Drafted Beyond the Stars
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2020 by Wendell Jackson

Tom Bonner was tending to his equipment, doing maintenance on his personal kit. Cleaning the 357 magnum pistol that he always carried. Being a hunting guide, it was part of the attire when taking a party into the back country. He had found that his Clients liked the idea of him wearing it. He had saved that task for first and last, the idea that doing it twice, would insure a clean working weapon when needed. Though over the years he’d only used it twice, and those times it was just to scare off a nosey bear. He was half way through his cleaning process, when the phone rang. The phone kept ringing and ringing, until Tom was about to put down his cleaning project and answer, when Charlie came from the kitchen and picked up the insistent object. Tom went back to cleaning and inspecting his handgun. He wasn’t due to take another hunting party out for another two weeks, but he wanted to get his maintenance out of the way so he could more or less relax up until the time to set off.

Most guides took out one hunting party after another, but Tom being the oldest guide at the lodge, worked fewer it took longer to recover from these trips. At fifty-five, he had at least twenty years on all the other guides working out of the lodge. Age and a number of injuries over the years had slowed him down, so it was not his custom to rise up every time the phone rang. Most of the others knew Tom was feeling the results of a hard life and the injuries that came with it, so they didn’t mind taking up some slack around the lodge. He was the last of a breed that would never be seen again. A man quick to risk all in saving a stranger or a friend, no matter what the personal risk. His willingness to help had endeared him to all that he’d worked with over the years. The fact that this next hunting trip was going to be his last as a guide, was not known to all, as the lodge didn’t want his retirement to effect the applicants. Just the fact that he worked out of the lodge, helped business regardless who was assigned as the guide.

Charlie Taylor came in from the kitchen where he’d been flirting with the new cook. A young girl in her twenty’s, slightly over weight but here in the remote corners of Wyoming, she was a real looker. “Hello,” Charlie said putting the phone to his ear. “Yeah, this is the lodge ... Yeah, he works here ... him too...”

Tom could tell that the person on the other end of the line was asking a lot of questions about the hunting guides. Now his interest was peeked and he paid more heed to what was being said at this end of the line. At first he thought it was some one wanting a particular guide for a hunting party, but they were asking about everyone like they were going down a list. At least that was what he gleaned from Charlie’s side of the phone call.

“Why do you want to know about these guys?” Charlie finally interrupted the chain of questions being put forth. “You interested in signing up for a hunt?” Charlie listened for a few minutes and then abruptly hung up the phone, saying curtly. “You ask them if you want to know anything.”

“I take it, they didn’t want a hunt.” Tom said as Charlie looked away from the phone with a half puzzled look on his face.

“No, they just asked about the guides, said the guides are not answering their cell phones. Now why would they be calling them, I mean, all of them? That’s not normal.”

“Could be they just wanted a particular guide for a hunting Party.” Tom stated as he got up and walked over to the front desk. Looking at the booking ledger. The next name coming up for availability was Charlie. “They ask about you?”

“No, they didn’t, but then I might have hung up before they got around to it, and they didn’t ask about you either.” Charlie smirked thinking Tom was about to make a joke out of the fact that who ever called was interested in everyone but him. “Your the oldest, you’d think they’d want the most experienced.”

“Would think so but, I don’t own a cell phone or any of that new stuff.” Tom figured that was the reason they never asked about him. Course he couldn’t venture a guess as to why they didn’t ask about Charlie, especially if they inquired about all the others. “They have anything else to say?”

“Just that they would arriving shortly and they wanted everyone that they named, to be here.” Charlie laughed, as they both knew that the rest of the guides were out with hunting parties and would not be back for at least another week.

“Whose next on the list?” Tom looked to see when the next party was scheduled to leave. Charlie shook his head, and noted that the next group out was Saturday, four days from now. “Well, lets hope they can take a disappointment.” Tom laughed.

Charlie looked back over his shoulder towards the kitchen. “I think I’ll go back and see if I can get Shirley to cook me up something special.” He grinned a hidden meaning at Tom, which said that he was after more than just food. He was about to head that way when the dogs who’s main activity was sunning themselves on the porch, began barking. Both he and Tom walked to the double doors and looked to see what was causing the two Labs to bark. At first they couldn’t see anything and then Tom noted the direction the dogs were barking and there in the east, where the canyon opened up into Claiborne Valley, was a dull silver gray object. It was blurred but visible.

“There it is, Charlie.” He pointed low in the sky. “Looks like one of those new flying Platforms. What do they call em?” Tom could see the disk like object better as it came closer. The air around it, began to take on a clearer image, rather then the fuzzy haze that made it hard to see at a distance.

“Hell, I never would have seen it if you hadn’t pointed it out to me.” Charlie exclaimed. “I think they call them HAG’s, something about being Heavy Anti Gravity lift machines or something like that.”

“First one I’ve seen.” Tom peered at it with interest. “Not a sound out of it. Least none that I can hear.”

“Wonder what it was that alerted the dogs?” Charlie mused.

“Maybe they can hear it. Dogs can hear things we can’t. I doubt that they could smell it, too far away and all that.”

The Craft came steadily in, not making a sound and settled down in the graveled parking lot. It was a least a hundred feet across and reminded Tom of all the flying saucer stories he’d heard over the years. It was round with a large upside down pot right in the middle with twenty feet or so of flat rim surrounding it. A small swirl of dust spun up and dissipated in the air as the craft came to a stop. Tom could still see a fuzzy haze around the edges that slowly faded as the engines slowed. There was a low hum that wasn’t there before, changing in pitch as it wound down and ended. Tom had read about the strange new flying craft, and the wonder engines that made it all possible. Still he didn’t understand a thing about it. Nothing was ever said about who came up with the invention, or when. Just that the machines made it possible for all kinds of flight, and a new exploration of the stars.

Tom was thinking it was good that the Parking lot was empty, or there would not have been enough room for the machine to land. Charlie was hooking the two dogs up to leashes. He didn’t want them anywhere near the machine incase there was something about the engines that might cause them harm. He recalled reading some where that strange burns appeared on people that got too close to UFO’s and this sure looked like a UFO. He didn’t want to take any chances with the dogs being harmed. It was a good thing he did, for as soon as a door appeared in the side of the craft, a squad of armed soldiers came pouring out. They came with rifles at port high, and made a half circle in front of the lodge. It was a scene that would have provoked the two big labs to aggression. The dogs would have been injured at the very least. As the Armed uniformed men took up positions, another three individuals stepped out of the machine and walked toward them. By the markings on their collars, Tom could see the middle man was a Major, flanked by two lieutenants. Each one carried what Tom thought to be an electronic clipboard. A hand held computer with a large screen. They were becoming so popular that just about everyone carried them.

The major looked from Charlie to Tom and asked if there was a William Dias present. Tom shook his head No, and the Major asked about another name, again Tom shook his head No, and the Major went down the list. “Are you the one that just called here a few minutes ago?” Charlie asked, still holding the dogs back, even though the leashes were tied off and they couldn’t move from the porch, he felt the need to physically restrain the dogs. The whole scene was upsetting and even though they were barking and seemed ready to take on the whole group of men, Tom knew that inside they were afraid. Labs were like that, Brave to a point, but then afraid of strange new things.

“Yes, we need the men, named on this list.” “gain the Major rattled off several names, and again, both Charlie and Tom shook their heads No. ADo you know any of these men?” The Major was irritated he wasn’t getting affirmative response’s’s to his questions.

“Sure we know em.” Tom nodded his head. “They just ain’t here.” Pointing off in a northerly direction, “Their off that way, about twenty miles or so, with their hunting parties. They won’t be back for another week at the earliest.”

“Well, you need to contact them or give us their positions.” The Major was clearly showing some hostility that things were not going the way he wanted.

“Can’t do that. We have no way of contacting them, and can’t tell you where they’re at. Maybe, where they might be, but can’t be sure either.”

“You have hunting parties out there with no way of getting in touch with them.” Disbelief clearly in his voice. “What’s your procedure if a client has a home emergency?”

“They don’t take their cell phones with them, as they are getting way from all the home emergencies. That’s one of the reasons for these trips in the first place. The only emergency that they would respond to is if one of them gets hurt, then they would make contact with us, by radio. Until something like that happens, all radios are turned off. It’s a vacation.” Tom informed the Major, hoping he would understand and it would put an end to the conversation. He didn’t like the hostile attitude of the Major or the fact that the parking lot was filled with a squad of armed men.

“I see,” The Major pulled out a black object from his web belt. “What’s the number of their phones. We can track them down even if the phones are turned off.” He smiled at them figuring he had achieved a victory of sorts. Tom again just shook his head, “No phones, just a hand held radio.” he shrugged his shoulders, “Sorry.”

The Major seemed to absorb the fact that the men he named were not available and said something to one of the lieutenants beside him. The Lieutenant Looked up at Tom and asked him his name. Tom gave it to him, and Charlie spoke up adding his name too. A glance down at his computer clip board and the Lt told the Major, “Their both on the secondary list, sir. Way down the list.” the last he added as if it was not a good thing.

“Well, we must have bodies, and if two is all that we can get, then so be it. Take them.” he said to the lieutenant, who in turn nodded at the Sargent in charge of the detail. As the soldiers approached them, Tom asked what was going on, but the only answer he got was that they were being drafted.

“I think I am beyond draft age.”Tom informed them, but the major just smiled and said it was a national emergency and they were being drafted for a special opts team.

“Just so you have a good understanding of the situation, We are under orders to shoot anyone that refuses to comply with our demands. You will either come with us, or you will be left on the ground Dead. There is no other option.” As the Major spoke the Sargent raised his arm and the armed men, took aim at the two guides. Tom figured it was a good thing he left his revolver laying on the coffee table, other wise there might have been a shoot out, with him being the loser.

“Will you come willingly, Sir?” The Sargent asked. Though his voice was somewhat polite, there was a tough edge that said he would do just what the Major implied.

“Well,” Tom sighed, “I think I’ll come along with you fellows. Do I have time to pack a few things?”

The Major shook his head and told him to enter the craft just as he was. Looking over at Charlie, he motion with his head, “You too. We need all the so called hunting guides we can get.”

“Any more employees here?” The other lieutenant asked. Charlie shook his head and said just the Cook, and mentioned the fact that she was a young woman. ANot on our list at this location. The Major spoke, feeling completely in charge of the day.

As soon as Tom and Charlie entered the Craft, the soldiers filed in behind. Guns still trained on them as they were escorted to an empty row of seats. The one row was empty but the others behind them were full of ordinary looking people. People with the look of emotional stress. Quite a few of the women showed clear signs of having tears run down their cheeks, some were still running wet. Tom assumed they too had been shanghaied and were on the same journey where ever it was going. When Tom and Charlie both asked the Major, where they were going, they were told to remain quiet and that they would be informed when they arrived at their final destination.

“This doesn’t look too good.” Charlie whispered under his breath. One of the guards gave them a steely eye, but they ignored him. Figuring that if they kept it to a whisper, they wouldn’t be bothered. “What in the hell, does the government want with us? A couple of hunting guides, and you ... your so old you might not last the week?” The last was added as a joke.

Tom gave his redheaded friend a stern look. “Just wait, one of these days, you’ll be dead and I’ll have it all my way.” It was the way the two men parried with each other. A way of keeping an attitude that had seen them through tough spots and hard times. Times when a joke was all they had to make it through. “For a while there, I thought we might just end up at the smoky end of those barrels.” he nodded towards the guns, now being held at port-arms.

“Just think of all the mistakes you’d make with out me there to keep you on track.” Charlie was looking around as he spoke. “Our fellow passengers are my age or younger.” He remarked, as he also noted that most were female. “What do you think? High School or Collage?”

“What?” Tom wasn’t following Charlie’s train of thought.

“I mean some of these kids, look like they are hardly out of highschool, but I think most are Collage age.”

“Naw, not collage. Collage Kids are arrogant and smart ass’s, these kids all look scared to me.”

A Take a look at me, Tom. “ny time the government forces me at the point of a gun to come along with them, it scares the hell out of me.”

“Yeah,” Tom conceded, “Your right. I guess if I had more time to have thought about it, I would be scared too.”

Neither one noticed when they closed the door on the craft, but they were aware when the engine started up again. There was only a low whine, but along with it came a tingle that crept over them and centered in their stomach. It took Tom by surprise and both he and Charlie reacted strongly to the uncomfortable sensation. Looking back at the other passengers, he could see that they were holding up better, obviously having gone through it before. A man, sitting behind them, leaned forward and in a whisper, told them they would get use to it.

“Any idea of what’s going on?” Tom leaned back in his seat so the man could hear him.

“I have a feeling its something to do with the space program.” the man nodded towards the closed door, where the new space logo was clearly stenciled.

“What? You think they ran out of monkeys?” Charlie exclaimed, meaning they were to replace said creatures. The man behind them shook his head and stated that they hadn’t used monkeys for fifty years. “Same difference.” Charlie groaned, “Were cheaper.”

“My friend is joking,” Tom informed the man, “He wants to think were as good as chimps.”

A smile came to the mans lips, and he offered his hand. “Johnson, Richard Johnson, A teacher by trade and now just a worried fellow traveler.” he introduced himself. Tom and Charlie told him their names in return and added that they were here only because they had been persuaded. They were about to discuss more when suddenly the tingle was back making them grab their stomachs and sides. Tom noted that the guards hardly made even a small grimace when the sensation hit them. Johnson saw Tom watching the guards and informed him, that he thought they were wearing some kind of protective clothing that protected them from the gut wrenching effects of the creeping feeling. Charlie, groaned that they should have enough to go around.

The door opened again and half the guards filed out of the craft. Tom assumed they were again taking up positions like they had when they picked him and Charlie up. They were out side for several minutes and then filed back in with five more passengers, two being men again younger then Charlie, and the other three young women. The new passengers took seats in the same row and soon the craft lifted off. There wasn’t the sensation of movement, just the sick tingle that effected their innards and made Tom feel like he was about to crap his pants. Other than that, only the scene being different each time the door opened, revealed they were at a different place. It all added to the confusion in Toms mind. Others sitting around him, were not a bit happy about the situation. Most were dry eyed with only a few young ones still sobbing. Some were crying into handkerchiefs, trying Tom thought, to hide their tears. The young lady that ended up sitting next to him, was different. She made no bones about it, she was unhappy and let everyone know it. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and nothing anyone said or tried was going to comfort her. Even the mean looks from the guards didn’t keep her from voicing her cries, asking why they were doing this to her. Tom as sympathetic but her wailing was getting to him. He held back from telling her to shut up, but contained himself and let her carry on.

The craft made two more stops and then with most of the seating taken up, the Major stepped forward and announced that they would soon be touching down at the main base. There, they would be removed from the ship and everything would be explained to them. Once out of the craft they were to follow a guard wearing a yellow suit. He would lead them to where they would be placed in comfortable quarters. They were not to get out of line, but to keep up with the guard and follow instructions. Having said all that, the Major stepped back among his men and conferred with his two lieutenants. Tom was fostering a desire to some day get that Major and put a few lumps on his noggin. He didn’t like the idea of some one smirking because they got one over on him.

It wasn’t a new feeling that Tom was experiencing. Many times over the years he’d had his run ins with men like the Major. Time and age had tended to soften his actions, preferring to let things slide and remove himself from that field of competition where men thought it smart to exert some portion of power over the next man. To Tom, it was senseless. Nothing was gained, except that they made people mad at them, and revenge was the thing most on their minds.

The Major had caused an old spark of ire to flare up again. Tom after keeping himself in check for years, did not like some one threatening his life and walking off smirking about it. He knew he couldn’t just walk up and put a fist in the mans face, not with all these armed guards around. He was looking for another way to do just that. However, for the time being, he would let it slide, and wait for his chance later.

When the machine sat down for the last time and the doors open, they were told to rise and follow the man in the yellow jump suit. The yellow suit took off at a dog trot, leading them down from the craft and along a wide white painted line that led to a large gray building. The first thing that Tom experienced was a blast of heat as they left the Craft. It was like stepping off into a furnace. He was used to the cool mountain air and this wall of heat was almost more than he could stand. Where ever they had landed, Tom figured it must be desert country. The sun was so bright, he had to shield his eyes. Most of the glaring light was being reflected off the white painted buildings about them. Trying to glance around, as they followed the dog trotting man, Tom could make out some barren looking mountains to the west. It was the only direction that he could see for any distance, as buildings and other structures blocked the other views.

Others were passing him as they all jogged along, Tom knew that he was out of shape, but what was slowing him up the most, was the pain he had in his legs. Too many bumps and thumps over the years, had taken their toll on his lower limbs. Running or Jogging had long ago parted from his exercising routine. Just power walking and those exercises that did not require jumping up and down or in any other direction. His pace was slower then the others but it was one that he could maintain with out too much stress.

As they moved into the building, Tom looked at the people passing by. Most were young women, in their early twenties and a few in their thirties. There was one, that caught his attention. A dark haired woman, that looked close to his age, but some how he couldn’t put a number to it. It was her looks that caught his attention. Both he and she were out of place in this crowd, more so him as she was still much younger then himself. The more he studied her, the younger she looked. Tom at first thought she was in her late thirties, maybe even forty, but she moved too smoothly for that. He knew there was more to be concerned about than a woman’s age, but for the life of him, he could not help himself. Her looks appealed to him. Hair a dark brown. A face that radiated her maturity. She carried herself in a way that said she was educated and sure of herself. She was a woman in a class above him. Watching her later when they were in the Air-conditioned building, Tom noticed that though she didn’t seem to be looking at the surroundings, she was doing exactly that. She was taking everything in, but doing so with out being obvious about it.

Charlie came up, saying something to him, dragging his thoughts back to the things going on around them. Charlie and Johnson led him over to one of the many tables in the large hall. The room was filled with the din of people talking, which was unsettling to Tom. Looking around he made a count of the people they came with, noting the hall was half filled when they entered. With their number of about a hundred. Tom guessed that the total was near three hundred. What ever was going to befall them, He and Charlie were not going to be alone.

Tom was disappointed that from where they were sitting he could no longer see the attractive woman that had captivated his interest on the way in. Even if she wanted nothing to do with him, he still enjoyed looking at her. He was that way with some women, as long as they didn’t snub and look down their noses, he could admire their beauty. As it was now, he searched the room, trying to spot her but failing to do so. Finally he had to give it up so he could listen to what Charlie and Richard were talking about.

“It is the new space agency.” Charlie affirmed, “they got their stamp on everything.”

“So, what do they want with us?” Tom said with exasperation.

“I think were about to find out.” Richard nodded towards the podium that stood on an elevated stage at the far end of the Hall. There was the Major with another uniformed man with gray hair. Tom didn’t recognize him, but Richard Johnson did. “He’s the man in charge of the Presidents Space Program.”

“The Presidents Space Program ... I thought it was a National effort.”

“There is more than one space program. This one is personal.” Richard was explaining as he watched the room quiet down. “I think that man there is going to hit us with the lowdown right now.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” A man started speaking in a lifted voice. A I will now explain to you what has happened. “s you know, our space program has been faltering for many years. Underbudgeted, almost forgotten, and misdirected in its goals for too long. Now a new age has developed.” Tom recognized the Presidents right hand man, Mr Goldmire. There was a muttering among the crowd that began rising in volume. “Due to the development of the Magnetic Flux drive, we have greater horizons before us...” Now the noise was so loud that Tom couldn’t hear what Goldmire was saying. Shouts were emitting from the crowd, and questions were being fired so fast that no one could understand anything being said at either end. Suddenly the Major jumped forward again and grabbed the mike.

“We can still eliminate those that refuse to comply.” he yelled into the mike. A man sitting off to the other side of the room, stood up and yelled back at the major. Tom only heard the words, Kill us now, you son of a bitch. At that time the Major, his face filled with rage, extended his arm and the sound of several pops followed. Tom realized the Major was firing a gun. The man that had yelled, stood silent for a moment, then with his arms at his side, fell to his knees and then slowly toppled forward on his face. There was a quick snapping of arms being locked and loaded, as the troops brought their rifles to bear on the crowd. The place fell silent again, this time a person might have heard a pin drop. Goldmire, with head bowed was shaking it back and forth. This was clearly what he did not want to happen. The Major, still holding his handgun on the crowd, handed the mike back to Goldmire.

“Their ready to listen now, Sir.” he stated. Goldmire took the mike and looked around at the faces in the room. His own face drained of color. It was clear he didn’t know how to continue. With a man being killed, all because the Government was making him do something that the government had no right to do, even though under certain conditions it did have greater powers, but this in his mind was not one of them.

Still as the Major urged him again, Goldmire visibly shaken began to speak. “We have come to a historic place, where we have the means to explore the stars. With the new engines, the Magnetic flux drives, it is possible to reach even beyond the planets. Where as the goal was to place a settlement on Mars, and the moons of Jupiter. We now have the ability to leave our system and arrive at a planet totally in a new solar system, a planet around a completely different star. And in much less time than it would take for us to reach Mars. Much less time.” he emphasized the Much less. The room was still silent, the fact that there was a man lying dead kept reactions muted. Goldmire took another breath, it was possible to see his shoulders sag. “Unfortunately we are not the only ones that have this new technology. China, Russia, France, Japan, England, they all seemed to have come up with it. It was hoped by this time, the nations would have put war behind us. But there is more for the desire war than Greed, hunger, or lust for power.” Goldmire paused again, this time taking out a hanky and wiping his brow. Putting it back in his pocket, he looked at a small stack of papers before him, pushing it to the side he looked up and continued. “We have another race on our hands, not just a space race, but a race to the stars. As yet we don’t know just how far we can go, but we do know that the first one there, gets to claim the prize. And the prize is, a new world. A world that can be settled, colonized with a single nation.”

“From our orbiting space telescopes that can see way beyond anything that was ever announced, we know which stars have planets and which ones don’t. We have to be the first to make it to the closest ones and get our settlements started. The problem is; planets bearing conditions that we know are needed to build a civilization, may be few in number. Hopefully there might be untold numbers of habitual planets, but we can not leave it to chance. We have to find stars with large outer planets, like Jupiter, and Saturn, ones that would have swept the system of rampaging comets and asteroids. Leaving the inner solar system safe for human life to exist.”

Goldmire paused again, this time after looking at the dead man, laying face down only fifty feet in front of him, he turned to the Major. Something was said, that neither Charlie or Tom could hear, and then the Major directed two of his men to remove the dead man. “fter waiting while the body was drug out leaving a smear of blood on the concrete floor, Goldmire started speaking again. ANow, we come to you. A year from now, we will have a fleet of ships capable of spanning the distance between the stars and settling all the habitable planets. A year from now will be too late. The crews are being trained and outfitted for the adventure, but when they are ready, the other nations will have sent their ships months ahead of ours. There is one ship that is ready to go, and that is the Grand Virginia. It was intended to be the first ship to land on Mars with pioneers, but with the added new Magnetic Flux Drive, we will head for the stars. The Stars with the best chance for Mankind to civilize. That will be you, and the people around you. It won’t be a forever project, but for only one year. After that time, you will be relieved by one of the crews now in training. On returning to earth, you will be given one million dollars each and a choice of where you want to live. Also a high paying government job if you so desire. In short you will have a free ticket for about anything you want.”

“Now you wonder why we don’t just send one of those crews along on this trip instead of yourselves?” Goldmire let his gaze scan the room, taking them all in. “Its politics.” He said with some exasperation. “We can’t touch those other crews in training, or involve the other services. The only manpower pool we can draw from is the Secrete Service. Unfortunately we don’t have enough numbers in the Secret Service to fill our need. Some will be joining you on this mission, but the bulk of the landing force will be made up of people like you. The ship will be manned by navel personal but they can not be assigned to the landing force. So in order to keep this project on track and ahead of the rest of the world, we have drafted all of you. You are now members of the Secret Service and the flag bearers for the President.”

There was a long silence after Goldmire finished his talk. Some had listened, while others were still reeling emotionally in the shooting death of one of their number. Charlie after a while leaned over to speak only to Richard and Tom, “I wonder if he really shot the guy?” He was thinking they might have pulled a ruse on them, just to get everyone to shut up and go along quietly with the program. Tom shook his head and affirmed that the man was indeed shot. “I saw the bullets hit, I don’t think they could fake that.”

“You’d be surprised. Holly Wood can do a lot of things that look real.” Richard sat, staring at the spot where the body had lain.

“You think it was fake too?” Charlie asked. Richard shook his head no, like Tom, he was pretty sure the man was dead.

Being lost in thought about the shooting, Tom was unaware of another man speaking from the podium until Richard nudged his arm. Nodding towards the speaker, Richard said that they ought to pay attention to what was being said. Holding up a sheet of paper, the speaker was telling them to check a bulletin board and find which group they were being assigned too. Each group would have a leader who would help them adjust to their new surroundings. Having said that, the Short dumpy man stepped down from the podium and disappeared through a door behind the small stage.

For several minutes nothing happened, but then a few of the crowd started milling towards the bulletin board and the sheets of paper tacked to it. The three of them went over with the crowd and begun looking for the paper that listed their names. It took some time, but they did find their names listed under another name in bold letters, with the title of Group Leader next to it. Tom found that he and Richard were in the same column, listed under a Samuel Nelsen as their group leader. Charlie was listed with another group. A look of clear disappointment darkened Charlies face. He was not happy at being separated from Tom, even if he did think Tom was a doddering old man that didn’t know as much as everyone thought he did.

“gain, Tom felt Richard nudge his arm and he looked to see what Richard was motioning towards. Several uniformed men, were standing across from them, holding up a placards with a name printed in large letters. AI take it, that’s our group leader, Lieutenant Nelson.” Richard remarked. Reading the placard. “I suppose we ought to head over there. Maybe the sooner we get this started, the sooner we will be back home and its all over with.”

“Maybe...” Tom assented, but didn’t believe anything would be over anytime soon.

Lt Nelson turned out to be a most understanding man that stated right off that he thought it was wrong for them to have been abducted. But he pointed out, that he too, was here against his will. Being a service man, he had to follow orders. The next thing he did after he was sure they were all there that were suppose to be, he held a fast roll call and then told them they were going to be fed and then to meet him back here.

This time they followed the Lieutenant at a more leisurely pace. Taking the inclosed walks that led from one building to the next, they soon found themselves in what was called a Mess Hall. The food smelled good, reminding Tom that he had missed breakfast and was really hungry. Soon they and the other groups were all sitting down eating. Charlie again joined them, still bitching about being with a different group.

Tom still was looking around, hoping to see his brunette again, but the crowd was too thick and too many faces to check. He was glad to have Richard and Charlie to converse with, as everyone else was finding their own little groups to bond with. Still he found himself continually looking for the brunette. It wasn’t like him, to be so taken by a woman. His age and a number of failed relationships had dulled his desires. He was getting too old to make the adjustments required in a new relationship. On top of that, he really didn’t have much to offer a woman. He had no home of his own, nor great wealth. What he’d had at one time had been spent on broken marriages, lawyers and anything left over, uncle sam took it in taxes. Still he enjoyed looking.

“fter scanning the dinning room, Tom brought his attention back to the conversation that Charlie was having with Richard ... ASo you’re a science teacher?” Charlie was asking. Richard nodded his head, and Charlie continued. “Then, you must have an interest in the space programs.”

“Yes, I do, it goes with the occupation.”

“Yeah, well then tell me what you know about this so call space ship called the Grand Virginia.”

“Well, for one thing, Its been around for a long time. It started out being designed for a Mars expedition, but with newer technology the ship has been redesigned and added onto, so much that I’m not sure just what it is any more. At one time it was a class project, building a model of it, but we found that it had been changed so much it looked nothing like the model we were building.” Taking a sip of his coffee, Richard continued, looking around as he talked so as not to be over heard by the wrong people. “I thought they might just scrap the whole project and start fresh, but they have lumbered on, so who knows, it may work.”

“It won’t blow up or something like that, will it?” Charlie was looking scared.

“Oh, I don’t know anything about that. Its just that the ship has been reworked so much, and has yet to be used.”

“What about all the other ship building projects, I read about.”

“Yes, that’s a puzzlement.” Richard knew what Tom was referring too. “With the new flux drives and goals they want to achieve, the Grand Virginian is obsolete. Course the Magnetic flux drive has been added to the ship, but its of the first design and isn’t as fine tuned as drives that are being built now.”

“Why don’t they just scrap the Grand Virginian and send us in the new ones?” Charlie was wondering.

“I think its all about politics.” Richard muttered as he looked at his watch. “Remember what Goldmire said, this is the presidents baby and he can’t claim or claim jump any of the others.” Checking his watch, Richard noted it was time for them to meet back at the main hall. “Hopefully this meeting will provide some answers.”

Back at the table, they were gathered and listening to Lieutenant Nelson tell them briefly what lay ahead. Most were standing as there was no where near enough room at the table for the fifty of them that were assigned to the Lieutenant. Tom noted that their group was two thirds women. About the same ratio of the whole group its self. Tom suspected that the ratio of women to men was no accident. There had to be a purpose in the selection, of that Tom was sure. What ever the reason was, he didn’t think he would be happy about it.

Nelson waited until he was sure they were all there, and then he informed them on what they would be doing, or having done to them for the next few hours and the next day. First they would be given a quick physical and a number of vaccinations for the up coming trip, and then they would be given new clothing and bedded down for the night. In the morning there would be breakfast and some instruction of what their duties would be once they arrived at their destinations. Also they would be instructed on how to board the Shuttle and transfer to the Orbiting Grand Virginian. Still there were many questions that were going unanswered. No matter how many times some one shouted the question, of why were they being shanghaied, Nelson pretended not to hear.

The meeting was called to an end, and they quickly followed Nelson to another set of rooms where they separated the men from the women. Inside a changing room, they were told to strip and take showers. When they came back out, they found new things laid out for them and their old clothing was gone. When they protested about losing their watches and valuables, Lieutenant Nelson, climbed on a bench so he could see and be seen. He announced that they would not need their watches or any of their old stuff. It would all be waiting for them when they returned. Still it was one more thing to anger the group.

The new clothing was nothing more than a one size fits all jump suit. When they were dried off and had put the orange colored suits on, they were led again down the hall where they were given a group physical. Not having any underwear, made the examination that much easier. There was more than not having underwear that made Tom feel Naked. The fact that his large pocket knife was gone, left an empty feeling where his back pocket use to be.

Finally they were given id cards with their pictures on them, and personal data on the back. These they hung around their neck with the attached strings. When they again, were joined with the women, and taken to their quarters for the night, everyone began looking at each others ID cards and commenting on their pictures. Tom and Richard did not have an interest in what the camera took. It didn’t inform them of anything they didn’t already know.

That evening they were placed in another section of the building, where bunks had been set up. This time they were all together, both men and women. All climbed into their separate beds with out removing their jump suits as they had nothing on underneath. The beds had a bottom sheet, but nothing between it and the one wool blanket that covered them. With the air conditioning going full blast, the one blanket was almost not enough. Tom became aware that many of the young ladies were still upset at being abducted. Tears that had been held back during the day, sprang forth like a river that night. Some, tried to comfort the others with soothing words, saying they would be back with in a year and be richer for the experience. After all, its what was promised them. Of course there were those, whose tears, just wouldn’t stop. They were scared, and had been handled like cattle on a drive. Nothing said or done this evening was going to change the despair in their hearts.

Richard and Tom spoke quietly as they were aware that some were trying to sleep. It was still playing on his mind that there was more than a three to one ratio of women to men. If like the government was saying, they were only going to be gone a year, Why all the women. Richard chuckled and asked him if he was against women. Tom shook his head. No, he was just aware that the ratio was way out of proportion. It had to be deliberate, as it would never have occurred by random selection.

“Your probably right? But I think that it’s a fail safe measure incase something goes wrong.” Richard surmised.

“Goes wrong, Like we get stuck there for a lot longer? Like maybe forever?”

“Doubt that it would be forever, cause we have a whole fleet of ships being built and put into space with those lift platforms. The Magnetic Flux drives have changed everything.” The awe in his voice revealed how strong he felt about the new machines. “Just think of it, Where we were only thinking of Mars and how long it would take to get there ... Now were going to another solar system, and its suppose to be in much less time then ever thought possible.”

“You sound like your all for us being shanghaied.”

“Well, I have to admit, its something that I always wanted to do. I just never thought I would get the chance. You’re an out doors man, Doesn’t it appeal to you. Just think of the adventure, a new world, new lands just waiting for your foot steps.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. But I’m being practical. I am old, maybe not that old, but I have old injuries that don’t help me get around. I hurt every time the weather changes and on top of that, I’m Tired...” Even though Tom had a light air to his voice, it was plain that he was serious about his aches and pains. “Maybe if I was younger,” he paused and then continued. “Yeah, if I was younger, I would be chomping at the bit to go. But I’m not young, and no body asked me if I wanted to go. That makes a difference. Nothing they can say, or promise is going to change that fact.”

“Well, I think its going to be one hell of a great adventure.” Richard spoke with enthusiasm coming through.

“Here’s something for you to think about Johnson.” Tom had been leaning on one elbow, now he laid back on his pillow. “Just why all the shots. Were not being vaccinated to make sure were not carrying some disease to a new world. That’s not why those shots are given. Think about it. Their giving us those shots in hopes that they may help stave off some new bug on the new planet. Hell most of the things we were vaccinated for don’t exist anymore.”

“Oh, god ... You could be right about that.” Richard clearly had concern in his voice.

“No doubt about it. I am right. The worry is, what kind of germs are we going to run into?” Tom not only gave Richard something to think about. He too wondered about the days ahead. It was late that night after staring into the darkness for what seemed hours that they finally fell asleep. For many of them it was a tough night for resting.

Laying in the darken room, Richard was pondering the situation and all the information that they had been given during the day. It wasn’t much, so it figured that there was a lot more to be told. He wondered just how much information they were keeping from them, and what dangers lay ahead.

The next morning they were rousted from their sleep by the blaring sound of revelry coming over speakers that were stuck every where. Stumbling out of the sleeping quarters, they again joined with the others and were led off to breakfast. The food was good, better than Tom ever had while he served in the military so many years ago. Looking around, he could see anger and tears in some faces. Still others, and not just a few of them, had what he thought were blank stares. As bad as he did not want to be in this so called big adventure, he knew there were others who were leaving a lot more behind then he was. Charlie was able to join them as they ate breakfast. He looked refreshed and happy with everything that was going on. As Tom was observing this in Charlie, Richard noted it too and asked him what was behind his buoyant mood.

“fter glancing around the room, Charlie nodded for them to come closer. Seeing that he didn’t want to speak aloud, both men leaned in to hear what Charlie had to say. AI scored last night.” he grinned at them. “Twice.” he smugly added the last.

Richard leaned back to his old position and laughed, “I’ll have you know that you weren’t the only one.” He told him. “I was called on to sooth and comfort a very nice young lady myself.”

“Just one?” Charlie arched an eye brow. “After taking care of one sugar plum, I was on my way back from the restroom, when I was grabbed by a lovely female needing some special attention. I could have probably serviced another one too, but by the time I got through with the second one, it was really late. Figured I would need some rest so I could be attentive today.”

Looking at Tom, they raised their eyebrows in question, Tom shook his head no and added. “Slept like a baby, the whole night through.”

Suddenly there was a blaring of a horn, it brought all the talking to a halt and then an announcement could be heard telling them to proceed to Hanson Hall, a location in another building. Standing at one of the doors, they could see Lt Nelson waiting for them. Gathering them into his assigned group, Nelson then led them across from the building, to another complex filled with computer screens and consoles. Once seated, they were told to sign in with their names. Tom had some trouble pecking in his name, as it was one of the few times in his life that he’d used a keyboard. A pleasant voice behind him, asked if he needed help. Turning he saw a redheaded young woman wearing her cinched up jump suit. Her efforts to arraigned her jump suit, gave evidence of a shapely body concealed beneath the folds of the material. Focusing his attention on the computer screen, He told her, any help would be nice, as he had his named typed in, but was unsure of what to do next.

Reaching across him, she hit the inter button and the screen changed. A flash of blue and then he saw a list of his duties that he would be expected to perform. Much of it was fancy talk, but he was to explore the local area where the Lander touched down and report on environmental issues concerning the safety of the expedition. He was to accompany any patrols, explorations, or movements of members of the Landing Group. As he read down the list, he noted that no where was he given any hint of authority. All he was to do was report and look around. The redhead, looking over his shoulder, remarked that he was going to be a scout.

“Like Davy Crockit, “ She smiled at him. “Your going to have the exciting part.”

“Davy Crockit wasn’t a scout. Kit Carson was a scout,” Tom chuckled. “And I doubt that I’ll be wearing buckskin anytime soon.”

“You would look good in Buckskin.” She assured him.

“I’m Tom, by the way. Tom Bonner.” He extended a hand towards her. She took it and told him her name was Linda Patterson. The teams dietitian. “Oh, so your going to be finding new things to eat?”

