minimal.”  Even as she spoke the room behind her dimmed a bit.

He reached down and opened the small access port to the power coupling.  It would power the door and air systems.  He smiled, this was brilliant.  Because all the materials were built from the same source, Mothership and her molecular restructuring processes, he suddenly remembered that all elements were compatible.  He twisted the end of the luminary and the light went out. For a moment he closed his eyes to allow his pupils to adjust then reopened them.  There was just enough light from the corridor door for him to see.  He very carefully pulled the power cell out of the luminary.  He didn’t need Normia’s guidance now, it was as apparent to him what he should do as putting his feet down to walk.  He cursed a bit as he realized this could have saved so many people, but again a sign they had grown incapable of thinking for themselves. Without Mothership telling them what to do, they almost could not function on their own.  Oh how she was missing!

He twisted the power cell, and its end cap popped off.  Inside it glowed faintly blue, a tiny bit of fusion really. Science he didn’t understand really but he knew the principal of the thing.  He glanced down at the power coupling and knew there was a junction just to the left of the door frame. He reached up and tugged the wires out – they were becoming brittle in the cold and for a moment he feared they would snap into pieces, but they were still malleable.  Tapping on the window caused him to look up.

“Be careful connecting the luminary power cell, it has enough voltage to kill you.”  Normia smiled playfully.

He nearly dropped the cell but for a moment paused, closed his eyes and turned back to what he was doing.  He pulled the connecting plug out of the coupling, pushed the wires aside and fully pulled the power cell out of its casing.  It was warm, surrounded by a membrane.  It looked like a living cell almost, pulsing with energy.  It was mesmerizing as it reminded him of the creative power of Mothership, she had given them everything, but she was no longer able to teach them anything.  He looked at the female plug in the wall, where the wire he had just removed fit.  The cell looked bigger than the wire’s male end but he knew he would have to manipulate the cell to fit.  Carefully he squeezed it into the plug, at first it resisted, so he twisted it a bit, then suddenly it clicked into the plug.  The cell fit almost completely into the coupling.  He picked up the discarded connecting plug on the floor and inserted it on top of the cell.  He was trembling, he knew that if the protective membrane burst he would be killed.  He closed his eyes and pushed.

The plug resisted, then suddenly the membrane of the cell collapsed, not breaking, but forming around the plug and its housing and a light above him came on as well as the computer console just near the door.  He didn’t immediately stand but leaned against the wall.  The rough wall felt reassuring somehow, real.  Tapping on the window moved him.

“Dear, do you mind activating the climate control?  We won’t be able to give much air, but you can at least normalize the pressure so we can open the door without loosing all the air.  Also, we’d appreciate you unlocking the door.”  Normia smiled. Olimpia hadn’t moved, her fingers still clutching Normia’s neck and shoulders nervously.

Neomin smiled, “My dear, you are dazzling in your brilliance.”  He set the program and immediately felt the air pressure increase, air hissing at the vent at his feet.  “How long do we have?”

“The power cell is good for 10 or 15 minutes I think.  We had three here and had to replace them all.  We’re down to our last one.”

“Then I shall open the door.”  he unlocked the door, and Normia was suddenly upon him, lifting him to her chest, a sob broke from his mouth and he muttered, “I knew the stars would protect my love.”  he felt Olimpia stroke his head around Normia.  For a moment he forgot they were being held alive by luminary power cells.  For a moment he felt the hope of life pulse through the bodies of these women who were his family.

Normia bowed her head down to kiss the top of his head through her breathing apparatus, “We can thank Mothership she gave great power to small things.  But the power of your love saved us.  Poor Soliminia panicked and locked all the doors as she ran. She thought she could lock out the cold.”

He looked up at her face, “I found her in pod before.  She and several others perished.”

“here too, several are dead.  I believe we are down to full power only at central pod and pod group 1.  Our time is running out.”

Neomin looked up, “But hope is not.” He pulled away from her embrace, taking her hand, and reaching with his other to Olimpia, “We must go.  We’re not safe yet.”  Together they turned and headed back the way from which Neomis had come.  Hands clutching each others, the only warmth in the cold frozen air.

Chapter Nine – Headaches

2375 C.E.

The ice back against the base of his head seemed to just amplify the pain, the throbbing, the flashes of dizziness washing over him. Don grimaced as he opened his eyes again and glanced at Wayne sitting next to him. Wayne was clutching a cup of coffee, the steam almost billowing off the top of the mug. Don closed his eyes again, and resisted the urge to slump to the ground and allow the weariness take him. He heard, and felt, Wayne turning on his chair to face Don.

“Don, tell me again why we don’t want to arrest these assholes?” Don could hear him slurp his coffee.

Don set the rag down on the table in front of him and forced his eyes open. They were in the communal cafeteria, a space now very rarely used by the general population as more and more settlers were coming to Mars and opening restaurant and cafes. Don turned and looked at Wayne for a moment, as if to size him up. He cleared his throat, which caused his head to scream louder, “There’s more here than an idle threat to Bishop West.” Don’s mind wandered back to his quarters and the recent communique he had received from the bishop. “I know this man, Benjamin. He was a priest back on Earth.” He closed his eyes again for a moment, the flashes of memories of a war were beating against his eyes with each pound of his heart. No doubt the concussion wasn’t helping the brain.

“A priest?” Wayne shook his head, “what happened?”

Don didn’t want to do this, not today, probably not ever, but he knew that if he didn’t answer Wayne’s question that Wayne would either ask until he got an answer, or research on his own, or ask the Bishop directly. Of course there was no guarantee that he wouldn’t do those things even with Don speaking to him. Don looked Wayne over closely, Wayne looked innocent enough, clutching his coffee with hands that betrayed his age. Calloused, thick skin gripping the mug. Wayne starred at him in earnest for a moment, an eye brow slowly creeping up. Don’s eyes wanted to close, his mind wanted to sleep, he fought the urge to run, leave the cafeteria, leave Mars, go back to the jungles of South America. Sighing he looked into Wayne’s face closely, “Okay, I’ll tell you what I know.”

“The war was coming to an end. I had been assigned as a squadron leader down in Argentina, cleaning up from the invasion of Brazil through Paraguay. We were assigned to round up the last commandos and robot ground troops. We were stationed just outside of Formosa, my second in command was Benjamin. He was the sort of soldier you loved to hate. Unwavering, seeing things only in black and white, Benjamin knew how to direct his men to complete an objective. He was focused on the work he did as being “right”. He was never wrong, even though others might object, in his own mind, based on orders and his world view, Benjamin did what he believed he had to do, though that might not always be the actual orders given. In his world view, his focus, his filter, Ben would not deviate from his own interpretation of goals or objectives.

Well one afternoon we had engaged a group of ‘bots, war ‘bots actually, which were really just damn armor platted guns, programmed to shoot and kill any humanoid. Our troops, men mostly, engaged them, battled for over an hour during which time we lost 3 men, but in the end we took the ‘bots down. We hacked the core computer of one, to find its program directive and source, which lead us to Mojon de Fierro, a small village closer to the border of Paraguay. The town had been sacked the day prior by the ‘bots and the place had been burned nearly to the ground. I remember a river there, Rio Pilago or Pilaga something or another, it was thick with muck, gore, refuse.” Don shook his head at the memory, an action he regretted as it made the back of his head scream. “There were a few villagers still alive, many of whom were dazed, none of whom wanted to see us. As we pulled into the village in our rovers, a few of the villagers began to scream and protest, throwing bottles and rocks. Now our objective was, unknown to them, to track down and eliminate the faction of warriors responsible for the ‘bots, responsible for the destruction, but our ability to communicate was limited as the language translators were malfunctioning and, well, the town had just been razed. We didn’t stay long, but I remember the looks on the faces of these people, hungry, frightened, alone. Something I regret to this day is that I allowed Benjamin to take the lead on the investigation; he interrogated an old woman, who revealed a rebel faction had been in the town. Finally after hours of interrogation, the information lead us to a hog farm, just outside of town. There we encountered the rebel group, the robots programmers. A fire fight ensued, involving more of the damn ‘bots, and we lost two more men. This enraged Ben, I remember him screaming his hatred of the technology, how he screamed at the ‘bots having no souls, no conscious, and that the men who programmed the ‘bots were even more wicked, more evil.” Don took a sip of cold coffee from the cup in front of him, the liquid causing him to grimace. “Yeah, evil.” He set the cup down. “So anyway, after hours, that seemed like days, we busted through the perimeter of the compound, destroyed the ‘bots and rounded up the remaining rebels.

Look Wayne, everyone in those days had guns. I mean the warring factions relied on the ‘bots to engage our troops, but all the villagers, the locals carried guns, most of which couldn’t even penetrate our armor. They were stupid hand guns that were on average a hundred years old. War had stopped being about man to man engagement, and become man to machine engagement. It was rare we encountered men wielding weapons powerful enough to do us harm. Strange, I remember often being shot, perhaps even that day by villagers, the bullets literally less irritating than the damn mosquitos. Well as we rounded up the rebels a young boy came out of hiding, he had been in the hog pen, he was screaming something in Guaraní, which none of us spoke. It turns out he was screaming for help. The kid had been holed up in the hog pen with his dog, who had been shot by a stray round and was dying. This boy, running towards us was clutching a gun, an antique gun, more like a toy. Everyone had a gun, everyone.” For a moment Don closed his eyes.

Wayne shifted on his seat, uncomfortable in the long silence. “Don?”

Don looked at Wayne, “yeah, well anyway, Ben was still the lead. I remember him jumping down from the rover, a side ‘bot with him, for protection. He stormed up to the kid, who was crying, hysterical. The kid raised his gun, pointing back to the pen, screaming, ‘help my dog, she’s dying.’ Ben pulled his pistol, put it to the kid’s head and blew his brains out.” Don shuttered. “The ringing of the shot made time stand still, or so it seemed. When I realized what had happened I relieved Ben of command. He protested of course, screaming that this was war and anyone foolish enough to attack the Church, her priests, her people, were war criminals.” Don took another sip of the coffee. “Those days were the worst for us, rounding up the stragglers. Those last remnants of protest. Boys like the one we killed that day were everywhere. Hell, most of their families had been killed from nuclear fallout, or killed because they foolishly allowed the ‘bot’s programming kill indiscriminately. But that day, in the mud, surrounded by pigs, that boy was not a threat. After the incident, and finalizing the capture of the programmers, we returned back to main base in Asuncion. Once the recordings of Ben’s reaction to the boy had been reviewed from the observation ‘bots, well, Ben had sealed his fate. With the war tapering down, people were not about to allow the Church execute children, armed or not. But rather than deal with a long drawn out trial of a decorated and respected member of the conservative clergy, we laicized Ben, fired him from command and sent him back to Brazil. That’s when I lost touch with him. I knew he remained in the conservative factions, and everyone once in a awhile his name would pop up. I left South America though,” Don paused, thinking of Meruna, “nearly 25 years ago. I worked in Europe on the clean up, reorganization and implementation of the Holy Law. My field experience translated into where I am today I guess. As for Ben, his fanaticism translated into, well god only knows.”

Wayne signed, “Don, I didn’t know combat. I grew up in Congo, and we didn’t see conflict there, nor much affect of the nuclear war for that matter. I can’t imagine how this affected you, Ben, those people.” Wayne shook his head. “Well it’s behind us now, but here we are, this guy is back in your life, and it appears he has it out for you.”

Don glanced at Wayne, not trusting his words. “Back indeed.” Don weighed what he would say next very carefully. “What do you know of the south pole here on Mars?”

If Wayne’s face could have allowed for expression he would have shown it, but as it was, with the genetic alterations, only his eyes slightly widened. “The South Pole? What does that have to do with anything.” Don couldn’t help but notice the sweat forming on Wayne’s brow.

“Well, I received some information, classified, about the South Pole, and I can’t help but wonder if that doesn’t have a connection to Ben, to these new fanatics who arrived. Look, this Ben is capable of anything, and I’m afraid he’s really only a hydria.”

Wayne shook his head, “A hydria?”

“Yeah, you know, cut off one head and two more will appear. It’s a Greek myth that the hero Hercules had to fight. I suspect that Ben is here as the result of something else, and it’s related to Bishop West and the South Pole, of that I have no doubt.”

Wayne stood up, “Hey Don, if you’re feeling better, I’ve got to get some shut eye before the 10 a.m. briefing, this okay with you?”

Don raised an eyebrow, a painful act, but necessary, “uh, sure Wayne, get some rest.” Wayne nodded and turned out of the cafeteria. Don squinted at him as he walked away, the lights flickering on with Wayne’s forward movement, and shutting off as he left. Soon, there was just the darkness. Don looked around the cafeteria, it was still empty, of course it was early, or was it late? The robot attendant behind the counter came to life and jerked towards Don.

It beeped to life, its yellow eyes flickering on, “More coffee sir.” The voice was a modulation of a man’s voice, but lacked the pitch and tone of living voice.

Don shook his head and waved his hand, “No, go turn yourself off.”

The robotic attendant paused and replied, “Thank you sir, I cannot shut down so long as you are here.”

Don frowned, not really ever having become used to the AI driving these machines, especially after the story he just recounted. “then I’ll leave.” He stood, and regretted that immediately. He swayed and thought he would pass out and be sick at the same time. He could hear the robot hum, activated further by his movement.

“Sir, are you ill? I shall call for medical assist immediately.”

Don put his hand, “no, dammit, just go wipe down a table, I’m fine.” The machine seemed to comprehend, and took no further action. Don stumbled back down the corridor to his chamber. he wondered as he walked if the lights would be working or not, but those fears left as each panel came to light as he passed. Finally coming around the corner to the resident chambers he could see a block of light spilling out of a room, his. He growled a bit and pulled his gun from his holster, grateful that Ben and his cronies had returned it to him. He slowed his pace as he approached the room.

“Anyone here?” he called out. “This is Father Don, Priest of the Church, identify yourself.” He arrived at the doorframe, not yet able to see in the room. He couldn’t hear anything, shook his head – again regretting that motion, and jumped in front of the door frame so as to look in.

The room was empty, as he had left it before his abduction. Glancing around and not seeing anything he holstered the pistol. He ran his hand through his hair, surprised he was sweating. “Computer, full illumination.” The room grew much brighter, enabling Don to see all the nooks and crannies of the tiny space. “Computer, normal illumination.” the room dimmed slightly and Don stepped in fully.

Looking around he spied his small desk and folder there, the one he had received a few days prior. He looked back at the doorway. “Computer, seal the room.” The lights flashed and the chamber door sucked shut, the air hissing as the room was sealed. “Computer, lock the door.” He heard the lock fasten and in the same motion pulled his gun and holster off his hip, setting them down on one of two chairs at the desk. he sighed, reached over and flicked the switch to turn on the water. For a moment nothing happened, then remembering the water restrictions he cursed under his breath. “Damn.” He reached into a cabinet above the sink and pulled down a small bag of water. He tore the corner of the bag open with his teeth, plugged the sink, and poured it into the basin. He splashed the water on his face, his neck, savoring the cold wetness of it. He leaned heavily on the sink basin, exhausted, unable to move for a moment. He looked over and down at the folder and frowned.

He immediately knew it had been tampered with and he moved away from the sink and sat down at the desk with the folder in front of him. He opened it and flipped through it. At first he didn’t know what was missing, he had been looking at it and the documents in it for hours but then it hit him, the picture was gone. He stood up, like a rocket, and groaned, his head not liking the abuse. Damn it, he had been so careless. For a moment he didn’t know what to do, he looked around the room frantically. He almost smiled, maybe everyone knew about the south pole, certainly Wayne knew something, of that Don was sure. Benjamin knew, he had said as much but didn’t tell Don specifically what he knew. Who else? Why would Ben come back to his room to take only the picture? No, it couldn’t have been Benjamin. Someone else, but who?

Don glanced at the main computer terminal, right, the visual recordings might have been working here, after all, the lights in his room never went off. He began to type furiously on the touchpad, bringing up the security footage. “Computer, review hours of 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., fast forward 16 times speed of normal.” The images blurred, nothing happened, then at 3:38 she stepped into his room. There was no audio, but Don felt weak, weaker. “What….?” he muttered out loud as he watched Meruna slip into his chamber, hesitantly. But then, clearly she saw the folder on the table and seemed drawn to it, like a moth to flame. She went through it, the picture falling out of the folder and on the floor, in near slow motion. He watched her pick it up, read the materials, put them all back together and on the desk, then he watched her start to leave, turn around and come back, taking the photo and running out of his room.

Don sat back down, hard. What was she doing in his room? Was this all a set up? What the hell was happening? “Think Don” he said to himself, “think.” Well the secret in South Pole wasn’t as much of a secret as Don would have liked. He was schedule to go there in two days on the planetary flier. The flier was a small hover craft that allowed local planet travel. It was a small craft, designed only for up to five passengers, but it was incredibly fast, efficient, and most importantly, discreet. He typed at the screen to the computer console bringing up the transport schedule. Good, no new arrivals for over a week. He scrolled through then his smiled. Ah, yes, perfect. The Electrotrak went there too, but this journey generally was unmanned, though on occasion it was used to take miners to the south pole. This colony was located just south of Sinai Dorsa, the journey via Electrotrak would take several hours, but should be doable, and Don could go without anyone knowing.

He stood again, pulled off his shirt, opened the wardrobe and pulled out a fresh shirt, this one lined with environmental controls. The plan was forming quickly in his mind, he would go down there today, on the next Electrotrak transport to the South Pole. He opened another drawer and took out a small helmet, designed to survive the Martian atmosphere for a few hours. Ah, gloves and boots too he thought. He pulled out all his gear, the pounding in his head fading away, driven back by adrenaline. He could sleep on the Electrotrak, if it didn’t break down. Yes, this was his plan. The south pole, he’d see for himself what was there. As he gathered his gear, he opened one last drawer in his wall closet, it contained a small rifle. This was one of the most powerful weapons on the entire planet, only four of them were here. A nuclear gun, it fired a small nuclear charge, a contained blast that evaporated its target. They had been banned at the end of the war, but as Mars was being settled, Don had managed to smuggle the four of them on the planet. He had one, Wayne had one, Bishop West and the forth was still on planetary rover, hidden.

His environmental suit complete, the weapon carefully hidden in a large duffle, Don stood at his door. He knew he was being impulsive, but something told him in the back of his mind, he had to go to the South Pole for himself. “Computer open door.” The door hissed open, lights flashing. He paused, “Computer, delete all video and audio recordings.”

The computer spoke back, “Define parameters.”

“Computer, delete all video and audio recordings of habitat of Father Don Wesley, clearance code Samuel Alpha Seven.”

The machine spoke again, “Confirm, deleted.”

Don smiled, at least the day hadn’t been boring. He turned and ran towards the Electrotrak junction. Not one bit.

Chapter Eight – Simple Simians

Date 6,253,101 B.C.E.

She clung to his neck terrified.  He felt her fingers digging into the skin on his back.  Her face pressed up and under his chin, as if to hide from the sights and sounds around them.  He could barely hold on to her, but in some way, her trembling brought him great comfort.  The flashing of the warning lights all around them was a dazzling effect, and if it weren’t for the klaxon alarm sounding, the lights would have been pretty.

“Come now Simbia – be calm.”  He stroked her back with his free hand; his left arm cradled her bottom as he attempted to hold her.  “You’ve seen these lights before.”  She whimpered and nuzzled even deeper into the skin of his neck if that were possible.  Neomis smiled to himself, and for a moment allowed the simian to cling to him for comfort.  Simbia had been taken up to the space station as an infant along with her mother.  Her mother, still alive, was currently back on the planet, nursing into health another infant she had recently given birth too.  Both these children apes were critical to Neomis and his crew signifying a culmination of study, genetic coding and hope.  Finally the lights and alarm stopped, and for a moment, the absolutely deafening silence startled him.  He reached up to the computer display flashing a small yellow light just above his head, the communicator device.  “Galela, has the elevator been completely disengaged.”

The computer cracked with static for a moment, no doubt an effect of the energy discharge from the activity directly affecting the exterior of the space station.  “Neomis, check, all systems clear.  The elevator has disengaged.”

He bit his lip, reattaching the elevator in next several orbits would be near impossible without direct support from the Mothership on Gugulaania, well they’d have to do the mathematical equations with the smaller computers, and oh forbid, use their own minds.  He smiled a bit and stroked the fur of Simbia gently for a moment.  “Thank you Galela.” He clicked off the communications display and turned to the view screen.  The bright planet below them shined brightly and beautifully.  “Oh Kieaa, you brilliant ball of water.”  The ape he held shuffled beneath his chin and he knew she was looking around the room.  “See Simbia, I told you things would quiet down.”  He pulled her away from his check and neck.  The ape looked nervously around the room, but she no longer trembled.

They had discovered this particular group of simians several years ago, smaller than some of their nearest cousins, but upon discovering them and observing them in their natural habitat in the thick lush forests of the large continent, nearly the largest on the entire planet below, the team realized they were on to something.  The first thought had been to develop a genetic sequence to alter their own codes so as to develop the muscular and skeletal structures better suited for the high gravity of Kieaa below.  This had proven to be difficult and after the first attempt to splice their genes and re-encode them resulted in crippled scientists, they went a different route.  The entire last few thousand years had been about adapting to this foreign solar system.

Neomis walked toward the lab just through a small airlock connected to the observatory he normally worked in.  He closed his nose slits to the stench.  The apes, while quiet nice, still smelled too much of their own skin, their feces, their hair.  Neomis and his people were nearly odorless, their skin shed in large sheets, not in small, nearly invisible scales like these simians.  And the hair, well, he just didn’t know what to do about the hair.  The small robots he employed to clean the lab were constantly sweeping, cleaning, vacuuming, but were never able to really keep up with the hair and skin dust shed by these animals.  He turned back to the small hatch connected between the two spaces, and slowly the door closed.  He entered a code, and the pressure of the space immediately began to increase, matching the air pressure of the world below him.  He then walked over to the to small computer station and entered the code for the artificial gravity matrix to engage.  They had been working very hard to ensure that the apes who were on the station, right now nearly 100, were fully immersed in a climate as much like that of the world below for as long as possible. In fact, Simbia being taken out of the lab and into the observation pod was frowned upon, but he could not have resisted her crying.  He gently allowed her to shuffle into her holding cage, lined with soft cloth.  Fruits and vegetables harvested from the planet lay scattered on the blanket, forgotten in the alarm.