He was surprised at the puzzled look she gave him. “No, I am to supervise our dining habits and maintain health, by way of the ships supplies. Why? What have you heard?”

“Nothing, I just assumed that finding eatable things would be high on the list of things to do.”

“No, there is a two year supply of food stuffs, in each of those landing things.” She said some what relieved that Tom was just asking a wild question and it didn’t come from the command structure. “What I understand is, that I am suppose to see that everyone eats a varied diet and doesn’t just load up on the items they fancy. The only out side source that we will need will be water.”

“Well, good luck with that, but be thinking about adventures in dinning out. No matter what, some people are going to put strange things in their mouths.” he said it jokingly.

She looked at his computer screen and then back at hers. Clearly something was bothering her. Looking again at his duties listed on the screen, she hit the print out button. “Like I said, Were suppose to be there only one year with enough supplies to last two. My knowledge is of known food stuffs and I would not even know how to began to evaluate things from another planet.” The machine at this time spat out several copies of Toms duties, one of which, Linda snatched up and placed in a provided folder. “I think I will do a little inquiring of my own around here.”

“Your wondering if there’s more to this than what their telling us?” Tom was admiring the young woman. Even with that bland jump suit, she had found a belt and With a few clasps had given the suit some shape. It was the way of a woman to take something and make it more to her liking. It was hard to tell how much of a woman was inside that bulky jump suit, but Tom had the feeling that Linda had a very shapely body.

“Yeah, What you said kinda got me to thinking.” She looked around and saw some faces she knew. “I want to go talk to some friends and see what they have in their list of duties. Talk to you later, Okay?” She smiled, but was eager to be off across the room. Tom nodded, surprised she was being so polite to him, and admired her youthful beauty as she crossed the room...

Turning back to the computer, he picked up the mouse and going by the simple instructions, he clicked on some different headings, to see what else he could find out. The first thing he discovered was that he was to be given different clothing, clothing that he might request. Foot and head wear were to be his choice from the ships stores. He could request a knife, and a number of other tools, but he noted that there was no mention of a fire arm. He deduced that who ever made up this list of items, did not want him walking around with any real protection. He surmised that the fear of out right rebellion was foremost in their minds. A people that were taken against their will, were not to be trusted with a weapon. “Well, there’s ways of getting what one wants, or not doing what someone else wants.” He thought to himself. What ever they were going to experience when they got to their destination, he was going to have a few things his way, no matter what the so called people in charge Put down on paper. The image of the man being shot yesterday, was not forgotten. But buckling under was not on his list of things to do either.

Richard came over, looking perplexed. The first thing he did was read down Toms list of duties. After Tom asked him for the second time what was the matter, Richard turned and told him he couldn’t understand this whole thing. Pointing at the screen, he noted that Toms duties seemed to fit his profile. Being a Scout was in keeping with Toms back ground.

“Well then what are your duties?” Tom knew that this was where Richard was upset about. Something about the science teacher’s assigned duties was not what he had expected.

“It seems that I am to be the latrine orderly.” he announced flatly. “I am to pick out the areas where I think poop will slide down hill.” Richard pulled up a chair and plopped down. Exasperation in his voice. “This is what they kidnaped me away from my students for. Any one could read a manual and know that you don’t place a shitter up hill from your water source. This is really stupid, and a misuse of training and experience.”

Tom nodded his head in understanding as Richard went on about the stupidity of his assigned duties. It was clear that even now they might not be receiving the truth about what to expect. Tom had a feeling that no matter why they were all chosen, no one knew what they would be facing on another planet.

With each person clutching a folder full of printouts explaining their duties, they left the building and returned to the line up for shots and more shots. Some of which were nothing more than adhesive patches stuck on their skin. They were told to leave them on for twenty four hours. Tom had been tempted to rip them off, but figured he may need what ever good they were doing him. Safer to keep it. At dinner that night when all the vaccinations were over with, Goldmire made another appearance. Again the Major was at Goldmire’s side, looking stern and dangerous with the pistol strapped to his side. Tom was still eying the Major, thinking of a way to get at the man. He knew that if the Major was going with them, he would have dealings with him. The Major was the power behind the throne so to speak. Sooner or later, they would confront each other over some difference of opinion. Tom was thinking of ways to prepare for such an event. It would be unwise not to think ahead and contemplate what actions could be taken.

“I am here to announce that a scout ship has returned from the depths of space.” Goldmire was smiling as he directed them to look at the back wall of the dinning room. Suddenly the wall darkened and then lit up with what was a view of some stars, and a running display of colorful star clusters and gas clouds. “The Scout ship has checked out what we have determined to be the best chance of a colony being established and maintained. The Star has many planets, with several large gas giants like our Saturn and Jupiter. We think our giant size planets have protected the earth from Comets and Asteroids. By sweeping them from our solar system with their strong gravity fields, thus they removed most of the dangers. We think this was essential for higher life forms to develop. So the data has been loaded into the on board computers of the Grand Virginia and a course has been laid. All is set now and we only have to board the ship and be on our adventure.” Slowly the scene on the wall grew larger as if they were moving closer. Then there was a round sphere moving into the field of vision. It looked something like earth. There was a large moon, and a smaller one too. The scene changed to only the planet. “It has water, oceans to be exact and is slightly smaller than the earth. Its two moons are again smaller than our moon, and its day is several hours shorter than ours. But it’s habitable. It has been given the name, Kerkland in honor of our President.” The scene on the back wall changed to another view, this time the planet was bathed in a white haze. “As you can see, there are two planets in the system that we think can support life as we know it. This second one, is called the Maiden. It has a canopy of water vapor, that effectively hid the surface from the scout ship ... We don’t know much about it, but another scout ship will be leaving soon and by the time The Grand Virginia arrives in orbit around the Planet Kerkland, it should have all the information we will need about both planets.”

Several more men were gathering on the dias as Goldmire spoke. Soon Goldmire said all he had to say and introduced the rest of the men standing beside him. A general Devon was introduced as the man who would be assuming command after a firm foot hold was established on either of the two planets. Tom had heard of General Devon, he had been a trouble shooter for the president through his first term. Rumors were that the General had done some unsavory acts for the President, thus becoming his man to go to when anything questionable needed to be done. This assignment was payment for having served the President well. Just what things the General had done was obscured by wild accusations and unbelievable claims. Tom figured that most if not all had to be untrue as nothing was ever done about any of the rumors. Not even the usual finger pointing by congress. Still, as Tom listened to each of the semi important men make their speeches, he watched their eyes especially when they were not speaking. The way they looked about the room and checked out the armed guards that now accompanied the officials at each group meeting like this. It was as if they were afraid the guards would suddenly turn on them. Only General Devon seemed to be comfortable with the armed escorts.

Tom hardly listened to the political spiels of each speaker, but paid attention when they started showing the Grand Virginia and the Landing vehicles they would use to get to the planets surface. The machines were large rounded toped disks, with what looked like a huge cockpit at the top. They had been built two years ago, but with newer models using the Magnetic Flux drive, they were out of date. Newer landers, with the Magnetic Flux drive, could even re’orbit the planet and hook back up to the Ship. Those of the Grand Virginia, couldn’t and were a one way only lander. Course there was a good thing, as they were large, covering half an acre, and being several story’s tall, there was ample room for everyone. The Landers would serve as living quarters once on the planets surface. The bottom section of the Landers held the vehicles that would carry them across the planets terrain. There wasn’t much room for more than two of the vehicles, as the bottom sections of the landers incased the fuel and landing rockets, which were huge and took up most of the space. Two stories above that, were the living quarters, and supply rooms.

The Grand Virginia would be carrying a total of nine landers. The idea that a new world would be settled by establishing three separate Base’s. Three landers would make up a Base, and would set down at different locations. That way, it was hoped that they would find the better climate and location for maintaining a large population.

Each lander had a team that had trained for months to pilot them to the planets surface. It was rumored that it would be too great a waste of time and resources not to use them. The landers were the only intact craft on the grand Virginia that still held the electronics designed for them. The grand Virginia it’s self was carrying added on state of the art electronics, with the old, pushed aside to make room for all the new add ons. As it was, the ships crew had to be retrained more than once, almost from scratch.

Where as the Grand Virginia was designed to rotate to provide an artificial gravity as it sped towards Mars, its original goal,. Now with the Magnetic Flux drives, rotating the ship was not necessary. With the new science, gravity was achieved just by flicking a switch. Tom and all those about him were listening closely to each scientist as they informed them how the Flux Driven Lift machines would take them to the orbiting Grand Virginia and how they were to be transferred to the mother ship. It was fascinating to Tom, even though he was here against his will. He was finding himself looking forward to this Adventure as Goldmire called it.

One thing that perked everyone’s interest was a statement that they would be able to chose clothing that better suited them once they made planet fall. The news sent a mumble of approval through the crowd. Then before they could hardly digest what all they had learned, it was announced that they would be boarding the new lift platform in the next few minutes for the first leg of their journey. Suddenly the room was full of music, coming from unseen speakers. It was patriotic music with a marching beat that seemed to come up from the floor. Looking quickly around, Tom saw that on most faces, there was smiles and eager expressions. Enthralled with what was planned for them. He marveled at what a little music could do, and wondered perhaps if something was added to their food. This sudden mood change in everyone, was puzzling.

Ship Board.

Captain Nathen Spray watched the Shuttle come in with the last of the Passengers. Soon they would be sealing everyone in their protective inclosures. It was a necessity since the Grand Virginia did not have the protection required for all ships with the Magnetic Flux drive. Protective clothing was good enough for the shuttles, as they did not put the same amount of power to their engines as the Grand Virginia and the newer ships that were in the process of building. Only the landers were equipped with the thick protective coating, that would seal the passengers from the Flux as it energized itself. Once the drive was functioning and the envelope fully extended, it would be safe to walk about the unprotected parts of the ship. As it stood now, only the bridge and crews quarters were protected. The areas where crew members would be needed during start up would be manned by personal wearing the heavy cumbersome protective suits. The captain was of a sober mood, the complexities of the Grand Virginia with its several add ons, made the operating of it, almost mind boggling. Useless were the large rocket engines that were the first drive engines to be installed, and which no longer would be used. All navigating would be done vie the Magnetic Flux Drives. Nothing was ever removed from the ship, so now it was cluttered with machinery that would never be put to use.

As much as the Captain was unhappy about the ships condition, he was eager to start the mission. He was commanding the first ship to colonize a world beyond the solar system. The scout ships that were now returning with good or bad news of future sites to start the colony were the ones that grabbed the fame of being first to leave the solar system, other than unmanned craft. It was known to him, that there were other ships besides America’s that were being readied for the exact same purpose that the Grand Virginia was to serve. The Chinese were ahead of the others with the huge ship they were building in orbit, but as yet did not have a returning scout ship.

It had been disappointing after finding that the heavens had unnumbered stars with planets orbiting them, with very few of them earth like. Those they did find, with all the elements needed for life, also had something else that ruled them out. Most had too strong a gravity, or too extreme weather conditions and temperature’s for humans. Now with this news from the Presidents returning scout ship, they had a planet, maybe two that could support human life. The race was on. The first one there would get to claim it as their own, as was the agreement reached with other nations. It would be hands off for all others. By having only one nation settle a planet, the hope was that it would remove the main cause of war. That was their thinking, and every one was hoping it was right.

There were many more planets suitable for colonization, it would take just a little longer to check them out. The united nations voiced the hope that this would lead to a lasting peace on earth. It remained now, only for time to reveal if it could be done. Picking up the large brown envelope that contained his sealed orders, he contemplated opening them before the scheduled time. He was instructed to open them only after they were underway and not until. He of course always followed orders and knew it was the main reason he was picked for this command. Sealed orders meant that the mission was more than what was publicly acclaimed. Of course with the military attachment that would be landing with the so called pioneers, there had to be more to the story than what he had been told. The only thing about the mission that he trusted was his ships crew. They had been hand picked and gleaned from the cream of the crop, so to speak. What he didn’t like was having troops aboard with their assortment of weapons. If it were not for the fact that the ships crew contained so many of his comrades and friends, he would seriously consider walking away from it all. That he couldn’t do, he couldn’t leave them to serve under another, who would not be as concerned with their welfare as he was. Too many things were being kept from him, and having the presidents right hand man coming with them, was just one more factor that gave him a feeling of doom.

Nathen listen to the reports being announced as they came in. The communications officer was relaying all the communications from the shuttle to the Ship, and now the Shuttle was departing. It was a disappointment that they would not be taking a shuttle craft with them, as it was the only means they had to leave the surface of a planet and get back to the ship. All the landers were one way trips. Once down, on the planet, the pioneers would have to wait until the next ship to arrive with a shuttle craft, before they could be removed. It was in sharp contrast to what they had been told, that if anything went wrong, they would be picked up and returned to earth. Now it would seem that it might take a while before a rescue could be performed. Captain Nathen, just assured himself that he would not allow the landers to detach if there was any doubt as to the survivability of the landing forces.

Deep in thought, Nathen was brought back to the present, by the executive officer informing him that General Devon and Admiral Bueller were now on the bridge. Nathen remained sitting in the command chair and did not rise as would have been the proper thing to do. Because of the last minute preparations of getting under way and the departing shuttle craft, his full attention was needed for even the minor details.

The communications officer relayed that all shuttle craft and tenders were well away from the Grand Virginia. Nathen acknowledged the report and gave the order to began the warm up of all engine drives. The warm up was needed before they could engage power. Other wise, components would over heat from the surge and burn up. A low hum could be heard and felt as the ship began coming to life.

As it would take some time for all the systems to come online, Nathen greeted the General and Admiral Bueller with respect to their ranks. Admiral Bueller was interested in the underway process and watched the crew go about their tasks. The admiral had no idea on how things should be done, but he was pleased to see how professionally the crew was working together. He spoke to Nathen about how well things were going, and giving him credit for a smooth running crew. Nathen thanked him, and commented that the months of working in simulators had a big part in the training.

Nathen next asked General Devon if everything he needed, supplies and equipment had been placed aboard to his satisfaction. He knew the General didn’t have the faintest idea of what or where everything was or how it was stored, but he asked the question so the General would feel like he was not being neglected. The Generals job would start once he landed on the new planet with his troops and the pioneers. General Devon thanked Nathen for his concerned and stated that all appeared well in hand.

Nathen summoned the executive officer, William Hover, and asked him to show the Admiral and General Devon to their protected quarters, and attend to any last minute details that might come up. It was a good way to get them off his Bridge as he didn’t like having high ranking guests watching his every move. Especially with a green crew working together for the first time. He didn’t want any distractions during this critical time.

There were screens with read outs on every bulkhead that wasn’t covered with dials and switches. He could read them just as well as anyone, but it was deemed necessary that new and pertinent information be announced orally. So it was that each time something new would come on a screen the technician would announced it loud enough for the captain to hear. Even with all that, Nathen could still ask for information already given. Some of it was just double checking.

“How long to lock down?” He voiced the question, and a technician answered that they had five minutes before Condition Zebra could be set. “Are all the Pioneers secure in their quarters?”

The answer came back that they were. Captain Nathen smirked, noting to him self that they should be call Lambs to the Slaughter, instead of Pioneers. He knew enough about how they were gathered and picked for this mission to know every last one of them was expendable. He did not envy them at all. If any survived this mission it would be because of pure luck. If they should find a hostile environment, Not even the military attachment that was to descend to the planets surface with them, was trained sufficiently for that ... At least that was Captain Nathen’s thinking on the subject, but he was careful to keep his thoughts to himself. He knew the only reason they had the military attachment was to keep the pioneers in line and under control.

He had watched vie the view screens as the shuttle brought them to the ship. His crew had directed them like lost sheep to their quarters. He was pleased at the care his crew had given them. Making sure they went to the right Lander, assuring them that they were doing just fine, and seeing to it that they were secured properly for the launch sequence. The landers were perhaps the best protected areas attached to the ship, having been given the protective coating before being brought into orbit and attached to the ship. The Bridge was given a coating, but it was not enough. They would all have to wear special clothing to keep their insides from cooking as the magnetic envelope was formed. That was the critical period, As the ship energized its self, and the field developed. The waves of energy would burn them, if not for the special coating given their clothing and painted on what bulkheads were not covered with instruments and dials.

As the ships horn blasted out the last warning, Nathen gave the order to increase power to the Flux Drives. A quick look about the bridge, confirmed that everyone was incased in their protective suits and Nathen then closed the visor on his. The visor was a video screen, since a see through glass visor would not provide protection from the magnetic pulse when the flux drive fluttered into full strength. Even with the added protective suit, a tingle could be felt as the field developed. To some it was a sick feeling in their stomachs, and to others a flu like feeling through out their joints. In all cases it was a very discomforting passage of time. Once the field had developed its full envelope, all was safe and normal. Then full power could be fed to the field and the ship would set off on its journey. A small stabilizing inter field kept the ships gravity at one point three of earths normal field. It would slowly increase with time, as it was believed that the planets they were heading for had a stronger gravity field then earths. It was hoped by the time they arrived, all would be adjusted to the stronger pull. Nathen suspected that there would be a greater atmosphere pressure too, but it was felt that they would adjust to that quickly, and would not need a prolonged gradual increase. It wasn’t Nathen’s problem, since he would not be making Planet fall with them, but still he cared. They were after all, human and had not volunteered for this mission. Thinking about it, he realized that no one had volunteered for it.

To anyone watching the Grand Virginia depart, they saw the ship, slowly start a fuzzy shimmer and then go through a color change. Just as they were noting the different hues in the glowing field around the ship, it left in a long swift streak that was suddenly gone. Only an unseen ripple of space occurred as the ship moved through what has been described as a wormhole, a time warp, hyper Space and so many other things. As yet, science had not come up with an accurate description of just what it was that they traveling through. All Captain Nathen knew was that they had to maintain the power envelope for a certain length of time, at a certain level and they would be where they were going. This mission would take them eight days to get where they were going. Too strong a field or weak and they would be at a different location when they came out of the magnetic flux envelope. The same if they stayed in it for too long or not long enough. Every thing had to match perfect. That was why the ships company was twenty-five percent navigational programers.

The field was up, and all seemed to be as it should be. Nathen watched as the bridge crew went about reading the gauges and checking the computers. The officer of the deck after getting the last report from the technicians, turned to the captain and affirmed that all was well. Nathen acknowledged the report and gave permission to set the standard underway watch. There was nothing more to be done, unless something unforseen happened. He passed command over to the officer of the deck, and secured himself from the bridge. Even the few moments he had spent in the safety protective suit had left him drenched in sweat. A quick stop off at his private quarters and a fast change of uniform, he was ready to greet the Admiral and general with the proper courtesy that their rank called for, but first there was the matter of opening his sealed orders.

Taking his key from around his neck, Nathen inserted it in the lock of the small safe that was mounted in the bulkhead. It opened easily as was to be expected since everything on the ship was new. Taking out the envelope, Nathen unsnapped the clasp and broke the seal. A single sheet of folded paper slid out and he opened it up. Scanning over the usual introductory jargon, and known mission details, he finally came to the crux of the matter. There it was, in black an white, authority to use what ever force he deemed necessary to complete the mission. Contrary to what he’d been told before there was also notification that he was to return to Earth Orbit, immediately after the departure of all landers. He had first been told that he was to stay in orbit around the planet and ascertain the condition of all Landing Vehicles before returning to earth. Now that seemed to be less important than getting back and making a report to The President. Nathen understood that with his return, the President could command more resources for this personal exploration and colonizing of a new world. Whether the pioneers were surviving, was not important, only the fact that they had landed on a new world and established a base was all that mattered.

Nathen spread the paper out on his desk and pondered his role in all this. To use deadly force on this mission would be barbaric and would stain the whole operation. He was aware that a mans life had been taken at the Space Center, for what ever reasons, Command had deemed it necessary. He however was not going to bloody his ship if there was anyway at all to avoid taking that horrible step. Not even if it meant jeopardizing the mission, he would not order the taking of anyone’s life. Still, he knew that there were other ways these orders empowered him. He could resort to complete force to maintain his command. Having higher ranking brass on this Mission could make command, tedious. With these orders he was given the power, to over ride rank as status in order to full fill his Mission. Nathen folded the paper again and put it and the envelop back in the safe. There just might be cause to show it to all incase there was disagreement of his command.

There was a small gathering of officers in the wardroom, where the “dmiral and General Devon were discussing details of their mission. Nathen arrived as the General was expounding on how history would look at them as heros. Also the stories and plays that would portray them as bigger than life. Admiral Bueller softly smiled and said, AIn that case, we should all mind our manners and weigh carefully what comes out of our mouths.”

A chuckle rose from the crowd and the General nodded his head in agreement, but raised a finger to express another point. “History can and has always been rewritten by contemporaries. So even if we speak with guarded tongues, it depends on who in the coming ages, expounds on our deeds. Even the least mannered of our leaders, have been painted with Honor and greatness. It just depends on whether a man is a success or not. And I assure you all, that this mission will be a success.”

“A great many lives are depending on it.” “dmiral Bueller stated and raised a glass. AThis may only be a fruit drink, but never the less, I suggest we drink to the success of this dangerous mission.” The General gave a nod in agreement and they all raised their glasses. “To success.” they spoke altogether.

“fter the glasses had been lowered and a moment of silence followed, a young marine officer spoke. ADo we have any idea of what we should expect when we get there?”

AYes, expect to be surprised in all things. We do know that the planets are similar in size to earth and have about the same percentage of elements in their atmospheres. Unfortunately we don’t know what the ground conditions are. That fact was do to the urgency of getting this mission under way. Since there are two planets, it is safe to assume that one at least will be accommodating to our needs. Therefore we can expect life to be on the same order or about, as we have on earth. The universe having the same elements throughout, the laws of science, as we know them will apply.

Filling his own glass with the fruit punch that every one had toasted with, Nathen sipped it thoughtfully. He was interested in the conversation going about the ward room, but he didn’t agree that Success was as assured as the General was saying. Nathen would not voice his misgivings, as he didn’t want to be the one to put any discouragement in the hearts of the men. Their lives would be put to the test soon enough, and what ever internal strength they possessed would have to see them through. Nathen was just glad that he would not be setting down on any planets surface. At least not until conditions had been throughly checked out. A world of strange exotic beasts, most likely will be waiting for them. The dangers could be way beyond any thing imagined. To survive might prove to be difficult to say the least. As yet, no one had ever brought up the possibility that monsters could be waiting for the first humans that landed. Not even among the lower ranks where rumors had the habit of sprouting up like weeds.

“Admiral,” Nathen spoke from his crowed section of the ward room. Every head turned towards him, giving him space to be seen by the “dmiral. AI am not familiar with the supplies and materials to be landed with the Mission. And since, we will not be able to extract anyone until our second mission with a Shuttle, I hope that you will have the means of protecting yourselves until our return.”

“Thank you for your concern Captain.” the “dmiral held his glass to Nathen in a kind of salute. AI assure you that every descending Lander will have the means of defending itself. Small arms are secured aboard each one. Of course under lock and key, to be used only at the direction of the Officer in charge. Also we will conduct a through imaging of any planet before we make a decision to set down. We won’t be going in blind, Captain.”

“Yes,” the general joined in. “Each lander is part of what will be a base. Three landers will make up one base. The first lander will house the Landing force of marines and will secure the area, where the remaining two landers will touch down. The Pioneers next and then the supply lander with all the tools necessary for establishing a larger base for the next wave of pioneers and settlers. What we are doing, is building a new nation, on a new world. A strong powerful nation that will be greater than anything man has ever known.” A rousing cheer greeted the Generals words, and he smiled triumphantly at his officers.

The admiral nodded at the generals words and added, A After we are secure in our Base’s we will give Captain Spray, the okay and then he will depart back to earth and shortly return with our supplies and enough shuttle crafts to extract every one. Even if things go badly, which I doubt will happen, because we will as I said, examine the planet throughly. Were not out to find a planet with risk, we want one that’s calm and serine for settlement. As I was saying, the time that we will be on the planets surface with out a shuttle, is only as long as it takes the Grand Virginia to load up and get back. I figure it will be only a matter of a few weeks.

The talk went on long after Nathen had excused himself and returned to his duties. Which at this time, was to get a bit of shut eye, while things were still calm. Returning to his quarters, he mused as to why he should maintain orbit around the planet after the landers where launched and on the ground. Any thing that the ship could do, the satellites placed in Orbit would do the same. If there was any danger, there was nothing that the ship could do. The people on the planet would have to wait until the Grand Virginia returned with a shuttle craft of some sort to get them off the planets surface.

Course Correction

Even before He heard the page, Captain Nathen Spray knew something was a mis. A slight power interruption dimmed the lights for only a moment, but it was enough to cause concern. “ny disruption no matter how slight was of grave concern. The speaker was again calling. ACaptain to the Bridge.” Meaning he was needed to either take over from his junior officer or note some condition that had arisen. He had no idea what the problem was, as the course change was not for another twelve hours, or so he thought. Arriving on the bridge, everything seemed to be running smooth.

“Sir,” the officer of the deck, said coming back to the commanders chair. There were actually four such chairs, with desks that could be swung into place so that manuals or charts could be studied. A larger plot room was directly behind the bridge where a number of people were gathering as the Captain took a seat. “The ship is preparing to come out of flux drive.” The OD informed him with a concerned edge to his voice.

“Its early isn’t it.” Nathen replied as he signaled a yeoman to bring him the ships log. An officer set the clip board on the desk and had it clicked onto the proper section. Nathen quickly scanned the log to see if anything had taken place that would explain what he was about to hear from his OD.

“Yes Captain, this is at least ten hours ahead of schedule. No change is programed to be happening at this time.” The OD stated. Nathen could tell that he was waiting for orders.

“How far into the shut down are we?”

“We went to faze two just as you came on deck Sir.” He told him as others at their consoles were calling out conditions. “Not responding to over ride Sir. Nine minutes to shutdown.”

“What components are involved with the shutdown?” Nathen asked as he spun the dial on his clipboard, trying to find something out of place in the ships log. He quickly eliminated command factor, nothing was out of line in that sector. It had to be a programing error or a breakdown with a drive.

AIt appears to be a general shutdown Sir. All Power is being closed down, only emergency and secondary auxiliary grids are still showing normal.

“Sound General Quarters, Lets get everyone into the safety areas. It looks like were definitely coming out Flux drive.” Nathen hated the thought of going back into the protective suit, but it was with out a doubt that the envelope was going to collapse. They would soon be standing still in deep space, with nothing in the main power grid. As the envelope collapses, he knew the field would burn any living thing not in a safety area, or wearing a protective suit. It angered him, that Politics put them in this white elephant rather then waiting another month for the newer ships that were completely incased in protective shielding.

His protective suit was brought to him and several crew members helped him into the cumbersome garb. All around the bridge, men were being helped on with their protective suits. Nathen smiled as he saw the disgruntled looks on their faces as they climb into them. He wasn’t the only one that hated the sweat boxes as many were beginning to call them. He was surprised at how fast the suit was snapped in place and again he was confined in what he thought of as a walking closet. He made a slight adjustment with his speaker and could hear the announcement that they were now at faze four. In the back ground he could hear the claxon sounding General Quarters. On any other type ship, general quarters was another word for Battle Stations. As there was nothing to fight with or anyone to fight, it was adopted for their emergency call to get to the protective areas. Even in his suit, he felt the deck vibrate as heavy doors were closed and dogged shut. His visor was still open, and he could see that every one around him was now ready and those that had dressed them in the suits were disappearing into their safety areas.

The Officer of the Deck was still at his post, Nathen could tell him from the others because his suit had black and white stripes on the arms. Nathen’s Suit like wise had Blue shoulders, while everyone else wore the standard orange suits. “Alright, everyone button up. The envelope is closing.” Having said that the OD snapped his visor down in place. Nathen glanced around, making sure everyone heard the order, then he too snapped his visor down and waited for the flux field to pass through as the envelope collapsed around them.

It was only a few moments after he had secured himself in the protective suit when Nathen felt the tingling creep through him. He hated the feeling, as it effected his bowels, giving him the feeling that he was about to lose them in his suit. It was good that the envelope closed rather quick, as if lasted much longer, he would surely loose body control. Beside the effect it had on his intestines, his hair and eyes felt like needles were poking them. Then as suddenly as it came, it was gone. The next step, was to verify that the flux drive was down, and secure, but as it was an automatic shut down, and not a controlled one, he wasn’t sure. Since the OD, was the one to go over the display in his suit and make the announcement, Nathen waited to see how the young officer was going to handle the situation.

“Sir,” Nathen heard the OD through his speakers. “I recommend that we close the main power switch.” It was smart thing to do, as if the power was suddenly to come back on, and the flux drive restarted any one with an open suit would be cooked. By shutting the main power switch, there could be no accidental start up. As there was no power in the grid, they would not be losing anything. Nathen confirmed that it was the right thing to do. It was so ordered and when the word came back that it was done, they all began to get out of their suits.

“What is the radiation level?” Nathen enquired. With out the flux drive and the envelope in place, they were without their main shielding. A quick check, found that all was within safe levels. That didn’t mean that the radiation levels would stay the same, but for the time being things were alright. “Okay, get those Programers working on the problem. Have our engineering staff start going over the drives. What’s the power level in the cells?”

A puzzled technician looked up from his console and Stated with disbelief, “The Cell’s are fully charged.” With the power failure, he was sure that all the cells had to be dead or at least low in energy. Nathen popped his suit open and struggled out. Telling the OD he would be with engineering, he left the bridge and made his way back to the engineering spaces. He knew that what ever they had to do to get things running again, they would have to do it soon, as the auxiliary power would soon drain out, and then they’d lose the ships internal gravity. When that went, they would be floating around inside like balloons. The next step would be to start the stabilizer engines and rotate the ship. That would give them some sort of walking weight, but not enough to live with.

The engineering officer was directing his team, checking everything from the power cells to the radiation pads. Looking for anything that seemed different. The electronic smell in these spaces, tended to make Nathen sick, but like all the adverse things about the ship, he held it in. Commander Conway, saw Nathen come in, and shook his head. “So far, we can’t find a damn thing wrong. I have the men going over all the circuits and every thing is fine. The computer read outs state that all is functioning normal. I don’t think its drive problem.”

“It has to be, the Drive shut down.” Nathen pointed out.

“Yeah, but not because it was broke. It got orders to shut down.” Conway pointed to the record board. “Or I should say the lack of orders. The computer didn’t read out anything. If it was mechanical, there would be some sort of message there, stating something. As you can see, there’s nothing. With out the computer, the engines shut down. Slowly that’s for sure, but they shut down. They worked just fine going through the shutdown. So the mechanic process is working, or we would have had a sudden drop in power. All the cells are fully charged, so it has to be a computer problem.” The commander nodded, assuring himself that he was right in pointing out what he thought was the cause.

Nathen nodded his head in agreement and asked, “Any idea, what the computer problem is?” knowing that the engineering officer wouldn’t have the answer.

“No,” Conway laughed. “Those things don’t work with reason, we need some one involved in witchcraft to figure em out.”

“I’ll see what we can come up with.” Nathen turned to leave.

“Captain, we can start up one of the secondary drives, it will give us some power, but it will take us about thirty thousand years to get anywhere.”

“We may need it for the ships gravity. But if we get some sort of radiation storm, it will all be over. You know better than me, how much the hull will keep out.”

Conway, came up with an idea that he had been pondering. “You know, If we get a drive going, and generate power, we can double the ships Gravity, or even more, and that will act as a radiation shield too. Not a very good one, but maybe good enough?”

AOkay, Chief, You get it set up and ready to go. Right now I want people working under the best condition for getting this vessel back on track. Increasing the gravitation that much will be too great a distraction. Lets just hope we get things going before we need to implement it.

Nathen left the engineering spaces and headed back towards the bridge. The next stop on his list was to check his computer programers and see what they were working on. The navigation Plot was full of people studying the computer screens through out the ozone smelling room. Again, the smell assailed his nostrils, it was so strong it was giving him a head ache. Standing in the hatchway, Nathen was looking for the head programer. He saw him over at a large Screen with several tech’s scanning through a never ending set of screens. Moving up slightly to the side and behind Him, Nathen asked him what progress they were making.

Looking around at the Captain, William Kerley, shook his head. “Nothing yet. We took the Ships Course Plot and ran it through and through, nothings out of place there. Even if it was off Course, it wouldn’t have shut down. I didn’t figure that we would find anything there anyway, since it was checked many times over.” Sweat was beading on his brow, a nervous sweat as he knew like everyone else that if they didn’t find what was wrong they would spend eternity drifting in space. Their fate depended entirely on getting to the crux of the computer glitch.

“Can you switch to another computer?” Nathen was thinking of the safe guards of having back up computers incase something went wrong with one, they would have another to take its place.

“Well, its not the computers. Its something in the programing that’s wrong. We just have to find what it is.” Kerley shook his head with bewilderment. “I don’t know how long its going to take, but I am sure we will find it.”

“You better, or were going to be spending a lot of time out here.” Nathen ponder on what Kerley had said. “You know, I wouldn’t waste time with add on programs, you know, like the galley and such. If you don’t think it was in the navigation codes, maybe its in the root program.”

Kerley looked at him, Puzzled. “Root Program?”

“I don’t know.” Nathen shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know anything about programing.” He patted Kerley on the shoulder. “I’ll have the galley send up some coffee.” So saying, he left the room and went back to the bridge. His safety suit was still standing where he’d clambered out of it. It looked like some sort of monster, with all the straps hanging loose. It was well that it was left there as he would have to clamber back into it, once they got the computers up and running again.

After the Captain left, the head programer began to think about what he’d said about a root program. It was an off hand remark but it got him to thinking about past programing errors. Errors that had occurred with other space launches. The ship its self was a mixture of different drives and programing that was suited for the engines and tasks that were installed for their time. The fact that later state of the art electronics and drives had been added, only called for more programing. So far they had been going through the programing that worked the drives that they were using. The old programs were still in the system. Just maybe there was a conflict in conjunction with two or more ... It was worth looking into, but it was going to take even more time.

Tom was feeling better, but he wasn’t so sure he could go through many more of those Flux envelopes as they called them. Even in the safety of the shielded Lander, it still crawled over him in a nerve chilling tingle. Others seem to weather the process better, but there were those like him, that paled every time they went through it. He was grumbling to himself, about the discomfort the whole process was putting him through. He wasn’t looking forward to living for a year on this so call earth like planet they were going to. Maybe if they had done this when he was younger, he might have felt different. Now, he was more interested in being comfortable. The harsh life of being a hunting guide, was no longer appealing to him. Too many thumps and bumps along the way, had left him with a lot of weather related pains. Even a slight change, in cloud cover, brought on aches. This flux drive even made his joints hurt. He was thinking about seeing if they had any aspirin in the Lander, but decided to forego it and just relax in his bunk.

Toms bunk, the one assigned to him, was shielded from the corridor by a fiberglass curtain. One that just slid back and forth. It wasn’t much but it did keep the lights out and he could sleep with out being seen by everyone passing through. Although most of the other bunks were better, being four to a small cubical, Tom could not envision himself living like this for a year. Richards bunk was no better as it was the one above his. Most bunks were stacked three high. If the over head was any higher, they would have put another bunk in. As it was, most everyone felt the need to walk hunched over through the corridors, because of the low ceilings. Only men were assigned these bunks in the passage ways, with the women getting the cubical’s and the little privacy they afforded. The bunk its self was nice. Tom discovered that it was adjustable, making sleeping easy and comfortable. It could assume almost any position except for sitting up, and the only reason it couldn’t do that was for lack of space and the bunk above.

Sleep had almost settled on him, when Tom felt the movement of some one climbing into the upper bunk. “That you Richard.?” He asked. He heard Richard mumble an answer as he thumped down heavy on the pad. Tom waited for a few moments before asking if there was any news about anything. Richard seemed to have the ability to be where important things were happening and managed to gain some insight as to what was going on at the time.

“Just that something’s wrong with the computers and the commands to the engines. That’s why were shut down out here in the middle of nothing.” Richard said with a sigh. Taking a deep breath he added that things were serious and if they didn’t come up with an answer they would finish out their lives right here. “And it won’t take very long.” he added.

“You seen Charlie?” Tom wondered how this was effecting his redheaded friend. Charlie was never one to face difficulties with calmness. To have nothing to do, While others seemed at a loss as what to do, was not reasuring. Charlie tended to voice his concerns when situations turned sour. Tom was mildly surprise when Richard informed him that Charlie was more interested in the ladies than the computer problems that lead to the engine shut down.

“Oh he’s doing fine. Chasing some females around. Wish I could lose my self like that. Just forget what was happening around me and latch on to some cute thing and immerse my self in her charms.”

“You might as well. There is nothing we can do about the problem. Well, I should speak for my self. Still you could do that, and it might help the young lady too.” Tom was thinking of a certain dark haired woman he’d seen earlier. With the women out numbering the men, he thought he just might stand a chance of spending some time with her, if he ever got the chance.