Ah the compassion.  They had studied so many apes on the world below, and this one species in particular seemed to be naturally coded for compassion.  These animals, if they should be classified as such, truly represented amongst the simians found on Kieaa, as much a like acting creature as Neomis’ own people.  Neomis smiled, when they had first started exploring the genetics and behaviors of the animals on Kieaa, they at first were concerned, it was very much observed that many mammals here were focused on survival, categorically only interested in their own group, not interested in exploration outside their familial group.   But these apes had exhibited such tenderness with each other, working in harmony to create a safe haven for their young, their aged. It was a more feminine driven culture, much like his own, well or least the lines between male dominance and female subservience was much less.  In observing so many of the other simians, even the smaller monkeys, they noticed a strongly male driven genetic and probably evolutionary trend.  Based on their own society, these simians, of which Simbia was a member, felt more like kin than not.

He thought of the first simians they had hoped would be recipients of the genetic coding and growth manipulation.  They were the largest group, strong, community oriented but driven and controlled largely by their dominant males.  Neomis laughed out loud as he secured the rest of the cages with apes.  Some watched him brightly, fingers extended through the wires.  He brushed their fingers with his as he passed, thrilled to have this contact with these animals, no, he thought, these children.  His laughter arose from the first time they had attempted to capture the large simian.   They had underestimated the amount of tranquilizer needed to put them into their sleep.  Loading the first large male they had captured onto the elevator then only 20 meters or so above the ground it had begun to wake up. Fortunately it was still groggy, but before they were able to subdue him again, he had nearly destroyed the elevator.  Fortunately the biomechanical suites needed for his people to effectively move and breathe on Kieaa had protected them from his rage, but it took many days of convincing the other scientists to try again.

He stopped and looked back at the small clutch of apes here on the lab.  All these simians had been already modified, genetic, DNA markers unique to his people now encoded on the apes.  They wouldn’t start to see noticeable evolutionary differences for a few generations, and if allowed to take its natural course, likely millions of passes around the system’s central star.  But they would not have to wait so long to share their lives, their history.  His people had long known the process to speed the evolutionary growth and development.  A shame that the breakthrough on the genetic markers in the Kieaa apes had only just been discovered.  The many attempts for years to accelerate their evolution using genetic manipulation had ended horribly for many of the poor animals.  But then the right coding sequence had been stumbled upon, after years of experimentation, trial and error.  The issue had been in sequencing the proteins.  Oh how different were the proteins of Neomis’ people from these animals on Kieaa.  Yet, and that was the excitement, they shared so much in common.  Yes Neomis knew they lacked the hair, and similar skins, but they shared eyes, retinas, noses.   Yes, they were mostly the same, really.  He knew that this solar system was generally young, certainly compared to their home.  These little animals, would, or could very likely become much like his own people in 15,000,000 years or so.

He flipped off the lights to the habitat, set the timer that would change the gravity once he exited.  Glancing over his shoulder he smiled.  Now, to study the method to enhance the genetic changes so as to drive the genetic changes embed in the apes.  The door lock silently closed behind him as he glided back into his observatory.  He could still smell Simbia on his skin and found hairs stuck to his tunic.  He gently brushed them off and sat at his computer.  He flicked a switch and the entire floor seems to disappear beneath his feet revealing the world spinning below him.  He loved the thick glass that sat beneath his feet.  A feature added at his request when the station was first being built in orbit from the Mothership shuttle.  The shuttle still sat docked against the station, but with the suspended particles that sat between the thick layers the glass and the outer transparent metal hull worked to allow the room to be closed to the world below, or now, as he generally liked it, transparent so as to give the effect of floating in space.  He couldn’t allow the lab to appear transparent with the apes in the room; they could not have handled the affect it would have on their depth perception.

He signed and flicked the communicator located in the overhead console, “Galela?”  There was not response immediately, so hit pressed the button again, “are you back?”  The door on the far side of the observatory slide open as if in response.

“Neomis, I am back.  I have been for hours.  Sometimes I think you’re more worried about the simians, Simbia, than any of us here.”  Her lips contained the hint of a smile and Neomis knew she was teasing, mostly.

“It’s the hair.  If only you had that fine coat of hair, then I would be more inclined to pay attention to you.”  He blinked slowly on purpose as she glided across the lab in the gravity free environment.  She glided to him her long fingers outstretched so she would not bump into him.

“Hair?”  She smiled now, fully.  “I’m find it in everything on the station, the purifiers cannot keep up.”  She righted herself up next to him, bigger than he, but somehow appeared more slender.  Her exquisitely long fingers stroked the side of his face as she came to rest.  “Surely Neo, you find me beautiful for the light in my eyes and not the surface of my body.”

He reached up and stroked her fingers, “The light in your eyes illumines this world brighter than its star.”  He pulled himself upright; slouching had become a habit as he had observed it in the apes.  “So the meteor, will it hit the surface?”

She looked down at the world swirling beneath them.  “I’m afraid so, fortunately it will strike in the large body of water, there, that ocean.”  She pointed at the world beneath them.  “It will be near the equator, though I think the damage will not be as catastrophic as first believed, however, the resulting tsunami will affect much of the coast, including ours.”

He looked up at her, surprised she said the word ours.  He looked down, the continent they had been working on, large, was cradled by the equator.  It was a fertile part of this world, green in most places, cutting through its thick forests were many rivers and tributaries.  They had discovered their group of primates inland, just south of the equator and large river. On the north side of the river other primates had been discovered, including the large brutes that they had first experimented with.  “Will it affect our group?”

She shook her head slowly, thoughtfully, “No, I don’t believe so.  There may be some flooding along the river, but since the asteroid will not strike the solid land it shouldn’t create the winter affect we feared. ”  She looked at him closely, “Our people back home, they will be affected by an impact.”  She reached down and typed something on the computer. Suddenly the floor flickered and the bright orange red glow of their adopted home world came into view.  He could see the last habitat city located just south of the equator there.  She typed something else on the screen, and a red dot lighted up just south of the facility.  “There, that is the impact.”

He pushed away from her, gasping, feeling as if he were going to fall through the floor to the image of the world below.  “That’s nearly on top of them.  Is there nothing we can do?”  He felt tears burn his eyes suddenly.

She turned the map off and Kieaa appeared alive beneath their feet again.  “No.  They cannot survive.”  She floated to him, “We can ask them to try to take the last shuttles to the south pole to join the Mothership, but without the habitat, and the loss of power, the lack of water or the resources to make water, they have little chance of survival.”  She reached out and grabbed his shoulders, “there’s more,” she pulled him towards her, “there was major power loss in the central part of the habitat last night, we’ve not heard from them for hours.”

His head jerked up, “What?  Why was I not informed of this?”  He started to push her away.  He floated to the computer communicator again and began to furiously enter the communication codes.  “Neomin, repeat, Neomin, this is Kieaa station two, are you reading me?”  He waited a moment for the transmission to spread out the 55 million kilometers, processed by the last quantum communicator in the solar system.  Nothing.  “Neomin, Normia!”  He was frantic, an unusual state for him.  He looked at Galela, “We must try to reach them!”  He looked at her, eyes pleading, desperate.  For a moment he felt like the simian in the room next door, terrified, powerless, alone.

She reached out to him, “Your mother is the most intelligent person I know, that we know.  She knew the systems were failing as they’ve lost most of the habitats in the region.  I’m certain she had a plan, and this is a temporary glitch.”  She sighed deeply, looking at the world below.  “Neomis, no matter our actions today, they only have a few days left, their world is doomed.”  She did not look at him as she said this.  “We are doomed.”

For a moment his rage, his fear, his grief overwhelmed him, but he followed her eyes to the swirling blue and green planet at their feet.  “Our children, those hairy, smelly little beasts keep our doom at bay.”  He reached up to her, his hand on her arm.  “We will keep trying to reach them, you know I must.”

She smiled, “We knew this would be hard, but here, you and I and the rest of team, and these,” she looked at the animal lab door, “our hairy, smelly little beasts, must now be all we consider.  Once the asteroid strikes we will be hard pressed to reconnect the space elevator, if we can at all without Mothership.  But,” she emphasized feeling him tense, “We have other alternatives, the shuttle is one of them.”

“The Shuttle!”  Neomis righted himself, “we could take it to the home world…….” he tapered off, “but we would be too late wouldn’t we?”

She smiled sadly, “yes, and then to what end, it would be our doom and that of our future ancestors.”  She pulled him close to her, “be strong Neomis, for the future is near and the world is ours.”  She kissed the top of his head, allowing a tear to fall on his smooth cranium, precious water on the home world, here, just another drop amongst many.

Chapter Seven – Faith Questioned

2375 A.C.E

The room was quiet.  Well no, that wasn’t true.  It was quiet of the sounds of humanity, but the roaring of technology was nearly deafening; buzzing hums of various computer consoles, lights, even the floor.  There was a strong hissing sound, probably the air regulators.  And sometimes, upon concentrating one could hear clicking sounds, like the cogs of a wheel.  She didn’t know what that was.  But the room was quiet, at least of humanity.

She turned over on the hard thin mattress attached to the bunk.  It was a rarity that new arrivals had single rooms, but Benjamin had ensured it would so for her.  The low light coming from the door panel, the computer console across the room, cast enough illumination that she could make out the details of the room.  She cast her glance around the space, a wrinkle appearing above her brow.  The space was small, not much bigger than eight meters square.  A small chair snuggled against the wall below the main computer monitor built into the wall.  There was a small table that folded from the wall near the chair, to be used for eating or work.  Her relief facilities were a small metal toilet that pulled out of the wall, then retracted.  A small sink sat opposite the toilet, metal, dull, brushed metal of some sort.  She had tried the sink almost immediately, but water was rationed and only flowed for an hour in the mornings, she’d have to wait to drink from there.  A small chest sat beneath the sink, to hold personal objects.  She immediately placed in it her meager possessions, a scripture book, her robe, her head wrap and a faded, yellow picture of a priest.  The corners of the picture were white lined where they had folded.  Usually all imagery was contained in digital content – few, if any actual pictures were produced anymore on Earth with the tree shortage.  This one had been in an archive of priests, Benjamin had it; he gave it to her nearly three years prior, when they met on Earth while he recovered from zero gravity at Vesta.