Richard laid back against his pillow. Relaxing he thought for a moment. “You know, That’s what they want us to do.” He flipped the light switch off, to his reading lamp. “Get involved with the women. Let sex cloud our minds to where were not thinking straight.”

“Happens every time.” Tom muttered loud enough for Richard to hear. “That shouldn’t come as a great surprise.”

“No, but there’s this, I don’t think after they get us to where were going, that they will come back for us.” Richard rolled over to where he could look down at Tom in the bunk below him. A I think the plans are to leave us there. No return, no cash pay out, nothing to answer for. It will be the old “Out of sight out of Mind.”

“I don’t think it will matter anyway.” Tom was mulling something over in his mind. “You ever pay much attention to history?” Richard nodded saying he did, wanting Tom to continue with his point. “Well, think back about what happened when the Europeans came to America. Think about what happened.”

“The local natives got their ass’s kicked and all their lands stolen from them.” Richard Chuckled, making light of the topic.

“Yeah, but before that happened, they were damn near wiped out with all the diseases, brought over with the new arrival’s. Its going to happen again.”

“You mean were going to infect the new world?”

“Yes and vice versa. The new world is going to infect us. Whether or not, anyone comes back for us, might just be wasted effort, if were all dead anyway.”

“Christ!!” Richard rolled back to lay staring up in his bunk. “I hadn’t thought about that. War of the worlds all over again. Were all going to catch a common cold and die.” “gain he chuckled. AOh well. How does one prepare for that?”

“We did get every shot known to man. At least we won’t be spreading very many of our germs on the new world.” Tom yawned and then decided to get some sleep. Telling Richard that he was still feeling the effects of the so called Flux drive, he closed his eyes and did his best to drift off.

Richard, was wide awake now, thinking of how to best over come the new germs that would be on any new planet that they were going to settle. He resolved that he would always use an air filter when and if he went out side. The second thing would be to drink only the sterile water from the Landers Water Vaps. Food would not be a worry as there was a great supply of prepackaged meals. The main thing he had to concern himself about was general contamination, the dust and air that would settle on clothing. Once they left the Landers, there was no way they could keep from being contaminated. Just thinking about it, made his head reel. He resolved to bring it up with that attractive medical officer that he’d met on the mess deck. Even that she was older she was still a good looking woman. It would be a good opening to get to know her better.

Tom had no idea how long he’d slept, but he woke to the pain in his legs. Mostly it was from the flux drive thing, but there was the old weather aches that the ships air pressure kept bringing out. What ever the cause, the pain woke him and now he could not get back to sleep. He remembered thinking earlier that he should check out the medical department and see about some aspirin or some other drug. Any thing to sooth the ache in his legs. Slipping out of the bunk, Tom made his way through the dim lighted corridors, The ships crew worked around the clock, sleeping in shifts so that the ship was continuously manned and running. The other personnel, assigned to the landers, were on a different schedule. With Tom and the others, it was a daylight to dark time schedule, that matched the rotation of the worlds they were headed for. Sleeping hours, meant that the living quarters would dim the lights and most activities would cease. Stepping out of the landers into the main body of the ship, they emerged into the continuous running ship. Only the sleeping quarters of the ships crew were darkened. With the red glow of the night lights providing the visual aid in the passage ways between berthing compartments.

Following the signs and arrows, Tom made his way to the ships medical center. The young lady that served as the receptionist, listened carefully to him, writing something down on electronic clipboard. Showing him to another small room, where he was told to remove his shirt, and take a seat on the exam table. Tom thought it a lot of hog wash, just to get some aspirins. He was about to mention how silly this all was, just to get some pain relief and that he didn’t need an examination for it, when in walked the woman.

It was the same woman he’d seen in the large hall, where the man had been shot. The beauty that made him think of being with some one again. She was older, not as old as he was, but still he could see that youth was leaving her. Still there was beauty there, beauty that would be there long after the child bearing years were gone. For Tom it was like looking at a Painting by the old Masters. She was dark haired, soft featured and moved smoothly. She wasn’t large in the chest, but that hardly mattered, as everything about her was beautifully female...

Looking at her hand, Tom noted the absence of a ring. “Your not married, or just not wearing a ring.” The words were out of his mouth before he realized it.

The words brought a smile to her lips. She hadn’t expected such a blunt statement and question. “Same to you. I see your not wearing a ring either.”

Her voice was as Tom remembered. The voice alone would have been enough to grab Toms attention. For it to belong to woman of such beauty, was an act of god. “Were all single on this big adventure. Just hard to believe that...” Tom paused, smiled and then said. “Well, you’re the most strikingly beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“You must not get out much.” She replied with out looking up from the papers the receptionist had filled out. “Says here, your suffering from leg cramps?”

“Pains, not cramps.” Tom rubbed his knees to show where the pain was mostly. “And your right, truth is, I’ve spent the last ten years, pretty much away from everything.”

“Prison.” she said with out looking up.

“Hunting lodge.” Tom chuckled at her remark. “A little different than prison.”

“Well what can we do for you?” She put the paperwork down a counter, and looked at Tom with a no nonsense stare. It was plain to see that she was not impressed with his opening remarks.

“All I wanted was some Aspirin, Seems like every time, they start this machine, it hits me right in the legs. Well, other places too, but my legs hurt the most.”

“We can do that.” She slid open a drawer and took out a small envelope. “There’s several doses, in this.” she handed it to Tom.

“Thanks,” Tom took the packet and began getting back in the top part of the jumpsuit. “Look, Doctor, it is doctor isn’t it?”

“Yes, I’m Doctor Morrison.” her voice had lost some of its allure, but Tom wasn’t concerned about that.

“What I mean to say, is that I am not caught up in all the current social manners. Hell, I guess people could say that I don’t have any, and for that I apologize. Your still beautiful and you’re a good doctor, cause just looking at you, made me feel better.” Having said that, Tom turned and walked out of the room.

Doctor Morrison made a few notes on the paper work, and placed it in a folder. To say that she was unimpressed by Tom’s words was text book failure. She just hoped that there would be fewer and fewer people like that in her life. They always start out with what they think are cute remarks, but it ends up with a strong personality problem. Nut cases mostly. How ever it would end up, Shondra Morrison Md, didn’t have time for it in her life. Her professional career took up all of her work day and her personal life. There wasn’t room for men in her life, especially those with suffering personalities.

Still there was something in the mans manor that caught her interest. Crude as it was and straight out of book of bar pickup lines, she had enjoyed his opening statement to her. What she really liked was the way he dropped it and just left. Right now she didn’t want to deal with any type of relationship, personal or professional. She did pick up the paper work and read the name a second time. With a sigh, she replaced the folder in the proper box and went back to the wall of other paper work that needed to be sorted through.

Had the schedule remained the same, there would have been plenty of time to organize the medical department aboard the Grand Virginia, but with the jumped up time table, it just wasn’t possible. Now with the ship underway, she was still going through the motions of organizing the department. She had been away on leave at the time of gathering up the Pioneers and Crew members, and had been brought back at the same time. Seeing the gathering operation in action, had been a shock. So many people taken away from their daily lives, and against their will, it turned her against the whole mission. But like all the rest, there was no way she could have backed out. Once your name had been entered on the missions list, that was it. There was no way of getting out of it.

Unlike the rest of the department heads, she alone knew for a fact that all the vaccinations given to the crew and Pioneers, was not to keep from bringing a disease to the new world, but to help their bodies fight off the new germs and diseases that were sure to confront them on any livable planet. How many they would lose, was a question that was haunting her. The fear was, there would be no one to greet the returning ship when the year was over. That information, Shondra was keeping to herself. Her orders were to place the dead in Body Bags, for later examination. No one was to be buried in the new world. All specimens were to be frozen and kept in that state until retrieved by the next mission.

Once the Landers were on the Planet, She was not to leave the confines of the Medical department with out a bio suit. Everything had been provided for her and her staff of five assistants, to live the year in the department, until the return of the Grand Virginia. Food, water, and entertainment which among other things consisted of a vast data bank of movies. They did have permission to leave the medical labs and even go out side the confines of the Landers, as long as they were in bio suits and followed the decontamination procedures to the letter. Any exposure would mean that person would not be allowed back into the medical departments inter spaces, they would still see patients in the exam rooms, and would no longer have to wear the bio suits. They could not join the inner group again. Shondra mused to herself how long it would take them to expose themselves so they wouldn’t have to be separated from the rest of the crew. The staff of three women and two men, knew their orders were to maintain the security of the department and had taken an oath not to contaminate them selves or the Medical Spaces. Still a year was a long time to live under such conditions.

There was also the fear of the rest of the crew putting up with the bio suited medics. To be coming down with exotic diseases and have special people living apart from them, and remaining free of sickness, might cause some discontent. What actions might be taken against them, was another concern that furrowed Shondra’s brow. The fact remained that if she wanted to be around for those in need, she would have to enforce the quarantine of the medical department from the rest of the ships crew once they were on the planets surface.

Later, after the ship was underway again, she would go over the duties with her staff. They needed to practice living apart and maintaining a bio secure area. An accidental contamination was the most logical event that would befall the whole scheme. The safe guards against an accidental contamination was already in place. All that needed to be done, once the Lander was on the planet, was to lock the main hatch and close off the medical lab from the rest of the lander. They could still see patients, but only in the exam rooms wearing the bio suits with plastic tunnels. The suits were much like the protective suits worn by the captain and certain crew members when engaging the flux drive. Only the medical suits were entered from the back, from another room. Once in the Medical Suit, the medic could move about the exam room, and treat the patient. A large plastic tunnel connected the suit to the wall. So when the Medic was through, they had to back up to the wall, and then exit the suit. That way, there was no contact between the patient and medic. It wasn’t the best of affairs, but it would keep the Medical staff from being contaminated.

Shondra knew that it was in the best interest of the crew, that the system worked. A healthy medical department would be able to treat the sick, even if hampered by clumsy bio suits. With all the exam rooms being entered from the outer areas, Patients could come and go with out physical contact with any of the medical staff. Even with all its draw backs, she was confident that it would work.

Problem solved

The words on the view screen said, Problem Solved. It brought a surge of relief to the shoulders of Nathen Spray. He touched his finger to the view screen and said, “Meet me on the Bridge.” The message was quickly relayed to the engineering officers vew screen. Cdr Conway picked up his logbook and headed in the direction of the bridge. He’d been working on the problem non stop and was beginning to get the shakes from all the coffee he’d consumed. A good meal was what was needed, but it would have to wait until after meeting with the captain.

Nathen was already seated at the navigation table, which was a view screen that could bring up any image or view that was desired. Right now, it held the view that Cdr Conway had been working on with his logbook. Looking up at the commander when he entered, Nathen asked what he had.

“Its in the basic programing.” Conway, said pointing to an area on the screen where the ships main computers were located. “It’s a problem that surfaced in the space program decades ago. We just assumed that it was fixed and removed when the agency supposedly purged all the systems. It seems that the Grand Virginia was over looked.”

“Alright, What is it.” Nathen wanted to cut to the chase.

“It’s a matter of the computer being confused between the standard and metric systems. What happened in a nut shell, was the systems over lapped and the count was thrown off. Were lucky that the ship went into a controlled shutdown. Course that is more or less mechanical.”

“Is this problem fixable?” Nathen asked as Conway, brought up the outlay of a computer program on the table.

“Yes and No.” Conway answered. “We can patch a solution in, but we can’t redo the basic programing. Not here at least. Back at earth, we can replace the defective sections, but we don’t have that sort of replacement here. What we can do, is program around the problem, and redo the Ships course. It will take longer and we won’t have a foundation to work from.”

“Meaning What?”

“Meaning, were going to cut it fine. We will be running low on power before we can restart the main grid. So I need you to okay the change.”

“You sure this is the problem?” Nathen gave him a wary eye.

Cdr Conway, sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “Its all that I have found. The patch will work, anyway, but until we do something were going to be running out of power for the ships systems. We can’t take a chance on the main grid until we have a controllable program.”

Nodding his head, Nathen gave him the okay. “Get everyone you need working on it. Anything the rest of the ship can do for you just say what.”

“I need something to eat.” Conway, picked up his logbook and headed back to engineering. “We will have to keep working until its done.”

Nathen glanced over at an aide, who understood the look and spoke the command set that was built into his uniform. The galley was already sending food to the engineering dept space’s. That part of the problem was easy to fix, what was bothering the captain now was what to do when or if the power was lost to the ships life support systems. With the flux drives down, there was no way to energize the system. At least not with out firing up the rocket engines, that were obsolete. That was another screw up as far as he was concerned, but it might be their salvation yet. The rocket system was for the ship when the mission was to take them to Mars. In deep space, they were next to useless. The fuel and rockets would long burn out before ever reaching a star system. What they could do was provide power to run the ships systems until the problem with the computers was worked out and the flux drives were powered up. There was still the same problem of routing the power to the life support systems without going through the main power grid.

The routing was a problem for engineering, but Nathen didn’t want to take anyone off the Computer problems to work on the Rocket power. That would have to wait until it was needed. Nathen gave the bridge over to his second in command, and begun making the rounds of the other departments. Navigation was busy programing another course to the closest star system, incase they didn’t get the flux drives going and they had to rely on rocket propulsion. It was waste of time, because of the distance, but there was the chance that it might be needed. The scout ships had not checked out every system, but had jumped through to what the deep space telescopes had surmised to have the best chance of finding earth like planets. Now here on the ship there was no way they could study the stars from any great distance. All they had was the instruments needed to check out a star system once they were within its gravity field. So it was just another shot in the dark, if they had to use the new course change.

Even though the problem was in the basic computer set up, there were still teams going through the ship, checking for any other problems that might have contributed to the shut down. Opening up some of the shaft alleys, brought out the smell of electrical wiring. It was an odor that Nathen found unsettling. Some how the smell, brought back memories of burn out harness’s in the fighter jets he’d flown. When ever that smell made its presents known, there was the good chance that the plane was going down. With all the changes made to the ship, he wondered if the wiring was not being over loaded. One of the Ratings seeing the concern look on the captains face, assured him that the smell was just new wire, and that nothing appeared out of order. Nathen thought to himself, that there was no way to just look at a wiring harness and tell if it was alright.

The next stop on Nathen’s rounds was Sick Bay. It was not a large compartment, but it did house everything needed incase there was the need for treating serious wounds. The main medical department for the base that was to be set up, was in one of the landers. Nathen didn’t have time to make the rounds of the Landers, before he wanted to be back on the bridge. Still he figured to have a look at the medical department of the Lander.

What he did like about the landers, was that they were built with the protective coating that protected them from the flux drives when the envelope was developing. Nothing could take the full strength of a flux drive, but once the envelope was established, then they could put full power to the drives, as they would be safely in the middle of the field, away from the harsh power waves. Nathen didn’t understand the workings of the flux drives, but then it was said that no body really understood it.

It was when he came to the security hatch, that he saw the man wearing the cheap looking and il’fitting jump suit that those classified as Pioneers wore. The first thing that stood out about the man was that he was much older than ninety percent of the so called pioneers. To Nathen it meant that the man must posses some skill that only an older man could acquire. The security guard that was just there to make sure the hatch got closed every time some one came through, saw Nathen and went to attention. The man in the awful orange colored jump suit, pain no attention to Nathen and was going to continue on his way, when Nathen held out an arm to stop him.

“What’s your duties, Pioneer?” Nathen inquired. Removing his hand once he had the mans attention.

“Right now, its just staying out of the way.” He replied with concern that he was being stopped and wondered what it was about.

“Your older then most, is there some reason for that or was it just the luck of the draw.”

“Just the luck of the draw.” Tom Bonner nodded, confirming Nathens assumption. “I was just minding my own business when they grabbed me. I’m a hunting guide, by trade, and was soon to retire. Now it looks like that’s on hold.”

“Any other skills?” Nathen couldn’t believe that the planners could have come up with any number of younger men of equal talent at least.

Tom could see what the captain was thinking and smiled. “They needed several guides and no body was home, except me and another guy. So they took us instead.”

“Hunting guides, huh?” Nathen mulled it over. Tom nodded and told him, that was what they said. “Well, I suppose they know or think they know what their doing. Good luck to you.” he told him and then approached the Landers hatch, that the guard was now opening for him. Tom noted that the guard never offered to open the hatch for him, as he turned and continued on his way back to his assigned Lander.

Once inside the lander, Nathen was greeted and shown the way to the main office. This lander held a few of the pioneers, but was staffed chiefly by government personnel. Most all the medical staff were government personnel, due to the need to follow doctrine. The medical department was to conduct certain procedures and that could not be trusted to conscripted individuals like the Pioneers. Just what their duties were, Nathen didn’t know for sure, but he had an idea that they were there for more than just medical emergencies. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. From what he knew about his part of the mission, he was sure that there were things that the planners didn’t want coming to light.

Several Medical technician’s were sorting through paper work and checking lists. They paused when they saw the Captain, but he waved them on about their work. One of the women, stepped through a door and said something to some one inside. Directly soon after, Shondra Morrison came out and greeted the Captain. “What may we do for you captain?”

Nathen like so many others was impressed by her beauty and manner. She spoke with a solid but soft voice, that assured him. She knew where she was in life. He had no doubts that she was fully capable for anything that medically would come her way. He assured her that he was only here to see how they were faring. That things were coming along and that he expected the necessary repairs would be accomplished soon.

“I’m not sure that will be a good thing, even when we get to our destination.” Shondra smiled at him. “None of my staff volunteered for this mission. The problem so far is that who ever lade in the supplies did so with a dump truck.”

Looking around at bustling activity, Nathen could see that they were taking stock and doing a lot of rearranging. “I suppose the thought was that you could do it once the base was established on the new world.”

“Yes, no doubt. Problem is, that medical emergencies occur when ever they want. They don’t wait for schedules and restocking. The possibilities of injuries before landing, is a critical point.” Shondra spoke with a seriousness that stressed the fear of impending disasters.

“I assure you, that were doing all that we can to see that you won’t need to perform any emergency operations.”

“Its not here that’s a worry, Captain. Its on this new planets surface that, ... Frankly scares the crap out of me.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“Just be sure you get back here in time with the means to get what’s left of us.”

“That will be my foremost goal, Doctor.” Nathen tried to sound assuring. Then looking around, he asked if she had time to join him in the galley for a cup of coffee. Shondra looking at the task laid out around her, most of it not even half completed. Shook her head, and politely declined. AWell, perhaps later, during the evening down time, you will join us in the ward room for dinner.

“That, I will do my best to attend.” She agreed.

Nathen left the Lander and headed back to the bridge. It was time for him to check on the progress of the repairs and reprogramming if it was at all possible. The ships intercoms were chirping out different announcements to the departments, as he walked the passage way. Some of it had to do with reporting energy levels in the power cells. It was a bother to listen to, but it kept him informed of the condition and whether or not the time had come to take other measures. The ship did have several large wing like structures that could be extended out. They were large panels of solar cells, designed to capture energy on the ships abandon mission to Mars. Wether they would produce energy, so far in deep space, was doubtful. No star was near enough to focus enough light to do any good. Still, Nathen was thinking of trying it, but if it didn’t work they would have just wasted the energy it would take to deploy the panels. It seemed like every plan that he came up with, had more draw backs than would be gained by implementing it. Still he had to keep thinking of alternatives incase they ran out of time, and energy.

Back on the bridge, Nathen again went over all the ships systems and began shutting down those that weren’t needed, or could be shut down for short periods until needed. Most of the lighting was such low level, that it was hardly a drain. Where strong lights were needed to work, the work was put off if at all possible. The galley was again shut down, and orders for emergency rations were issued. Which meant, that they would Have to eat the same rations the Pioneers would be eating for the next year. The quality was the same as prepared foods in the galley, but it was just the thought of meals sealed in pouches months ago. The new methods of preserving foods, meant that now a person could open a heated meal pack, and have steak and eggs, and no one could tell the difference from a meal that was just prepared the normal way.

It was getting close to meal time, when the engineering officer reported to the Captain on the bridge. With him was the Navigation officer, who was showing signs of great concern. The good news was that very shortly they would be able to engage the main power grid. The problem with programing had been corrected, but then came the bad news. They had to start from scratch to program their course. Which meant that with the unscheduled shut down, they didn’t have an accurate point to start from. They didn’t know where in space they were. So with out a known point of being, they could not program a valid course to their destination.

Nathen keeping a cool exterior, poured himself a cup of coffee from the refreshment station. Taking a sip, he eyed the two officers before him. “Okay, Cdr’s. On one hand your telling me, the ship can get underway again. But Your telling me.” He looked at the Navigation Officer. “That you can’t steer the ship.”

“Oh, we can steer it, okay. Its just that were blind as to where we are, and we will be steering blind.” The Navigator was clearly nervous.

“Okay, have you got a recommendation for me?” Nathen felt like cussing a blue streak, but knew that it wouldn’t do any good and wouldn’t make him feel any better.

“Well sir, We can lay a course to the nearest known star system, which will give us a starting point, and we can figure out how to get back on our original course. All we need is to get the distance to the star system, and the rest is easy. Once there, we will have a known point and position from where we can lay in a course to our original goal, or lay in a course for back home to earth.”

“By saying a known Star system, you mean one that we can pick out and identify?”

“Yes, that’s correct sir. On the computer we have a star chart that we can advance forward with our progress and match to what were seeing now. Most of the constellations will not have changed that much and it should be easy to identify an individual star and lock a course to it.”

“Why not just calculate our position with the Star Chart.”

“Sir, I don’t have much fath in our computers programing of the Star chart, to set a course just from that. It would be taking a chance that nothing is off, as the star chart is a probable position and not a known fixed Position.”

Nathen mulled over what his navigation officer had said, and then asked Cdr Conway if he was certain the ship was ready to get underway. The commander affirmed that the ship was ready. He also recommended the Navigation officer’s plan, as it would give him another chance to go over the ships systems again. “Alright, lets do it.” Nathen agreed. “How soon can we engage the flux drives?”

“Just as soon as, the course is laid in Sir.”

While the necessary calculations were being interred into the computers, the ship was switched back to the main power grid. Now the ship was powered again with the main drives but Nathen still felt on edge, not fully trusting that everything was as it should be. Still at the dinner hour, he sat with his department heads in the officers mess. This meal time started out pleasant enough with Shondra adding a touch of beauty to the other wise unshaven group of men.

“dmiral Bueller had asked Shondra if she found her medical department adequately stocked. She smiled and told him, AIt had an excellent out lay of supplies and equipment. AWhat I don’t understand is, if there is to be a settlement on both earth like planets. Which colony is to do with out my services? Since I can’t very well be on two planets at the same time.”

“Yes, I can understand your concern. Our problem was, the other doctors could not be reached. Some were operating at the time, and then there were others that we just couldn’t locate.” Bueller paused while he took a sip of coffee. He felt like he was admitting for the first time, that the mission was not up to the standard they had set and expected to meet. “The plans had included three colonies, but because we could not gather a full quota, it was scaled back to two groups.”

“One settlement is still going to be with out a doctor?” Shondra pointed out.

“Yes, but it was felt that since we did get most of the medical staff, that the corpsmen could man the other medical department even with out benefit of a medical officer. You, Doctor will be landing with the first set of colonists. And if the second planet is deemed not capable of supporting human life, then the second set of landers will land on the same planet as you. So there is a good chance that you will have everyone under your care.”

“Just how many will there be in that case.”

“Roughly about Six hundred personnel, Three hundred if we settle both planets.”

Shondra glanced over at a chart of the Grand Virginia displayed on the wall. “So that’s why there are three sections of Landers. But only two of the sections are to be used?” She cleared her throat and explained her interest. “It might be wise to have as much medical facilities as we can get on the planet. If there were some way of landing that third set of Landers, it could very well be the difference between success or failure.”

“I concur.” General Devon interjected. “To take them back, and not use them would be a waste. Besides, on the return trip, the newer Landers will be used. The ones capable of taking off again from the planet and rejoining the ship. You do have personnel capable of piloting them to the planets surface?”

“I think they have remained on board. Even so, they can land themselves with only the computers.” the admiral agreed. “I think we can include the third set with the mission. It is good thinking on your part Doctor.”

“Don’t you agree, Captain?” General Devon asked Nathen, bringing him into the conversation. “I see no reason not too. They are fully loaded with supplies, and would serve no purpose on the return trip to earth.”

Nathen had to agree. It was an idea that should have been considered in the first place. The planning of the mission was done by all the department heads back on earth. It was no wonder such an idea was over looked, seeing that they had screwed up the navigation computers so bad. Still they could change things and modify the plans to meet any unexpected development that might occur.

“I think that after the landings are made, and conditions reported, then the ship could launch the remaining landers to locations near the base’s being set up. It would all depend on where they needed them.” The admiral was talking to Nathen now.

Asking Shondra if that would meet with her approval, Nathen could see that she was pleased. So it was decided that was the action they would take.

Nathen took this time to bring everyone up to date on the ships condition and the course of action they were about to take. Soon as the dinner hour was over, they would engage the flux drive and head for what they hoped would turn out to be their bearing star. From that they would ascertain their exact position relative to earth and calculate a true course to their destination.

The news was greeted warmly by just about everyone, except General Devon. He suddenly bore a frown that almost hung down below his chin. “You mean that we will depart from our planned course?” Nathen answered him in the affirmative. “Is that wise, captain. I would think you could recalculate and still maintain the original course set by Mission Control. After all, they have far better resources to deal with these matters.”

“I am not sure of your meaning General, we have no way of contacting earth, at least not from here for at least several thousand years. It was the programing done by Mission Control that has us dead in the water so to speak. Our ships navigation officer has come up with a workable plan and that’s what were going to do. Neither he nor I have trust in any program laid out by Mission Control. We have a host of state of the Art computers on board, that can handle any programable tasks that should ever come up.” Nathen didn’t mean to make such a long statement. He was about to apologize for being so abrupt with the General, but was cut off when the General snapped back. “Captain I happen to out rank you, and further more I am in charge of this Mission. So I would think that any discussion of a change in course or plans should include me and my staff.”

Nathen started to speak, but was cut off when “dmiral Bueller raised a stopping hand, indicating it was his turn to talk. ALet me interject here.” He spoke in a calming voice. “Captain, Nathen is in charge of this ship and all that dwells within. You General Devon will be in charge when the Mission has made Planet fall. Until that event, General, you are not in charge or in command of anything. Your command starts when you land on the new world.” Though the “dmiral was speaking in cool tones, it was easy to tell that there was stern anger being kept in check. He went onto explain that Captain Nathen was not out ranked by anyone in his command of the Grand Virginia. He had sole command and responsibility for all the lives onboard. Even he, an Admiral, could not give him a direct order in regards to running the ship. Turning to the General, he spoke sternly. AMy orders are to see that no one regardless of rank, tries to take command away from the Captain. That’s why my dear General, I have been sent along on this Mission. We will be happy to live with any decision the Captain makes, and put all our faith and trust in him.” Picking up his drink that was made to look like wine, the admiral looked at everyone around the table before taking a long sip and said with finality, “Any thing less will be dealt with as mutiny, and the violator will be shot.” The admiral meant what he said.

“I hardly think that a discussion on procedure should be considered an act of mutiny.” The General was not going to give in with out a last shot. “I do have a right to a few demands.”

“Make your demands in the form of a request and they will be considered. Any other form, and they will be discarded. Remember, they shall be requests and only requests.”

“General,” Nathen interrupted. Seeing that some feathers needed to be smoothed if for no other reason than to keep things peaceful. AI assure you that if it were practicable and safer to adhere to our original course, we would do so. How ever, that course has been ... I will say, contaminated. My ships Navigation officer and other department heads, no longer have faith in any program laid in by Mission control. By taking this side trip, we can calibrate our position and lay in an accurate course to our destination.

Having smoothed the ruffled feathers for the time being, Nathen quickly left the Wardroom and headed for the Bridge. It was time to get things started. The duty officer on seeing the Captain coming through the walkway, announced that the captain was on the bridge. Immediately the crew began breaking out their protective suits. Others that were not required to be on the bridge, waited for the word to go to their safe zones and rooms that had been laminated with thick layers of protective coating.

Giving the word to carry on, Nathen began struggling into his own Safety suit. Helping hands made things faster and soon he was sealed up except for flipping the heavy visor down in place. The count was announced over the speaker system, and then orders were given to all hands to move to their general quarters stations. It seemed that everyone had been more than ready for the order as it was a matter of only a few minutes before word came that all hands were secure. The officer of the deck looked to Nathen for confirmation. With a nod of his head, Nathen okayed the next step. Turning back to his console, the young Officer gave the word to set condition zebra. It was a formality as when each lander and safe zone filled up, and the last person was through the hatch, it was closed and sealed. Then next step was to confirm that all were safe and protected behind thick layers of the coating. Now they were ready.

The course was given a final check and then the order to power up the engines. The helmsman reached out and pushed the power stick into its socket and then twisted it into its locked in position. Again there was that surge of electrical power, humming through the ship, and then followed by the tingle of the flux drive as it inflated to its full envelope. Nathen could feel it pass through him, as it tingled his bowels and almost started an unwelcome movement within them. Each time, it seemed to hit him stronger then the last. He wondered if next time they went through the powering up or down, if he shouldn’t fit himself with medical pants. He wouldn’t be the first one that crapped his shorts during the power up. It was better in the safe rooms and landers, where thicker coating could be applied. Here with in a suit that had to be movable they couldn’t put on as many coatings as with each layer they lost more and more mobility. Still he would think about having some added coating applied to his midsection. It wouldn’t do to have the Captain crapping his pants.

Captain Nathen was not the only one fearing a bowel movement. Strapped in his bunk, Tom was clutching his abdomen with a straining groan. Though the Lander was well laminated with the protective coatings, it still let enough of the energy through that tingled his hair and tended to loosened his bowels. Some if not most, did not suffer such effects of the flux drive, and they considered themselves lucky. They did not want to go through the spasmodic jerking that hit the sufferers in varying degrees. Mostly it was a small twitching, but with Tom, his legs and arms began shaking with quick jerky motions. Thankfully it came on fast and left even faster, though to Tom it didn’t seem like it. It left him, in a cold sweat, that chilled his back. Another effect of it was that it left him exhausted.

Laying in his bunk, he remained long after the flux drive was into its full envelope. The energy to rise, was not with him at the moment. The dinner hour had come and passed before they engaged the flux drive. Do to the foul effect the engagement of the drive had on Tom, he’d declined dinner. Not wanting to have his stomach filled with material that might come back up. Now he was tired and hungry. Too tired to get up and head towards the mess deck. Richard, came by, having gone through the power up sitting in one of the launch chairs on the main deck of the lander. This time he too, had felt the tingle, though it didn’t effect him as much as it did Tom and some of the others. Still he had a taste of what they were going through and it wasn’t pleasant.

“You going to be okay?” Richard said taking note of Tom’s ashen face. “Want me to see if I can get a medic?”

“No.” Tom shook his head. “But next time you can get me a gun, and I’ll put an end to this suffering.” He managed to say with a waning smile. “It keeps getting worse each time.”

“Lets see if we can’t come up with something.” Richard made a mental note to find some area with more shielding, even if it was one of those clumsy looking suits the Deck crew wore, it would certainly add to the protection.

The Burn

The time it took to reach the side step star system was very short. It only took ten hours after the fluxdrive envelope was set, before they were again powering down the engines to low energy output. No longer were they secure in the protection of the full envelope, but were in a weaker field of Flux. Now it was possible to extend a spar through the forward energy field. The spar was a long metal tube that contained enough instruments for them to see through the weaken field. They no were longer flying blind so to speak.

The navigation screens were lit up with the star system they were approaching. A bright star, small at first, but growing larger as they entered the family of its orbiting planets. The science teams were recording everything they could and as fast as they could. Here they were seeing new worlds for the first time and they were loving it. Several large gas giants like Jupiter were spotted, it gave hope that the large planets had swept most of the comets and other debris from the system. They were still closing in on the sun, Captain Nathen had yet to decide how close they should approach before establishing their own orbit around this new star. The Star was unnamed, but did have a number. It was Plemitary 205. Named after some scientist who’s turn it was to name a group of stars after. With the large earth orbiting telescopes, so many new stars were discovered that individual naming was abandon. It took too much time to come up with names. It had been the closest on the star chart, and that was why they selected it. Now as Nathen was about to order the Grand Virginia into an Orbit around the star, more information about the planets kept pouring in.

“Bingo,” came from one of the officers. “We have some close in small boys.” The ships slang for earth size planets. “The computer counts three, no four.” He was singing out as the screens began picking up the images.

“Captain, Do you think we could set an orbit around one of those Small boys.” The navigation Officer was clearly wanting to get a closer look.

“Its hardly necessary as we can get a fix from this distance.” Nathen pointed out. Going in for a closer orbit was an unneeded leg of journey. Nathen deemed it more important to lay in an accurate course and be on the way to the original destination.

“Were here sir. At our speed of approach, it will only be one day more. It will give us time to record and study this star and it’s system. Any thing we learn will be a help.”

The admiral was paying close attention, and stepped forward. “Its up to you Nathen. One more day or two will not make one iota of difference to the out come of this mission. If you have the opportunity to note a new star and its planets, I see no reason why you and your crew should not be given the chance to put it into the record books. You can always claim these new worlds for America. That would satisfy the political aspect.”

So it was set, they continued on into the system, on an angle of approach that did not cross any another planets orbit. The plane of their course was more from the northen direction of the star. A small discussion issued as to which Small Boy they should choose and of course their science officer came up with what he thought was the right choice.

“Sir, the planet that’s about the same distance as the Earth is from the sun. Its about the same size as earth and would be getting about the same level of energy from its sun. It stands to reason it might be the most earth like of them all.” The science officer pointed out.

“That would figure, as the star is almost a twin of old Sol.” the Engineering officer concluded. “I say we take a closer look at that one, at least.”

“Alright, lay in a course for that one, and set an orbit.” Nathen acceded to their wishes. “It will be good practice for when we reach our assigned destination. If its earth like in anyway, it will be more than worth it. Provided this system has not been visited by our scout ships already.”

“I doubt that very much sir. As the angle of this stars orbiting planets are on edge and would not show up as a good candidate for an earth like planet. From earth, it would look like another star with huge gas giants. Unfit for exploration.”

“You mean, it would probably never be explored by the scout ships.” Nathen was feeling better about the delay.

“Exactly sir,” The Science Officer confirmed. “The rush to find habitable worlds leaves no time to explore stars that show very little possibility. Too many other stars to check out.”

“So with that thought in mind, We should take the time to examine this star and its orbiters”

As the ship neared the earth like planet, every one was glued to computer screens or watching the large displays projected across uncluttered bulkheads. With the incoming data, the science teams were reading out new information about this new solar system. Tom at first was just as interested as everyone else, but then he realized that this was not the system they were going to be dropped off in. With better things to do and enjoying the comfort of not going through the lowering of the flux drive, Tom retired to his berth and picked up a copy of the ships manifest. As his duties were that of a scout, he was interested in knowing what type of arms they had aboard, and what ever else that would come in handy. Tom didn’t think for a minute that he would survive very long on the new world they were going too. But just incase he did, he wanted to be out fitted with the best equipment the ship had to offer. The first thing that he found were the clothes stored in supply. The Lander held a good assortment of clothing types. Parkas and sun helmets, and many other climate appropriate ware. To be rid of the ugly orange jump suits would be spirit inflating all by its self. On a separate section of the electronic clipboard, he clicked on the items he figured he needed or just plain wanted. Foremost was fire arms. He wanted a good side arm, a 357 magnum, like the one he had to leave behind. A larger pistol, would require heavier ammunition even if it was the same amount. He wanted to carry extra, but knew there was the weight factor he had to consider. Picking out the rifle was the hardest choice. Being that there was the unknown factor of just what would be living on the surface of the new planet. He figured that if this place could support human life, there would be creatures already living there. He had faced a Grizzly on a couple of occasions, and was only alive because he had carried enough fire power to knock the animal down and kill it. He was certain that this new world would most likely have its own Grizzly like creatures.

Tom continued checking off a large list of things he wanted from the Landers Stores, though, he would have to wait until they were actually on the surface, before knowing just exactly what he would need. It would depend on whether they landed in a northen clime or desert or what. Still he figured no matter where they touched down, he would need good boots. He found that the Lander had boots in abundance.

Having checked and selected all the items he figure he would need and want, Tom was about to Put the Clipboard away, when Richard came looking for him. Richard was excited about this new solar system and what they were learning about it. Tom knew he would be getting his ear bent for a good while, so he suggested they should go to the mess deck and have some coffee. Richard agreed and was about to turn and lead the way, when he saw the clipboard.

“What ya got there?” he nodded toward the glowing screen. Tom told him he had been trying to figure out what gear he was going to need. He planned on surviving in this new world. “Humm, bring it along.” Richard said, his interest was peaked. He himself needed to be thinking about that very same thing. Surviving once they were on the planets surface, would require planning.