She turned from her side onto her back, looking up at the ceiling.  She had been working as a volunteer at the medical unit that offered free recovery services to miners returning from the asteroid mining camps.  Most men never came back, the cost for the return trip was too great, often many of them died there or came to Mars to continue working as miners.  Benjamin, though, he had been to the asteroids and back; and now, he was here, on Mars. He told her it was God’s will he was able to travel so freely in the solar system, that he was a messenger of change.  She believed him; perhaps it was his dark eyes, deeper than their depths first revealed.  It was his soft voice, so soothing.  It was his past, a righteous man thrown from his ministry by a politically correct and politically corrupt church.  Inspired by greed, not by god.  The war had ended but with so many wars, its effects lingered.  Rebels, insurgents, criminals, opportunists all came bubbling up around the world.  The Church, rising in power flexed her muscles, and her troops became her priests.  Warriors as much as clerics, and then finally, just warriors.  Benjamin was a warrior, not just to fight; he was a warrior of his faith, of her faith.  She sighed deeply, yes, Benjamin, he was her warrior, her knight.

She sat up on the bed, the sheet falling off of her, and immediately she felt elated. She knew it was the effect of the weaker gravity, but she found it invigorating.  Strange, so many people struggled with adapting to the weak Mars gravity, she felt like she was floating.  She had chosen to wear only the foot forming sandals designed to interact with the electromagnetic floors.  It made walking feel like she was wading in a shallow stream, pulling her legs up and out of the water.  She loved it, her body felt light, her arms floated at her side.  She smiled a crooked smile and slide off the bed and into the sandals.

“Computer, illumination.”  The room flickered into light.  It was quiet and the humming lights helped build the cocoon of quiet.  She pulled her loose forming robe onto her shoulders.  She then put on her head wrap, tucked her hair under it.  She glanced around the room, it was liberating to be here she realized. She didn’t need anything other than what Benjamin gave her.  This was freedom she sought her whole life, liberation from fear, worry, darkness.  She knew she was steadfast in her faith and this was the place that her faith could be as free as her body, not weighed down by any burdens, natural or otherwise.  She snapped the top bottom of her robe closed, grabbed her prayer beads from the top of the small folding table and went to the door.

“Computer, open the door.” The flashing green lights startled her; she smiled at her own silliness. The hissing sound of air moving in and out of the room lifted her robe around her, she imagined for a moment she was a dervish, and for a moment she was tempted to twirl in the cold stale air.  The door sucked its way open and she slide past it in motion.  The lights on the floor blinked on as she stepped on it.  This too made her smile.  Back on Earth she had lived in a small village on the coast in Uruguay.  The fallout from the radiation had caused much of North America to inhabitable and her family, her adopted mother and father, had wandered South America looking for a home that offered refuge and safety.  Finally escaping the chaos of Brazil they settled in Uruguay.  It was there that Meruna found her faith at a young age of only 18, she had a job working at a hotel that catered to Church troops and then met her first priests.  Of course in their uniforms they were striking, but it was the order that they were bringing to the region following the upheavals and war.  One young priest, Father Phillip, had been a guide and saint to her.  He encouraged her to join the missionaries who supported the Church’s working people, mostly miners, some space explorers, the working class left to manage tasks and operations that were deemed too important to leave to the robots.

As she wandered down the long, narrow and cold hallway of the habitat unit, she wondered how, in the 10 years or so following her first meeting of priests, she came to know Benjamin.  He was so thin when she first met him.  His muscles had nearly wilted away from his body after he had worked on Vesta.  She first saw him lying in a bed so alone; it was like he was the only person in the entire universe.  His body seemed to radiate light, even in the hospital bed.  She had only just volunteered at the miner’s hospice.  Most of the miners here had come from Vesta, though a few were the last miners to work on the moon. Those men, very old most of them, quite often were blind as they weren’t given proper visors when working on the moon’s surface.  But Benjamin – his eyes, his dark, piercing eyes glowed with a fire that illuminated the room, his illness seems a minor inconvenience, like a piece of gum on a shoe.  When she came to his bed, a small glass of invaluable water shaking in her hand he had looked at her. No, he had looked in her, to her soul.

“Come close girl,” he had grumbled at her.  His gravelly voice still sounded fresh to her, in her memory.  She remembered she had the water held out in front of her, like a shield that some sort of knight would have held to battle a dragon.  She remembered his wry smile. She remembered his rough, calloused hands closing over hers holding the glass.  She remembered his words, “Girl, for I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”  She remembered the smile in the dark eyes. She remembered the rolling, fierce power in those smiling eyes.

The lights on the floor flickered a bit and when stepped on the next panel they stopped.  For a moment she felt the weakness of Mar’s gravity, weaker in darkness.  She looked back and realized she was on the hallway leading to the head priest’s chamber.  What was his name?  Father Dean…… no, that wasn’t it.  Ah, yes, Don.  Father Don.  She almost laughed as she stood peering ahead into the cold darkness.  She looked down at the panels not functioning on the floor.  Behind her she could only see a few meters from the light of the panel immediately behind her, still on.  She stepped forward and it ended its light.  For a moment her breath escaped her lips and she was afraid.  She could still hear the hum of the air movers, the electric hum of systems that seemed to be always running. She starred ahead, down the long hallway.  She stepped forward into the darkness.

At first nothing happened and she stood still, locked in the darkness, frozen.  The as her eyes adjusted she thought she could make out a faint light ahead.  She moved forward cautiously, slowly, anxious to see the light, to be in the light.  She almost laughed the story of her life.  For a moment she cursed herself, how weak she was, fearing the darkness. She knew that her lord would protect her.  She had faith she had been sent to complete a mission with Benjamin. Together they would proclaim truth on Mars.  They would destroy the lies.  As she slowly moved forward, she knew she definitely could see light, a square of it, spilling out of a door frame.  She was curious, as late as it was she had fully expected to be the only one awake.  She crept slowly, not out of fear of the darkness, only out of fear of running into something whilst walking in near darkness.

Finally she arrived at the light spilling from a doorway.  She could make out the name on the panel to the left of the door, “FATHER DON W.” She gasped.  She peered into the lighted room, “Father?” she whispered.  There was nothing.  She stepped into the small room.  She noticed his hat laying on the table by the door.  The bed in the corner was unmade.  She bit her lip as she peered around.

“Father?” she called again, this time more loudly.  There was no answer.  Looking back over her shoulder at the door she wondered where he was. She wondered why the lights on the floor panels weren’t working as they had down by her room in the adjoined habitat.  She didn’t want to snoop, but she spied on the table a folder, actual paper.  Her eye brows went up in exclamation.  Paper? Could it be?  Why she’d hadn’t actually seen paper since she was little girl, and then she saw it at the orphanage after being released as an adult.

She couldn’t help herself.  She picked up the folder and it immediately opened. A small piece of paper, no, a photo, slipped out, sailing back and forth slowly to the floor in the light gravity of Mars.  She swept down and picked up the photo, absentmindedly placing the folder onto table.  The image in the photo held her gaze and she felt weak, a stillness overcame her breathing to the point she gasped as her lungs ached for breathe.  For a moment she thought she would faint, but she held her ground.  “Stop Meruna” she heard herself saying out-loud.  “Stop.” The breathing resumed and she felt a fool for a moment.  “A test.”  Again out-loud.  She starred at the picture, “this has to be a test.”  She shook her head and opened the folder that she returned to the table.  She flipped through.  Nervously she bit her lip as she read.  She didn’t realize she was reading out-loud.”

“…..this report summarizes that the craft found at the southern pole is at least 500,000 metric tons.  It measures nearly 350 meters long by what would appear 170 meters wide.  Its height, from all apparent measurements is 95 approximate meters.  This appears to be a craft of ancient design, apparently devised for interstellar travel.  Radiocarbon dating gives us estimate of age at approximately twelve million years.  Composition of hull of craft is apparently an alloy of unknown origin. It does not appear in the current periodic table.  There does seem to be some mix of familiar elements, titanium, carbon steel, aluminum, and several other unknown compounds.  Radionuclides seem stable and below 16 millisievert.”  She trembled; she wasn’t sure what she was reading.  “We have accessed the interior of the vessel, but have thus only allowed robotic and drone craft to explore.  Power cells become drained within 60-70 seconds of exploration…..” she skimmed the rest of the papers.  “Alien origin, extraterrestrial design, advanced technology” were all words leaping out at her.  She didn’t realize that she had folded down upon herself, sitting on the cold metal floor of the priest’s room.  She noticed exterior sketches, done in the familiar fashion of robotics.  The last page was a hand written note.  She knew she should stop, but she could not.  It was dated a month prior to her arrival:

My Blessed Don,

I am certain you’ve read the reports attached herein. I have elected to include a photo.  This is of course classified until we better understand what we have found.  yet my dear son, it seems we have answered the ever elusive question, is there intelligent life beyond our star?  The microbes of Enceladus, the worms of Europa, the cave mold of this world Mars, all did not prepare us fully for the discovery here.  This craft, its origins of now unknown, indicate to us that intelligent life is not exclusive.  What is perhaps most troubling, the ancient nature of the craft.  It would appear to be at least twelve millions years ancient, maybe more or maybe less.  The depth at which it was buried is surprising.  Not just this, but found alongside this great machine, robots, not so unlike our own.  They appear to be nonfunctional, several fused into the very stone of the rock around the craft.  We have found the main hatch, which appears to lead into the heart of the craft.  Thus far attempts to explore have been unsuccessful. Our devices, powered as they are by power cells seem to drain within moments of being inside the craft.  Earth council has determined until they can send a full scientific team to research we should cease and desist any further attempts to explore.

I needn’t tell you, Father, this must remain a revelation between church clergy for now.  As you are aware, the holy council only last year released the encyclical “Solum Humana Intelligentia Est” reminding us that intelligent life, intelligent human life, was a sign of our natural and unique selection as divine children of the most high and is ours alone in the universe.  Perhaps a mistake in announcing this discovery to the clergy has been made.  Perhaps this discovery is merely an error, a non-recorded early space craft of human origins from years ago.  It is my belief, my deepest conviction, that this craft is an illusion of solar radiation, fooling our instruments and perhaps even is a natural formation, a fluke of physics perhaps.  All told dear Father, it does not matter.  Your mission, colonization of Mars and the further mining endeavor of rhenium mines is still your focus and your mission.  The arrival of the new settlers will continue so as to support the infrastructure of the colony, produce higher yielding miners and their families.

You shall hear from me soon on next actions. It is with faith I bid you adieu.  

Blessings,

His Excellency,

Bishop West”

For a moment Meruna could not see. Her eyes closed and she felt her hand involuntarily grasping the letter the paper, the valuable rare paper, crumbling beneath her grip.  This COULD NOT be.  No…. a lie, planted by the priest Don…… her chin fell upon her collar bone.  No, not a lie.  A test.  A test of faith, of her faith.  She looked up, her eyes bright again in the dim white light of the room.  She found herself smiling.  Benjamin, in his last communication had indicated that things were happening on Mars, things that would change the universe, her life; things that would set the faith free to be sole.  The one, true faith finally he had indicated would be vindicated and true for all time.  All other faiths would be left to fade into human memory.  This was the test for her, left perhaps by Benjamin. Left perhaps even by the priest, Don.  She stood, placed the papers and photo back in order, and set the folder on the table where she had found it.

She quickly stepped to the door, preparing to exit, then suddenly she spun back around and rushed to the table; she opened the folder and took out the picture.  The picture of the craft, apparently blue, seemed alive to her, at least the craft shown there upon.  She tucked the photo into her dress pocket and quickly ran from the room into the darkness, back into the light of the hall from which she had come.  She felt tears drip onto her cheek.  This was her moment, her test. This was her chance to show Benjamin just how ready she was to love her faith.  Just how ready she was to love him.

Chapter Six – Not All Hope is Lost

Date 6,253,101 B.C.E.

A rumbling beneath her feet caused her to look up from her eye piece.  Dust sparkled around her in the dim light.  The hum of the generators around her hit a higher pitched sound, followed by a buzzing, and then resumed their normal soft purr.  Satisfied she applied her eye back to the piece and looked back across the solar system.

Another rumble caused her to shift out of her chair and she knew then that the entire telescope would need to be re-calibrated.  She moaned outwardly.  The power seemed fine, at least for now, but she knew this was temporary.  Worriedly she put the cap on the eye piece, her hand resting on it, longingly.  She smiled at herself, protecting the eye piece lenses were pointless, well at least it would be.  She stroked the device and looked up at the dome above her; dim stars sparkled there, winking almost as if to say they spied her too.  She shifted her long legs off the stool she had been perched on.  Reaching above her head she stretched.  The thin garment she preferred pulled tight across her body.  Ah, she would miss having sensations.

There was a sound behind her, something dropped.  She spun around, crouching.  Standing by the door was another woman, looking embarrassed.  “Olimpia!” she called with a smile.

Olimpia blinked slowly, bending to pick up the computer pad from the floor.  “Normia – you just looked so magnificent, stretching to the heavens.”  A small smile escaped her lips, her second eyelids shuttering quickly.

Normia jumped off the platform, nearly two meters above the main floor.  She practically ran upon landing, her joints flexing like springs; reaching Olimpia she hugged her tenderly. “Stars it’s good to see you!”  She pressed her forehead against Olimpia’s, the computer pad dropping again, this time with an audible crack.

“Oh dear, ” Olimpia groaned, “I think the computer pad is cracked.” She didn’t push Normia away though, she relaxed and for a moment allowed her friend to hold her.

Normia looked down past Olimpia’s face at the pad in pieces at their feet.  “My dear, it is no matter, none of these shall remain whole if we’re right.”  She felt Olimpia flex.  She stroked her fingers along Olimpia’s back, “Don’t tense, we all know this is the way of things, we’ve done what we can.”  She reached her slender fingers beneath Olimpia’s face and tilted her head sideways.  “How are you holding up?”

Olimpia for a moment looked into Normia’s eyes, and then looked away, past her.  “We number less than 1,000 people planet wide.  Reports are coming in that the habitats have failed in most places.  Of the thirteen settlements, this is the last.”  A tear, forbidden, sparkled and rolled down her check.

Normia scooped the tear on her finger and held it up, raised above their heads.  “Look Olimpia, it inverses us.”  Their reflections on the tiny sphere blinked back, upside down.  “We have dispatched the robots; they’ve taken Mothership to the south.  They’ll begin to bury her by night’s end.”

“Without Mothership most computer systems seem to be failing, we’ve just not got the power to keep the processors up to speed.”  She broke free of Normia’s embrace and bent to the broken pad.  She began to pick up the pieces and then stopped.  “We’re the pad aren’t we?  Broken, in pieces, resembling who we were, but not able to be working or fixed again.”  She let the piece tumble from her fingertips back onto the floor.

Normia smiled sadly at her, then reached down and took her hand, “Come, over to this work station, I think I have good news.”  She pulled Olimpia with her towards a lighted computer station at the base of the telescope.  As they neared it Normia began to rapidly type on the screen.  “I was able to view the asteroid headed towards Kieaa, I am confident they will be spared the largest, a few small ones no doubt will strike, but the damage shouldn’t be catastrophic.” She smiled, “Our children there at least can survive.”  She looked up at the sky again through the dome.  “Image them, working to share our bodies’ codes with those primates.  Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a geneticist or biologist.  How adventurous, working with those incredible animals.”

Olimpia reached her hand around Normia’s waist, “They’re so hairy.”

Normia laughed, “They’re so short!”  Olimpia laughed as well, she pushed Normia around to face her.

“How long?”

Normia looked again at the sky.  “A few days, maybe a week.  I’ve rerouted the power grid to support the central command the longest, but the fuel reactors will fail.  The robots have enough power to last a century, maybe two beyond that. I’ve already programed them to shut down once Mothership is fully buried and protected.  Who knows, if Mothership is reactivated those robots will be the only beings left who know how to manage her and activate her data system.”  Her hand was absently stroking the back of Olimpia’s smooth head.

Olimpia purred and looked at Normia, “I admire your confidence that our ancestors will rise from Kieaa to return to this place. ”    Their fingers interlocked.

“Oh not just to return here, to settle the entire system. Perhaps someday, return to the home system.  Oh it was said to be magnificent, greater certainly than this rock we’re on; Our children, there with those apes is now the only hope we have Oli, just think, our children are planting the seeds of our future.  Now that they have more time, they’ll be better able to control the primate groups and direct their evolution.  With careful planning they can accelerate the evolutionary process.  Neomis and Galela together with the team will build a future, one designed to live on that third world.  Gravity will be their asset, using its power to power their machines; they will learn to use the energy of the star to build cities on all these worlds.  Hopefully they shall not make our errors.  Hopefully they’ll know peace that we have only just found.”  Normia squeezed Olimpia’s hand, their fingers intertwined. “Tell me, did you see Neomin?”

Olimpia smiled, “He was busy trying to re-energize spent energy rods.  He felt certain that the fusion drive would fire back up if he cursed at it enough.”  She smiled sadly, “It didn’t, but he looked pleased all the same to be focused on something other than worrying about Neomis.”  She blinked again, aware of the power that Normia had over her.  “You ask so much about me, how are you?”

Normia smiled sadly.  “Defeated to be honest.”  She moved away from the computer station.  “We can’t even stop a rock being thrown at us.  Just a few hundred years ago, we could have settled on the asteroid, now, we’re barely alive, and even that has an expiration.”  She walked away, her long arms folding behind her back as she walked.  “Did I ever tell you about my grandmother?”

Olimpia smiled, she had.  “No, tell me.”  She walked along Normia, her arms folded in a similar fashion.

“Grandmother was an astrophysicist; they say one of the leading in the study.  She helped developed the theory of gravity reversal.” She paused, “Shame it required all of Mothership’s processors to run.”  She paused at a desk she walked past and picked up a computer pad absently.  “Well it’s said that she devised the means to help develop the construction of the orbital craft around Kieaa.  I suppose that’s why Neomis refers to it as “grandmother.”  She was the one who theorized that the nebulas could be used as fuel sources if we could harvest the matter contained therein.  Shame that the craft sent to nebula in the adjacent solar system lost power half way there, they might have brought back necessary energy to help us continue our civilization.”  She sat on a stool at another work station; she reached over and pulled Olimpia so her hip rested against her rib cage.

“Grandmother used to say we settled here because this planet would be the cradle, and Kieaa would be our home.”  She sighed deeply, “Sadly we never managed to get out of the cradle I guess.”

Olimpia nuzzled to top of Normia’s head.  “You know that’s not why we stayed.”

Normia nodded.  “If we had more woman in charge of the ruling council, like Grandmother, we would never have even stayed in this system.”

“It was the war.”  Olimpia even felt herself clinch.  “That stupid war.”

Normia looked up at Olimpia from her stool, sighing, “The war.  What was it over again?”

“Water, it was always the water.  This dreaded planet didn’t have enough.”

“Those moons are mostly water around the sixth planet.  I don’t know what our grand families were thinking.”

“They weren’t.”  Olimpia felt uncomfortable. They didn’t normally speak of these things.  “Well they were thinking that they were out of fuel, and going to and from those moons from here with the resources left on Mothership, well, they felt they would end up stuck there, like those poor souls still observing.”

“Oh yes.  I heard that contact was lost about month ago.  I presume the orbiter has failed.  Poor dears; that had to be lonely stuck there. Maybe the quiet refuge of space is preferable.”  Normia looked again at Olimpia.  “But fortunately, the wisdom of Grandmother left us with something, it wasn’t long enough, but it was enough that we have the Kieaa craft.  It was enough that Neomis and Galela can give us hope.  Give me hope.”

Olimpia reached down pulling Normia up off the stool, hugging her; she felt Normia’s eyes brush against her neck as she rose to her full height, a small action against her skin which set her on fire.  She trembled against Normia’s body. She pulled her close, a kiss.  She pulled back slightly, “Normia, I don’t want us to end.”

Normia, reached her slender hands around Olimpia’s body, their bodies so close, looking as if they were one.  “We shall not find our ending my beloved, our genes, our history, is even now, as we speak being given.  Developed so as to succeed in this place, this solar home, so far from the light of our ancient ancestors. Now this, it will be our ancient home.”  She kissed her deeply, not noticing the flickering lights, the rumble of the generators around them.  The only purring they were aware of was each other’s.

Some hours later, as they lay against each other, covered in a blanket from rest pod, they held each other absently stroking each other’s arms.  Normia heard the generator sputter again and she looked up.  The lights on the top of the dome were off.  She sat up.

“Olimpia, quickly, we have to get out of here.”  She sprang to her feet.

“What? Why?”  Olimpia pulled herself up from the ground.

Normia pointed to the ceiling.  “This bio-dome is failing.  Quickly now, we must move.”  She looked around the room and immediately felt dread.  “Where did you say Neomin was working?”  She started towards the connection tube to the next bio-dome.

“He was in dome 3A, that’s nearly two kilometers away.  Is it just this dome failing.”  The lights all around the dome were blinking off and on.

Normia stopped.  “No, the central generator powers in all the domes in this sector, including 3A.”  She ran to the emergency locker and pulled out two breathing apparatuses.  She threw one to Olimpia, “Quickly, put this on.  We won’t be able to survive the air for more than a moment or two.”  She heard a faint sucking sound, and knew that the air in the dome was evacuating.  She pulled the device over her face, her nostril slits covered.  She clicked on the respirator.

Olimpia already had hers on.  “The entire sector is going down?”  She ran to the same door as Normia.  “There are nearly two hundred of us here, we have to warn them.”  Her eyes were all pupil.

“We’ve got to get to the next dome to sound the general alarm, there isn’t one installed here since this isn’t considered habitat space.” she pulled open the door and immediately wished she hadn’t.  The air in the room rushed out around her feet, pulling her forward. The brittle cold of the connecting hall immediately caused her eyes to tear, and then the tears began to immediately freeze.