Since they were not using the landers stores while still attached to the ship, they made their way to the ships galley, and had their coffee. Richard wasted no time in telling Tom about the latest news concerning the planets. There were three large outer gas giants, and at least four earth sized inner planets, that looked like they might harbor life. All but the planet closest to the sun, had moons, The one planet that looked to be most earthlike had two, one large and the other about a fourth the size of the first.

“Aren’t we still too far away to tell just what they are?”

“No, we can see that a couple of them, the third and fourth planets out from the sun have a goodly amount of water on them, and we know the length of their orbits.” Richard was finding it hard to contain his excitement. “I think we might be settling down on one of them. At least I think we should. Who knows if they will find a better pick. I mean, we have at least two with large amounts of liquid water. That’s the main ingredient for life as we know it. With a Moon we will have tides and if the world is tipped a little, we will have seasons of some sort.” Taking a breath, he looked at the clip board Tom still held in his lap. “Let me see what you’ve got there.”

Tom slid the clipboard across the mess table, “Don’t know just exactly what a guy will need, but I think this might be kinda close.”

“Well you’re a lot more experienced then I am at this back woods stuff. You being a hunting guide an all. I figure I might learn something here.” Richard grinned at him. “fter reading down the list, Richard looked up with a question. AYou really think you will need Two knives, one a Bowie knife? That’s kind of over kill isn’t it. I mean the Bowie knife is just for fighting.”

“Well, it’s that too, but If you have to pack a knife for protection, it’s still a tool. it has to have more than one use. With a Bowie knife, I can open soup cans and a slew of things. The other knife is just a small pen knife. There’s a thousand an one use’s for a small pen knife, but it can’t skin a hide with it. So I actually need a third knife for skinning.” Tom said, taking the clipboard back and adding a description of a third knife.

“You think your going to be skinning animals?”

“Don’t know. Just need to have it incase. No telling what we will find down there.” Tom took a sip of his coffee, and with a doubtful look, “dded. AI have a feeling that some of these items will be withheld from me.”

“Why, I don’t see anything that is out of line. I mean I think this list is practical.” Richard was continuing looking over the items. “The only thing that comes to mind, is how can you be sure that on this new world these tools will be usable, or even needed?”

“Oh, Richard.” Tom chuckled at his friend. “Think about it. Science is the same no matter where you are. I think it goes to say that life will be the same too. Maybe not the same shape, or look. But what we’ve learned about animals, is that we have herds eating plants, and predators that prey on them. Australia had wolves that birthed their young in pouches, they developed along the same lines as the rest of the world, just a little different. I figure it will be the same where were going. There will be herds, and wolves. The wolves may be covered in fur or feathers, but they will be wolves. Just like in the ocean, there are schools of fish and there are sharks. I think there will be Herds of animals, grazing across the land and wolves living off them.” Tom pointed to the clipboard and the rifle he had listed. “I just want to make sure I’m not food for the wolves.”

Richard sat back on his chair and smiled big. “You really have given this some thought haven’t you? A He was proud of his friend. He was thinking in terms of practical science, rather than the weird supernatural creations that spilled out of the minds of most science fiction thinkers. A You have a shovel listed?” He was surprised to see that item.

“Lot of reasons for that.” Tom assured him. “From Digging a latrine to building a shelter. A shovel is a good tool. The American Indians’s used the shoulder blade of animals for a shovel. I don’t want to kill something just for a shovel. Besides they might be build different.”

Richard nodded in agreement, and looked the list over again. He realized that he could use some of those things himself. “What do you think is the most important item you have here. I mean if you could only have one thing what would it be?”

“Well, Rich, a knife is probably the most important tool I would need. But for you in general, I would say the boots. We can exist with these god awful jump suits, but good foot wear is a must. These cheap sandals they gave us, won’t hold up for one minute on uneven ground.” Tom nodded his head, “Yep, make sure you get a damn good pair of boots. Were not going to be walking side walks or paved streets, so shoes are out. Just make sure your boots give you good ankle support. I know they have em, there’s several types listed.”

“Thanks, I think I will be sticking close to you once we land.” Then as an after though, Richard asked. “Tom, you think we will find intelligent life? I mean, what if there is already a civilization there?” Tom may be just an old man that was good at hunting and tracking, but Richard also had a growing admiration for the man’s insight.

“I don’t think we will find one. I just have a feeling that we are not going to find anything like that.” Then looking up at a projection on the wall, of the system they were approaching. Tom eyed the enlarged view of the Planet the men in charge had apparently selected. “What have you heard about this new world, I mean what’s the plan.”

“I think they intend to go into orbit and study it some more. Find out all they can about it. One thing I know, if we do land on it, we won’t be wearing the same kind of watches we did on earth. The days are longer on both water bearing planets, and so are the years. Just something to get use too.”

Then the time came when the ship was maneuvered into a high orbit around the third planet from the sun. It was not quite the same distance as Earth was from its sun, but it was the closest to the same orbit. Tom had expected them to leave once they calibrated for their navigation, and head for the original destination. But in the ensuing days since the malfunction, that caused the detour, it was decided to split the mission and land half of the expedition on this new planet. Now they were studying the surface and trying to decide the best landing sites. One problem was the planet had a thick cloud cover. Only a third of the planet were they able to observe at anytime. As time passed, an almost complete picture of the planet was obtained, yet it still lacked the detail the Sciencetist wanted due to the fact that there was always some cloud cover. Even a thin mist could keep them from getting a good picture of the surface ... Strong storms following the observed weather patterns, moved steadily over the surface. Radar and other devices gave them a good picture of the surface, but still the details of forests, plains and deserts were blurred and not enough data came through. Thermal imaging registered millions of hits, so it was assumed that there was plenty of life on the surface.

If it came to a landing, the choice was between the tropics and a northen clime. It was decided to land in the northern hemisphere as that was what they were use too. It was pointed out that this planet had more of a tilt than earth, and rotated two hours slower than earth. So one day was twenty six hours long. The two moons traveled at different speeds with the smaller one making its orbit faster. It circled the planet in ten days, while the larger took thirty five days.

While the data kept coming in, a search was conducted for a perfect landing spot. Several were uncovered by the computers that met their ideal qualifications for a landing site. Preferably Land that was near forest areas, with rivers that wound down to a sea. The pilots for the Landers studied the different areas and discussed what conditions they might encounter. When the time came to lock and seal the landers, they wanted to be sure their landing site was clear of storms other environmental hazards. From what they could tell, the planet had a wide range of weather. It was agreed by all, this planet was probably the closest they could come to Earth. The fourth Planet out was excluded because it held too much water. The land surface on it was less then a third that of earth, which gave thought to the possibility that huge tidal seas would make life near the coasts too dangerous. Its Moon being larger in proportion to the planet than that of Earths.

The new planet, which Nathen Spray named Eros, simply because it was in keeping with the way stellar objects were named around old sol, and also because he didn’t want to have it named after anyone’s mother. The name seem to set well with everyone, even the General kept his mouth closed about it. A meeting was called for mission leaders in the wardroom, it was time to reach a decision. The Science officer and chief Navigator, had informed him, that the ships course to the original destination had been worked out and was ready to go. The business they had here needed to be concluded, so they could continue onto the missions original destination.

Nathen strode into the Wardroom with purpose, it was time to finalize plans and carry them out. He started out by greeting them all, and then stating what their status was. “We have a decision to make. At this moment we are orbiting a planet that has all the resources necessary for the pioneers survival. We have to make a decision on whether we send a detachment to the surface or do we go on to the Presidents Planet and take a chance that it is better suited.” Nathen looked at the General and then to “dmiral Bueller. AIts your choice, Sir.”

“dmiral Bueller nodded his head, understanding that they had to act. AWe have a planet here, that is most Earth like that we have ever found. It is a bit larger, with a stronger Gravitation field. Not so strong as to make life difficult. There are two visible moons. A large one, larger than earths, and it appears to exert tidal pulls on the planets ocean. The ocean’s are not as large in proportion as earths, as there is much more land on this planet. The planet has a tilt, greater than earths, and at this time the northern hemisphere is approaching its winter season.” The “dmiral paused and looked to one of his aides. AOn earth what would the season be?”

“Late October, Sir.” The Aide said with a glance at his Clipboard.

The “dmiral paused for a moment in thought and then continued. AThe reason’s for choosing to Settle in the Northern Hemisphere is based on the idea that it would be in keeping with what the Pioneers are accustom to on Earth. How ever, With the winter season coming, it might behoove us to consider a landing in the southern Hemisphere, as its approaching the summer season. Survival is always difficult during winter, especially for new explorations. Of course that is if we decide that this is a planet we want to settle.” The admiral added with a slight chuckle, departing from his serious demeanor.

The General cleared his throat and raised a pencil he was holding, to get a little attention. “Admiral, I think with the stockpile of provisions we have aboard all the landers, Winter will not be a problem. Other than having two moons, it will seem to the Pioneers exactly like Earth. Especially if we set down in the Northern Hemisphere. They will have the time to adjust and plot out a town ship, and when Spring comes, they can set up the structures with good site planning behind the operation.”

“Well, General Devon, Your going to be heading this Operation. So its your call.” The “dmiral sat back in his chair, as the discussion was over. ANow all we have to do is decide wether or not to choose this Planet, Eros. Do we split the Mission, or do we go on to the Presidents choice of Planet Kerkland?”

“We can do both,”Nathen spoke up. “We can split the mission into two colonies, as we discussed. We are all aware that if the Second Planet in the Kerkland’s system, was a good candidate for settlement, we were to put a Pioneer team down on its surface too. The difference here would be, Two different solar systems. The planets are just a lot further apart.”

They were not discussing anything that had not been gone over many times before, but now they were putting it down in Stone, so to speak. The decision to split the colonies didn’t set well with General Devon, as he was the one leading the exhibition. It was clearly something that had been occupying his mind for some time. Even with out this new planet, the idea of splitting the Colony was depriving him of half his command.

“Any commander that splits his force, is making a military blunder. That’s been one of the lessons driven into every cadets head, right from their first tactical course.” General Devon, nodded his head to himself as he spoke. “But here, were trying to expand our holdings in space. It isn’t just to acquire more stuff than the next guy. Were starting to explore with these new machines that every nation on earth appears to have come up with at the same time. We will not be facing an armed enemy when we land on these planets. At least we don’t think so,” He smiled and a chuckle traveled through the room. “It was the wish and attitude of our government that we settle as much as possible. So I think We should split the colony and settle two planets.”

“That can be done, we have six landers ready to launch and the three remaining.” The “dmiral was reflecting on the fact that all nine landers were in the planning, but since they could only gather enough personnel for six, the last three were unoccupied, and were being used as extra quarters for the Ships Crew. AWe can divide the personnel between the two mission’s according to the needs. There is one problem though, General, Who are you going to put in charge of the second Launch? You certainly can’t be in two places at once.”

“Well, Admiral, I have given that some thought and it comes down to this. We need some one of great importance, some one of high rank, and since you have come along, as you say, just for the ride. Why not you?” Devon, was smiling at having put the “dmiral up for the job. AOnce the expedition is launched, your job is mostly over. Why not send the report back with Captain Spray. That way, you can join in this great adventure.”

“What you say about the expedition needing an important figure head is true. And as you say, I am the highest ranking figure head available. Seeing that the Mission is going to be divided into two segments, it is logical that I assume command of one of them. My presents would be a stabilizing influence and would avert many problems that might other wise occur.” The admiral weighing in his mind the pros an cons of taking on this second phase of the mission. True he would not present his report in person and answer questions that undoubtably would arise. Still, those questions could be handled by Captain Spray and would be the same as his. The greater need was for a commander of enough rank to control the junior officers that would make planet fall with the secondary expedition ... Just why the General was in favor of such a plan was curious to the Admiral.

“Then you agree that you should take this first Mission to the planet Eros, and I will continue on with the original Mission.” General Devon wasn’t smiling, but there was just the hint of smugness about him.

“That would seem to be the logical step, but my report will not be complete until the full Mission is concluded. So in that light, I must take the second launch, not the first.” The Admiral didn’t know what the General was plotting, but he knew General. Bueller had a reason for getting him out of the way. That would leave the general as the highest ranking officer aboard the Grand Virginia. That was something the Admiral could not do. He would not leave the captain and crew at the mercy of Devon’s ego. Once on the Planets surface, the general would be in total command of that part of the mission. The admiral couldn’t help but feel it was the fact that at this moment the General was not in complete command of the whole Mission. He wanted total command of the Mission from start to finish. That included the command of the Ship. He wanted Captain Spray subject to his orders. To be just a passenger on the Grand Virginia was an insult to his persona. Getting the Admiral out of the way, was his immediate goal. The Admiral felt like he was dealing with school yard head butting.

The look on General Devon’s face, showed only a slight disappointment. Still the sooner he was in total control of his own mission, it would be best. Taking the first launch, would not detract in importance, and in fact would be noted first in the history books. So he agreed with the Admirals conclusions. What ever reasons that he held secret, faded with the new decision.

The only reason, General Devon was selected for this Mission was his total loyalty to the President. The Admiral suspected that the Generals Loyalty only existed up until the time he would be on this new world. Reading between the lines of the Generals fitness reports, revealed a man that was good at apple polishing, and forming strong bonds with his superiors until he no longer needed their support. He reminded the Admiral of other great leaders, but with out the intellect. With out the total support of the President, the General would have been passed over for this assignment. It was felt that with the coming election and a new president, General Devon would be sent to some distant post and never be heard from again. This pioneer Mission was his last chance to continue in command and the General knew it.

“General, I suggest that we proceed with your departure and the launching of the orbital satellite.” The Admiral referred to the support satellite that was to keep the Mission informed of weather conditions and provide mapping information to the Pioneers. There were three such satellites, one for each of the two missions, and the third in case something went wrong with the first two. It was a back up and would Launch last if needed.

There was another discussion of two of the satellites being used for the planet Eros. Again the admiral pointed out that it wouldn’t be wise to use two satellites first if the third was to fail. There would not be the back up Satellite on the last mission if that happen. The admiral was clearly showing his growing discuss with the General. This pissing contest he was trying to get started was draining all the politeness from the discussion. With a curtness, the admiral informed the General to make do and prepare the supplies and tools that were assigned to him.

Captain Spray had not been a witness to all the events, but his crew kept him informed as to the Generals maneuvers. It was childish no matter how one looked at the behavior. Still it was school yard bullying, and it had worked for the General many times over the years. The result was that all hands worked hard and fast to get the departure of the First Planet Mission underway. The captain could hardly wait to be rid of the General.

Going over the launch sequence with the General, was Nathens duty, the last one he hoped to have to do with the General. Step number one, was the rotating of the Grand Virginia, and then as the launch window came into view, the disconnection of each Lander and its landing crew and supplies. After each of the three landers were on their way, then the launch of the Satellite would take place, and after making sure the Satellite was in orbit and working properly and the landers were safe on the planets surface, the Grand Virginia would leave and continue its mission to its first goal before the interruption of the computer failure.

While all the data was coming in on the new planet, departure time finally arrived. Nathen passed the word for all hands to go to their secure stations and stand by to launch the first wave of Pioneers.

Tom made sure he said goodby to Charlie, as he was going with the first group. Tom was scheduled to be with the Second group which would land on the original planet of their destination. They might not have been close friends, but they were friends never the less, and they were going to be spread out over the stars. They wished each other luck and then because of lack of more time, they returned to their stations.

Tom was disappointed to see Charlie leave, as he had hoped they would be working together. Tom feeling every bit of his forty plus years, knew that it was pretty late in life for him to be taking on such a role. He felt tired and was lacking the excitement the others were experiencing. The rigors and responsibilities that lay ahead, were better suited on the shoulders of a much younger man. Even with Charlies immaturity he would be an asset to the mission. Youth some times tended to win out over age and experience, when things were going bad. Besides, Charlie was okay in the smarts department, it was just his bad judgement with women that brought him down. An affair with a woman in Billings was what caused him to show up at the hunting lodge to began with. Too much to drink, a jealous husband, and a squabble that ended with him getting out of town before the sheriff got him. That was the condition of his life when the Presidents Space Program found him.

No matter how he felt about his assignment, things were underway and there was no getting out of it. Right now, Tom was concerned about Charlie and the lander he was riding in. Every one he had talked to, thought the trip to the planets surface would be a piece of cake. No matter how sure they were, Tom could not help but feel an edge of doubt. Now there was little time left to stew over the coming events.

A slight change in balance, caused everyone to shift their weight. It was the ship starting to rotate. By rotating, each lander could be launched with the proper window of departure. They could be launched with out the rotation, but then much fuel would be used, just getting the landers lined up with proper course.

The only personnel that were still moving about the ships passage ways was the crew proper. All others were sealed inside the launchers, even those that were not leaving with this first wave of Pioneers. The crew members that had nothing to do with the launchings, were themselves sealed in two of the three remaining landers that were not to be used. It was for safeties sake. The last Lander was unoccupied and could be used for the remaining crew members if the need should arise. It was a precaution that Nathen decided to take, incase something went wrong. The landers were the only thing they had that could be used as lifeboats. Worthless in deep space, as the engines and life support systems would be depleted thousands of years before reaching a suitable planet. Here in orbit around a planet, suitable for life, it was a different story. The landers were equipped with the proper shielding for the flux drives, though the Landers only had rocket engines, suitable to leave orbit and set down on the planets surface ... Those inside the landers did not have to wear the clumsy protective suits that restricted movement to the point that only the simplest of tasks could be done. It was a relief that launching the Landers did not require the donning of those protective suits.

“dmiral Bueller stepped up beside Nathen as the Captain watched the screens showing the retaining metal dogs being released from the First three Landers. AEvery thing going as planned?” the admiral asked, knowing full well it was.

“Yes it is,” Nathen smiled. “I pity those going with him, but I am damn glad to be rid of the General.”

“I double checked to make sure he was aboard the Lander.” they both smiled knowingly between them. “He wants to be in sole command. Well, now he has a whole world to rule.”

“I think he is going to have some command problems. A years worth of putting up with him, probably will not sit well with those so called pioneers. The security forces will no doubt stay in order, but I doubt the shanghaied civilians will.”

“Nathen, you over look one thing. The chances for any of them to survive is minute. Germs, environment, and just plain accidents are going to take a toll. I would not be surprised if none survived when we come back to pick them up.”

“You don’t paint a very nice picture of your survival chances.” Nathen was concerned by the Admiral’s attitude.

“I would say, that for these two missions, the chances of survival are nil. If anyone is alive when you return at the end of one earth year, then the missions will be termed as a success. That way, serums and cures will be produced from the blood of those surviving. I doubt that there will be survivors but perhaps enough will live long enough to bag and preserve at least some of the bodies, for science. That Million dollar payday, won’t amount to much, as I don’t believe there will be any to collect it.”

“I personally think that this whole affair is a dishonor to science.” Nathen shook his head sadly. “It might have a different smell about it, if everyone was a volunteer, but they’re not. Being rounded up against their will, is not something that America can be proud of.”

“In the years to come, that sad fact will be over looked, and never mentioned. There are many such events in our countries history that are shameful. Experiments and studies done on people with out their knowledge. The government has done many such things.” Admiral Bueller pointed out.

“And your still planning on being part of this second phase of the Mission?” Nathen asked, and when the “dmiral gave an affirmative nod, he asked. AWhy?”

“Cause, I’m old.” he said thoughtfully, “and would like to set my foot on another world. Its been my dream since childhood. Who knows, maybe I could be wrong and I survive. Either way, my name will be written boldly in the history books.”

“You know, I was surprised at the General, His suggesting that you command the Mission. That uh, its out of character for him to share the limelight so to speak”

“Not really.” The “dmiral grinned at the younger man. AYou forget, that he wants to be in sole command. If the mission had remained just the one launching, he was afraid that I would choose to be part of it.”

“But he would be in command of the whole Mission?” Nathen pointed out.

“True, but I would still hold my rank, and he probably assumed that I might at some point deem it necessary to take over the Mission. What he was doing was removing a future problem. With the second half of the mission on another Planet, and in another Solar System, there isn’t much chance of anyone challenging his leadership.”

“So he wasn’t being magnanimous. He was still General Devon, the Presidents Hatchet Man.” Nathen laughed mostly to himself.

“It would seem.” The Admiral nodded his head in agreement.

Then slightly changing the subject, Nathen asked the Admiral if the General stood a chance of surviving. The planet had everything earth had, plus more. The smaller of the two moons, was in a lower orbit, and probably not that noticeable. The planets tilt was three degrees greater than earths and would most likely have warmer summers and colder winters because of it. It would seem that conditions would be close to that of Earths.

“Well, if he stays with in the confines of the Landers, he might.” The admiral was giving the Generals chances of survival some thought. “Each time they break the seal, more contamination will enter and with it, who knows. It just depends on whether our body systems can fight off the native bacteria of this Planet. It was why the landers on this first mission are only equipped to land and not take off again.”

That last statement, snapped Nathens head around. “You mean, they could have engineered them to return to the ship?”

“Of course, but then that might have meant the ship would return with new diseases, that could wipe out life on Earth. It was figured that if on the next mission out, and they were still alive, then it would be safe to retrieve and bring them home.” Seeing the shock on Nathens face the admiral nodded his head, meaning it was true. “It wasn’t my idea, but it was sound thinking. Not the bringing them out here, but the fact that if they were contaminated with some super bug, it would be better to have them die, on the new world, then to bring it back to earth.”

The Launch

A technician called out the count to the first launch. That brought Nathens full attention to the screen with the planet coming into view with the rotating launch window. The seconds on the screen ran down and clicked on zero. There was a loud clang and a roar that lasted several seconds until the Lander lifted off and the white hot flame of the rockets no longer touched the Ships frame. The sudden silence that came with the abrupt disconnection of the Lander, seemed wrong, but it was normal for space. On the Lander, the roar of the rocket engines were still vibrating through out the ship. Everyone was strapped in their seats or bunks, while the pilot and crew were scanning the instruments and assuring each other that everything was on course and running correct.

The mother ship continued its slow turn bringing the launch window around for the next lander. Each one lifted off as programed, the three Landing vehicles and all that they contained were, moving in a spaced out line, towards the planets surface. The reports coming back from the Landers was that every thing was running smooth and as programed. Smiles were beginning to spread around the bridge, as the difficult part of ships operation was over. Now it was all in the hands of the Landers and their crews. As the landers were capable of landing with just the onboard computers piloting the craft, the crews main function was to be there incase something went wrong and needed correcting. Their duty was to remain alert through the whole sequence, ready to respond within seconds for any emergency. The landing site was the main concern, as things such as weather could alter the Landers course. If it was discovered that the landing site proved to be unsuitable, the crew would be needed to alter the landers course to another location, or just move a little to miss, Say a large rock.

“ll three landers were now at a distance where the Mother ship could safely launch the satellite. Nathen gave the order to extend the launch arm that would hold the Satellite and its engine safely away from the ship. The instruments showed that the Launch Arm was being extended, yet Nathen couldn’t see it on any of the view screens. AWhere’s the Satellite? I don’t see it.”

A technician reported that his computer said the Launch “rm was positioned for launch. Yet it was not showing on the screen. ASend for a visual. The screens don’t show it and I want confirmation. Get a hand held camera on it at the very least.” Nathen was experiencing a strong feeling of anxiety. What ever the reason the launch arm was not extending, it was going to effect the whole mission.

The launch of the satellite was extremely important. With out it, communication between the landers once they were on the planet, would be difficult. Even with the short distance between the bases, obstacles such as mountains or hills would make sending signals difficult. An orbiting relay station would be enormous help in communication. Weather information along with mapping the planet was the other benefit of having a satellite.

Nathen’s attention was brought back to the screen, where the handheld camera was now showing the launch arm. The engeneering officer was pointing out that the arm was not fully extended. The reason why it hadn’t fully deployed was obvious. The extra fuel tanks for the now obsolete rocket engines were blocking the way. The launch arms had been put on after it was deemed that the rockets would not be used. The problem then was that the fuel tanks had not been removed. For what ever reason that they had been left on the ship, it was now hampering the launch of the number one satellite.

“Sir, we can retract the arm, cut the tanks loose, and still be able to extend the arm again and launch.” The engeneering officer offered. “It will take about three hours to get the tanks loose. With the rotation of the ship, they will float free and be out of the way.”

Thinking ahead, and wanting to get a satellite launched as quickly as possible. Nathen asked of the other two Satellites could be extended and launched? The engineering officer confirmed that they could, since they sat further away from the Fuel Tanks. “You don’t fore see any problems with launching either of the other two satellites?”

“No, they’re where nothing was to be removed, so that hasn’t been over looked as with the number one satellite.”

With that information, Nathen gave the word to ready the number Two Satellite and prepare it for launch. The technicians quickly programed the numbers to the number two satellite as others began the extending of its launch arm. Even before the Launch arm was fully extended, the senior tech announced that the Satellite was programed and ready for launch. Nathen thanked the tech, and told them to continue the count when the launch arm was extended and locked in place.

With everything seemingly in place, the count down to the launch continued. Still something was nagging at the engineering officer. He had the feeling there was something over looked. Yet, the read outs flashing across the launch officers screens indicated all was going as it should. It was when the engines launching the satellites came to life that it was suddenly apparent something was terribly wrong. In an instant, the roar of the engines, of the two satellites shook the ship violently. The engineering officer realized that the un-extended satellite’s launch program had not been completely shut down, and was in fact launching. There was a sudden impact as the unlocked Arm swung forward without releasing the first satellite.

“We have two, Both engines firing.” He shouted. At this point there was nothing to be done. No way of shutting down either launch. When they had gone to the second launching program, the un-extended launch arm, could not be returned. In effect, it was impossible for the launch program to shut down until the arm was fully extended. Not being able to extend, the next phase could not take over. It was another programing error, unforseen and now unstoppable. All this the engineering officer realized in an instant and knew that the ship was at the mercy of what ever happened next.

Just as suddenly as the rockets fired and the heavy clash of steel on steel sounded through out the ship, all became quiet. As the satellites left contact with the ship, the noise abated. Several of the viewing screens went blank, even the large one that Captain Nathen was using. Quickly, a technician switched to another camera and the screen came back to life. What they saw, was second satellite, going as programed, with a bright burning light heading away and out of the view screen.

“What just happened?” Nathen trying to control his voice, asked his engineering officer.

“Both satellites were launched. One may go as programed, but the other is a wild shot.”

Suddenly reports started coming in of fire in the after flux drives. Screens began showing compartments with damage, and smoke. The technicians manning the screens and read outs, were maintaining a professional air, despite a rising degree of fear. As yet, the extent of the damage was not revealed. The reports of more fires continued. A quick glance at the computer layout of the ship, showed that what ever was happening was growing. Compartment after compartment, continued to flash red on the screen. Cameras in the effected areas, were going blank as heat and smoke rendered them useless.

A tech, warned of fire in compartments next to fuel storage for the obsolete engines. Nathen ordered those compartments emptied of air, in an attempt to remove combustibles. No fire could exist in a vacuum, and that was what he was trying to do. He waited, hoping to see that it would solve the problem. After several minutes it was apparent that controls to the effected areas, were knocked out. The fire’s were still raging through the compartments. A sudden explosion rocked the ship, so strong a jolt that several crew members went to their knees.

Realizing that un-repairable damage was being done to the ship, The Engineering Officer gravely suggested that it was time to send the crew to the landers. If anyone doubted the seriousness of the situation, the next blast that rumbled through the ship, took out most of the consoles. Nathen knew that to wait any longer would diminish their chance’s of survival. It had all happened so fast that it seemed they should stay longer and try to right the situation. A quick assessment of the instruments still functioning ruled out any further delay.

“Sound the alarm. Abandon Ship.” Nathen told the communications officer, adding. “Don’t play it too long, as I want you to remind the crew to use the reserve Landers. We will launch in three minutes.” When asked about the rotation, meaning each Lander was to wait their turn at launching as the ship rotated them into an optimal position “No time for that. In three minutes all Landers are to launch at once. The on board navigation programs will correct and set a course for the planet.” Having said that, Nathen told the rest of the bridge crew to leave. Silently, Nathen hoped that they had three minutes left.

Admiral Bueller had made his way onto the bridge, ducking around the fleeing Crew. He saw Nathen grabbing up an electronic Clipboard and several data plugs. It was the ships log and a record of everything that had gone wrong. If they should ever be rescued, he wanted evidence that the destruction of the ship was no fault of his. Even while he snatched up the clipboard and a few other devices, he knew that there was virtually no chance of being rescued, but there was always hope. The Admiral quite ashen faced, urged him to hurry. No one needed to tell him, that the ship was lost. Even as they all clambered down the passageways, power was failing. The fear that the ships gravity would fail spurred them on. The rotation of the ship provided a sense of gravity, but not enough. With out the artificial gravity getting to the landers would be difficult and there would be many that wouldn’t make it.

Three minutes had seemed like such a long time, when the ship was being rocked by explosions. Now the interval between explosions was longer and the blast were not as violent, Nathen concluded that he should have given himself and the crew more time before launching the Landers. The crew was moving fast, but as they neared the hatches, process slowed as people bunched up trying to get through the narrow openings. The crew, worried that they would not make it in time to their assigned Lander, tried pounding on the closed hatches of the others, hoping to get in nearest ones. The first set of landers with the General, had launched and the second set, were filled with the rest of the mission. The so called pioneers inside were not about to open any hatch, not after they heard the abandon ship alarm and the announcement to launch all landers in three minutes.

As much trouble and confusion surrounding the crew getting into the third set of Landers, most made it with only seconds to spare. Some were still trying to strap themselves in when, their craft suddenly went into launch mode. With the hatches closed and sealed, the launch controls engaged and the automatic navigation computer was armed to set the course. A clang of steel sounded as the clamp downs released, then followed by a full roar of engines, the Landers departed the Grand Virginia. The ship was breaking up with sections falling away towards the planet below.

Captain Nathen took an empty seat, to the left of the two pilots as they finished buckling themselves in. There wasn’t much for them to do, but ride along as the automatic pilot plotted the course and turned them towards the planet. Their job, was to take over should the need arise. The computers were dezinged and that was suitable for setting the machine down safely. The two pilots were there to make sure if anything went wrong, they were to correct it.

Looking about the launch seating, Nathen saw that their number was far fewer than it should be. He wondered if there were any still aboard the Grand Virginia, or had they made it to other landers. There was always the few that never got the word, in any situation. He just hoped the missing crew members had crowded into the other two landers of the third set. This one had been the furthest, and so he hoped that was the case. There was nothing that could be done about it now. The Lander was well on its way towards the planet below. He was aroused from his thoughts, as he became aware that two crew members were helping the Admiral into a seat. The admirals hair was slightly mussed, but other than being a little winded, he seemed to be okay. With a reassuring smile, he thanked the young men helping him, and affirmed that he was fine. Just a little out of breath, he told them and Nathen.

Both men sat and went over details in their minds, as to what needed to be done, and just what the situation was. The Admiral inquired if General Devon had been informed of the situation, and if not, they should do so right away. Nathen shook his head. The first group of Landers were going through the extreme heat of entering the atmosphere. The heat shields would protect them, but the heat build up made communications almost impossible. They would have to wait until they themselves touched down, before they could transmit clearly. Nathen pointed out, that they all should come down fairly close to one another.

“Well, there’s one thing to be said.” “dmiral Bueller, spoke half loud. AWere going to have an adventure and that’s for sure.”

“Yes, and we will be down in the History books, as the largest expedition ever lost.” Nathen pointed out. “That should make the General happy.” He laughed.

“Oh, god, I hope we don’t come down any where near him. He’s such an Ass.” Bueller wiped his brow with a hanky, trying to smooth out his mussed hair. “On top of that, He’s also dangerous.”

Nathen agreed with the Admiral, and pointed out that first they had to get down safely. There was plenty of time to decide how to deal with the General if they came in contact with him. For now, he was more concerned with what they would find, once they were on the planets surface. The thick cloud cover was a concern, as they had no clear picture of what the surface looked like. They had been able to see forests, seas and even deserts. Yet, they still had not been able to map more than thirty percent of the planets surface. With the launching of the satellite, there was the hope that it would continue to do the job of mapping the surface. That is, if the launch was successful.

Planet fall

When the order came to return to their assigned landers, Tom was reluctant as he was enjoying a coffee with Shondra Morrison, the doctor that had so captivated his attention from the first time he saw her. Her voice had a special quality that Tom found soothing. She also could converse with him on subjects he was interested in. With her education and training as a doctor, he knew she was not just pretending to be interested. She had a thirst for knowledge. Though she had seemed to be stand offish, when they first came into contact, she had since then, become more interested in his back ground and his knowledge of hunting and being a professional guide. Tom knew that it wasn’t his good looks (Because he had little of those.) that attracted her to him, but the desire to know more about what to expect and how to deal with it, when ever they touched down on what ever planet they were heading for.

It was during that Coffee that the order came for every one to retire to their safety stations. Tom had fought a strong desire to go with Shondra to her station, which was the lander with the medical facilities. Years of doing things the correct way, had him heading down the passageway to the Lander he shared with Richard and the others. He knew Charlie wouldn’t be there as he was to launch with the Mission General Devon was heading up. Thinking of Charlie, he hoped the young man would be successful in his duties. He thought of how the young red head, was some times rash in his decisions. With out the controlling hand of some one he respected, there was no telling what path the man would take. Still Charlie was good at finding a trail and conducting a good hunt and keeping the customers happy. Tom just hoped that it would hold over to please these militant types that were in control of them now.

When he reached the hatch of his lander, a crowed had bottle necked and slowed every thing down as they filed into the different Hatches. Some of the people he knew to be assigned to his Lander, he saw giving up on the lines and went into the next hatch that was available. It was something that many of them had started doing, they were still safe, still in a protected area, but not in the Lander they were assigned too. Seeing them going in to the different landers, made Tom regret that he had not walked with Shondra back to her Lander and stayed there with her. Too late now, he muttered to him self and was glad to finally take his turn going through the hatch and going quickly to his seat and strapping in.

After buckling the safety harness, that would keep him seated, he looked around to see how many were with him. Richard finally came through the hatch, just as they closing it. He was the last one, and showed some concern on his face. Getting to Toms side, he slid into the seat beside him and in turn, buckled himself in. He mentioned that it looked like most of those assigned to the lander were there. Then looking around at the launch and pilot controls, he noted that the two pilots assigned to their lander didn’t seem to be there. A little rubber necking around the cabin, did not reveal them either. Richard was showing some concern that they were absent, and made a few negative remarks about it.

Lt. Sam Nelson, who was in charge of this lander, noted from where he sat at his command station, Richard was agitated. Normally he would not have cared, but those two men had shown the most interest in the Mission and what might be in store for them. Oh, to be sure, the remaining so called Pioneers cared. They were just more about crying and feeling sorry for themselves then thinking ahead. For that he couldn’t blame them, for they’d been taken against their will, but those two, Bonner and Johnson seemed to have excepted that and then turned their thoughts to the future and what was to be expected of them.

Bonner was busy, putting together a list of things he thought essential for his duties, and Johnson was busy studying the computer data on everything on setting up a town plot. Nelson, could rely on those two to bring him questions on what was ahead for them, instead of why were they being treated so bad. So when he saw the concern looks Johnson was having, Sam left the command center and took one of the many empty seats beside the two men.

“Well, what is it this time?” Nelson said with smile. With everything going smooth, he couldn’t see where it would be too earth shaking.

Motioning with his hand at the empty seats, Tom told him the concern that not everyone was here that should be, especially the two pilots. Richard, nodded his head in agreement. Pointing at the two empty seats at the controls. “It’s a little disconcerting when the pilots don’t show up.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” Nelson told them, he had too noted their absence, and had some concerns himself, but he wasn’t about to let his fears be known. “The Lander is equipped with computers and programs that can fly this thing better with out a pilot. All we need to do is throw the switch and it takes over.”

“Yeah, but when do we throw the switch?” Richard, wanted to know. “That’s the important question. Just when does the computer take over?”

“Right from the start.” Nelson assured him. “When were given the command to launch, we engage the on board computer and it takes over. It starts the count down, when the order comes and launches, us and lays in the course. Its all automatic, made that way, just so nothing would depend upon a pilot.”

“Then why have the pilots?” was the next question and Nelson knew it was coming.

“We have the pilots in case something goes wrong.”Nelson chuckled at the merry go round of questions and answers, “For instance, maybe the area Where were setting down, is not an ideal landing site. At which time the pilots would maneuver the Lander to another site and set it down. That’s about the only reason to have a pilot at the controls.”

“Pretty darn good reason,” Tom asserted. “Sure wish we had them here in case something else should go wrong.”

“I’m sure that when its our turn to Launch, we will have everyone assigned to us. Right now, were just being here as a safety factor.”