Olimpia shrieked, a visible cut was on her shoulder from some debris hitting her.  She looked at Normia and nodded it was okay and they began to run.  Their long legs gliding more smoothly than any machine they had ever built.  The next door was only a few hundred meters, but by the time they had reached twenty or so meters both felt their joints stiffening.  Both pressed the elemental heating circuits on their tunics.  Strangely now the only light was their blinking tunics and the small headlamp attached to the apparatus.  They reached the next door and burst through.  The cold air of Gugulaania pushing around them.

The dome was completely dark, but it appeared to have atmosphere.  Normia called out, “Anyone here?”  She touched the side panel by the door, hoping the lights were just off.  The pad beeped faintly at her, one light flickered on the other side of the dome.  Several bodies lay scattered on the floor in front of her. She immediately reached down to one for a pulse.  Her head dropped.

Olimpia pulled her to her feet, “Normia, come, we cannot stay, look.” She pointed at the windows of the dome, now covered in frost, frozen.  “We will freeze, we’ve only a moment or two of power left in these.”  She tugged at her tunic and immediately began to run to the other side of the dome to the door whose shape she could barely perceive.  She was thankful for her powerful eyes, built for the lowlight conditions of this world.

Normia nodded and ran along with her.  When they reached the opposing door, it hissed open, warmer air rushing past them.  They stumbled into the hall and the door slide shut behind them.  They could feel the hiss of the air around them.  Normia lifted her breathing mask off.  “The enter dome system is failing in this section, this is only a momentary reprieve.”  Olimpia nodded and she immediately began to run to the other end of the corridor.

They reached the door and pressed the door airlock release, and nothing happened.  “What’s this?” Normia began to type on the door pad.  “These should still work, they’re powered by small units in each door.”  The door beeped and Normia’s brow furrowed.  “Why it’s locked!”  She wiped the small view window free of the frost forming and peered through.  She saw a familiar face, another scientist with whom she had collaborated the calculations of the asteroids projected path past Kieaa.

“Soliminia, open the door, we’ll freeze!”  She pounded on the door. Soliminia pulled away from the door and ran down the corridor apparently to the next bio-dome

Olimpia couldn’t see what was happening.  “Is the door jammed?”  She felt powerless.

Normia pressed a few more sequences on the door pad.  “She’s locked it.  The door is locked from the other side.”

“Well open it!” Olympia screamed.

“I cannot.”  She looked around the hallway. “Come, back to the bio-dome.”  They sprinted back to where they had come from.  This had been an art center, now a tomb.  Her tunic beeped.  “My power is out.”  She saw a body near her, wearing a similar tunic.  She ripped it from the body.  She looked at Olimpia, “Quickly, find another tunic, we won’t survive without these.” She spotted a computer console, a combination center from the looks of it.  She spied the general alert button and jammed it down with her palm.

Olimpia ran to another body pulling off a tunic.  “What do we do?”  She pulled the new tunic on, hitting the power button.

Normia pulled her respirator over her face, “Tonight love, we survive.”

Chapter Five – The Flowers of Late Night

Date – 2375 A.C.E.

He was dreaming.  There, standing in a field of flowers, bright yellow – leaning toward the sun.  He could feel the soft wind of the midday touch his cheek, blow his hair back.  For a moment he stood this way, surrounded by the fields of yellow flowers, basking in the radiation and warmth of the Sun.

There was a knocking sound – a pounding even.  The light faded and the flowers melted away into the darkness of wakefulness.  Don sat up, dazed for a moment, rubbing the sleep from his mind and eyes and heard the pounding again.

He sighed heavily – glancing at his digital clock he moaned, “2 in the morning?”  The pounding continued, it sounded like someone hammering on his door with a metal pipe.  “Computer,” he called out, “illumination.”  The lights flickered on.  Don swung his legs over the edge of his sleeping platform, feeling slightly dizzy, now the blankets were off him, he felt the full effect of the weak gravity of Mars.  Reaching down, he slipped his feet into his boots and stood.  Still disoriented he stumbled across his room to the door.

He pressed the door communicator button angrily with his thumb, “you know my communicator in room works just fine,” he muttered.

The pounding continued.  Don reached behind him off the small table at the entry way and pulled on his shirt.  He started to engage the door lock, then thought better of it, returned to his sleeping chamber and pulled on his gun and holster.  He glanced around the room again then to the door.  He pressed the external communicator again, “Look, whoever this is, I’m coming out, if you don’t have a reason to be here I suggest you leave now.”  For a moment he wished he had the external cameras installed that had been originally recommend.  “Computer, open door.”  The lights flashed again above the door and it hissed open.

For a moment Don was blinded by the lights and the rush of air coming into his chamber – the hall outside was dark, which it shouldn’t have been considering someone or something had been pounding on the door.  He pulled his gun and squinted into the hall, the light from his chamber enough for him to make out shapes.

“Alright, whoever this is, show yourself, I’m Father Don Wesley, though I’m guessing you know this.”  He stepped out into the hall, as he did so he glanced left and right, though now the light cast from his room wasn’t enough to see more than a meter or two on either side.  He glanced up at the ceiling and then down at the floor.  “Computer,” he called out, more loudly than before, “Lights on.”  Nothing.  Sighing Don looked back into his room. He could just go back in there, lock his door, put plugs in his ears and sleep, or, he could call for back up, no doubt Wayne would come or another priest.

He heard a shuffling to his left, down the hall, “Stop!” he called out, “who is it?”

A soft voice came back, a man’s voice, “Father”  Don started to walk down towards the voice past the light.

“Look you, if you had anything to do with the lights being disabled…….” he didn’t finish, suddenly he felt strong hands and arms around him from behind.  Damn he thought, fell for an easy trick.  Then everything went dark as something was pulled over his head.  He tried to struggle, but whoever held him was strong and his gun was pulled from his fingers.  “Computer” he managed again, “red….” then he was out as something hit his head.

At first all he could hear was a pounding sound, thump-bump… thump-bump… thump-bump.  It was rhythmic, soothing, but every time it thumped, he felt flashes of pain.  He wanted to open his eyes.  He wanted to go to sleep.  He wanted to be back in his bed.

As his mind cleared he became aware of a few things; he was lying on his side, his hands were bound behind him; there was something over his head, even after he opened his eyes he could not see except for light filtered through some sort of cloth; he could hear mumbling, no, whispering voices.

He closed his eyes again, the thumping emanated from the back of his head, ah right, he was struck there.  No doubt by something very heavy.  He slowed his breathing as he realized it was heavy.  The bag over his head pulled him down to the floor, the artificial gravity acting on the bag itself, it felt like he was under water.  For a moment he began to panic again.  “Calm down Don,” he told himself mentally. He knew that if he were to be missing beyond the night, people would search for him. He had a staff briefing at O- seven hundred hours, even Wayne would look for him, probably.

The voices grew gradually louder, they were coming towards him.  Don felt powerless, but his military training started to kick in, “Just be patient he told himself.”

“Get him on his feet.” A gruff voice grumbled.  Shuffling around him ensued, and he found himself being thrust upwards.  The voice again, “Stop playing possum, we know you’re awake.”  Don immediately stood of his own accord.

“Take the damn bag off my head, it hurts enough without me straining.”  Don gritted his teeth, talking made the pounding return with a frenzy.

There was a laugh, “You’re still an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.”  Suddenly the bag was yanked off.

He was blinded, and staggered for a moment as the pain shot through the back of his head and across his cranium.  “shit” he muttered.

Laughter from his captors then, “Welcome ‘Father’.” It was said with such distain that Don felt his stomach drop.  He blinked and allowed his eyes to adapt.

The room was still dark, illumined only by a few scattered lamps, mining lamps from the look of them.  He blinked again and stared at his captor, “YOU!” he gasped.

The leader of the miners, the one he had seen on the electrotrak smiled a crooked smile at him, “Me.”  His dark eyes glinted and narrowed, “Have you missed me, ‘Father’” again the distain poured from his mouth.

Don scrambled in his mind, who was this man, he had only noticed for the first time this morning on his way to greet the new expatriates.  “Look bud, I don’t know who the hell you are…..” the man’s back hand stung Don suddenly across the mouth.

“Shut up priest.  You’re not here to talk,  you’re here to listen.”  The man, now seemingly much larger than before stepped up, only a few centimeters from Don’s face.  His hot breath reeked of tooth decay.  “We have words for you.  Words you must hear regarding the Bishop.”

Don dropped his head to his chest, the pounding in his head was now screaming.  Shit he though, now I have a concussion.  He lifted his head, “Tell me then what you have to say.”

The man walked away, turning his back.  He crouched down just in front of Don, looking like a tribesman of some sort.  He fumbled with something from a pouch that hung on his hip.  He spun back around, something black, but gleaming in his hand.  “We found this priest.”  he thrust the object into Don’s face.  In the dim light he couldn’t make it out, that plus the pounding in his head

.

“I can’t see it” he gasped for a moment, “too dark.” Don closed his eyes again, he thought he might pass out.” the men holding him upright felt him go slack and struggled to hold him up for a moment.

“Get him some water,” the man growled.  He placed his hands on Don’s chin and lifted his head, “Open your eyes.”  he squeezed Don’s chin, “OPEN YOUR EYES!.” he pushed Don’s face away from him.

Don blinked his eyes open.  Damn.  He blinked again and looked at the man before him.  He was a hardened man, skin pale from the lack of sun.  Around the corners of his eyes was caked the fine red dust of the planet.  His hair was likely blond, but looked auburn beneath the dirt caked in it.  The man smelled like Mars, a unique smell, almost akin to the smell of blood, no doubt the iron in the soil.  Don mumbled, “give me a moment.”

The miner grinned and looked over his shoulder, “where’s that water.”  He turned back to Don and sneered, “Sorry for these methods priest, but I wanted to do more than talk to you to be quite honest.” Someone stepped up to the miner and handed him a cup, “here’s some water.”  He thrust it up to Don’s lips, whose blood filled mouth gulped it down.

Don’s mind was clearing, standing upright seemed to help, and surprisingly the smack on the face cleared his head a bit, minus the bloody lip it left.  Don glanced around over the edge of the cup.  He could make out shadowy figures just behind the miner in front of him, two, no three.  He knew there were two men holding his arms, supporting his weight, Don was faking part of his weakness, better to not let them know he was recovering.  He guessed at least one more was behind him, maybe two men.

He faked a cough, allowing the blood to splatter a bit, the miner, the leader, stepped back, growling a bit. “Shit priest, watch it.” Don looked up, his eyes narrow.

“Damn,” he thought to himself, “they’ve got me in the Park,” this, The Park, the old memorial on Mercy colony built to remember the earliest astronauts who came to Mars all those hundreds of years ago, now abandoned and used as a storage facility.  Most folks avoided this place, claiming it was cursed, haunted.  Nothing grew here, nothing at all.

The lead miner noticed Don’s moving eyes, he knocked the water cup out of Don’s hands, the cup clattered to ground, while the water fell slightly more slowly.  “Enough priest.  Time for us to talk.” He leaned in towards Don’s face, only centimeters from his face.  “Do you know me?”  he hissed.

For a moment Don was confused, he slowly shook his head, “no, well I mean I’ve seen you at the colony, we interacted this morning,” or was it yesterday, damn he didn’t know what time it was.