Any thing more they had to discuss was suddenly put on hold, as the ship suddenly rocked. It was a slight shifting, followed with a loud roar of rockets as the first Lander in General Devon’s expedition got under way. Looking quickly to the large viewing screen that every one’s eyes snapped on to, they could see the Lander moving away from the Grand Virginia. Its rockets pushing it slowly at first, but then gaining momentum as its mass continued to react to the power of the engines. As the rockets blasting’s got further away from the ship, the noise quickly faded and stopped as the flames no longer touched the Grand Virginia. It was eery watching the Lander, with its rockets silently blasting and the Machine moving further and further away with out a sound.

Looking towards the planet, the rotation of the ship, could easily be seen. Nelson warned them as the second Lander rotated into position for launch. Again, they heard the couplers clang open and the rockets fire. The Lander left the docking gear and roared into space. It too suddenly be came silent as the exhaust of the rockets no longer spewed against the mother ship. All was silent as they continued to watch the third and final Lander rotated into position and launched to follow its two sister landers toward the planets surface.

From their lander, where they were sealed in for the launching of the first Mission, it was possible to see the arm extending out with the satellite. What they didn’t see and didn’t know was that the arm did not lock into place. They waited for something to happen but nothing took place. Time seemed to drag by, and Tom for one, was getting edgy. He had been enjoying his Coffee with Shondra, and was anxious to get back and see if he could continue his conversation with her. Deep down, he may have been hoping for something more with her, but on the surface, he only hoped for polite conversation.

It was obvious even to him, that she was out of his league, yet he enjoyed being in her presents and hoped he would get to enjoy being near her many more times in the future. He knew what he was, and what he looked like. An old man with many scars that came with the rough life he’d lived. Still he had hope that once they were all set up on the planet below, there would be time to do some socializing.

A sudden movement in one of the monitors that was focused on the launching of the Satellite, brought Captain Nelson to the edge of his seat. He voiced an opinion that something must be wrong with the first Satellite and they were going with number two. They watched with interest as the arm locked in place and then after another wait of a few minutes the engines fired. At first it seemed like everything was okay, but then something seemed to go side ways and then the viewing screen went blank. Nelson worked the monitors controls trying to regain a picture before deciding the camera was no longer functioning.

The noise and blast, rocked the lander more than anything else had. Tom was buckled in his seat, and damn glad of it. Several people fell to their knees and were struggling to find a seat. Most had been standing in front of the viewing screen and were not by empty seating. Several more loud blasts were heard and the Lander rocked against the steel couplers holding to the docking hatch. That brought a chilling thought to Tom, that the seal might be broken. He envisioned a suddenly loss of heat and air, escaping into space, but then remembered that There were two hatches. One that sealed the Lander, and one on the Main ship that sealed the docking hatch. Now he was glad that they were sealed inside, as he realized the danger if both hatches had been open during that blast. He didn’t know how much it would take to breach the outer seal, between the Ship and Lander, but the last series of Blasts and jarring’s was strong enough to do some damage.

Just when they were recovering enough to think about checking for damage, and looking after each others injuries, another several more booms and jarring’s hit them. A loud swooshing noise could be heard and then quiet. With out the view screen, it was left up to everyone’s imagination as to what was happening now. Yammering and cries of open the hatches flew out from everyone trying to regain their feet. Nelson quickly got on the PA system and told them all to remain where they were, as some were heading for the hatch. He repeated it several times and then threaten them with bodily harm if they did not find a seat and strap themselves in. He had to point out to them, that the landers were the safest place at the moment. It was at that time, when they heard the order to abandon ship, come over the speaker system. A shocked look came over most of their faces.

The seriousness of the situation was finally dawning on most of the Pioneers. To abandon ship, meant they would soon be heading for the planet they were orbiting. Richard, wondered if they should open the hatch and see about getting their pilots onboard. Nelson gave him a resounding no about that. The hatches stayed sealed. To open them now, would endanger all their lives, as it would take most of the three minutes just opening and shutting the hatch. The time before disembarking was used by everyone, making sure they all got to their seats and buckled themselves in. Nelson stayed at the control console, standing in for the missing pilots. He fumbled around the control panel, trying to find some switch that would restore at least one of the view screens. Suddenly the screen came to life, as he switched to a different camera. The view wasn’t as he’d hoped, it was centered on the front of the Grand Virginia, not the after section where all the damage and blasting had taken place. He continued to study the panel, trying to figure out which camera was aimed where?

Something of a warning count down was beeping over the ship intercoms. A metallic voice kept reminding them every ten seconds of the time left before automatic launching of the Landers, which now were being called life boats. During this time, Nelson was not just fumbling with the panel an playing with the cameras. Now he was going over the computers selection of a landing spot on the planet below. Scanning the images of the surface, he was disappointed to see that they never did get a good view of the surface. Cloud cover, prevented them seeing most of the surface area. Even putting together a series of photos, taken over time, did not reveal much more. The maps provided a good general understanding of the terrain, but not in enough detail to figure out a good landing spot. The computer selected a spot that when looked at in the greatest magnification, was a brown area beside what looked to be water. Nathen wasn’t happy with the selection and punched in the command to find another site. Brown was not his favorite color. He did not want to set down in a semi desert area. Even if there was a large body of water nearby, it didn’t mean that they would have clean drinking water. It was apparent that the spot being picked by the computers was not selected by anything other than it was close. He realized that they would not be setting down anywhere near the first launched mission.

Time ran out, and suddenly they heard and felt the large metal clamps clang open. Every one looked up from what they were doing, or stopped their conversations and sat like frighten deer waiting for the next function to occur. Only a few moments passed and then the separating rockets fired, moving the lander away from the mother ship and slowly turning the Lander to where the drive rockets would blast them towards the Planet they’d named Eros.

As the series of Landers began heading for the planet, Nelson could see that they were bunched together. As for now, the computers would keep them safely at a distance from one another, but when they began their decent through the atmosphere, Nelson did not feel assured. He suspected that each lander had picked the same site as theirs had. Not knowing what the other pilots on board the other landers were doing, or if they had selected an alternate landing site like he had, Nelson got on the radio and tried to find out what their plans were. At first there was confusion and some did not understand what he was talking about. Then realization came over most and they got to work finding alternate landing sites. Nelson gave out the site that he’d selected and wanted to know where the rest were setting down. Only a few were able to communicate back to Nelson before the Landers began entering the thick atmosphere and the heat shields warmed up to a point where radio communication was too difficult.

Tom was having quite a problem trying to keep his stomach from turning over. What ever it was about weightlessness that effected some people, Tom was had got a big dose of it. At one point he thought he might fill his pants, but soon as the Lander was turned again and rockets were firing to slow the decent, he was able to recover. Still his brow was covered with nervous sweat. Some of the cameras were knocked out, and a visual through the blasting breaking rockets was possible. Only when the landers slowed enough and the ships were in their landing positions, was there any thing to see in the after cameras.

More rockets kicked in, and the roar was so loud that every one put their head sets on, if they hadn’t already. It was the only method they had at the time to keep the thundering sound out of their ears. Some turned on music rather then listen to the computer sound out elevations, and minutes to touch down. Tom even with his sensitive stomach was finding it too interesting to switch to music. At first all he could see was a blurred green, that began to take detail and reveal mountain’s and tree covered canyons. They were passing under the lander as it seemed to glide over the land scape and then steadied its self over a confusing patch of terrain of forest and clearings.

The ground looked flat enough for the Lander to touch down and Nelson being the only one with any experience, took the controls to assist the computer in landing the craft. The radar showed a very flat ground with several objects in the landing area ... The landing target educator kept trying to move from one spot on the screen to another. Finally Nelson over rode the computer and started the final landing drop. To Tom it felt as if the rockets were trying not to land. A sudden surge of power rose, slowing their decent, seating them heavier in the seats. Then another noise, crumpled through the ship, and the lander jolted to a stop. The cameras had been useless during the final hundred or so feet, as dust and debris bellowed into the air. Now as noises wound down, the rockets shut off and some of the cameras came back on line.

The lander had a slight tip to it, and after pressing several different buttons, Nelson voiced again that something was wrong. His attempts to engage the leveling jacks brought no results. It would be found that the lander had come down on a lone tree. The tree, a fir type by its looks, had pierced the heat shield and rammed up into the lander. All out side seals had been breached and if there was anything harmful in the air, they would soon find out. Although the tree did not cut its self into the berthing quarters of the lander, the damage was still apparent there. The deck bulged on one quarter and of course the Lander was not level. Still they could walk and move comfortably through out the Lander.

Steam was hissing up around the spent engines. Nelson with the fear of ruptured fuel cells, called for the emergency evacuation of the Lander. The chance of fire was extremely high, and the first priority was to get every one off and out to a safe distance from the machine. That did not go as well as hoped. Some of the hatches leading down the new escape route were jammed shut. In some places, pieces of the tree was laying in the way. By the time they got to the lower decks where leaving the lander was possible, it was obvious that if there was an immediate danger of fire, the time was well past. There was no sign of gas or fuel leaks. The fuel for the two vehicles stowed aboard, was incased in sturdy cells that were built to withstand heavy impacts. At this time, seeing that there was no immediate danger, Nelson canceled the abandon ship alarm and instructed every one to stay aboard the Lander. He then assigned a couple of people to keep an eye on the damaged sections, just to be on the safe side.

Now Nelson was faced with a new problem. The fact that the Ships hull had been ruptured, meant that they were now contaminated with what ever germs and whatnots the new world had for them. Procedure had called for sending one person out, to test the environment, but now there was no need. The success of a test would have been if the person lived. Then they would have deemed it safe for the rest of them. Tom had wanted to get off the ship as soon as possible, but Nelson nixed that Idea. Even though they had been exposed to the atmosphere, there were still unknowns out there that must be checked, before sending anyone out into the land scape.

A thorough examination of the Ship, revealed that they had suffered some major damage. Not only was the hull breached, but most of the power generating cells were destroyed with the ship setting down on that tree. Until they cut the tree loose from the trunk, there was no way they were going to level the Lander. Even with a level ship, their problems were far from over. With the remaining power cells, there still wasn’t enough strength to run the machinery to lower either of the two Rovers that were stored below. Not only that, but the top hatch, that had been the docking hatch to the mother ship, could not be opened. That removed a convenient high place from which to look around. Most of the computers and lighting would still be working, as they did not draw that heavy of a load. Setting out solar cells would provide enough power for any electronics they had. But the use of a motor no matter how slight, drew more than what was available now. Even raising the radio antenna could not be done.

Nelson having made some personal inspections of the damage, knew that for the time being they were alright. Water would be a problem as for now they would not be able to circulate it through the purification system. They would soon run out. How long they survived after that would depend on getting a fresh water source. It was noted that two of the storage units, were fractured. One of the storage units held food stuffs that would need to be transferred to a secure location. Due to the abundance of plant life, Nelson assumed that there was also animal types that would take any opportunity to invade and contaminate the ships stores.

Now with the knowledge that the Lander was not likely to suffer any more damage, Nelson turned his attention to the world around them. No one as yet had stepped foot out side, and they were curious as to what it looked like. Some of the cameras that went dead on the decent, had come back on line, and they were all looking at the large view screen and the picture it presented.

They had landed on a grassy slope with trees scattered across it. It was just their luck that they had landed smack dab on top of one. The screen was showing a panorama of their surroundings. The grassy slopes ended in a thick forest of trees and high rising hills to the east. North ward Tom was noting, was some rocky snow topped mountains’s some distance from them. From there to the West, the land seemed to smooth out. A thick fog was covering most every thing to the south west and the south. What was behind the fog, would have to wait for another day to be seen.

In the lower decks where the tree had broken through, the air was becoming thick with strange smells. Tom had stayed down there after everyone had gone back up to the main deck, except the two on watch that Nelson had assigned. The air was thick with smells of what Tom later would know as Grass. The pollen was thick, and could be seen coating the flat surfaces of the ship. With this real good first viewing, all chatter had stopped. Everyone watched the screens with awe, as cameras took in their surroundings.

At a glance the new world looked a whole lot like earth. Tom could see the difference in the trees, but then, he hadn’t seen every type of tree on earth. Never having been to Africa, he didn’t know weather the foliage bore any resemblance. Nelson let everyone view the screens for a long time, before getting their attention. It was time to call a meeting.

Not being able to launch with all their assigned personnel, Nelson was the only officer among them. He had no underlings to help with the leadership of these so called pioneers. Maintaining some control he felt was essential to their survival. With these undisciplined people, he could not rely on even a trifle report. So it was with this in mind when he took a head count and found that instead of the fifty some people that were assigned to the lander, he only had thirty, counting himself. Of those thirty, ten were males and the others young females, that on the most part did not seem capable of withstanding even minor difficulties.

With every ones attention, Nelson did his best to describe the situation. Water was going to be their main problem for a while, but they would eventually need to find food sources, as their supplies would run out in time. That bit of information brought a puzzled look from some of them, and one person remarked that with a two year supply of food, they surely could last one year, and then they were to be returned earth. Nelson decided to dash that hope right from the start.

“There is not going to be any ship from earth coming here any time soon. Probably not ever. They don’t even know where we are.” As he spoke he could tell from the faces that most did not comprehend that the mother ship was for all practical purposes Destroyed. What was still in orbit around this new planet called Eros, could not support life. It was empty and there would not be any rescue missions coming from there either. As he explained it, the faces looking at him, began to show fear and worry. Nelson was quick to point out that they did have the means to survive, but it would take every one of them working together. The whole concept of the mission was now changed. There would be no returning to earth, this would be home for the rest of their lives. Again Nelson emphasized that they all needed to work together to survive.

There was grumbling after getting over the shocking revelation that they were in fact marooned on a planet, with nothing except what they had brought with them. Several of the men wanted to leave and go it on their own. Nelson nodded his head in understanding, and pointed out that all the supplies would stay with the Lander and would be guarded by him and those that chose to stay. Bringing out an unseen pistol he’d concealed behind the instrument console, he informed them that he would shoot any man or woman that tried to loot the ship. He then said that if they wanted to leave, they were free to go, but if they stayed, they would be subject to his rules and commands.

Looking around at the gathered people, Tom was surprised to see a couple of them speak up, saying they wanted to make a go of it on their own. Nelson told them he would see to it that they had some survival equipment, such as knives and a few blankets before leaving. It was then that Tom stepped forward, and addressed the two men.

“You have no idea of what your getting your selves into.” Tom said with warning. “You have no skills for surviving. No shelter, no knowledge of what is out there. Its going to take every waking moment you have to feed your selves, provided that you can discover any thing eatable. Remember, the stories about Asians coming to America and eating the same type of mushrooms they knew back home. Well the mushrooms were different in America even though they looked the same. They ate em and they all died. What I am saying is stick around long enough for us to figure out just how we can survive out there.” He paused for a moment and then continued with sympathy, “I don’t like this whole idea of us being here in the first place. But now were here. I know from being a hunter and a guide, that it takes many people working together in order to survive. Even the Indian’s knew that. I think that who ever planned this Mission knew that too. It takes only a few hunters to supply a people, but it takes a whole lot of others preparing the goods for storage and use. That was why the American Indian in many cases had more than one wife, or lived within a tribe that clung together. You need to stay an learn with the rest of us. Then maybe we can all leave and go our own ways.” He finished his speech and then returned to his seat, saying nothing more.

The two thought about it and decided to wait. It made sense to find out more about the New World before jumping out into the middle of it. They would wait, but they still were determined to go it alone. They would put up with Nelson’s rules, but only as long as they needed too. When the time came that they figured they were ready, they would leave the group and all the regulations that were going to be imposed.

Seeing that things were soothed for the time being, Nelson continued telling them, what next needed done. There was the hull that needed patched, to keep varment’s out of the ship. The deck below, containing the sleeping quarters seemed to be intact. It was the decks below that which were breached and buckled from the tree shaft impaling them. They were informed that the hatches below were to be kept closed and shut after each opening. None were to be left open for any reason. There were just too many unknowns about them to do other wise.

The next order of business was to reach a high point and erect an antenna for the radio. They needed to contact the other landers and report in. Nelson pointed out, that the more people they had, the better they would live. They had the materials on board to build housing, and other needs they might have. The more hands involved the faster they would be set for the coming winter. Nelson looked directly at Tom, and told him he was the one to go out and find a high place to erect the antenna. He was told to take a couple of men with him. They would be needed to pack the things for the job.

This was the first falling out, Tom had with Nelson. When he informed the lt. That he would not go out side with out ample protection. In short he wanted all his requested items given to him now. Number one was the magnum 44 hand gun. Revolver type if available. Nelson didn’t want to do that. He pointed out that all they had to do was go to a high place and set up the antenna. “It won’t take that long, there isn’t that much to do. You will be there and back with in twenty minutes or so.”

“Lt, I don’t care if its twenty feet away. I don’t intend on going anywhere with out a weapon. You don’t know what’s out there and neither do I. So if your not going to give me a weapon, I won’t be doing anything.” Tom was firm on that point and again, stressed that he needed proper clothing and foot wear. The thin slipper like shoes they’d been issued, would not do in any out side environment.

“t first it looked like Nelson was not going to accede to Toms demand, even though it had been more of a request to start with. What Nelson was thinking, was did he really need this old man or should he just tell him to take a seat and have some one else lead the antenna crew. Looking into that weathered face and those old blue eyes, Nelson could see that he was dealing with a man of strong character. AOkay,” he finally said. “You get your gun and anything else you need. From now on, you will be my right hand man when were out side. I expect complete loyalty from you.”

That was fine with Tom, and he excepted the terms. He would be loyal and comply with every thing Nelson wanted, right up to the time when he would set out on his own. Un like the others that just wanted to take off, Tom knew that he would have to have help. Some one that would work with him to do what was necessary to survive. He figured it would take several people, and they would have to be exceptional people at that. It would take some time to get to know just who he could trust and who could stand up to the riggers of being a complete pioneer. Until then he would be Loyal and trustworthy until the day came when he was ready. He just hoped it wouldn’t be too long.

Tom asked Richard it he wanted to go, but to Tom’s surprise, Richard declined. He just said that he would go on later outings, but for now he would prefer sticking close to the ship. Tom smiled knowingly at Richard. He knew that Richard like some of the more alert members of the crew, were being cautious. No one wanted to be the first person to die on the new world. Despite the fact that they had not seen any wild life, except for some faint bird like creatures in the far distance, they’d had time to think about what might be lurking out side the Lander. Tom had no such fear, as the lander coming down had roared through the cloud layer and caused enough earth shaking noise, to have sent the most fearsome beasts running. It was likely that nothing would show up for days.

Finding two others to accompany him, Tom set out to find the right spot to set up the antenna. Stepping down the ladder beneath the Lander, the gear was lowered to the ground. They had solar panels to power the relay signal from the antenna to the Lander. With the thick cloud cover, Tom wondered if the panels would be able to power up. The gear was heavy and each one had to pack a full load. All they needed was a high enough spot to get a signal out to any other lander. They only needed to contact one Lander, but that one contact had to be in contact with the others, in order to insure that the original plans for setting up a base could be implemented. If luck was with them, they might just get the last three life boat groups that held the ships crew, too. That would give them a total of six bases and all of the man power left over after the first Mission with General Devon was launched.

Standing in the shadow of the lander, Tom took a long look around. The grass was giving off a strong perfume. It filled his nostrils to the point he was near sneezing. Blowing air out in a snorting fashion, he tried to clear his head. The pollen was too thick here for a mission site, but that would have to wait until later. Maybe the others wouldn’t be as effected as he was. The fields of grass continued into the distance. Patches of green trees jutted straight up, out of the far mist that rose from the ground. There wasn’t a horizon to look at, for the mist blurred into haze with out any details. The trees looked like tall skinny firs with no sprawling branches to provide shade, just close grouped limbs offering little protection. Turning his gaze to the higher ground to the East, Tom indicated that was the way they were going. His new boots were going to be hard on his feet, but he was wearing thick socks along with plastic band-Aids covering his heals. He hoped that would be enough to prevent blisters. His two companions were similarly attired. All had good clothing, with suspenders and plenty of pockets. Every thing was camo green, a little out of place in the tall yellow grass, but it would do. The first patch of green they came to, was made up of brush that looked like just about anything they would find on earth. Tom supposed that a good botanist would know the difference, but to him it all seemed just like earth. Maybe just a different part of the forest.

His first close look at a tree with out a Lander empaled on it, was interesting. It looked to be similar to a cedar as far as the bark went, and it looked like it might have been long grained. He could see the possibility of splitting rails and lumber out of it. Also in the green areas, he found the ground slightly damp. A good sign that water might be flowing in ample amounts to warrant digging a well.

The first animal sign that they saw was a three toed track. It was as large as his hand. It brought a sense of relief to all of them, as they were afraid they might find monster size tracks. They hadn’t said anything to each other, but it was there in their minds all the Same. At this point they were just glad not to be seeing anything but tracks. Tom noted the sign but did not spend time studying them. They first had to get the radio up and working. Later they would take the time to do a closer study on the way back. The next Patch of green was something of about two acres. In it there were plenty of paw prints. They looked like wolf tracks, and it gave him hope that they would not find any giant lizards, like T Rex moving about the country side. Seeing what looked like wolf tracks, reminded him, that only very small mammals were a live during the age of dinosaurs. If this planet had evolved something like earth, then there shouldn’t be the large stomping creatures alive at this time. At least that was his hope.

The grass lands gave way after a quarter mile, and more trees began jutting up out of the brush. Now they had to follow what Tom thought as Game trails. The brush to the side of the trails, was too thick for them to wade through. There were now trees with branching limbs, something like oak. He looked at the leaves, hoping to see something like maple, but was not able to find any among all the different types. Now as they walked deeper into the trees, the underbrush gave way and the game trail spread out to where they were no longer following it. It was in the timber that one of his helpers spied the first animal.

When Steve Mason brought Toms attention to the dark figure in the tree branches, his voice was shaky, even if just above a whisper. Tom followed his pointing hand and saw something laying along the upper limbs of another oak like tree. It had large eyes that were clearly looking at them. Tom brought up the small pair of binoculars strung around his neck and looked at the creature. He saw dangerous looking claws, but a none threatening face. He was looking at a Sloth. It could not be anything else. Even though it wasn’t moving, Tom figured it to be a slow creature. It didn’t seem to pose a threat to them. He remarked to Steve that it was a sloth. A slow moving creature, found on earth. When Steve asked how he knew that it was slow moving, Tom pointed out that if it had been fast it would have taken off when the Lander came down through the atmosphere. The thunderous noise had surely sent the rest of the wild life to points far from here.

It gave Tom some hope, that Steve had spotted the animal. He was glad to have some one with him who was alert. Tom made a note to himself that Steve would accompanied him when ever more than one man was required. He also wanted to make sure that others in his party would have arms. That would take some doing, as he knew Nelson was afraid of revolt. Now that they were cut off from earth and really no hope of being rescued there wasn’t the fear of law to keep everyone under control. Nelson certainly didn’t want weapons at every ones disposal.

Nelson didn’t have to tell him that there would be no rescue. Tom figured that out when the big bangs happened aboard ship. When the word had come to abandon ship, he knew that none of them would ever see earth again. He liked Nelson, but he did not trust the military like control that had been placed on them. So he could not trust the man, no matter how much he respected him. There would always be that chain of command thing, and Nelson would answer to the others, like the Major and General Devon if they were to ever join up again. It was a big planet and depending on where the landers set down, there was always a chance that they would meet up again.

Climbing the steep ground, the grass gave way to sand and rocks. Trees grew in small clumps in the exposed soil. Game trails ran side hill through the small forest, and only a few led up the hill. Breathing was becoming difficult because of the Pollen clogging their nostrils. It gathered on their eye lids, caking to the point where Tom had to rub the crusted lumps off, in order to keep them open. The pollen Tom figured had to be a seasonal thing. Nothing could go on like this for ever. Even native animals could not survive with lungs filling up with the yellow stuff.

The trees gave out when the ground became more rock strewn. Large bare areas of solid rock stood out. A few trees were growing out of cracks but for the most part the forest was behind them. They finally made it to a hump of the ridge. There were other ridges continuing on until being lost in low cloud cover., Turning to the left, they continued up the ridge they were on, to the higher points. It took another hour before they were able to see any distance. Cloud cover was dissipating, due some winds whipping up from the far side of the highpoint. At last they could see.

In the distance, there was a body of water laying between several low mountains. Tom knew that if there was anyone around to receive a radio signal, it would be from this point. Taking a compass reading, Tom had them set up the relay along its line. They spread out the legs of the antenna, and drove spikes to hold the pads down. They could only find one crevice, but were able to line up two of the three legs with it and in hammered in the spikes. It would have to do. Not knowing anything about the strength of the local winds, it would have to be a strong one to dislodge the antenna. The solar panels were something else. They could spread them out over the rock surface and nail them down or use the larger rocks laying about to hold the Panels in place. When they were done, the ground was covered with black electrical cords connecting everything together.

With a final look around Tom was satisfied with their work. He had checked with their hand held radios to make sure Nelson back at the lander could receive them. Loud and clear came the answer, so they made a couple of adjustments to the signal. It was time to head back down, the mountain. The sky was growing darker to the west, and what looked like storm clouds, judging by the wind, were coming their way.

“Time to head back.” Tom announced to his companions. “Looks like we better make good time, if we don’t want to be caught in the rain.” They quickly gathered up their tools and left over wire and then headed down the way they’d come. A no trash left behind moto was more than just an environmental saying. There would be no extra material forth coming and so everything left over from any project was to be brought back to the Base and kept for future use. Nothing was to be thrown away.

Tom noted that he was breathing with more difficulty. His sinuses were clogging up, which he figured was due to pollen. As they moved down through the elevations, breathing was getting worse. Tom thought at the time it was just him, but then Steve and Barry both started complaining of not getting their breath. Saying it was most likely the high pollen of the grasses, Tom urged them on. Finally they had to stop. They were trying to blow out their nostrils farmer style. Holding a finger to one side and exhaling through the other nostril. Tom kept a wary eye out around them. He didn’t want any curious animals sneaking up on them. Once getting the air passages clear, they started out again. They were down off the rocky soil, traveling in the loose loam where their feet sunk in a couple of inches with each step. Only the fact that they were traveling down hill, gave them enough momentum to keep moving. They were having to stop often now to clear their nostrils. Even with clearing them, breathing was still becoming harder.

Finally they dug into their work packs and found some cloth to hold over their mouth and noses. Tom told them to keep trying to breath through their noses rather then their mouths even with the cloth as a filter. The nose was the first protector of the lungs from dust. Breathing through the mouth, would effect the lungs, bringing about pneumonia and other breathing conditions. They were exhausted by the time they reached the lander. No one was out side and it looked like the machine was all buttoned up. Tom got on his radio and contacted Nelson. Telling of their condition and that he doubted they could climb the ladder. They would need help. Shortly after making the call, the ladder hatch opened and a horse collar harness was lowered on a rope. Dropping all of his gear, they put Barry in it first and told them to haul away. Barry was hoisted up in short pulls, indicating that they were hand hauling him up. Next it was Steve and then they lowered a basket for the tools. Tom was disappointed as he wanted to get inside and breathe some filtered air. But he knew that their tools were important and he loaded everything in the basket and told them to haul away. After the basket with the tools disappeared into the Lander, the horse collar was again lowered. This time Tom was raised up and passed through the hatch.

Once safely inside, sippy cups were brought out and used to wash out their sinuses. Every one had much the same ailment that Tom and his team experienced. They had breathed the out side air while patching the breach where the tree had come through. The pollen even there was thick and had clogged their noses. So in offering the sinus cleaning sippie cups helped. Even Oxygen was administered. Toms labored breathing was eased, and he began to feel like he just may live through this. Still he didn’t feel one hundred percent recovered. Tom also noticed that every one was now wearing breathing filters. Small masks that covered the mouth and nose. They all were having problems with the pollen. Nelson seemed genuinely glad to see them, and praised their work on placing the antenna. While the three of them had been returning, contact was made with two other landers. Now they had a general idea of their locations. Nelson was hoping to get the rest of their people back as they would need every hand they could get to help set up modular housing.

The sooner they had living quarters other than the Landers, the better off they would be. Nelson knew that with the hull breached, they had lost any ability for a secure environment. They were all contaminated with the Planets microbes. So staying aboard the lander for sanitary reasons was no longer viable. That tree ramming up through the Lander had done a lot of damage. The power plant was still intact, but everything leading from it was destroyed. So in effect, they had no real power, except the batteries and solar cells. Those would soon run down, and it didn’t look good for the solar cells to be generating enough power to recharge the batteries. The sooner they could get the prefab living quarters set up, the better life would be. Living in an unheated metal ship was not the way to spend the coming winter.

It was the hope that their immune systems would get them through what ever germs they’d contacted. With the breaching of the hull, the planets microbes had surely reached them all. So if they were going to bear any ill effects, they needed to get things set up and done, before they all came down with devastating illnesses. They had to work fast. At the most, Nelson hoped for at least six days of good work before the crew was too sick to do anything.

At the control deck, most of the crew was watching the approaching storm. With the rain, the ground mist was gone, and Despite the heavy down pour, they could see more of the land scape. In the morning the plan was to finish working on removing the tree trunk that still jutted up through most of the lander. While Tom had been leading the trek up the hill side, the rest of the crew was working on removing that tree. It was just the difficulty breathing that brought a halt to their efforts. Now recovered and with the proper equipment out of the storerooms, the removal would be finished before noon tomorrow. The extra two hours in the planets day, wasn’t that confusing. They did notice that they could not jump as high, because of the stronger gravity, and they did weigh more now.

Tom didn’t join in with the others watching the storm, but went to his bunk and turned in. He was beginning to feel woozy. He feared that he was coming down with what would come to be known as The Eros Crud. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light.

When morning came, or when some one finally tried to wake him, Tom was back to having breathing difficulties. He coughed up phlegm and tried to clear his lungs. His legs hurt and every joint in his body felt achy. No one had to tell him, he was sick. What he wanted most was a large drink of water. He asked about Steve and Barry, if they were feeling the same as he. They were, in fact, they were worse off then he was, as they could not rise out of their beds. That didn’t give Tom much encouragement, but he felt that he had to get up, if only for a cup of morning coffee. He managed to make it up to the control deck, where he could see vie the view screens what was going on around the Lander. Tom noticed that every one seem to be moving slower. Even the person that took pity on him and brought a coffee, was moving slow and breathing heavy.

Nelson was busy at the communication desk, talking into a head set. From his expression, Tom figured that what ever was being discussed was serious. After a few more comments and furrowed looks, Nelson signed off. Looking up, he saw Tom and came over to where he was sitting. Nelson was also moving much slower today, and suffering labored breathing. Nelson expressed his pleasure at seeing Tom. He was glad that he was able to rise from his bed, noting that several of the crew were not able to do so.

“Got some bad news this morning.” he told Tom. “Yesterday the transmissions were not clear enough, and we didn’t get all the information on the other Landers. Two of them, I don’t know which two have not been heard from. We were the last ones so far to check in.” he had to reach out to another seat back to steady himself. His legs being slightly wobbly. “I’ve got a directional bearing on a lander that has most of our missing people. Some one has to go there and lead them back here. Or at least hand them this radio direction finder.” Nelson showed Tom a small hand held instrument with a compass and bearing screen on it. “No, I asked.” he said before Tom could say anything. “For some reason they don’t have one of these. Just something else over looked on the supply list.”

“Why not give them a compass and a print out of this whole area?” Tom knew that a map and compass would do just as well. But, Nelson shook his head with a wiry smile, and explained that the landers did not have a paper supply. No one had the capability of printing anything. Tom asked about the clip boards, and Nelson explained that most of them had been left on the mess decks of the Grand Virginia. Those electronic gizmos that could do just about everything had been left behind in the panic to get to the landers.

“So, we need some one to get there and hand this gadget over so we can get some healthy people back here. With out them, were going to pretty much fall to pieces.”

There wasn’t a doubt in Toms mind that he would go. It was just the fact that if they brought healthy people here, how would they keep them that way with the hull breached. When he voiced his concerns to Nelson, the Lt, just smiled knowingly, and told him they would be wearing respirators. He went on to explain that the respirators were of the simple type, that had replaceable filters. They didn’t carry air tanks or cumbersome attachments. It was just a simple face mask, some with out eye shields. To Toms next question about why he wasn’t given one to start with, Nelson explained that the locker doors at that time were jammed. Now they were not.

Over the Mountain

Tom had been given free run of the supplies. With the help of Nelson who knew more about where everything was located, he outfitted himself with a rifle and several boxes of ammunition. Not knowing just what he might face, he picked out a 7mm magnum. It was his favored rifle back on Earth and could drop anything that earth had to offer. He supposed and hoped that it would be the same here. Next he was given a canteen of water, with extra purification tablets. If he found a water source on the way, he was to take no chances, and use the tablets with the water. Some plastic sealable bags were also tucked in his pack, along with a light wool blanket and several food packs. There was a lot more that he wanted to take, but on hefting his pack with what was already in it, he knew that it was heavy enough. In his weaken condition, it would be foolish to carry anymore.

The radio direction finder had the frequency entered in. It would not pick it up until he cleared the high ridge where he had set up the antenna. Then it would give him the direction of travel. He still would not know the distance until he made contact with the other lander. How ever far away the Lander was, it made no difference, as he was on his way and had to make the journey. It might not be a matter of life an death for those back at the ruptured lander, but getting help would certainly make things better for every one.

Tom had climbed the trail back to the antenna and was again looking at the panorama laid out before him. There were less clouds blocking the view today, and he was able to see even beyond the body of water that he’d looked at two days before. From this distance he couldn’t tell much about the land, even with the small pair of binoculars, just a hint of more grass lands were beyond the mountains.

Looking to the north, he could see high snow covered mountains that he wanted nothing to do with. Those would be a life times journey in its self. It would be some one other than himself that explored those.

Then to the west, he could still see some distance, and it looked like the land opened up into flat plains of grass lands. He thought about the heavy pollen that had clogged every ones nostrils, and he was glad not to be going that direction, even though he was now wearing a respirator. He didn’t like it, but it kept his breathing from getting worse. He still was not feeling very much above parr, and the rubber of the mask smelled odd.

Taking the direction finder, he switched it on, and watched as the machine went through all the changes of lights until it came up with a read out and an arrow pointing in the direction of the large lake to the East. Some how, he had known that was where they would be. Maybe not at the lake, but some where near.

With the clothing he’d chosen, Tom was quite happy. It was rain repellent and warm. The best was that it breathed, and didn’t build up moisture inside. For a hat he was wearing another camo crusher, with another warmer hat with flaps tuck away in his back pack. He liked the crusher because of the wide brim that shielded his eyes from the sun, should it come out. The only problem was that he had to make an effort to look up when going through forests. It was easy just to let his eyes scan the ground and foliage ahead, but with creatures living in the trees, that wasn’t the safe thing to do.

He had been talked into taking two blankets, because he refused to take a shelter. There were all types of spring loaded packs that when dropped on the ground opened up into roomy tents. But again, the burden of carrying that extra weight, cancelled that out. The original plan was to put down each lander no more then a days journey apart, but the computers may not have been able to follow the program. With Nelson taking over the final landing control, it could have moved them miles from the original computer based site. There was no telling how far off the other Landers were and if they had been manually landed. The fact that he wasn’t close enough for the directional finder, to get a better reading, was enough of a hint that the Landers were a lot further apart then planned.

Time was not on Tom’s side now. He was feeling the effects of a heavy cold coming down on him. He had been dosed up with vitamins and cold remedies, mostly to fight the symptoms of what ever it was he was coming down with, but it wasn’t doing him that much good. The hope was, that he would make it to the Lander before he became too ill. The mask he was wearing, didn’t add to his comfort, but for the time being he knew it was a needed thing. Still with the recent rain, the pollen was pretty well beat down. Even with the mask, he was still able to smell the different odors and aromas of the planet.

Setting off towards the distant water, he was leaving the grass lands behind. Even the soil took on a different feel as each step, sunk deeper into soggy loam. The lower he moved down the slope, the thicker the trees were becoming. He noticed that the trees were taller the further down the hill. That was also what he’d notice about the trees back home. It reassured him that science was the same no matter what world a person was on. All factors the same, life should play out just like on earth.

Suddenly he was aware of figures darting away through the underbrush. They moved so fast, seeking cover, that he wasn’t able to get a good look at any of the shadow like figures. There were bird like creatures, gliding off through the woods. Those he did get a fairly good look at and they did look like birds, feathers an all. They were strange looking birds, nothing like the ones he’d seen in Montana or Wyoming. He was moving fast, faster then he would have been if hunting. He was moving too fast for safety, incase he ran into something dangerous. The one thing he hoped for was that with all the noise he was making, the animals might be frightened and move out before he got to them. It worked back on earth, but on this planet, there wasn’t the fear of man. That was a fact that nagged him as he pushed on, striving to get to his destination before what luck he had, ran out.