The man barked a laugh, “Ha, that’s not what I mean.  Look at me.”  He grabbed Don’s cheeks between his fingers and forced Don to star at his eyes.  “Look at me…..”

Don looked, this time he really looked.  There was a power in the eyes he was starring at, burning power.  Strength.  A brightness.  Intelligence.  Animal magnetism.  He wracked his brain, did he know this man?  Think….. Don closed his eyes.

The miner squeezed, “LOOK AT ME” he shouted.

Don’s eyes flashed open.  He starred. Then, slowly a memory floated in.  “I do know you, but god, it’s been what, 20, 25 years?”

The man released Don’s face and stepped back.  “22 years, Samuel.” Don inwardly shrank, Samuel, a name he had almost forgotten for himself.

Don shrugged against the men holding him, their grip tightened.  “You’re Benjamin!”

The man smiled, “yes, there it is, Father.  Looks like some light hit the back of those eyeballs of yours and finally you see.”  He motioned at the men holding Don to release him, suddenly Don almost fell, having grown accustomed to the men holding him up.  Benjamin put up a hand against Don’s chest, stopping him from falling forward.  “How well you’ve forgotten me, my face, is it so different now?”  He removed his hand from Don’s chest.

Don brushed back his hair from his forehead, tucked in his shirt, straightened his collar.  He was missing the familiar weight of his gun on his hip.  “We’re all different now Ben.”  he looked Benjamin in the eyes again.  “What happened to you?”  He immediately regretted the question.

The dark eyes flashed with madness, for moment, but Benjamin controlled the flash, and the madness was covered in the dark recesses of his eyes.  “What happened?”  he laughed, a gravely laugh, rough, unpleasant sounding.  “you had me removed from my duties as a priest!  I was an outcast; lost, alone with no one!”  He spun away from Don, facing in the darkness.  “I lived in the streets of Tulsa for a long time, then found myself working the plantation fields outside of Brazil.  Finally I got work as a miner, and when the mines opened on Vesta in the Asteroid belt, well I went.  I was there for nearly a year before the weakness of zero gravity nearly killed me. I managed to convince my doctor back on Earth that I was fit for duty on Mars, and got assigned to one of the early mining teams.  I’ve been here nearly two years, two years of hell.”  He spun back around towards Don.  “But in that time, Father, I’ve regained trust of those in the Church who matter. I’m not some politician “cop” pretending to have faith.” The madness flashed again, but was gone, almost as quickly.  “No, I’ve rediscovered the true faith and I will do anything; I will do EVERYTHING to promote it.”

Don audibly sighed, “Benjamin, you know what happened at the Bishop’s council, I didn’t have you removed, I only reported my concerns about your behaviour.” Don paused a moment before continuing, sensing that Ben was going to let him continue without interruption.  “It seems, based on this kidnapping, my fears were founded.  You were a fanatic.  You destroyed anything that deviated from your interpretation of the truth.  You couldn’t allow for error, for fallacy,” Don’s voice raised, “you couldn’t allow for people to be people.”

“Fallacy?  Error?  Those words are the words of a man who tolerates suffering, lies, deception!”  the madness was back, crashing against the front of his eyes like a storm, “Those fallacies, errors, lies lead humanity to war, they destroyed faith, they killed people.  I’ve learned that trust in the Divine is the only true thing and any deviation from it is murder.”  He leaned in again, his hand again on Don’s chest, “I have seen the devil Samuel, and he wears a priest’s frock.”  he pushed Don back.

Don stumbled but kept his balance, “What are you talking about Ben?”  He stepped forward, “What lies, errors?”

Benjamin grabbed Don’s right shoulder in an iron grip, “Yours, the Bishop’s, the false church.”  His eyes cleared, “I’ve seen hope Samuel, in Meruna, in the faithful. I’ve heard the voices of angels singing to me.  The truth of the Church, the real Church is our salvation, not this mining company, not you, as a fake priest.”  he released Don’s shoulder.

Don was confused, “Benjamin – what happened, you leaving the church…..”

“LEAVING?  ME???  You bastard, you know I was laicised!  I did not choose to leave, I was pushed out.  I, along with others who kept the true faith, forced out.”  He was speaking so forcefully spittle formed on his lips.  Then like a light the passion was gone.  “It was worth leaving though Samuel.  It gave me the chance to suffer, to experience the same pain as the God who made us.  That loss was the same felt by the Lord for our sinfulness, our arrogance, our pride.  I’d do it again.”  he paused, “all over.”

Don was thoughtful; this was not the first time he had dealt with those so ingrained in the faith.  Their ranks were swelling it seemed as the Church grew fatter off the successful peace following the last war, as its revenues grew from its investments in mining and the Mars colony, more and more extremists, if they should be called that, came forward.  “Benjamin,” his voice was soft, gentle, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.  You killed that boy Ben, he died as a result of your actions, I did what I thought was right.”

Benjamin looked up, “Boy? Ha, hardly, he was man.”

“He was twelve.”

“He was armed.” Benjamin turned away.

“We all were, it was war.”  Don signed, glanced around the room. The other men stood silent, one held a gun.  “Ben, look, it’s been a long time, what happened has happened.  What’s this all about.”  Don swept his hands around.  “You didn’t need to knock me out for this, Jesus man, you could’ve just made an appointment.”

Ben spun and was on Don so quickly, Don thought he was a like a flash of light.  “DO NOT speak the Lord’s name so flippantly.”  He hands grasped Don’s shirt front.  “Don’t!”  he thrust Don back.  “This isn’t about that, that, well that is reminiscing isn’t it?”  Ben smirked, “This, tonight,” pausing, he looked around the dark chamber then reached into his pouch again at his side, “is about this.”  He thrust a small dark object towards Don.  “Take it,” he snarled.

Don reached out with a shaking hand and grabbed the object in front of him.  It was a piece of dark blue metal, cold, and appeared to be broken.  He held it up toward the lamp, “what is this?”  He turned it over.

“You know.” Benjamin stepped towards him, “you know,” he repeated.

Don looked a Benjamin, genuine questions on his face.  “Tell me.”

Benjamin motioned to the men around him, “Secure the exits, we’re running out of time.”  The men scattered quickly, the one with the gun remained.  Benjamin made sure the rest were gone before continuing.  “We found this, along with several other pieces a few weeks ago, at the south pole.  It’s only a small part of the find, I’m sure you’ve heard something was found there.”

Don palled, “You were there? I thought only the robots were working the south pole.”  Don cursed himself immediately for saying anything. The metal in his hand was strangely warm, it almost felt like it was pulsing.

Benjamin smirked, “those robots sometimes need a human.  One of my men was assigned to geo-track them down there.  When he noticed that they all converged at one spot, well he followed them.”  Benjamin began pacing.  “What is the Church doing at the south pole Samuel.”

Don held the metal object then closed his hand around it.  “I don’t actually know Ben.  Yeah, you’re right, we’ve found something, but even I don’t know the details.  I heard it was an object, a large one, metal maybe, but perhaps just trace metals in rock.”  Don sighed, looked at the object again, he could swear it was glowing.  “you know even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.” He looked up at Benjamin, “Even if I wanted to tell you I couldn’t.  You might pretend that I don’t have integrity, but we both know that’s not true.”

Benjamin turned to face Don and slowly walked up to him, his hand outstretched, “give it to me.” Don dropped the object in Benjamin’s hand, and it disappeared in the pouch.  Benjamin looked at Don, the anger flashing in the eyes again, “Alright, Father, then let me tell you why you’re really here.” Don must have looked surprised because Benjamin smiled, “Surprised you eh?”  He actually laughed, “You’re here because you’re going to help me kill Bishop West.”

“What?  You’re insane.” Don started to turn away, to walk out.

Benjamin grabbed Don’s shoulder again, spun him around.  “Oh you’ll help me kill Bishop West.”

Don pushed Benjamin’s arm away, “No, no I won’t.”

Benjamin smiled again, “Yes, yes you will.  If you don’t I’ll kill her.”  the rage in the eyes was mesmerizing, Don couldn’t look away.

“Kill who?  What are talking about?” Don felt sweat roll down his neck.

Benjamin revealed in Don’s confusion, “Why your daughter of course.”

Don literally stumbled and gasped.  “Daughter……” he muttered.

“Don’t be a fool old man, I know you.  I know why you were so eager to leave Earth and come here.  I might have killed when I was a priest, but I never broke my celibacy.  I didn’t have a wife.  I didn’t have children.”  He was grinning like a jackal delighting in the expression on Don’s face.  “Oh, you thought no one knew.”  he laughed,   “It was convenient that the woman you fucked died shortly after giving birth.  It was convenient that your family supported the old couple who raised her in that village in south Wales.  It was convenient that she’s found you, though I don’t think she knows so yet.”  Benjamin stepped close to Don again, “She loves me you know.  She worships me.”  He licked his lips, “Me, a former priest, now a faithful follower of righteous way.  Me, a worker humbled by God so as to experience his glory.  Me,  a man who fought, who killed for my faith so that others might know it too.  Oh yes, she loves me more than you know.”

Don gasped, “who….”

Benjamin starred at him, “you don’t actually know do you?  By the faith man, are you so heartless?”  He stepped up to Don, “Meruna you fool.  She’s your daughter.”

Don laughed out loud. “Meruna?  I don’t even know her. I met her today.”  His mind was reeling.  “Daughter?”

“Don’t play dumb.   You and I both know you have a daughter.”  Benjamin glanced over his shoulder, “I have followed you Father, every step of your life I have traced.  You lacked the faith, the strength to do God’s will; but you had the pride to follow man’s folly.  Your pride made you powerful, reliant on other men’s praise. I knew you would work for Bishop West, the snake.”  he physically spit, “that man is truly Satan’s servant, and you are his whore.”  He looked at Don again, “yes I know your life and I have been waiting until the time was right, presenting itself as it has now.”  He paced again, “This discovery in the south pole here threatens everything I have worked for, my followers,” he paused, “God’s followers.  We will destroy this discovery, but more importantly we will kill Bishop West, and you will help me.”

Don stepped towards Benjamin, the guard behind him followed, “Ben, what are you talking about?  Kill Bishop West?  Me, helping you?  My daughter?”  He felt like all the gravity was off, like he was floating.

Benjamin again grabbed Don, “Listen, Father, you’ll hear from me again but know this.  I will kill everyone on this colony to stop Bishop West but first I’ll kill your daughter. It would be so easy, she trusts me, honors me.  She’s mine.”  He grinned, “But you, in all your good sense won’t say anything will you?” he didn’t wait for Don to respond, “Samuel, my old friend, you know I’m right.  you know the lie planted by the Bishop in the south pole is a test and I’m here to destroy those liars and deceivers; I will destroy any and all of those who seek to harm the faithful.  You know me.”  he squeezed Don’s shoulders, “you KNOW ME.”

The broiling color in Benjamin’s eyes were in tumult, rolling in and out of focus before Don.  He recoiled from the sight. This man was insane, but holding onto reality enough to be dangerous.  “Don’t do this Ben, let’s talk about it.  Let’s find out together what’s going on in the South Pole…..”