The deeper into the forest, the under brush began to thin out. He could see further, and was able to pick his paths better. Mist was still rising in some places, giving the forest a ghostly cast. Tom wondered if all the cloud cover and the fog and mist, was because of the coming winter cycle or was it going to be like this always. One nice change he notice, was that ground was thick with moss and leaves. His feet were not sinking in as deep. It made walking easier, and he was traveling faster. Rest stops were needed, and it was only during those that he could breathe with out effort.

The forest before him was dark under the thick canopy. Tree trunks lay across the forest floor, some with root systems torn out of the ground, and exposed to the air. He didn’t have time to study things now, but mostly what he saw, seemed familiar. Only the abundance of thick hanging vines gave it a jungle like feel that he wasn’t use too. Then about midday, he saw up close his first large animals. It was a fur covered, long necked beast with a large badger like body. It bore claws on its four feet that looked to be able slice through a tree. A light brown in color, later Tom saw darker ones that were even bigger then the eight foot tall animal that was gnawing at something in the lower limbs of the trees. Its long neck gave it the ability to reach almost fifteen feet into the tree. It was close to looking like a giraffe except it was covered with that heavy coat of fur.

Just the size of the animal was enough to bring caution to Tom’s gait. Giving the entire area a good looking over, he picked a route around the feeding beasts. He had to make several adjustments to his route as other such animals were scattered through out the forest. Some were feeding and then others were ripping up fallen logs. A couple of them paused and looked him over carefully before going back to eating. Even then they would look up between bites and check his progress. He wasn’t sure whether they were just curious or wary of him. Tom kept moving slowly around them, hoping to put enough timber between them, that being out of sight might also be out of mind. Carefully picking his way and looking back to make sure he wasn’t being trailed by one. Tom was surprised when he couldn’t see them. They had quietly disappeared. It didn’t set well with him, when an animal that large could vanish that quick and easy. None of the trees were big enough for them to hide behind, that also gave him the suspicion that those animals must be fast, to move far enough to where there were enough trees to hide them.

Moving through the forest, Tom now kept an eye on the back trail. He didn’t want one of those or anything like them, sneaking up on him. Every so often he came to openings, meadows with a dark green grass and knee high brush with berries. He saw different animals there, some looking like deer, or a breed just like deer. Their antlers something like whitetail’s but backwards, reaching far along their backs. Tom thought they were beautiful, as they bounded away not sure just of what he was. Often they would just stand still, looking at him. Fighting the urge to linger and study them, Tom pressed on. He was beginning to cough, trying to clear his lungs. He was tired. It had been a long day, and his strength was ebbing. The forest was getting too dark for traveling, and the long shadows in the clearings told him it would soon be sundown.

Picking out a leaner tree, one that had almost fell, but was being held up by other trees, Tom was able to walk up to where he was about fifty feet off the ground. Picking a spot where another standing tree rested against it, he sat with his back protected. Using cord that he’d brought, Tom tied his pack to some limbs and secured his rifle along with it. He made one trip back down the leaner, before settling in for the night and that was to set a trip flare. Anything that came up that leaner after him would set off the flare and alert him to the danger. He had several flares, but one was all he figured he’d need tonight. Having secured his belongings and even himself to the tree, Tom pulled one of his blankets around him and tried to get some sleep. Some time after dark, there were a few forest sounds, not many but something that gave a low drumming noise. It only went on for about five occurrences, then the forest was silent. Later deeper in the night, there was suddenly a far off roaring. It sounded like a very large animal. A very large angry animal. It was hard to get any shut eye after that. It wasn’t until a loud squawk woke Tom that he realized he’d fallen asleep after all. He opened his eyes to daylight and again a lot of ground fog.

Even though he wasn’t hungry, Tom opened one of his food packets. If he didn’t eat now, he would wish he had later. He had to admit that the food was good, he just wished he felt better so he could enjoy it more. He took a few minutes to check his weapons and do a little cleaning. The magnum he stuck back in his shoulder holster, it was ready for instant use. The rifle, he spent some time wiping it down with an oil cloth and then cleaning the scope. He drank some water, almost all of it, aware that he would have to find some before the days end.

When Tom left his leaning tree, he picked up the trip flare and headed out. On the ground behind him, was the discards from the food packet. He figured he was the first one to litter the new planet. It brought a smile, thinking about it. He wondered how long, if they survived would it take for Man to make a mess of this world. He was doing his share right now.

How many animals went crashing through the forest, getting away from him, Tom couldn’t say. He had no idea, but he certainly heard them thumping the ground as they made their escape. He was feeling rummy, and hot with fever. Every joint in his body was aching. He could feel the sweat building up on his back and chest. It wasn’t until he splashed through the second stream, that he realized he’d found water. As far as he knew, the steams were pure, but following good advice, he dropped the prescribe amount of purification tablets in the water bags and headed out. Every time he checked his compass, he was off course. So he made up his mind to check it more often, but then he kept forgetting it. He remember the directional finder and pulled it out. He had some trouble getting his eyes to focus but he did have a signal. If it was telling him how far it was to the Lander, he couldn’t read it. The screen was too blurry.

Stumbling more than walking, Tom finally left the forest. It wasn’t until he was standing in bright sun light, that he realized that he was no longer under the canopy of the tall trees. He saw fields of ivy, not grass. Reaching for his respirator, he couldn’t find it. He even doffed his pack and rummaged through it. When or where he lost it, he had no idea. He was sitting there, trying to figure out what he was suppose to do, when he heard something sniffing beside him ... Looking up he saw another odd looking animal. Some kind of furry beast, the size of a dog, but covered with so much fur, he couldn’t tell which end he was looking at. It moved around sniffing and snuffing, lifting a pink nose into the air. Tom got out his Magnum and held it in his lap. He would have aimed it, but he was too weak to hold it out that long. The animal approached and gave Tom a good sniffing, then with a snort, cleared his nose and moved off.

A squawking was going on above him, and Tom looked up to see winged objects moving around in the sky. “Buzzards.” he thought, and thumbed the hammer back on the revolver. He knew better then to shoot when he couldn’t clearly see, but he did it anyway. He didn’t like the idea of Buzzards flying down and feeding on him. “I’ll show them I’m not dead yet.” Fired off two more rounds.

The noise of the gun, woke him to the fact that he had fired the gun. It surprised him, that he’d done it. Shoving it back in the holster, he wondered why he had the gun out in the first place. Then he stretched out on his back, looking at the sky. Again he saw the flying birds, and something else. He saw the sky was empty, of clouds. He thought that was nice, and hoped the sun shine would make him feel better. His back was killing him. If he took his clothes off and exposed his back to the sun, that would surely make the pain go away. Rolling over, his face was pushed into a bush. When his vision focused, berries were clustered in front of his nose. For some reason he thought it was a good idea to eat some.

Taking a bite, and chewing leaves with it, Tom found the taste bitter. So bitter he almost puked. Spitting and spitting, he couldn’t get them out of his mouth. He remembered his canteen, and fumbled it around to his mouth. After washing with several mouth fulls of water, his mouth was clean enough to where he could stand it. Gathering up his dropped pack and rifle, Tom slung them onto his back. The sun was in his face and he loved it. He thought that if he could walk that way, with the sun in his face, all would be well again. Some how he came to realize that he was running a fever and was having trouble knowing fact from hallucinations. He couldn’t tell which was real and what wasn’t.

The acid from the berries was making his mouth burn, despite having washed it out with water several times. He tried it again, but after a few minutes it was back to burning again. Moving forward again, he was looking for something to sooth the terrible burning sensation in his mouth. He thought of mud. Mud was used for many things. It was cool and soothing. If he could just find some and put it in his mouth. He tried another twig off a bush, but only succeeded in making his mouth bleed. Then he bumped into a tree. He thought about bark and then it came to him, the cementum. He remembered that in some cases, it was eaten. It was cut from the tree, beaten and boiled and then eaten. It was even used as clothing for some native Americans. He wasn’t going to wear it, at least not this time.

With his knife, Tom shoved the blade sideways under the bark and pried it away from the tree. He had to work at it for several minutes before he was able to loosen a large section. He cut a sizeable square out of the tree, and then began to peal the enter bark away from the dried outer bark. He knew it was only a few moments more and he would have his cementum. Tom sliced off a piece of it and pushed it into his mouth. It was wet, and cool. It felt wonderful until he became aware of the taste. He couldn’t spit it out fast enough. Again he rinsed his mouth with many ounces of water from his canteen. When he was done, he rested a few moments, before realizing that the burning sensation was markedly milder. He waited for a while, waiting to see how much relief it gave him. He cut another piece and placed it in his mouth. This time he chewed several times before spitting the foul piece out. A final rinsing, and then some more rinsing, and he had no burning sensation in his mouth at all.

The relief was wonderful, if it wasn’t for the fever, everything would have been okay. How ever, he was still having trouble breathing, The pollen wasn’t as thick here. He wondered why there had been so much pollen, when it was suppose to be the fall of the year. Maybe, the thought came to him, that science wasn’t always the same. Slowly he realized, he was sitting on a large bolder, looking at water rushing by. It was a river. Not a big one, but one that could be waded. Rocks were sticking up out of the fast moving white water. To wade it, would tax his reserve strength. That was something he really didn’t want to do. The thought of getting wet, with his health in such poor condition had him checking his compass to see if he really needed to cross that rushing water. He decided to move up stream to see if there was a log or any other way to get across. That proved fruitless, and even though the river was narrower, it was also cut with steeper banks and it looked deeper.

Moving down hill was easier, and with out thinking about it, he was going down steam, along the river bank. The land began to flatten out, with a sandy soil, that had a thin layer of grass growing through it. There were clumps of trees and brush, with thick fingers of forests stretching down from the higher country. A long the river, there were many kinds of real bird like creatures, nesting in several different kinds of trees. He noticed that the river turned to the East, in doing so, he could put off any attempt to cross, as long as the river flowed in the direction he was going any way.

The water still looked clean, and it was flowing slower now. He filled his water jug and canteen again, putting the purification tablets in it. He didn’t like the taste of the tablets, but it was better to stay on the safe side. He found himself resting more often now. He wasn’t making very good time, hardly making any time at all. He just didn’t feel up to moving. What he wanted to do, was curl up in the blankets and not come out until he was better. He had to remind himself it wasn’t an option. He had to get to his feet and continue on with the mission. Cat tails were growing along the banks. It was getting more earth like all the time.

While sitting down to eat a ration bar from the pack, he became aware of a beeping noise. It was irritating and he wished it to stop. Wondering about the beeping sound, his fogged mind realized that it had to be something he was carrying. Digging through the mostly empty pack, he wondered where the stuff went that was inside it. There should have been at least a blanket it there, but it was gone. He felt stupid, realizing he was losing things. The fever had his mind in such a fog that he couldn’t concentrate or think along any line. The slightest distraction was sending his mind one direction after another. The only thing he was able to focus on was how difficult breathing was. Again, that damn beeping noise, was irritating. Fumbling with his jacket, he pulled the directional finder from a pocket. A light was flashing, along with that damn beeping noise.

In the bright sun light, he could make out an arrow blinking on and off. There was something else too, a word kept showing up on the screen. He read it over a couple of times, but it made no sense to him. A single word, “Contact, What the hell does that mean,” he said and touched it with his finger. Suddenly a voice came out of the instrument. The voice asked if he could hear them.

It was a surprise to Tom, he didn’t know that it could communicate. “Yeah, I hear something.” he muttered back at the object he was holding. “What da ya want?”

“How soon are you going to get here. When can we expect you?”

“Were you making that damn beeping noise.” Tom braced them. He coughed up some phlegm. while they answered. They weren’t sure they heard him right, and asked if he was alright. “Hell No I’m not alright. I’m Dying.” He coughed again, spitting more phlegm on the ground. They were saying something else, but Tom wasn’t listening. “Yeah, that’s right, I’m Dying and that damn beeping crap, ain’t helping.” It was at that point when Tom thought maybe, there was someone talking and it wasn’t just that directional finder. “Who is this?” he asked with a gentle voice. “Is this some body?”

“This is Station two, medical base one.” a voice responded.

“You one of the Landing machines.” Tom was speaking through a fog. He was alert now, but he didn’t know how long it would last.

“Yes, This was the Medical Lander, but now were called Medical Base.”

“Well, come get me. I’m sick...” was his reply and then he thought about helicopters and how nice it would be for them to come and fly him out of here. He then tossed the directional finder in his pack and slung it over his shoulder. Sick or not, it was time to head east again.

He didn’t see it come, but heard the rush of wind as a huge shadow came over him. He didn’t have time to get his rifle off his back, but grabbed the 44 mag. Just as something hit him from behind. He didn’t feel pain, just a sensation of something sticking in his back. Tom fell forward and spun around with his gun at the ready. All he could see was something large and blocking the sun out. The gun bucked in his hand and he fired twice more. Wether he aimed or not, Tom didn’t know. It was just reflex and the deep fear that something was about to eat him, that enabled him to draw and fire. He felt it hit him again and he was shoved along the sand. Tom kicked and rolled away, struggling to his feet. What he saw through the blood streaming down his face was something big with feathers. It was more than twice his size, and its wings were spread out as if to trap him and keep him close so its claws could do their work. He fired again until it was empty, it didn’t matter, the thing was dead. It just took a few moments for it to crumple to the ground.

Looking quickly around, Tom began ejecting the spent casings from the revolver. He wasn’t aware of how he got the cuts above his eyes, but he had to keep wiping the blood away so he could see. He was trying to see if there was anymore danger. Some animals and birds hunted in pairs and for all he knew this too could be the case. He managed to reload his gun and picked up his pack. With a bandage from the small medical kit, he wiped the blood away. Holding the bandage in place he looked for more danger.

The giant bird or what ever it was, had attacked him from out of the sun. He found his hat and used it with his gun hand to shade his eyes while he looked the sky over for any other birds that might be swooping down on him.

Seeing nothing more coming at him, Tom turned his attention to the dead animal laying spread out before him. It didn’t quite have a beak, but something more like Jaws and long teeth, lots of teeth. He noticed that the huge talons had blood on them. That brought him back to his condition. Not only was he sick, but now he was injured. He figured the bleeding over his eyes was the least of his wounds. He could feel pain now, and blood running down his back. He didn’t have enough bandages to treat his wounds, nor was he going to be able to even see them. He felt that he’d better put something on it, just to slow down the bleeding. He was aware now of his mission and the need to get that Direction finder to the next base. Tom didn’t figure he would be doing much after today, but if he could just patch himself up to last long enough to deliver the Directional Finder, well, that would be good enough.

What to use? He had lost his blankets, which would have done the job. Other then that, there was the possibility of folding up a shirt and strapping that over the wound. Then he saw the inner bark that he had brought with him. It was porous and dry, so he thought, why not. It wasn’t like it was going to kill him, he laughed to himself. It was hard taking off his rifle and then his outer garments. The injury hampered movement and was still bleeding all down his back. With one hand, he flapped the large piece of cementum over his shoulder and covered his wound. He had to lean forward to keep it from sliding off, while he used the strap from his rifle to bind the bandage in place. Tom tossed it over his shoulder and brought the other end around, tying both off. He found some cordage that hadn’t fell out of his pack, and managed to get a couple loops around his chest. With the inner bark secured as best he could get it, Tom then put his coat back on and buttoned and zipped it up tight. He checked his compass and then the directional finder again. His plan was to go as far as he could towards the Medical Lander, and hope that they would find him and get the Directional finder. He wasn’t holding any hope that he would make it. He was too realistic for that. He shoved the directional finder in a pocket and slung the canteen over his right shoulder, it was the one with less pain. He wanted to take the rifle, but knew that it was too much. The pistol would have to do. Wrapping the empty pack around the rife, Tom placed it against a tree. After leaning several sections of loose bark around it, he figured it was the best he could do to protect it from the elements. It would have to do. He stood, careful not to stretch the wound and start it bleeding again. Hell, he wasn’t sure that the bleeding was even slowed. Taking a bearing, he then set out towards the Medical Base.

The land continued to flatten, but Tom wasn’t attentive enough to notice. Just putting one foot in front of the other and keeping his eye on the compass, that was all he was capable of. Just when he finally came to a halt, Tom never knew. He had found himself nodding off as he walked, but came alert when he stumbled. This time he didn’t come alert, he stumbled and then caught himself, solely by reflex. Sinking to the ground, came to a rest leaning forward on his knees. He was tired and empty of strength. Cold, he felt the cold, but was too weak to do anything about it. Too weak to get up, He couldn’t even make himself more comfortable by stretching out his legs. Instead, he slumped to the side, going completely to the ground and lay still, unmoving.

Medical Base

From the vantage of the top hatch, Shondra Morrison in her sealed viro suit, watched as the returning rescue squad, made their way up from the lake. She could see they were carrying a body bag. It bothered her, not that the man was dead, but that he was the first. She knew they were going to lose more. Her orders were to intern all fatalities in the cold storage units, but first she was going to do a preliminary autopsy. If there was something to learn that would help her keep some of them alive, she was going to do her best to find out. From the sealed orders that she had finally been authorized to open, she could read between the lines and knew that none of them were expected to survive. Anger and disgust finally gave way to a determination that she would do her best to save as many as possible.

This first known death had not even given her a chance. When she heard that a team was going out to bring in a sick messenger, she made ready every thing she thought might be needed. Then when they found him, and sent back word that he was dead, it was as if fate was mocking her. This was the start of the Dying, but she didn’t have to like it.

Returning inside and going through the decontamination room, Shondra slipped out of the bio suit. No one liked wearing them, but it was the standard for everyone going out side. Later they would be set aside, when they began building and setting up the living quarters. For her medical teams, they were to stay aboard the Landers, and maintain a closed environment. If anyone was to be alive when the next ship returned, it had to be the medical teams. That was the orders, but with the destruction of the Grand Virginia, She was sure it would be a long time before they ever saw a rescue ship. Still until she received further orders, that was the game plan. She was senior in command here at the Medical Base. Every one else was subject to her orders and commands. Until some one from the other Landers came that out ranked her, She was the chief.

All traffic coming into the Medical Base, had to go through decontamination. The pilots had been able to let the Lander pick its own spot, and the set down was with out incident. With the levelers adjusting the ship, every thing was working as it should. The power cells were producing plenty of energy, and all the rest of the equipment was working as designed. The only thing that was needed for the immediate future was water. The food supply was expected to last two years for the complement on board the Base. The extra personnel they had aboard would soon be on their way to their assigned base, thanks to the radio direction finder that they found on the body.

Even as they were bringing the body aboard and going through decontamination, the large bay doors were opened and the land rovers were being rolled out. Only one of the two machines were going to make the trip to the damaged Base. Once it delivered the twelve personnel that were suppose to be there in the first place, the Rover would return. There was a great deal of excitement among the personnel, now that they were doing something, rather then being like packed sardines.

The rescue team, brought the body up on a Gurney. The body bag, still wet from the decontamination sprays. Shondra directed them to put it in the quarantined operation room. It was a glass incased box like affair with gloved arm holes for operating. The body could be treated with out exposing themselves or the rest of the base to any biologicals. When they were done, the body would be sent to the quarantine ward, or in this case cold storage. All of it would be done with out the medical team coming into direct contact with the body.

After the team left, Shondra was in no hurry to start. Chrystal, the head nurse was down seeing the Rover off. She had wanted to be in on the autopsy, so Shondra decided to wait for her return. The event, would be on several screens around the Examination deck. Any one that wanted, could witness the operation.

Sitting down and having a cup of coffee, a feeling came slowly creeping over her. Looking at the black body bag, a fear nagged at her. Just who was zipped up in there. She didn’t know very many of the crew personally, but there was one. She put her cup down and went over to the examination box. Putting her hands into the gloves, she reached forward and pulled the zipper down, exposing the grime covered face. She had a sharp intake of breath, when she recognized the victim. Taking a step back, she turned away in shock. Shondra went to her desk and sat down, it was always hard when the victim turned out to be an acquaintance. She thought about sorting through some papers, or even mixing up some 190 proof with juice. Getting drunk would be better then facing the reality of the situation.

Tom had been an interest to her, even though she hadn’t been quite sure of him at the start. Later she had decided he was a person she wanted to know more about. She had looked up his health records, trying to find out what she could about the man. There had been less about him then the others. Probably because he was not a first choice for the mission. Steeling her self up for the coming task, she admitted Tom was old. Fifty five, and had probably lived a full life. It wasn’t like he was like the rest of the people here, with a few exceptions, Young and in the prime of life. Most were early twenty’s as most of the girls were under twenty one. How much worse it would be, if it had been one of the young ones.

Finally Chrystal came in and asked if she was ready to start. Shondra nodded and made her way over to the box. Sensing her sullen behavior, Chrystal asked what was wrong, and Shondra explained the victims identity. Explaining that he was the only one that she found interesting, perhaps because he was old enough to have a past.

The senior officers, turned her stomach. Especially the General. None of them really gave a damn about the men and women that had been shanghaied for this Mission. They didn’t see how wrong it was to force people into participating against their will. It was slavery no matter how one looked at it.

“Well, Doctor, Look on the bright side. We probably will never see the General or his officers again. This is a big planet, and we don’t even know the where about’s of where were at.”

“I guess that’s one way of looking at it.” She got up and went back to the box. “I suppose we should get started.”

With both Shondra and Chrystal working together, they removed the body bag and folded it back out of the way. They examined the coat and wondered at the cordage and strap holding the unidentified material over the victims back. The cuts on his forehead and scalp though deep, were not life threatening. When they turned the body over, that was where they saw the deep claw or talon wounds. Shondra, understood Tom’s attempt to pack the wound and thought he’d done a pretty good job, considering he couldn’t see what he was doing. She had completed her preliminary exam, and again turned him over to start the main cut. With out saying anything, Chrystal placed two fingers on the side of Tom’s neck. It was a last minute attempt to check for life before they made the first incision. Shondra, knew that it was just routine thing, but there was no chance, as the body was almost completely drained of blood. The skin having that gray wax look, that came with death.

Shondra had turned to write down her notes on the physical exam, when Chrystal, made an odd noise. Clearing her throat, as if she wasn’t quite sure. “Doctor, I think I feel something.”

“Maybe it’s a bug under the skin. Who knows, things could develop a lot faster on this planet.” Just in case she was wrong, Shondra checked Toms neck on the other side. Feeling nothing for a moment and then there was something faint. It was a pulse. “Get a team in here quick. We may have a chance at saving him.”

Working fast, the team moved Tom to the isolation ward, there in their bio suits, they could do more for him. I V’s were set up to replace body fluids, and a scrub team got to the task of cleaning him up. Shondra, kept her eyes on every thing as it was being done. Taking particular note of where the material that Tom had dressed his wound with, ended up. Nothing was thrown away. Every piece of clothing was bagged and tagged. They would go over all that later. For some reason Tom was alive, when he should have been dead. There had to be a reason for it, and she was going to do her best to find out what it was.

Hours later, when the wounds were cleaned and dressed. Surgery completed and laced with IV’s, Tom was left in the isolation ward, hopefully to mend and recover. Under the watchful eyes of Shondra and nurse Chrystal Rose, Tom was doing as well as could be expected. There were other problems besides the wounds that they were dealing with. Tom’s lungs had been infected, and full of fluids. Now on a breathing machine, his lungs had been cleared, and he was breathing in a combination of gases that would help him recover. It would take more surgeries to fill in the loss tissue, and scars. At this time, he was their only patient and they could focus a great deal of attention on him.

With her doctors eye, Shondra looked the patient over and noted a vast amount of old scarring. The X rays, and body scopes revealed evidence of mended bones and stress fractures. There were even pieces of metal, embedded deep in soft tissue. She thought that what ever life he had lived before, it was certainly not a boring life. She was looking forward to some conversations if ever Tom recovered enough. If he was younger, there would have been no doubt in her mind that he would recover. The age factor was what was tendering her doubts. Older patients did not have the recovery powers, especially with such severe injuries. With each passing day Tom improved, showing his body wanted to live.

Every one of the medical team, came daily to look through the windows at the man slowly mending in the isolation room. Some how just viewing him on a screen was not enough, they wanted to see him in the flesh so to speak. Perhaps the reason many of them were so interested, is that they wondered what had happened to him. What kind of beast inflected those wounds. They would have to wait, because to help him recover, Shondra was keeping him sedated. The result was, that Tom was comatose. No dreams or visions of attacking birds, to send him reeling in nightmares. They would deal with those fears later.

At the other Lander, which was being referred to as Farm Base Two, Lt. Nelson was having problems. Only those new personnel that came breathing with resuscitators were still healthy and could work. Getting them to do anything was the difficult part. With no one to over see them. He couldn’t be sure that anything was being done. Sharing his concerns with Richard Johnson, who like himself was too sick to hardly leave the bed. They both felt that there was a chance they might recover. One of the youngest females in their group was back on her feet and starting to do her make up. However there had been two fatalities. Both men. Man power was what they were lacking in. Nelson was concerned that when every one was, fully recovered, there would not be enough men, to wrestle those modular buildings into place. The job could be done with the women, but they lacked body strength that could not be replaced with anything else. The one thing that had been accomplished was the partial removal of the tree from the inside of the Base. That allowed them to hand crank the levelers to where the stress was removed from the bay hatches. Now that they could open the large hatches, they could move out the two machines that they needed to put in crops.

Richard had studied the land, and realized that the slope of the ridge, was wet because of a huge water shed. It would be a simple task to sink a well and have the water for raising crops. They would prepare the land for spring plowing, and setting up the farm system. It was something he was throwing himself into, building and setting up the base. Trying his best to forget about Tom Bonner and the word they’d received about his death.

The party that brought the news of Tom death, reported that he had been attacked by animals. They also said that they did not encounter what they considered dangerous beasts on their route. Though they did admit that traveling in the Rover, was probably the reason. They had made the journey in one day, and it would have been less then that, had they not needed to back up so many times and look for another route though the forests.

With the Rover’s return to the Medical Base, those new arrivals got busy on leveling the disabled Lander and getting their own multi purpose machines out. Each Rover type vehicle, was a tracked machine, with several attachments. One attachment was needed for plowing and would be pulled behind the machine. Another attachment was to help in harvesting, should they be successful in growing a crop, That attachment hooked on the front and would be used to fill the bed with what ever crops they had. There was also a removable top and seating that would turn the Rover into a bus.

The out look seemed better, even with all the sickness. A medic came with the rover, and the offer was made to transport all the sick back to the Medical Base. Privately Nelson was told that they could not handle so many at one time. The medical base was primarily set up as the morgue, a storage unit for the dead. So instead of returning with the sick, the Rover returned with two filled body bags. The medic stayed with them, and was making some progress in helping them recover.

Those working out side, were getting tired of the respirators. They rode heavy on the face and irritated the nose and ears. Great restraint was used to keep from jerking them off, but they knew and could see the results of breathing in the dust and pollen from the dead grass’s. Every trip inside, each person had to be vacuumed clean of pollen and dust. Another hampering fact was that they could only come inside just so many times, as the solar cells that charged the vacuums batteries, took a set amount of time to recharge. There was no horseplay when it was realized that with low batteries the machine would not work, and some one would be left in the outer rooms, until the vacuum was working again. That meant, after the morning sun came up and recharged the batteries. On these cloudy days, it took a very long time.

Now with the freeing of the Rovers, they could use them for the needed power. Many of the people wanted to take the Rovers on sight seeing and joy rides, but Nathen put a stop to all that thinking. Until they developed the resources’s to replace the fuel they would use, there could only be authorized usage. It pleased him that they were thinking of having fun rather than sitting around crying about their condition.

The two year supply of food stuffs that was stored onboard, was discovered to be damaged. Again it was the tree, ramming up through them on the landing that had done all the harm. It was another thing that needed looking into, as soon as there were enough healthy personnel to do the job. A good guess for now, was that there was at least one years supply. Beyond that, they would have to rely on their own efforts and what they could produce.

Looking at the over all picture, Nelson added up the negatives, and positives. Trying to assess their chances and what would be the best path for survival. The Farm Base was damaged. But the damage had been patched, and they could live with it. The main power generating cells were also damaged and not working. Again they could live with it. The fact that they were too far from the Medical Base, was another factor. Even if it was more or less a morgue, it still had the doctor that they needed. With the Rovers, they could manage communication and treatments. But the one thing that they needed above all, was the third lander of the set. Although it carried the troops for maintaining control, it also had the machine shop. All the equipment needed to manufacture tools and all the unknown things they might need. Just what had happened to it was a mystery. They had a short contact with another lander, but were not able to identify it. It could have been the Headquarters base, or one of the landers Captain Nathen and the crew used as life boats. The word was that the lander had difficulties landing and was damaged. For some reason, the connection faded and was finally lost. Nelson figured it could be that the unidentified lander was damaged much like his was, and not able to produce a strong enough signal. Then too it could just be atmospherics or a combination of things.

The radio reception was too poor to understand much, before the connection was lost. All that they could glean from the transmission was that it was not a lander from General Devon’s Mission. The well regulated planet fall, of the Generals Mission could have gone flawlessly. For all he knew, that set of landers could be functioning as intended. Yet again, Nelson did not know the location of General Devon’s Bases. He didn’t like the General. Far as he knew, nobody did. Still if it was a matter of life or death, he would welcome any help from that quarter.

All told there were nine landers on the planet. That would put the populations at about Four hundred people. Nelson didn’t know the exact figure, but knew his guess was pretty close. Now with the return of those persons that didn’t get in the right lander. He had eleven men and twenty five women at his base. Thinking about those Landers that the ships crew had used for life boats, he knew that they would most likely be under manned. There would be supplies on them, and if found it would add greatly to their livability. Since they had all launched at about the same time, and with out a planed planet fall, the computers should have brought them down all about in the same area. The mystery was, why hadn’t they heard from them.

Nelson made the decision to go ahead with his part of the Mission and set up the farm base. They all they needed for tilling the land and putting in crops. What they didn’t have was live stock. Everything would have to be done either with the equipment they’d brought or by hand. Later if it was necessary they would move to a better location or closer to the other landers. For right now they would set up their operation right where they were. There was also the nagging feeling that with all the health problems, they might not survive long enough to see a harvest of the crops they intended to plant.

Richard Johnson was put in charge of setting up the modular out buildings. He had studied the lay of the land, and determined that the best place to set up the farm was down lower on the slanted slope where the grass land ended and a land scattered with trees began. With the knowledge that there would be no leaving this planet, he figured that very soon they would need fuel from the forest to heat their dwellings. The closer they were to the forest, the less distance they would have to haul their firewood. Once the fuel was used up in machines, every thing would have to be hauled by hand. Carts and wheel barrels would need to be constructed at the earliest.

Almost everyone had expressed their determination to stay inside the Lander. No one wanted to start keeping house in those thin walled set ups they were calling houses. They looked like brown igloos. Small twenty foot diameter round buildings that could be lifted up by one person. Course after they nailed them down with stakes and straps, there would be no moving them. The walls were tough and strong, despite the light weight. They had larger buildings that were made out of foam, sprayed on an inflated nylon frame. When the foam dried, the result was a very hard shell that could be put to any use they desired. Doors and windows would need to be cut out, but they had a very strong building.

The first thing that was constructed, was a well. Water was the main ingredient for all their foams and sprays. Even the pipes that would be needed for plumbing were made of the stuff. Long rolls of nylon tubing was run out, and inflated. Then the nylon was given a coating of the mix, which in turn harden and produced a good solid pipe. It was strong enough for pressurized water, or just a drain field, after having holes drilled into it.

What Richard faced was a limited supply of everything. There wouldn’t be indoor pluming, at least not with the short supply of materials they had on hand. Later they would come up with other ways of making pipe. For the time being, they would have water flowing into the complex, and drains taking the waste away.

The hardest part of getting the construction parties going, was that so many were sick. Even those that came from the medical lander, despite the breathers, had come down with a sickness. Not everyone reacted the same. For some, they suffered with lung problems, which Richard figured was from the pollen and dust, but there was more. Bowels and bleeding were also common problems. The base lander began to reek of foul odors. Then there were the deaths. So far only three had died, but as yet, no one had ever fully recovered from any of the ailments. Perhaps he told himself, that they just haven’t had time to heal up.

So what working parties he was able to get organized, were slow and needed prodding as much as possible. Getting the water casing in place up on the slope had proved to be hard work. All of the digging had to be done by hand, as there was nothing included in their supplies for digging except for shovels. The area around the Lander became a littered acreage, with building materials splayed across the ground. It looked a mess now, but Richard knew that as they worked and put every thing to use, the grounds would clear up.

The water pipe, down from the Basin, needed to be placed under ground, but there wasn’t the man power to do it, and so for the time being, it would be an eye sore laying exposed above ground. Later, Richard told himself, he would get a work party to put it under the soil. It would keep from freezing once that was done. Just how cold it could get, he had no idea, but he was certain that it would be getting very cold and soon. That was why another water source was dug in the middle of their encampment. If they were not able to get the water line under ground, they would need a source that didn’t freeze up. So they went to digging a well.

No one wanted to work on the well, but with a promise of whiskey after each shift, there were enough volunteers. At least no one had to be forced into working in the well. They did have to be forced into working, on other projects. Many thought themselves too sick to be working, but it was pointed out that every one was sick, and the work had to be done.

Nelson had strongly impressed upon Richard that if they waited for spring or better weather, they might not have enough work force left to do anything. With each death that occurred, his point was made stronger. Work was still being done on the well, as everything else went up smoothly. They had enough of the Brown domed igloos for everyone to live in, should the need arise. There were several of the large inflated buildings, big enough to hold everyone and have meetings. Most of them, Richard figured would be used for storage. He was setting the dwellings and out buildings up according to the layout plans that came with the supplies. If they should decide later that they wanted them else where, they would just remove the tie downs and position the buildings to their liking.

Once the projects were underway, the new clothing had been brought out. No longer were they going about in the orange colored jump suits, but now they were wearing clothing suitable to their work. They still were using the air masks, as the pollen and dust were still with them. However there was a noticeable lessening of Pollen and dust with each week that passed. Pills were issued daily, as vitamins were needed to keep up their resistance to germs and bugs. Richard, took his, and hoped it was what they said it was. No one was willing to take a chance and refuse to take the daily allotment of pills.

Several animals were common around the work area. Large rodent type things that had fuzzy tails. The women called them squirrels and they did look a lot like them. Most everything they saw, looked like an equivalent back on earth. The birds, had feathers and beaks. They flew and soared through the air, making noises. If anything, Richard decided that the birds here were more colorful. He did see some that were nothing like he’d seen back on earth, but then one of the other Pioneers pointed out, that he’d seen the exact bird on an island off Africa. So he quit trying to pick out the differences and just called them birds.

What they called Rabbits, didn’t look like Rabbits at all. They didn’t have long ears or little cotton tails, but instead, were more cat like, but they did hop around like Rabbits. Like Rabbits with long tails. None of the animals gave them any problems, but they did get in the way. Especially the Squirrel like things. They were climbing over every thing and examining each step in construction.

With the days getting colder, fewer animals were seen moving about. Richard wasn’t giving much thought to these other details, as he was deeply involved with getting everything set up. Never the less, he noted certain things as they came up. There were few birds in the sky and of course the Squirrels and Rabbits were hardly seen anymore. He also noted that there were some pretty big bird tracks or something like that, each morning when they returned to the building sites. Something was coming through at night, looking things over. Every one noted the tracks, and the fact that most were almost two feet long, made every one resolve to sleep in the landers rather then the new buildings. Metal walls gave more comfort than composite buildings. At the very least, it was decided to wait until they knew just what the animal looked like before moving into any of the buildings.

During the work details, they had a person standing by, with a rifle. It was just incase some beast decided to make a meal out of any of them. The story of what had happened to Tom, kept every one alert. Though, as time passed and no animal presented its self, at least nothing that looked like it could take them down, the armed guard was some times forgotten and often was not on duty. Still they all kept an eye on their surroundings, just in case things should change.

The material that was to be used for the windows, lacked real strength. It was a clear plastic, that could be stretched and fitted to any size window frame. Richard, would use it, but he was also looking around for something to screen it with. That material he found in the Lander. Several areas where the tree had damaged it on landing, Richard found metal grating. It was strong enough, and with plenty of openings for light. There were enough of the gratings to cover the windows for now. Any more and they would need to rob gratings off the lander that were still being used.

For all Richard knew, there were more items he could use, but several storage compartments had been jammed shut, with the invading tree, and so until they breached the hatches, they wouldn’t know what those storage areas held. The computers were down now, with out enough power to run them. So they couldn’t view the manifest. Richard was hoping that at least there would be a ream of paper. Something to write on and keep records with. One thing he was thankful for was that plenty of hand tools had been included with the supplies. Very few power tools, were packed, but since they did not have the power to run them, it was just as well.

Another thing that was plaguing their efforts to get everything set up, was each day brought more people to sick call. No matter how much he prodded them, they just could not be made to do much of anything. Richard realized that they were truly sick, and more and more of his work force was staying in the lander, with the healthier ones taking care of the most sick...

There were only a few things left to be done, and they could start moving into the outer buildings. Unless the health started improving, it wasn’t going to be. The inside of the lander was getting rank. It did provide protection against the elements, but it was hard to clean. Every day, conditions got worse. Dirt fell into spaces where it couldn’t be removed. They needed a larger living area, if only so that they would not be breathing each others germs over and over.

Finally Nelson, decided that whether the out buildings were ready or not, they had to move into them. Power was the main reason. With the main power cells damaged on landing, the solar cells could not provide enough power to heat the lander. At least it was hoped that they could gather fire wood and heat the newly constructed buildings. As it was, the Lander was becoming a large ice box. With every one living in the modular’s, the solar power cells might be able to provide enough to keep the computers and communications going. At least that was the hope.

Richard was concerned about the move into the shelters. The walls were harden and extremely resistant to being damaged. Still there was the strength of the Landers Metal walls. Some how the idea of metal walls gave a person a more secure feeling. The Domes were nice, and even with out a warming fire they were still warmer then the Lander. The deepening winter cold was wining the heating battle for the Landers. With barely any sun breaks, the solar cells could not provide power for anything but the most simplest electronics. Which at this time was the clock. The new clock was interesting to Richard as it provided twenty six hour days, instead of the twenty four, from earth. This clock enabled a better plan of the day, but there was only one and it was to remain in the lander.

Several of his underlings needed constant pushing to get anything done. In their weaken state, they wanted to roll up in a blanket or sleeping bag and forget about the world around them. Knowing that they were going to be stuck on this planet for the rest of their lives, was the only thing that propelled them to rise and do the most simplest of tasks. Richard had managed to get the shelters erected, and some of the plumbing for the settlement. Now he was pushing for rigging up the Amphibious Ducks for plowing.

Spring planting was months away, but he knew that they had to get the ground ready. That meant, laying out the fields and turning over the soil for the winter. That was proving to be the hard part. Moving the attachments into place was a physical effort, that no one had the strength for. It wasn’t so much of a lung problem as they were now all wearing breathing masks. Now it was germs, that attacked them, and those weakened by lung problems had been the first to come down with illnesses that had no name. They just started calling the health problems, colds. As long as they could move around and continue to work at something it, was called a cold. when they became too weak to leave their bed, it was then called a flu. As yet, there had been no complete recovery. Some got back on their feet, but were still racked with coughing fits that would leave them weak and unsteady on their feet.

Work periods became shorter and shorter. Men and women needing longer resting time. Even then, they couldn’t get back their strength until after they’d had a good nights sleep. A good nights sleep was becoming harder to get too. The cold in the Lander, was deepening, and there wasn’t enough sun during the day to even warm the shell. So they had to move into the shelters, and hope that they were strong enough to withstand the elements and any strange animal that might assault them. Just what they were going to sow for the spring planting was not up to Richard. The person that was to make that decision, had passed on, so now Nelson was having to make that decision.

The need to plant everything and see what would grow, and what they would need was a good idea, but as the work continued into winter, it was obvious that not enough land would be ready for spring sowing. Also it was unknown just how many of them would be around for the planting, or if they would be physically capable to do any planting or work for that matter.

Winter Comes.

It was morning, and Richard was forcing himself to rise and face the day. The air was cold, colder than yesterday. Sniffing the air, he tried to detect the aroma of brewed coffee, but nothing was in the air, that even came close to smelling like coffee. He needed something to help get the reluctant work force on their feet. Most were sicker then he was, and that was the main hold up with improving their condition. Once the crew were up, the battle of getting work out of them was just starting. As it was at the moment, no one was stirring. The air was so cold, seeing his clouds of breath in the air, was no surprise. Warm blankets were the refuge for all the sick and ailing personnel. With out food or hot coffee, there was no luring them from the beds.

Richard threw on his cold weather clothing, it was so far the only comfort he enjoyed about being out of bed. It would have been warmer, had he been able to plug the suit into a circuit, but with the power being so low, it was best to conserve the energy for making hot coffee. The food packs could be eaten with out heating, but coffee was different. That had to be more then just warm. It must be hot.

The first thing he discovered when moving to the Mess decks was that the emergency lighting was on. The lights did not drain much power, being of the new type, but with the emergency lighting on, Richard knew there was not enough power to heat coffee. Nelson was sitting at a table, holding a cup in his hand. Richard could see steam slightly wafting up from the cup.

“How did you heat your coffee?” He asked, as Nelson took a package from a short stack of them on the table and slid it over to where Richard was sitting down. He saw that it was a thermal pack, used for the sole purpose of heating food and drink.

“You just hold it over the cup and pour water in the top.” Nelson told him. “When it runs into the cup, it will be hot enough for instant coffee. Its better than nothing.”

Richard picked it up and got his cup and mix. The water was gravity fed from the reservoir on the deck above. The water stored there, came from rain and a pipe from down off the hill. After being filtered and treated, it was safe enough for drinking. Soon he was sitting down with Nelson, and enjoying a hot cup of coffee. It wasn’t as good as he wanted, but it was still good.

Looking around the dimly lit mess deck, he wondered about the reasons for not having the regular power on. Nelson smiled at the inquiring looks Richard was studying the surroundings with. “The Solar Panels are covered.”

“Covered? How so?” Richard asked with a wary fear in his voice.

“Snow.” was all that Nelson said. He’d been topside already this morning and saw that the world outside was covered with a white blanket of snow. How deep it was, he wasn’t sure, but it was still coming down. “So how does this effect our work now?”

“I’ve been expecting it, but with out much help, we haven’t gotten our selves ready for this. We need to gather wood for the stoves. We won’t be able to keep from freezing in this metal hull. We have to move into the module housing and we need to do it now.” Richard was thinking ahead to the problem of getting any work out of the crew. Sick as they were, he knew it was going to be a struggle.

“What about using some fuel for heating. We have several stoves that are capable of burning it.” Nelson was thinking of getting the place heated up, warm enough to help the sick to get up and going. The constant cold was working against getting anyone to leave the comfort of their blankets.

“We need that fuel, for plowing and planting. If we use it now, it won’t be there later for the machines.”

“Yes, but it won’t do us much good if there’s no one left to run the machines.” “s he spoke he could see that Richard still was against using the fuel for anything but the vehicles. ALets get the modules heated first. Get the crew warmed up, and see if we can’t get some work out of them. If we get them to moving around, we can lay in a supply of fire wood pretty quick. The only draw back is that the wood won’t be seasoned. From past experience it will take a lot of kindling to keep the fires going. Hopefully we will find some timber that will burn efficiently.”

“I know it seems like we have plenty of fuel, but with out a chance of being rescued, we have to conserve it the best we can. Unless we can find more and a way to refine it, we will be plowing by hand in the not too distant future.” Richard was going along with Nelson but he still wanted to express his concerns.

Nelson nodded in understanding. Then he reassured Richard by saying “What amount of fuel we use to heat the buildings, won’t be that much. I don’t think it will take long, to lay in a good winters supply of fire wood. Another thing to realize, is that no matter what, some time in the future we will have to find a source of fuel, or we will be parking those wonderful machines for good.”

After drinking their coffee, and getting something to eat, both men set out to shake some people out of bed. It was time to get them up and get something done. Some cases they had to jerk the blankets completely off in order to get them out. No one cared for the way they were being awoken, but they knew there were things needing to be done, no matter how awful they felt.

Breakfast was a sort affair, with every one eating light. Most of their stomachs couldn’t stand much of a meal with out up chucking. Still they all knew they had to eat something, just for strength. Out side Richard organized them into wood gathering parties. As much as he hated to use the vehicles, they needed to for transporting the wood. In the clump of trees, they found all sorts of different wood pieces scattered on the ground. Mostly it was limbs that had broken off, but there were also busted sections of trees that for some reason, unknown had fallen to the ground.

In the supplies Two chain saws had been discovered. Now they put them to use, cutting up the large sections of logs and limbs. The snow was falling heavy now, covering the downed limbs on the edge of the tree clumps. Only further back in under the canopy of thick trees, was the ground still bare of snow. They had backed the tracked amphibious machine, so they could throw the wood into the open rear hatch. Richard was hoping to get at least three loads, as much as the Amphib could carry, but as the morning wore on, it was obvious that his people were exhausted. He knew he would have to be satisfied with the two loads they had so far.

Later they could always come out and fall some of the trees, but that would mean they would be burning green wood. Since they didn’t know what species of wood fiber would burn the best, they gathered any and all types that they found. In one of the larger dome like buildings, Richard had the amphib unloaded. It was a mess with the wet wood, being piled inside, but it all needed to be kept out of the weather. As a kid he had to knock snow off his own wood pile at home, and it was a very cold process of bringing in fire wood.

When things got better organized, and some one else took over the running of the households, they could set standards of how things should be done. Until that time, he was going to do things as fast and easy as they could be done. This morning they had started out with eleven men, including Nelson and himself, now all Richard could see was seven of them working. The women were there too, and so it was easy for a man to slip away from a work detail with out being noticed. Richard, made sure to get a good look at every man that was still with the work party. He wanted to make sure he knew which ones had slipped away.

He had nothing planned in the way of punitive actions against the two that skipped out on the work party, but he wanted to make sure who they were, so he would never find himself having to depend on them for anything. To be sure there were several of the women, that were no longer with the work detail. They had to work too, but he was softer on them, as they continued to do more than what they were asked all the time. Well, except for a few, but there were female problems that had a hand in some of the women taking time out from work parties.

With the snow falling heavy and the thick clouds blocking out the sun, it got dark early. All day, it had been dismal with hardly any light under the canopy of trees. Coming out on the last load of wood, Richard could see that daylight was fast leaving them. It was one thing to start work, dark and early, and another to work as the day darkened. They would have to wind things up, and work only inside for the rest of the day. They did set a work party to loading supplies from the lander into the Amphib machines. Those were things they would need for living in the Domes.

When the large door that they had been bringing supplies in was finally closed. Richard looked around the Acre sized dome, that was going to be the main quarters for the winter. The few windows that had been put in did not let in enough light and so they had lanterns and some open flames going. A quarter of the building had been walled off with plastic sheets, sprayed with the hardening foam. It was to serve as the women’s quarters, and was set up as to their wishes. The rest of the building was pretty much out in the open, with a section set off to serve as a wash room, for clothing or self cleaning.

For now, they would only use the one Dome. Later when they had a good supply of fire wood and materials off the Lander, they could spread out into the other domes. As it was, with their dwindling population, there would almost be enough domes for everyone to have their own.

Several large folding tables had been set up, and Richard plopped himself down at one. He was tired and a bit hungry. He could smell cooking, and realized that the women not in the working party, had been here, getting things ready for them. A hot meal was the first thing that everyone participated in, that and cups of hot coffee. The cup offered to him, by the Medic that came over from the Medical Base fit warmly into his hands. Looking up at her, he was again warmed to see a smiling face.

“I thought you could use this.” Chrystal said as she slid into a chair opposite him.

“Yeah,” Richard was grateful for the cup. He was feeling fairly empty and weak inside. Taking a sip, he savored the hot brew. “Thanks.” He said, hoping the coffee would take the chill out of his body. He was admitting to himself that he was cold, so cold that if it was like this tomorrow, he wouldn’t be getting out of bed.

“What do you think our chances are of getting through this winter in good shape? I know we will make it. I just wonder how well we will do it.”

Being chilled as he was, Richard didn’t feel much like talking, but he did want to answer her. Matter of fact, he wanted to answer her and keep a conversation going. He remembered Chrystal from the first day that they were Shanghaied. Over the course of time since then, she had been working in the Medical section, getting things in order there. There hadn’t been much time to do more than that. Now that she can come on one of the Amphib vehicles trips from the Medical Base, there was time for other things. The first few days, had been busy, with everyone having lung problems due to the high pollen count. Now things were stabilized, meaning they were not getting any worse. They were not really getting any better either, but there was time to do a few things on her own.

“Well it looks like we can come through the winter okay. If we want to stretch our supplies, it might be a little difficult. You know, making them last longer then the two years they were set up for. How ever, if we use them as needed and don’t try to extend or make them last longer ... Well, we can be warm and comfortable.”

Giving him a quizzical eye, Chrystal shook her head. “You don’t want to do that do you?” She still smiled. “You want to stretch them out as long as possible.”

Nodding his head, he affirmed her question. “Yeah, as you know, there is not going to be a rescue ship coming in a year from now. Were here ... For ever.”

“Uh huh, your right. Most every one has figured that out. Took some time with a few of them, but that abandon ship thing and then the loud ... banging and what all. Well, things sure didn’t go the way they were suppose too.”

“No, they sure didn’t.” Richard held the cup to his lips and took another large sip. It was good and he took another before setting it down, still holding it. “If there are any of us left come spring, and we get a crop planted, We might stand a chance of surviving on this planet.” He paused and looked around the room at the rest of the crew, gathering at the several tables. It was meal time, and this was where the meals were going to be served until something changed. “Right now were losing ground. Each time some one dies, it narrows our chances of surviving. We didn’t land with our full crew to began with. Sickness is what’s got most of them. And if things keep going like I think they will, were going to lose some to other things too.”

“In what way?” She didn’t get his meaning.

“Accidents, there are sure to be some, and then we have no idea of what kind of animals there are on this planet. What ever it was that killed Bonner. We don’t know, and its still out there. Who knows how many thousand more unknowns are out there, waiting to kill us.”

“Tom Bonner? He wasn’t killed. He’s still alive.” she corrected him.

“Alive? I don’t think being in a coma is being alive. Sure you can keep the body going, but is he ever going to be up and around again? I think not. He’s just going to lay and waste away until some one takes mercy on his ass and pulls the plug.”

“Oh, you paint a rosy picture.” She managed a smile, but was a little concerned at Richards dim out look. “Sure you can’t do better than that for me?” she covered his hands with hers, now there were two pairs of hands holding the coffee cup.

“For you!” Richard looked into her eyes. “I’ll do the best I can, the Best I know how...” He paused and then added just before Chrystal started to speak, “I’ll do what ever it takes to keep you safe and secure.”

“I think I would feel more secure if you had a shave.” she reached forward and stroked the stubble of several days growth. “I know its difficult to heat water just for shaving and all, but with all the unshaven chins, its another constant reminder of our conditions.”

With out the power to run the electric razors, and a shortage of shaving equipment, like razors and shaving cream, a clean chin was a luxury that was hard to come by. Mostly they did have a convex blade they could use, but it was difficult. Still the fact that Chrystal had said something meant that it was important to her. “Okay, I’ll do that for you.” He said, chuckling to himself.

“Well, thank you. And for that, I will go get you some supper.” She said with a nod of her head and left to do just that.

After she left, Nelson came over and took a seat next to Richard. He was surprised as he didn’t see him come in. Nelson, gave him a pat on the back, saying he did good work today. Nelson added that it was probably the last days work, they would be able to put in for a while, as the snow was piling up. Out side they now had a foot and a half, and there didn’t seem to be any let up in the rate it was coming down. He proposed that for the time being, that they just concentrate on moving what supplies they need, from the Lander to the Dome. They would maintain a path to the lander, to use the communications and what ever else they could get working. Every day they would have to clean off the solar panels even though they probably wouldn’t be generating much power with a waning winter sun and heavy cloud cover to boot.

“s Nelson was talking, Richard was listening to his voice. He interrupted Nelson to inquire and make a statement. AYour voice, it clearer than yesterday.” he was referring to the heavy phlegm that everyone was coughing up. It made ones voice muffled to an extent. Nelson’s voice was lacking that.

What Richard said, caused Nelson to pause. He thought for a moment, and then nodded his head. “Chrystal, made a tea out of some leaves today. She took a few sips, before I offered to be her guinea pig. I drank about half a cup.” Nelson was even amazed at his recovery of sorts. “You suppose that cup of tea is what did it?” He was surprised as he’d not noticed any change before Richard saying something.

“She will be back here in a minute. She went to get me some supper.” Richard told him, all the while looking Nelson over. His color was good, no longer that ashen look about his eyes. “Are you breathing easier?”

“Yeah, easier and it seems deeper.” Nelson still had that look of surprise. He’d been so tired from laborious breathing, that he became unaware of his improvement. It was more than just a pleasant surprise, he was filled with relief, knowing that at last his health was improving. “It must have been the tea.”

“Lets hope she has more.” Richard felt a glimmer of hope. “s he started to raise his coffee to his lips, the knowledge that it coffee he was about to drink, stopped his arm. Setting the cup down, he decided that from now on, he would drink only tea. ALet us also hope that she remembers what tree the leaves came from.”

When Chrystal returned with Richards dinner, both he and Nelson came close to assaulting her with a barrage of questions about the tea. “t first she couldn’t understand what they were talking about, and then she realized that it was about the different brews she’d experimented with. AWhy I tried several different teas, why do you ask.”

“Do you remember which one, you gave me?” Nelson asked as he put a calming hand on her shoulder. It was clear she was becoming flustered at the sudden onslaught of questions. “Its important, because I think its helped me with my breathing.”

“Why yes, I remember. Are you sure it was the tea?” The implications were just beginning to dawn on her, that this was a huge discovery. It meant that at least one problem was being solved. “Would you like a cup too?” She said, turning back to Richard.

“Yes please.” He said with relief. “We must find out and make sure.” With this bit of news, Richard found in himself, a bubble of hope rising to the surface. The improvement in health would also be an improvement in getting the base set up for spring. Where as before he was strongly doubting that they would survive the winter. When Chrystal returned with his tea, Richard drank it down a little too fast. Hot as it was, he was almost at the point of spitting it back out, but adjusted his intake and sipped it until he was able to finally consume the contents of the cup.

He knew better than to expect immediate results, but he paused and tried to see if there was any effects. It was possible he could detect a taste or sense an effect, from what ever ingredient that had worked for Nelson, but there was nothing. “How long ago did you drink yours?” He asked.

Nelson smiled knowingly and with a shrug of his shoulders, told him, “Probably two, three hours ago. I never felt any change. Just you pointing out that I was breathing better.”

“Well, I am going to pay attention, just maybe this might be the ticket. Course, it could be, that you have just developed an immunity or something.” Richard pointed out. Either way, it was good news.

Some how, the conversation wandered to other topics, over the next several hours. Mostly, there was the drying of clothing. Working out side, had dampened everything they were wearing, and now inside, the wet material was becoming most uncomfortable. Ropes and lines were strung from one side of the Dome to another close by the stove. Soon every one was hanging articles of their clothing over the lines, so that the heat from the wood stove would might dry them out. Socks and under garments were also hung, with out being washed, getting them dry was the main concern. Washing would have to wait until plenty of hot water was available.

After the clothing was hung to dry, the next group activity was getting sleeping areas laid out and ready. The section set aside for women, still needed beds and bedding placed. With the new walls of plastic, coated with the harden foam, each woman had her own room with privacy. Not so with the section laid out for the men. They preferred not to have any walls put up that would separate them from the heat of the wood stove. Nelson made an inspection inside the Dome and all its rooms. He noted the stark differences between the warm main room, and the increasing cold that filled the sleeping quarters the further away from the stove they were. Once inside their sleeping bags or blankets, which ever they preferred, it might not be so bad. Still, Nelson decreed that the women could sleep where ever they wanted.

A few took advantage of the decree and promptly moved their cots and blankets out to where they were in direct line of the stoves warmth. The result was that as the evening pressed on, there became a Simi circle of beds around the stove. Looking it over, Richard thought that in the future, the stoves should be placed in the center of the dome buildings rather than against the wall. Then every one could gather closer to the stove and enjoy its heat. The one thing that Richard, liked about the cots they’d got from the supplies was that they were large. Large enough for two, which at the time didn’t seem like much, but he could see that two of the men were sharing their cots with another female. Chrystal, nodded her head in that direction where the couples were bedding down. She told both Richard and Nelson that as everyone got to feeling better there would be a lot more of that going on.

“Unless some of the women don’t mind sharing, we could have a big problem developing.” Richard dryly pointed out. “There are only eight men here, and over twice that many women.”

“Guess that was a bit of an over sight on the part of the planners.” Nelson observed.

“That and the fact that we don’t have any cats or dogs.” Richard pointed out.

“Never thought about that.” Nelson exclaimed with a bit of wonder. He was thinking about how many other things had been left out of the great scheme of things. Cats would have been good to have, with all those furry little creatures that clambered over everything left out side. Even getting in the Lander before the damage of landing on the tree had been repaired. The dogs were a different thing though, he could see no need of them. On voicing his opinion about the dogs to Richard, he got an ear full in reply.

Richard pointed out that dogs were an excellent warning device, something that they didn’t have at the moment. Tom had expressed great concern that there were no dogs on the mission, and the fact that they would have been a boon to exploring a new world. The argument fell on deaf ears, as there were no dogs or cats and they would just have to do with out them, or find something that would work just as well. There wasn’t much hope for that, and so they ceased talking and settled back to enjoy the warmth of the evening.

Nelson picked for himself, the cot next to the wall. There he could set up his portable desk and have a small command center. There wasn’t much, just a worn out Clip board, with a half dead battery. It had been found next to one of the storage lockers on the Lander, and had some damage. It was thought that it had been damaged by the tree coming through, but on closer examination, it looked to be just plain worn out. Until another battery or power source could be found, it wouldn’t do them much good. Nelson hoped that it would have a list of all materials stored on the Lander, and even a list of things stowed on the other landers. Course if they should discover the where about’s of the missing ones, they would probably have all the working clipboards they would want. With out any paper to write on, no list or plans could be laid down. It all had to be drawn out on a flat surface or scratched in the dirt. The only paper that was available was toilet paper, and that was soon to run out. It would be a problem that would need attention when it happened.

It was plain even to Nelson, that they needed more people to get things up and running. If need be, he would try to convince Doctor Shondra Morrison to release some of her crew to help them get the farm working. As important a medical facility was to them, it wouldn’t be needed if they all starved to death.

As the hour drew late, the lanterns were dimmed or extinguished. It had been a long hard day. The men and women were turning in and calling an end to their troubles for at least a little while. A couple of night lights were left on, so that those having to visit the restroom would find their way with out stumbling over things. Richard lay back and considered his work so far. Thinking now about the rest rooms, he saw that he should have worked more to providing a waste system for the Large Dome they were living in. As it was, they would need to empty the septic tank each day, as there was no pluming to the outside. Water, had to be brought in from the Pump outside. It wouldn’t take much to have indoor pluming, but with the snow fall, it might be a while longer before it was done. With the crew being short handed and sick, along with a power shortage, they had moved into the dome before everything was ready. Such as it was, Richard could see that living in the dome would be much better than the conditions onboard the lander.

With his mind full of things needed to be done, and things half done, Richard was finding it hard to fall asleep. So many thoughts were occupying his mind, that sleep was not going to be able to take over. Back home when he had nights like this, he would get up and go to his den and either read or watch a program on TV. Now there was nothing like that available. Not even a book. The idea had been that they would have the clipboards to read. The vast storage of literature in the computers of the landers, would give them plenty of reading matter to fill their minds with. That was all mute now, with all the clipboards being left on the Grand Virginia. It was while he was lamenting the lost novels and reams of books that he felt a shifting on his cot. A warm body slid under the covers and snuggled up against him.

“I can’t seem to be able to sleep.” Chrystal whispered in his ear. “I hope you don’t mind? I don’t want to be alone. You don’t have to do anything, I know your not feeling well, but can I stay?”

“It’s a dream come true.” Richard said, putting an arm around her. “I can’t sleep either.”

“Your voice sounds better. Your breathing easier.” She noted, moving a hand across his chest. “I think the tea is working.”

“You’ve worked a miracle. Things were getting dire, and you came up with a cure just in time.” He said, realizing that he was breathing easier. The Tea was doing some wonderful stuff. Soon with the warm body next to him, and a secure wonderful feeling it brought, Richard drifted off into slumber.

Morning came with a few people rousing out of the covers. Richard woke to find himself alone in his bed. Looking around, he saw that there were many still wrapped in blankets, and not getting out of bed. He was feeling better, but still could feel the phlegm in his chest. He was better, but not up to running any races. Chrystal was dressed and doing something at the wood stove. She turned to see that he was awake and smiled. Bringing over another cup of tea, she bade him drink. Others were downing cups of the brew too. Soon it was hoped that they would all be back to normal. With the falling snow, the pollen level was gone. They wouldn’t have to wear those air filters out side anymore, at least not until spring or fall, depending on when the fields of grass put out their pollen.

Richard pulled himself up and began dressing. There was no privacy in the main room, and he made a mental note to see about getting heat to the women’s section whose private rooms were ice cold. He could see there was a line over at the cubical that served as the toilet. He hated lines, and the need for better restroom facilities was etched in his mind. He could have gone on for hours, noting things that needed to be improved, but his need to relieve himself was too urgent to be ignored. Going to the spot where he’d hung his clothes up to dry, Richard found his garments and quickly put them on. His pants were gritty from being wore the day before, but there was no time at the moment to find a clean pair.

The door was easy to open, as it hinged to the inside. What grabbed their attention first of all, was the two feet of snow that covered the ground in front of them. One of the men, that had helped him open the large door, bemoaned the fact that the out door latrine would be cold this morning. It was. Richard and two others opted to use it, because it was large and they had privacy booths, where they could do their morning deeds. It was just a large out house, but could easily be equipped with running water. All they needed was to put in a septic tank and drain field. With the ground now frozen, it would be awhile before that took place.

Faced with the need to have a path to the latrine and at least one to the Lander, Richard Looked at the distance between the buildings and Lander. There was just too much snow to be moved. He knew he was not capable of doing that chore and neither was anyone else. They would need to put the doser on the amphib, to get the job done. Looking at it, he thought that having the tractor with a push blade was a good idea too. Maybe they could get away with stomping out trails in the snow, for the small igloos, but for any distance, like the three hundred feet to the lander, that was out of the question. The main concern, was that the snow was still coming down. Just how deep the snow got here in the winter, they had no way of knowing. Or at least they didn’t know how to read the signs. Tom had seen the markings high up the tree trunks, where animals had scratched and chewed at the bark. In some places it was as high as fifteen feet. At first he hadn’t realized just what it was, but surmised that it was because of a deep snow pack. He had said something about it in passing, but only now Richard was remembering it.

Even as the snow was continuing to fall, Nelson had the men ready the equipment for plowing. They had shovels to be sure, but no one was going to be using them for any great amount of clearing. Mostly they used the shovels to mark certain places they didn’t want the snow plows to work. One being the Well. With red ribbons tied to the handles, a guide was set up for the path to be plowed to the Lander. It was late morning by the time plowing began, and even then the sky was so dark with snow, they had the headlights on. A plan was laid out, where the plowed snow was to be pushed down the slope to the open spaces below the buildings. Richard insisted that they carry their blades of snow further then they thought necessary. What Richard was thinking, was that as the winter carried on, they would run out of places to push the unwanted snow. Having it further away now, would leave them a large area to work with. They wouldn’t end up having to plow old drifts just to make room for more.

Nelson made his way to the Lander and tried contacting the other bases. Having heard from one other base, beside the Medical Base, Nelson was again trying to contact them again. Only that one time, and nothing since. Even the Medical Base had tried contacting the other landers, but came up with the same results. Nothing. Still they knew there were seven other bases out there. Maybe some had failed on landing, but surely there had to be some that set down safely.

Due to the snow, the radio antenna was covered. That meant some one would need to climb back up that ridge and shake the snow off. It was only when Steve Mason realized that it was he they were thinking of sending up there, that he reminded them that the relay station needed power. With the solar cells buried under no telling how much snow, no amount of shaking and removing snow would do any good. The only other option they had was to use one of the snow plows to go up the ridge where a signal could get out. That meant using more fuel and taking a machine out of other uses.

It was plain that some how come spring, they would need to find other sources of fuel. There should be ample supply to get them through the winter, but Richard wasn’t sure. He had given up on the idea of saving fuel for only farm use, and now was trying to think of alternate ways of getting energy. Some one reminded them that they did have hydrogen producing equipment, and they could apply that to their energy needs. It was a hope, but when they checked to see who among them knew how to work the devices, it was discovered those people were among the dead.

Still there was the hope, that with the return of spring, and if the sun came out, they could gain enough solar power to again run the lander and its computers. Then they could educate themselves and put the machines to use. Until then, the fuel that went into the machines and the heaters, was measured out like liquid gold. Any spillage was noted and marked down. It became so that only the most dexterous of the pioneers were allowed to pour fuel into the smaller containers.

As the days went by, the snow grew deeper. Only the one path way to the Lander was kept clear with the plow. The way to the latrine was hand shoveled once it was cleared with the amphib. The smaller igloos were accessed by shovel, until the snow grew so deep that the narrow passages were covered over. It removed from their daily routine, a large portion of shovel work. Now that most of the paths were in effect tunnels, trips to the out side became more frequent. The run up the ridge to maintain radio contact with the Medical Base was stopped due to deep snow. The machines could not negociate the steep slopes. Things would have to wait until the snow pack thawed, or they made a trip around the ridge, staying on the more level ground. If it was needed, Nelson figured they could make the trip to the Medical Base. Problem was, with the deep snow, the trail would be buried deep and impossible to find.

Some of the crew wanted to move into their own Brown igloos, but both Nelson and Richard said no to that. The fuel that would be used heating each individual igloo, would certainly be missed come spring. What they did allow was for the smaller heaters to be used to heat the rooms sectioned off for the women’s use. The reasoning being that the heat generated there would also add to the warmth of the entire Dome. Almost over night, the number of men sleeping in the semi circle around the main stove, was halved. The women invited them into their beds, and so the main room was left empty.

It was the second evening after some of the men had joined their women in the secluded bed rooms, that Chrystal came and sat down beside Richard at his table. At first she didn’t say anything and after he became aware that she was just sitting and doing nothing else, Richard took a second look at her. He noticed that she had applied some lipstick, and done her hair different. There was something else different about her, but he couldn’t exactly put a finger on it.

“You look nice.” He told her. From that things progressed and Richard spent the rest of his nights with Chrystal in the room she had chosen. It was a mystery to him, why Chrystal chose him, but he was glad for what ever the reason was.

Recovery

His throat felt dry. There was a problem with his throat. He became aware that he couldn’t swallow. He needed to swallow. It was the only thing that would make his throat better or remove the condition that was nagging him. Slowly Tom became aware that he was waking up. Opening his eyes, the world was blurred. He slowly was able to focus and make out the fixtures on the ceiling above him. He was laying on his back looking up. That was all that he was able to figure out. He heard a voice some where to the side, out of his area of vision. He heard it twice, but could not understand what if anything it was saying. He tried to move, but for some reason nothing worked. That seemed odd, strange that he couldn’t move. He tried to clear his throat, and a strange noise came out of him. It happened several times before he realized that it was him, making the noise.

Then a face appeared above him. It was nice. Soft looking. He liked that face. The face said something but what ever it said, Tom couldn’t tell. It occurred to him, that it was wrong, for him not to understand what the face was saying. Something was not right. He felt himself being lifted into a sitting position and then a glass of water with a straw sticking out was before him. The straw was pushed into his mouth and the face said something more. The straw was wet, so Tom sucked on it and got water in his mouth. That was good. He sucked more, swallowing the liquid and enjoying the relief that came to his throat. Greedily he sucked more, and swallowed rapidly, he couldn’t get enough of the life fulfilling liquid. It was wonderful. Another glass was presented after he emptied the first. The second glass went just as fast.

He wanted more, but the face said something and he was lowered back down. He wondered at what the face was saying, and had a feeling that he should be able to understand. He could tell from the voice that it was happy. Another voice was there, and it too was making happy sounds. This was nice, and he was happy.

When Tom awoke the second time, his throat again was dry. This time he could move, and he looked at his surroundings. It was a room, a medical type room from the look of some of the instruments attached to the wall. He wasn’t that warm, and discovered only a thin blanket covering him. He wanted a better blanket. On a tray stand beside him, he saw a glass. It held water, and he found himself reaching for it. He recalled that before, he couldn’t move his arm or any other part of his body. Now he reached out and clasped the glass with his hand. He was surprised to see several tubes attached to his forearm. He transfered the glass to his other hand and raised up to drink. It took more of an effort then he was ready for. To keep from straining, he leaned to one side, resting on an elboe while he drank the water. After the glass was empty, he stared at the tubes running out of his arm. He spent a deal of time, contemplating his condition and why he was at this place.

Like a curtain being drawn back, his mind began to clear. He remembered who he was and as he thought along a time line, it came back to him in jumps and starts. He knew now that he’d been attacked and he was on a different world. There was sharp pain in his back, that helped clear the fog. He could even recall that he had gone into a mind fogging fever that dulled any memory of what happened. He did remember killing a giant Feathered bird, or some creature that looked like a bird. Recalling the event, sent a chill through him. Finally it was all clear and he remembered his mission. Looking about the room, he was fairly certain that he’d completed his Mission or he wouldn’t be here.

Finding some controls on the side of the bed, that he figured would be there, Tom adjusted the bed into a semi sitting position. He felt tired, a condition he found odd, since he’d just woke up. Still he leaned back and relaxed as he looked about and studied the room. One thing that held his interest was a large mass of plastic that seemed to be stuck against the wall. He noticed that there were several other clumps of Shaped clear Plastic like stuff stuck along the wall. Suddenly he was surprised to see the material moving, and realized that some one was entering the odd shaped material from the other room. It came to him, that it was a bio suit. The type used to examen hazardous or contagious materials. The thought amused him, until he realized that he was the contagious material that was being examined.

Shondra walked over to the bed, trying not to move too fast, less she trip herself up in the bulky foot covering, or strain too hard against the accordion like tunnel that connected her to the opening from the other room. She could see Tom was awake and his eyes clear. There was understanding now in those eyes, not the blank hardly comprehending look when he first woke.

“I’m Dr Morrison,” she thought it best to introduce herself, incase he was still feeling some effects of the drugs. Tom started to speak, but then felt a catch in his throat. Reassuring him, Shondra explained that it would take a little time for his voice to come back. “You have been in a Coma. A drug induced coma.” Placing a pulse monitor on his wrist. It would work on just about any part of the body, but she found that patients were calmer when they understood what she was doing. Placing the monitor on his wrist, revealed that she was taking his pulse.

“That was so, you could heal with out the trauma. You had a lot of operations and recoveries you went through. You’ve been out for quite some time.”

Tom tried to speak, but all that came out was a raspy grunt. Shondra smiled warmly at him, knowing what he was wanting to ask. “Well by earth time, you have been out for six weeks. Its about the same here. I would have kept you out longer, but you need to be exercising. It’s the only way for a full recovery.”

Nodding his head that he understood, he still found it hard to believe that he’d been out for six weeks. He sure felt different. Weaker, and thinner. He held up his arm for Susan to see. “Yes,” she said with an understanding nod. “We can remove those shortly. First, I want to examine you, just to check on how your doing. Coming out of a Coma can be very traumatic.” Tom had to agree to that.

Shondra looked at the healing deep scratches on his chest, finding them to be doing just as expected. Next she bade him roll to his side and exposed his back. The deep wound that he suffered was also doing well. She had worked hard at that one, putting in sponge fiber soaked in growth serum, so that the muscle tissue would be replace and not just heal over with scar tissue. She would have liked to think it was all her work, the way Tom had healed, but she knew better. He had healed faster then normal, even with the new devices and serums. There was something else at work here, and she figured it was something he had done or something that had happened to him.

“That material you used to dress your wound.” She set the stage for her next question. “Do you remember how you came by it?”

Tom tried to think, the attack came when he was burning with fever. He could recall the attack and the pain. Killing the creature that attacked him, but could not at the moment remember the material the Doctor was asking about. There was the urgent need to dress his wound, he remembered that. The need to stop the bleeding, and how all he had was his clothing. His coat, he used his coat, he recalled, and then mentally corrected himself. The coat was used to keep the tree bark in place. His eyes lit up. Now he remembered and nodded his head. As for the moment he found it too difficult to speak, unable to convey to Susan that he did remember. He had no idea how important the information was to her.

More water was drunk, and he continued clearing his throat. He wasn’t bringing up anything but he could feel movement, and he was able to make some controlled noises. Finally he was able to make an intelligible sound, and used his first words to say “Thank You.” There was more he wanted to say, but it would take a much clearer throat than what he was using now. Despite her being covered from head to toe in the clumsy bio suit, Tom could tell that it was his Shondra in that clutter of material. It was all quickly coming clearer. The trip, the fever, the animals, and the fact that he succumbed to it all.