“NO!” he pushed Don, “I know enough and I know what I have to do.  I am but one man Samuel, if you think I’m here alone, doing this alone, you’re a fool.  We are many.  We are powerful.  Cut me down and another will step up.  There is no talking about this.”  He looked at the man behind Don, “I’ll be in touch priest.”

“No wait, Benjamin…………..” He was struck from behind again and all he saw for a moment before blacking out was a flower, who looked a lot like Meruna.

Chapter Four – Asteroids

Date 6,253,101 B.C.E.

There were days he hated it.  This glowing, blue ball of life.  It, as it rotated, caught the light of the sun and seemed almost to mock him.  His view this morning was of a world shining bright.  He thought of the day prior, turbulent skies brewing with storms that he hadn’t seen in many sols.  He wondered if they spoke of the future, then shook his head.  He laughed.  “God I sound like my father.”  Neomis took one more glance out the window, his eyes lingering on the water of the oceans below, no bigger puddles to him from this visage.  The beeping of his communicator pulled him from his reverie.

He pressed the button to access the communication device, his long narrow fingers soft and graceful.  Another moment of whimsy flittered his mind, “they look like the wings of those small reptiles, what are we calling them, birds?”  He grinned at himself, “what on Kieaa has come over me?”  He pressed the button, “This is Neomis, and you’ve reached Kieaa Station.”

There was static at first, then a clear soft voice, “My son, this is Neomin, your father.”

“Father!  It is early here!  What brings you to communicate to me now?”

“Just a father wishing to speak to a son who is far, far away!  Your mother and I are soon to head to the astronomy lab and I wanted to reach you before I departed.”  He sighed, audibly on the communicator.  “It is so dark here sometimes I wonder how you can survive all that light there.”

Neomis shook his head, he knew his father was teasing, only a little.  “We must survive what we must survive so as to survive father.  I believe you taught me this lesson.”  A wry grin crept on the corners of his mouth.

“Survive my son.”  Silence crackled on the communicator.

It seemed a full sol passed before finally Neomin spoke again.  “Son I need you to look at 11-mark-4 once you clear the lunar body orbiting Kieaa this morning.”  Neomis glanced out the view window above him.  The lunar body was looming large and near, sometimes it was so bright, like looking at the central star in this system, and sometimes it seemed dark and forbidding.  They would clear its horizon in a few short moments.

“Father, 11-mark-4.  What am I looking at or for?”

Neomin was silent for a moment, a long moment it seemed.  “Well, as you are aware, this is a young system, and is very active with asteroids and other unattached astrological bodies.  From our vantage we see several asteroids entering your space coming from the region between you and Gugulaania.  I would have Hemoit review, but your mother heard this morning that he has fallen very ill.  Evidently his home atmosphere unit failed and the air of the habit therein escaped.”

“Is he alive?”   Neomis asked, genuine concern featured in his voice.

“Yes, so his wife reports.  It was fortunate she had stayed the night at the lab, otherwise we would have lost them both.”  Neomin cleared his throat.  “We continue to fail here son.  Hemoit was our expert of astronomy, certainly I can use the telescopes, but I am not confident I can or even could accurately calculate the trajectory of this asteroid.  Our best estimate is that is on a collision course for Kieaa, but we’re hoping it will miss.  From what I can tell it isn’t large enough to cause catastrophic damage, but will certainly affect your station and research on the ground.”

“Well as a precaution we’ll abort any terra landings until we are certain.  Hmm, I wonder if we shouldn’t separate the station from the space elevator.  If largely affected the elevator could pull us out of our orbit.”  There was no answer for many moments.  Neomis spoke again, “Father are you there?”

More silence then finally, “Yes my son.”  Neomin cleared his throat.  “There is another asteroid.”

“Another?”

“Yes – it is on a collision course for Gugulaania, or is as far as we can tell.  This one we can see more clearly from our vantage.  It is more significant given it is headed close to, or directly for our city center.  We have a few weeks, maybe less.”

“Are you certain? It’s coming to you?  I mean without Hemoit to review surely you are mistaken!  Isn’t it more likely that it will miss you! Gugulaania is so small – the chances of it hitting, well……” Neomis’ voice tapered off.  “So small……”

Neither spoke for a moment.  “I may not be an astronomer son, but I can a mathematician, we have better than 70% of being hit.  Of course we are not 100% certain, and your mother, ever the problem solver is working on a solution.  Evidently we still have the old rockets, though we are not certain they will fire.  We plan on launching them to asteroid in the hopes of breaking it apart or diverting it.”

Neomis knew what this portended.  The likelihood that the ancient rockets, left from an era of space, launching into the asteroid and affecting its path was very small.  If they would launch at all.  Most of the radiation fuel that had powered them had been diverted many sols prior to keep the habitats functional.  “What can we do?”

“My son, continue your research.  Unless by some miracle we are wrong, and this asteroid misses us, you and your station could be the last of our people.”

“NO father!  Even if the asteroid hits you you’ll survive, it cannot be that catastrophic!  It cannot be……” his voice dropped off.  The hopelessness of their lives for a moment over whelmed him.  “Cannot…….”

“Be strong my son.  Tell me, how goes the genetic research? When we last spoke you had mentioned advancement in gene splicing therapy with one of the primates.”  His voice was clear, direct, no tremble of fear.

Fortified by his father’s voice Neomis spoke, “The trials have been very successful father.  We have found several primates whose DNA and RNA sequences could support an introduction of our genetic markers.  If we had the right equipment I could accelerate the growth sequences.  Our limitations of the gravity of this world hinder our ability to remain on the planet body.  Yet here in the lab on the station, several of the primates in only a few generations are showing remarkable adaptations indicating greater intelligence and these traits are passed down generationally.  Remarkable progress is seen in the larger apes, the ones not confined to arboreal habitation.  With natural evolution this species will evolve to be very much like us.  If we could accelerate these adaptions and sequencing, they could become the carriers of our history.  In their genes we could allow our people to live on.  Damn these limited resources, if I had another orbiting station I have no doubt I could complete this work in just a few sols.  As it is, with our limited resources, and lack of the ability to better control the growth of the apes, I don’t see us living to see our “children” evolve much beyond the apes they are today.”  He chuckled, “a few million years and they’ll call us father and mother.”

“You are young my son, you’ll see your sons and daughters as you image them.  Their hands and feet firm upon Kieaa, eyes to the heavens laid upon their orbiting father, in heaven above them.”  Neomin muttered something obviously speaking to someone in the room.  “My son, your mother has come to speak to you.”  He stopped for a moment then continued, “My beloved son, do not fear for us.  Your mother and her researchers will find a solution for us.  They will find the power we need to survive even a blow from the heavens.  No rogue rock from space will stop us.  She will not allow it.”

“Father…..” Neomis could barely speak, “No heavenly body is as great as the love I hold in my heart for you.  The Sun and all her light are dim against the honor it is to be of your lineage.”  He choked on his tears.  “No light……”

“There now son, please no weeping, Normia is here and she will speak to you.  My son, there is one light greater than mine.” he paused for a moment, “your own light. It is brighter than a 100 suns, a million stars, the infinite depths of space.”

“Both of you stop this nonsense!”   Normia’s strong voice caused the communicator to crackle with feedback.  “Lights and suns indeed, we have work to do, and feeling sorry for our fate shall not divert a rock or set the sun.”  Her voice softened, “This is our fate, and so be it.”  He could feel her smile over the communicator, “Neomis, the work you and your team has begun must continue.  Accelerate all your programs and the apes you have begun to modify that are able, return them to Kieaa.  The ones you are still modifying accelerate their development.  Even if we survive the asteroid strike here, we won’t be able to send another craft for resupplies for some time.  You could be on your own.  Now listen to me carefully because while our day may be ending, the life of our people must go on.  We are a species who survived 100’s of millions of years from one solar system to this one, and this dark lonely system shall not be our end.  I am sending you a digital file that I need you preserve.  Place it on Kieaa, somewhere that it will survive even the cataclysmic events bound to affect this place.”

“Mother – what are you talking about?”  Neomis grew concerned.

Normia’s voice was directed not to Neomis but to Neomin, “dear, please step out for a moment will you?”  He could hear his father protesting, but finally surrendering.  He shouted as he left the room, “Son you are my light!”

She spoke again, now very directly to Neomis, “There is more than one asteroid coming to this planetary body, and more than one likely to hit Kieaa.  You have two or three weeks and we suspect that the damage will wreak havoc upon your station and could damage the space elevator.” she paused, “We have one week.  We have no fuel for rockets to launch, but what we do have is fuel for the mining robots.  We shall immediately begin to mine as deeply as we can at the south pole, which is facing from the incoming asteroid.  I will bury there a recorded history of our people contained in our Mothership.”

“The Mothership? If you disconnect her won’t you lose your mainframe?”

“We shall.  We have already lost it son, this is just not realized.  Even should the asteroid not strike, our fuel is nearly expired.  The habitats are failing at rate we cannot maintain.  I have not told your father, but Hemoit was not the only person lost last night.  Nearly half of all habitats failed, we were not able to reactivate them in time.  We lost nearly half of all our people.  Only I and Olimpia remain from the planetary science council.  I could not bear to tell your father, not today. He was so looking forward to speaking to you.”  She paused.  “Son the program I will send you is a message for our ancestors to come, for our new children.  Perhaps someday they will find the records and know then where to look here to find their lineage.  I will likewise indicate a homing device on this record should it be that they find the Mothership before their home world file.  We must hope that between these two libraries our people, our history, our art, who we are shall remain.”

Neomis did not speak for long moments.  Finally he cleared his throat.  “What shall l tell my team here mother?  There are 100 of us; they will not want to hear these words.”  He glanced down through the observation window at Kieaa.  It was beautiful.

“You must tell them the truth.  You know our people Neomis.  Trust that they will understand.  I think we’ve all known for at least a generation this was our last hope.  You are our last hope.  Home does not exist for our people, not yet.  But perhaps with time, these creatures you nurture from Kieaa will become us, evolve to know their history.  To find that their home lay not on the ground beneath their feet, but in the stars above their heads.”  She smiled, he knew she did, “Son time for you to look at the asteroids as they approach. Calculate exactly your time.  Do what you can to save as much life on Kieaa as possible, for the strike will be devastating but based on the richness of the life below you, it will survive.  Spread your genetic markers to as many primate species as are compatible. Surely some will survive and our time which ends now will come again.”

He sobbed, “Mother, I cannot…..”

“YOU MUST.”  She yelled.  “Neomis, you must.  This planet has been dying for as long as we have lived here. It was a temporary home and we’ve out stayed our welcome.  Our new home is not yet prepared, but if you plant the seeds, someday our lives will grow back.”  She paused, “you are the great father now.  Today is the day you must decide to give our people their future, unknown, unseen, and bright.”  Her voice died out, he knew she was crying, “Neomis we shall speak again in a few days.  Be strong my child.  We trust in you.  You are still our great hope.”  The communicator shut off.