For the most part he was glad to be alive. What he didn’t care for was the pain that seemed to be through out his body. He didn’t want that, and if this was the way it was going to be, living was no blessing. He did manage to mumble the word “Pain” to Susan, who understood and from some where produced a pneumatic syringe. Within moments of being injected, Tom could feel the discomfort leaving him. Now, life wasn’t so bad.

In the days that followed, Tom was visited by more Medical Staff. They all came in those Bio suits attached to the wall, and ministered to his needs. Mostly bathing and redressing yet to be healed wounds. Meals were served through a dumb waiter, and on paper plates. He noted that notes and instructions to him were also written on paper plates. One of the nurses explained it all to him, that there was no writing paper to be had through out the base. It was an over sight, the planners of the mission had forgotten to send any along. Other than clipboards which were not at all good for being posted with notices, the paper plate was used. They were finding many uses, that only paper could fulfill.

Every day, Tom was fed, exercised and examined. It was a routine that he quickly tired of. Especially the fact that everyone he came into contact with, was wearing a bio suit. Shondra explained the reasons for all the safety procedures and told him, that he would be able to join the crew once he was recovered enough. At that bit of knowledge, Tom expressed that it would be nice seeing her with out the bio suit. Shondra just shook her head and explained that she nor the medical staff would be mixed in with the crew. The medical staff had to remain separated from the general population, so they could function and not come down with an illness like so many had.

“Well, that’s just plain stupid.” was the surprising remark, Tom expressed shaking his head. “We know that we are stuck here on this planet, for the rest of our lives. If there is a sickness that wipes everyone out, what good is it going to do you, waiting behind all this?” He waved his hand around, indicating the medical lab.

“So we can treat and maybe find a cure before we lose everyone to chicken pox or some local germ like that. So far we have some serums we think are going to be useful in combating these new diseases were coming up against.” She assured him, and at the same time agreeing in general terms that it was stupid to think that she and her staff could live like this indefinitely. There would be a time when they would come out, but for now, they needed to stay in the protection of the Bio Lab.

Tom was a puzzlement to her. The deep wound on his back, was taking more time in healing. What was surprising, was that the wound was filling its self with tissue. The usual healing procedure was that many surgeries would have been needed to heal the wound and prevent a deep scar. For some reason, Toms wounds had healed quickly, except for the deep gouges where the talons had carved out the flesh. Now even those were filling in and only showing a slight scarring. Shondra wasn’t sure, but it looked like Tom’s hair was losing some of its gray. His beard was also gaining back its dark color. That and the fact that his breathing didn’t sound like the air being sucked down a phlegm filled tube, gave Shondra pause to wonder. What had they done to bring about such an effect. Maybe, she thought, it might have something to do with what Tom had done.

In the weeks that followed, Tom was released into the general population. He still checked in with Shondra every day, and she spent some time in the bio suit, examining him and checking his progress. At first he was helped in his walking and exercise programs, but he quickly processed beyond that. Now he was using the gym equipment, building up his body. Shondra still kept tabs on him even if it was only through the protective glass that separated the two sections of the medical base.

For Tom, it was a trying time. He could see her watching him, as he stretched and pumped his muscles. He was soon in better condition then when he arrived on the planet. A fact that even through the glass, Shondra could perceive. She was studying him in a different light than what he was looking back at her in. To Shondra, he was a wonder of survival. He’d come back from the dead, or as close to it as possible, when by all laws of medical science, he should have been in rigor mortice. She noted that his hair was becoming darker, and the wrinkles in his face were smoothing out. The puffiness of tired aged tissue in his face was thinning and firming up. She knew that what ever he stumbled on out there had been a god sent. The man before her was being restored to life.

Try as he could, Tom couldn’t describe the tree in any detail. Every thing he recalled about that journey, was seen through the eyes of a man in high fever and clouded at best. He told Shondra, that they would just have to retrace his steps and find a tree with a large section of bark removed. That would be the one, and since he’d tried to travel in a straight line, it should not be that hard to do. He tried at Shondra’s suggestion, to run the memory of that experience through his mind over and over again. She even had him recite the saga into a clipboard and then write it out several times, again with a clipboard. The one thing Tom learned from all of it, was how easy it was for the planners to think an electronic Clipboard could replace so many gadgets and even paper. It was a lesson that he would apply to other junctions in his life.

Tom’s clothing was returned to him, at least the things they had found with him. His rifle was still some where out along the trail between the Farm Base and Medical Base. Though no one had found it, on the trips the amphib carriers made between the base’s, Tom was sure it could be found. With winter shutting down the shuttling between the two groups, he wasn’t sure the rifle would survive in any kind of usable condition. As much trouble he’d had getting it in the first place he figured it would be another battle to procure a second rifle. He did have his revolver, even though it had to be kept in a lock box. When he tended to it, cleaning and making sure it was in good condition, the room was sealed off. Shondra explained it was for security reasons. When the revolver was returned to the lock box, which was secured to the wall, and Shondra could see its contents, only then was the room unsealed. Tom didn’t care for all the controls but he understood why they felt the need. It was the same for those that traveled with the amphib carriers, they were issued side arms, for security and upon their return, all weapons had to be turned in before leaving the airlock and coming inside.

During his use of the Clipboard, Tom found he was able to check the supply stock of the Medical Base. If he knew how, it was possible to check the supplies in the other landers too, but that was something he wasn’t familiar with. What he did find out, was that in the Medical Base, there was very little in available weapons. There was no large cash of large caliber rifles, capable of bringing down, say and elephant. What they did have, was several assault rifles, to be used for security against other personnel. Hand guns were few, and of light caliber. Nothing fitting for bringing down a large rampaging beast. The knowledge of the weapons available, made it all that important for Tom to seek and find his rifle. He did discover that there was a supply of ammunition for an array of weapons. So he felt secure that providing he could get them to release the ammo to him, he would have more than enough to last a life time.

One thing that greatly disturb him, was that his boots had been cut off his feet when he was brought in. It was just his laces and the tongue of the boots, but it certainly screwed up its waterproofing. It was something that he could not understand, how anyone could ruin such an important part of a man’s existance. Oh he could still wear them, but they were damaged, a fact that he would be reminded of each time he put them on.

On joining the rest of the crew, Tom couldn’t find anyone remotely close to his age. He listened to several conversations around the dinner tables, but what was being discussed was over his head. When he brought up the fact that the winter snow fall was exceedingly deep, and wondered why no one had ventured out or even attempted to make trails. He was greeted with puzzled looks, that he must be crazy to even think about going out in the weather. There was no need, they had everything they required right here on Base. The Base was working as planned and the living conditions were adequately comfortable.

“What about water? You guys have replaced that? I know there was a very limited supply of fresh water.” He could see that every one was freshly washed and clean shaven. What water they came with, had to have been used long ago.

One of the more astutest looking of the group sitting at the table, smiled knowingly. “Yes, I see where that would puzzle you. The roof of the base, is designed to collect rain water, the run off is directed into the cistern, and so we have plenty of it. With the snow coming, we just direct enough heat into the outer roof and the melt off continues to fill our cisterns.” “gain he gave a patronizing smile. ADoes that answer your question?”

“Only about the water. Why all of you seem to be content, just to stay inside while there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.” Tom refrained from returning the sick smile the kid gave him. The kid was young, maybe only twenty two or three, and full of all the answers.

“Oh, lets see now. You want us to go out there and be attacked like you were. Yes we know who you are and what happened to you.” he was being facetious. “Why should we assume that risk when we have everything we need right here. There are trees and a nice view of the lake. Which hasn’t been named yet. We have a moon at night and some times we can see the little one if the clouds permit. Its all very romantic and were willing to sit out our year, and take the next bus home.”

“There isn’t going to be a bus. There is no way for them to know where we are.” Tom informed them, knowing full well that it was something they already knew. He was wasting his breath.

“Yes we have heard that discourse many times. Yet we know they will come looking for us, when the Grand Virginia fails to return. At which time, when they see were not at the planned destination, they will come looking for us and in time they will find us. Zipping around as they can, with those new scout ships, it won’t take long and we will be on our way back to earth and that million dollars promised us.”

Shaking his head, Tom could not understand the young man. “What’s your name, son?” As small as the population was, Tom knew he would be dealing and running into this young man more often then not. Getting off on the wrong foot was entirely up to him.

“The name is Stanley, Stanley Shoemaker.” He nodded his head in a short bow. “I would offer you my hand, but were seated rather far apart.”

“Yes, no bother.” Tom assured him. “Well, Stanley, What if your wrong, and I think you are. There are so many stars and despite the new space ships and all that, they will be looking for a needle in a haystack. But that aside from that, what makes you think they will spend any time looking for us. From what we’ve been told, there is a race to find and populate new worlds. The old reasons for war, and killing each other didn’t go away with a new engine for space ships. No rescue effort is coming our way, they will be too busy getting the better of each other. No, were here for the rest of our lives and probably for many generations to come.”

“I think we are above all that which you speak.” Stanley was shaking his head, “With technology and I mean the new technology, we can feed the world. Hunger being the main reason for war in the first place, we will have solved all the worlds problems. I think when we get back, were going to see a better world than when we left.”

Turning to the group seated at his table, Tom asked them, “What about the rest you. Do you share in that view. Are you willing just to sit here and wait for a ship that may or may not come. I can see reasons you’re not doing much now, its winter. Snow is in the way. Come spring are you going to just sit and wait, using up resources and not get out and do something? Plot? Plan? Prepare?”

The group remained quiet, there might be some among them that agreed with what he was saying, but for now they chose to remain silent. He’d seen this type of group behavior before, especially when the dominate leaders expressed views that went against their own. They remained silent, because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, or they were afraid of the consequences of holding different views. Either way, it disgust Tom. That type of inaction gave power to tyrants and evil men that sought to control and rule over everyone. With a disapproving look around the Table, Tom started to rise and move to a different seating. At that moment a young woman spoke up.

“I know you. We’ve met.” She met his eyes and then looked at the others around the table. Still speaking to Tom she continued. “You can’t blame them for feeling the way they do. We have all been given roles in this fancy idea of an outgoing, lame duck, president, that we never asked for. I myself, have chosen not to co-operate in the grand scheme of things. Besides that I don’t think I could contribute much anyway. My education, my training is in known quantities. As you might recall our conversation back on earth, I informed you that Im a dietitian. I won’t be of much help when our supplies run out.” She picked up a remote sitting on the table and aimed it at the wall. With a flick of a button, the wall lit up in a large window like picture. It was a panorama of the outside before the snowfall. “As you can see, there are trees and shrubs. All kinds of plants. None however are anything like what was back on earth. Who knows which ones are eatable or poisonous. I certainly don’t. So after our supplies are gone, I will be of even less use than I am right now.”

Tom recognized the Dietitian, she was the attractive redhead that helped him with the computer when they first arrived. He started to say something when Stanley spoke up, but Tom waved him off. “Hold off a minute Mr Shoemaker, I want to answer this young lady, and then I won’t have anything more to say to anyone of you.” Tom turned back to Linda, that was the name he remembered. “Yes, I remember you helping me. And I remember you saying you were a dietitian.” “gain he glanced around at the others. AI know we were all selected for this what ever you want to call it. A mission or giant farce, or what ever ... It comes down to this, I believe that we are not ever going to see a rescue ship, that we are stuck here until we can build some transportation to take us back home.” He sat back down and shook his head. “That might take a few thousand years. What’s more important right now, is that we learn and learn fast what it takes to survive on this planet. There isn’t going to be any cushy jobs for anyone. There’s going to be hard work, and more hard work. Even at that, we might not survive.” Pointing at them with a general sweep of his hand, he told them that they were young, and had an obligation to live on. To form a society for mutual protection. Each of them would be required to learn as much as they can. To keep records of how and why they came here. Then turning his attention back to Stanley Shoemaker, said with ice in his voice. “You with your attitude, won’t last. When the supplies run out, and this get tough, you won’t make it.”

Stanley had been listening and even giving some deeper thought to Toms words, but when he spoke about his attitude and him not making it, it irked him. “And just what makes you think I won’t be able to survive.”

“Because if I am still around, You will be the first one I kill.” Nodding his head that it would happen, he continued as everyone suddenly had shocked looks on their faces. “If not me, some one else will surely do it.” Having said that, Tom rose and began to leave the table, but before going, he told Linda Patterson, the Dietitian, that she was important to everyone’s survival and if she wanted, they could talk later.

The Medical Base was crowded, as more people had clambered into it before the abandon ship was sounded. What they had figured was just a routine safety precaution had turned out to be a very serious affair. So when the Landers all fired their engines and uncoupled from the mother ship, they made planet fall, with different members other then their assigned crews. The Medical Base ended up with some of the Farm Base personnel, which had been delivered to them. Still there were those that were assigned to the so called protective Lander, which held all the Security forces. They were easy to spot among the regular crew. Their form fitting uniforms served them well and were easy to clean.

Tom noted that the security people tended to keep to themselves. A few medical people struck up some friend ships, he could see them joking and laughing in different conversations. He also noted that when several of them were with their heads together, they talked in hushed tones. He also noted that when they held those hushed conversations, there were no medical personnel with them. From what he was told, Tom believed that the security base was to provide protection against aggression, such as life forms that were a danger to their survival, and the policing of the three base’s. The third duty of the Security base was to conduct exploration of the planet.

To the security base and only the security base, was given the job of exploring their surroundings. They would be the ones charting the lakes and forests and making all the discoveries. It was a job that they were fully equipped to handle, but Tom wondered if they would be ready for what the planet had waiting for them.

As yet, there was no word of what had become of the Security Base, only that one contact and then nothing. Tom was sure they were okay, since the brief message did not contain a Mayday or any call for help. There were a number of possible reasons why no further contact had occurred. The most likely was that the radio quit. The Farm Base had set down rough, so it was likely the same thing had happened to the Security base. With the coming of spring, he would try to locate them. With the three landers linked up as had been the plan, Tom figured their chances of survival were better. Just as the Medical Base had been able to help The Farm Base, so would the three of them help each other and thus survive the challenges that lay ahead. He was aware that he was over stepping any authority that was assigned to him, but then he was not figuring on staying with those boundary’s anyway. No plan made back on earth, was going to work out on a planet so many light years away.

Still Tom kept an eye on the security people, the way they behaved was setting off his alarm bells. To began with he didn’t trust people in uniform that weren’t with the arm forces. The security people had a way of changing the conversation when ever anyone not of their group happened by. Tom witnessed several incidents when they were huddled at one table talking and then falling silent when some one else ventured too close. Another thing he noticed, was when they talked, there was always one in the group that maintained a watch. One that was on the look out for anyone paying them more attention then normal. If it had been the same person all the time, Tom would have dismissed it as a quirk of their nature. But that wasn’t the case. Each time, it was a different watchman. That could only mean one thing to Tom, they were organized, and up to no good.

Tom was aware that he would be suspect, if he was too obvious in his observances, and so he tried to look like he was disinterested in their group meetings. He was prepared when after one of their meetings and they had dispersed, that two of them remained and came up to him at the table where he was having an afternoon coffee. “You seemed to be interested in every ones business. Care to inform me what you find so interesting.”

“Not at all,” Tom replied warmly. “Your uniforms. They have such convenient pockets and attachments. I’m thinking, I could use such a uniform.”

“Forget it Old man.” Came a snapped answer. “Only Security personnel are issued uniforms. Besides, they’re form fitted. Your too fat?”

“Think so huh?” Tom lost the warmth in his voice. He was ready for the next move when ever it happened.

“Yeah, So find something else to hold your interest. We don’t like people snooping.” The man reached for Toms coffee cup and slowly over turned it. Spilling the contents over the table surface. With a quickness that sprang out like a steel trap, Tom leaped up, shooting a stiff left palm into the mans face. The blow came as a surprise, sending the man staggering back, his face looking up at the ceiling. With a continuing move, Tom lifted his right elbow and swung around catching the companion on the side of his head. The second man fell across the table, clutching his bruised ear.

As the first man regained his balance and became aware that blood was flowing from his nose, Tom had moved in and was throwing a hard fist at his jaw. The blow again sent the man reeling backwards across and over another table, and out of the fight. Spinning around, Tom grabbed the one with the injured ear and kicked his feet out from under him. He was down now, with Tom’s knee in his chest. Quickly, Tom frisked him for weapons and came up with knife and a sap. Tossing them on the table, he then jerked the man to a standing position.

“Now, lets finish the conversation. You go back to your clique and informed them, I don’t like your attitudes. Any one of your group comes within thirty feet of me, I will break their neck. You understand me?”

“You aren’t going to get away with this.” The man painful tried to express some resistance even from being flat on his back.

“Oh, yeah.” Tom sent a knee into the man’s groin. “I can whip every one of your little group. Try anything more with me, and you’ll be lame for life.” He released him and let the man slump back on the floor. A quick look around at the other one laying out cold, Tom decided to leave the galley before any of their friends came back.

He was in his room when he heard some one rap at his door. Again he was ready, and went to the door holding a short piece of pipe behind him. Two orderlies were standing there, holding out a black object in their hand for him. Tom recognized them as orderlies and had talked with them many times. He stepped back and let them enter the room.

“Your to take this and speak with Dr Morrison.” The man holding the object said. It looked to be a radio of some type. Tom excepted it with one hand, and tossed the pipe he was holding on the bed. The two orderlies eyes followed it as it bounced on the bunk.

“I didn’t know it was you guys at the door.” Tom told them, to answer to their unasked question. Flicking the button Tom spoke into the device. “Bonner here.”

“Tom, I have a problem.” Shondra’s voice came over the speaker. “We need to talk. I would like you to accompany these men and come to my quarters.” her voice was anything but soft.

“I can do that.” He understood that she was the one in charge of the Base and someone, he was required to answer to. She was glad that he was coming, but it couldn’t be heard in her voice. As he left the room, Tom turned and locked the door. Taking a piece of lint from his pocket and carefully with the key, pushing the lint into the lock to the upper position. It was a very small piece and could hardly be seen. It would not interfere with the operation of the lock, but was just a tale if anyone should open it while he was gone. His escorts smiled to themselves, knowing why he was doing it.

The orderlies led Tom to a room where he was allowed to enter by himself. It was a small room, and When the door shut behind him, he realized that he’d been locked in a cell. A feeling of being sucker’d came over him, and he was beginning to boil with anger. A section of wall moved to the side and he stood facing Shondra through a protective glass window. The soft warm glow that he was used to seeing in her was not there now. Instead there stood a woman that was about to lower a heavy hammer of justice on him. He understood her position, but was feeling very justified in what he’d done. He wasn’t going to offer an apology for his actions, especially when one was not warranted.

“I’ve heard the reports and now I want your story, your side of all this.” She was mad, angry that this development was suddenly thrust into her orderly command. She was becoming attached to this man, and now she realized she had to regard him only as a patient, and in a professional manner. In her heart she was hoping that there might be something said or revealed that would change the actions she felt compelled to take.

“There’s no story about it. Those two men were bullying me and made an obvious threat. So I responded in a way that they understand. I won’t be bullied.” Tom spoke gently, as if explaining it to a young girl. “I’m not a danger to anyone, only those that want to do me harm.”

“I viewed the tape.” she spoke evenly, with out emotion. “You attacked them. They didn’t have a chance to defend themselves. I can’t have anyone on this base causing unprovoked bodily harm to people just because they think they perceive a threat.”

“The Tape?” Tom was suddenly alert. “You have surveillance tapes?” It made sense that there would be cameras video taping everything within the confines of the base. “Is there sound with them?” He totally dismissed the reason why Shondra was on the other side of the protective glass talking to him.

A look of disbelief came over her, as she studied this man. He showed no remorse for his actions, and was not respecting her authority. Rather then being attentive to the subject of her talk, he had evaded it by changing the subject to Video Tapes. “For get the tapes, its your actions that were discussing. Your facing confinement. Wether you ever get to leave the room your in, depends on what we discuss here. Barroom Brawls may have been your forte back on earth, but it won’t be tolerated here. At the very least, you will be excluded from the Base.”

“Shondra, I assure you, I was justified responding as I did. If you have tapes ... Tapes of everything that has gone on about this Base. Well then, they might expose something that is going on.” A thought occurred to him, and he worried about it. “Whose in charge of the cameras and tapes?”

For a long moment, Shondra paused before speaking, she was determining whether to end this meeting, or continue and see where Tom was trying to lead. Any thing said from this point on, she felt that it would do more harm to Tom’s case, should it ever come up before a higher authority, than her’s. Still she was hoping that with all the babble coming from him, he might make some sense. Finally she decided to go along and hope that there was something positive in the result.

“Okay, To give the security people something to do, I put them in charge of monitoring the cameras, and protecting the base.” She explained. “Since that was what the security Base was for, it was what they were to do anyway. We have seen some rather large creatures in the distance. If anything should prove to be a threat to the Base, it would be up to them to protect us.” Giving Tom a critical eye, she added. “You though, have put two of them in the infirmary.”

“Okay, so they are behind the camera’s right now? They can see and hear every thing that were doing?” Tom wanted to tell Shondra what he was thinking, but with other eyes and ears listening, he was fearful that any discussion would harm his case. He wasn’t at all sure of what was going on in the minds of those security people, but to let them hear that he suspected them of something, just might endanger them all. “t last he saw in her eyes, that she was starting to get his point. That hard exterior was softening, as the thought occurred to her that just maybe there was more to the incident then an old Man going berserk. AI need a room where I can talk with out being on some camera or a listening device. You know, like where I can talk to my Lawyer.”

With so many things going on in her head, Shondra needed time to sort things out. With Tom now confined in an examining room, she was certain he was safe from any repercussions that the Security group might bring against him. With a few flicks of some switches, she opened up a side room where Tom could perform his toiletries. He was going to be there for a while. Until she was certain of Tom’s mental state, he could not be allowed to move freely about the Base. Securing the rooms with her private security code, Shondra went to her quarters, to do some thinking and a little investigating.

Once in her quarters, Shondra went to her desk and checked the panel board. There she could look over a display of conditions about the base. Each touch of the appropriate icon, revealed a host of information. By bringing up the Base Galley, she could see what electronics and other instruments were being used. She down loaded the history of the security cams, and again examined the details of when Tom entered the Galley and all that transpired. Zooming in, and increasing the volume, she watched and heard him sip his cup of coffee. This time she changed the angle and watched from a different view point, as the two men approached him. There seemed to be just a slight flicker of light and suddenly Tom jumped up and attacked.

“Well,” She said aloud to herself. “That shoots down his self defense claim.” Then she went through the panel again, this time clicking on her quarters and seeing that there was a camera in use. Standing up she crossed over to her bed and began removing her blouse. Then as if an after thought, Shondra went back to the desk and flipped off the cameras for her quarters. With that done, she quickly changed into her light evening wear. Having made the changes, she then went to her desk and opened up the master control section. There she could check to see if there were any cameras still operating in her quarters. There were none, which brought a flood of relief. Next she brought up the file on the galley camera again, this time it was from the master copy. This was original video. No one else had access to this copy, and only she possessed the code.

This time as she watched the screen she saw a different scenario then what the non secure videos had portrayed. Even with the threats and spilled coffee cup, she didn’t feel that Tom was justified in his behavior. Still, the security group had changed things, and that was a no no. That set off her alarm bells, if they felt the need to change that, then what else were they hiding?

The next hour was spent going over videos of the security group and their huddled meetings. She had never examined the videos like this before. It was an evasion of privacy, something that she was against but now it was a tool that was informing her of a great wrong, that was happening in her command. She zipped from one huddled conversation to another, getting a larger idea of what was going on. It became plain that the security personnel were plotting a take over of the Base. The general theme was that they were cut off from the rest of the mission and now they were going to set up a clan or tribe of their own. They would be the elite and every one else would be for lack of a better word, slaves.

There was just too much data to sort through in just an hour. She wanted to find out who the ring leaders were, but they spoke in code. Using words that had double meanings, that only they knew what it was they were inferring. It was as if they knew some one would eventually be listening in on their conversations. There was one more step she took and that was to click onto the control room of the Base. It was the same room used to fly the Lander when it touched down on the planet. Now it served as the security center. There she got an eye and ear full. Seated at the main consoles were several of the uniformed Security people. Each was busy clicking through a series of cameras. Listening and moving the volume from one person to another it became evident that a man called Gary Roberts was one of the leaders, another was Daniel Vickers. From their aside conversation as they worked the keyboards, she could hear their hatred for Tom. They were openly discussing how they were going to kill him, and any others that got in their way.

A snicker from one of the security members standing by the door, got Shondra’s attention and so she zoomed over to him. What she was seeing and listening too was happening in real time. Again the man revealed their plans by, reminding them that they wanted to keep as many women as possible, no matter what side they took. It was all making her head swim.

The problem facing the doctor, was deciding what action to take. The consequences of doing nothing was unthinkable. From what she had discovered, the mutineers were going to set themselves up as the ruling class, and all others were would be subject to their orders. How they had come to think and act as they were doing, was of no import now. The danger to the base was a fact that must be dealt with. Her power of authority was set down by the mission planners. She was only answerable to the Mission leader, which she understood was Admiral Buell. His where about’s was unknown. She didn’t even know if they were alive. So other than sharing Mission Command with Samuel Nelsen, the commander of the Farm Base, she answered to no one. With communications down until radio contact was reestablished, she was the one making the decisions at the medical base.

The mutineers could not be permitted to run free, they had to be confined. Killing them was out of the question for Shondra, she would not even think of it. Punishment was something else that she didn’t want to think about. For the time being she would confine them, much the same way Tom was being confined at the moment. Later after spring came, if there was still no contact from the Admiral, she would think about removing them from the Medical Base and setting them out on their own. It was a large planet, but there was no room for people like them in the Base.

The primary concern was to find people she could trust. Tom was one, but he needed more self control. His attack, though maybe justified, was too strong and possibly brought things to a head, too soon. Her orderlies seemed loyal, but there were others, that might side with the security group. Her idea was to plan a scenario where the group could be lured into an exam room, like the one Tom was occupying for the moment. She hoped in that manner they would not have to resort to the use of guns or other weapons. Fear suddenly gripped her, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, as she thought about the arms locker. It was a small vault right next to the main control room, where a small assortment of weapons were kept. The Medical Base did not have the large store of arms, that the other two bases held, but it was enough to arm the mutineers.

A quick look through inventory and distribution records, showed that the arms locker had been breached. There was no record of who removed the weapons, but they were no longer in the Arms locker. There was only one more weapon, and that was Toms. It was locked in the quarantine quarters where he’d been living since recovery. A quick check showed that it was still in the lockbox. Knowing they still possessed one weapon, was a small feeling of relief, but it was not enough.

Trying to get some rest and a little sleep before morning, Shondra kept going over in her mind all the actions she might take against the mutineers. The biggest problem she felt would be how to get control over them. It was the main problem that caused her much unrest as the night slowly journeyed to dawn.

Morning came, with Shondra resolved to take a course of action that would not need the force of arms, nor some scheme to lure the plotters into a cell of confinement. She had to come up with a plan that would not leave some of them free while the others were being trapped or confined. It had to be a plan that would render them all at once to be under her control. Knowing that every move she made was being watched, she made her way to her lab and pharmacy. Once there, she made a show of looking over the morning reports on her clipboard. She took her time, as she always did, pausing to punch in the code for coffee in her refreshment distributer. It was a small machine that was also a microwave oven type that warmed up the food packs that were served to her. All she had to do was punch in the code for what meal she wanted, or beverage, and it would come into the oven, be micro waved and cleansed of germs and other contaminates. It was all part of keeping her and the rest of the medical team separate from a contaminated crew. The only problem was, the meal had to be in the system, as the machine could not create what was not there.

When she was through with the reports, Shondra put her coffee cup down and buzzed on the intercom for Linda Patterson, the dietitian. Directly Linda’s sleepy’s voice responded. Shondra told her she wanted to see her before she set out the menu for the days meals. Each meal was a packaged affair, but it was still a requirement that everyone ate a healthy variety instead of just the meals that they liked. It was a practice that they all followed.

When Linda arrived at the window, smiling a good morning, Shondra slipped a large bottle of Vitamin A and D through the shuttle box. Linda looked a little puzzled at the bottle and then looked to Shondra with questioning eyes. “Its for these gloomy days. Were not getting enough sun light, and I don’t trust this artificial lighting to do the trick. Just see to it that every one, and I mean every one gets a dose.” Shondra noted that Linda checked the bottle and saw that it had been opened. “I took a dose too.” she told her.

“fter the dietician left, Shondra buzzed her main orderly. Leon Snyder showed up at the window shortly there after. There she told him find Jeff Baker, another orderly that worked with him, and meet her at the exam room where Tom was being held. AYou can’t go in, but wait there for me in the observation room.”

A quick trip back through the pharmacy and Shondra grabbed another bottle of medicine. She had taken the time before to locate the substance she wanted, and now in the confines of the drug records room, where no cameras were set up, she put a message on her clipboard. It was in two parts, and had been thought over all night. Time was not on her side. To carry out the plan that was in her head, she had to act fast and get things moving or it would have to be put off until the next day. Any delay would be dangerous, what needed to be done had to be done before everyone started the work day.

Going to the Exam room, she saw that Leon and his friend Jeff Baker were waiting as requested. She passed the medicine bottle through the shuttle box, along with her Clipboard. Leon read the first message, and then looked up at her. His eyes questioning but didn’t say a word. Shondra just nodded an affirmation, which Leon excepted and handed Jeff the bottle and said to put it in his pocket. He then returned the clipboard to the shuttle box and left with Jeff to do as the message instructed. The message said for him not to say or question anything. Just read and then do as I request. Our lives depend on it. We are being watched vie cameras and other devices. You and Jeff, if he can be trusted, are to put the medicine into the galley Coffee machine, with out being seen. The store room to the side of the Galley has the water supply to the machine. There is a device for adding things to the system. Put the medicine in that and return here to me.

With Leon and Jeff on their way to accomplish the mission, Shondra turned her attention back to Tom. Going to the exam room shuttle box, she placed the clipboard in it and sent it through. Sensing that something was in the air, Tom took the Clipboard and began reading the message that was left for him. Shondra clicked on the speaker and said, “I want you to read the instructions and then fill out the forms, explaining your actions yesterday.” Tom nodded with a grunt and then began to study the message closely.

The message did not quite go along with what Shondra was saying. “You are to read this and not say a word. I Repeat, Don’t say a word. I want to know if you are and will be loyal to me? If you are and I can trust you, place your left hand in your pocket with out looking up. Next, regardless of your loyalty, begin typing in a report on what happened yesterday. Remember we are being watched, and for my safety and yours, do not say anything.” Tom read the message through twice. He absorbed the full meaning of the need to keep silent. So he put his left hand in his pocket as if thinking over what he was reading, being careful not to let the smile that was wanting to grace his face show through. A glance at Shondra, told him vie her look of relief that she knew he understood. Tom then began filling the clipboard with his side of the events that took place in the galley. He knew it wasn’t necessary to convince Shondra anymore, but he had to preform for any eyes that might be watching them vie the Cameras.

With things going as she had hoped, Shondra told Tom that she would be back, and left to follow up on the scenario that she had started. The fact that she was still operating behind the contamination barrier, was hampering the over seeing of the operation. Yet, she knew that in order for everything to seem normal and not give the security squad anything to be suspicious of, she had to maintain normal procedure. That meant staying within the confines of her medical quarters. It was something she was going to dispense with as soon as this problem with the security people was dealt with.

Back in her room she again went to the master control and clicked on the different cameras to see how her plan was being carried out. Checking the control room she saw that most of the Security watchers were focused on Linda Patterson, as she went about dispensing the vitamin tablets as Shondra had requested. This was a red herring, designed to grab everyone attention, so that they didn’t see the real plan in action. As the people came into the galley for breakfast, they were handed a pill and told to take it, as it was a supplement for the lack of sun shine. Shondra noted that every one took the pill and swallowed it upon receiving it. Except for the Security people. They just simply pocketed the pill and continued on into the Galley. They had been given the word not to take the pill. Shondra knew by their actions, that she was not acting too soon in taking measures against the Security Group.

Now was the worrying part. With Leon and Jeff in the supply room, there were no cameras. It was both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because no one could observe them doctoring the water to the coffee machine, and bad because Shondra wasn’t sure if they had reached their objective in time and carried out their mission. Still she continued to watch the screens, observing everything that was going on in the galley. She noted a person gathering several cups of coffee and breakfast rolls and then taking it all to the security people manning the cameras and video screens. Her concern was, that there were many people willing to do extra things for those few security people. Just how loyal they were to them or her, was the question that was on her mind, and would have to be found out. In order to clean up the command, she could not have disloyal people onboard. Not after learning how far the security people were planning on going with their take over of the Medical Base.

The drug that was being introduced to the coffee machine was a slow acting, tasteless knock out drug. It would put anyone drinking the coffee to sleep in less then twenty minutes. It had to be a slow one, because a fast acting drug would have people going into slumber in front of others that probably hadn’t had the drug laced coffee yet. Then there would be trouble as alarm spread and actions taken against them. The slow acting drug would insure that everyone would take their coffee and be well on the way to slumber land, before the first one succumbed. It just meant waiting and waiting for the twenty minutes to pass before finding out whether it worked or not.

There was another worry, and that was whether she was right in assuming that Leon was loyal to her. Jeff, she was sure, would go along with what ever action Leon performed. Until they emerged from the supply room and people started falling asleep, she wouldn’t know for sure. She would just have to wait to see how things unfolded. The one person she knew she could be sure of, she had locked up in the security of an exam room. That was something she was going to change shortly if all went well.

The minutes slowly ticked by, as Shondra sat glued to the monitor. Finally the door to the store room opened and Leon came out with Jeff following. They appeared normal, calm, going about as if they were just performing their duties. Leon made no attempts to look at the camera, nothing to confirm that the deed was done. For that Shondra was great full, as any such action would surely alert anyone monitoring the video screens in the control room. Still her nerves were at the point of being frayed beyond recovery. It wasn’t until she watched Leon gather a tray and place some breakfast items on it, and then poured a cup of coffee, setting it on the tray, that she relaxed a little. The tray was for Tom, being held in confinement. He couldn’t very well go get his own breakfast, and Leon was only performing his duty.

When Leon arrived at the holding room, Shondra was there to greet him, and make sure what that all had been done as planned. “s Leon put the food tray in the shuttle box, he smiled at Shondra and then purposely spilled the coffee out of the cup. ASorry about the coffee, Tom. I’ll get you something else to drink later.” They didn’t want anyone to be alerted to the fact, that there was something wrong with the coffee. And too, they needed Tom to be free of any drug.

Shondra still was within the sealed lab. Until the drug coffee had time to work on the rest of the crew, she could not come out into the general population. Any such movement on her part would alert the security team that something was askew. Even with the drug in everyone’s system, they could still take measures that would be harmful to them all. No she had to stay in her secure environment until they all were deep in the effects of the dosage. Still she wanted some solid acknowledgment that the drug had been correctly introduced to the coffee machine. That would take a long time, as most of the crew had not come to breakfast. Then it would take at least another half hour before the effects took their full measure.

Shondra and her henchmen spent the time going over some data on her personal clipboard. They each took turns, filling in a fake morning report, and shoving the Clipboard back and forth through the shuttle box. Tom was left to pass the time by himself, still not knowing just what was going on. He could see that Shondra had a camera of the mess deck playing on a screen in the adjoining room where she was sitting at a shuttle box, much like the one connecting his room with hers. Every so often she would look up at the screen as if expecting something. Her two aides, he could see through her window, also kept looking up at the screen in much the same way. As time passed, the crew began leaving the mess deck and only a couple of women were left, doing clean up chores. He became aware that one of the women began to slow down and reach out to a table for support. The camera zoomed in on her face, and Tom could see her eyes filled with concern. She found a chair and sat down at a table. Tom watched her take in several deep breaths and then shake her head as she lowered it down to the table and rested on her arms. The camera backed out and the other woman was already seated and slumped over, unconscious. Shondra and her two aides had seen the event and were smiling to them selves. She stood up from her desk and checked her watch, Saying they should wait another ten minutes before continuing the operation. She wanted to give the drug plenty of time to take full effect.

Not knowing the details of what was going on, Tom was nearing a state of Nervous collapse. He didn’t show it, but inside his stomach was churning. Knowing that what ever was going down, would have a strong effect on his life, and yet he was unable have a hand in it. That was the problem. He didn’t like being just a passenger when his fate was being dealt. Still he kept his mouth shut and didn’t ask any questions. The one thing that stirred at the back of his mind, was that he would do what ever it took, to make sure he never had to go through something like this again.

There was that strong feeling that he would be better off away from everyone and all their problems. It was only a small bubble of thought now, but it would grow. As soon as he could he was planing on striking out on his own. He would leave this stranded remnant of humanity and all its evil plots and twists. Calmer thinking, told him that he was being foolish. Chances for surviving on this planet were not good for a man alone. That attack by the giant bird creature proved that point to him. Still he knew that life would be unbearable living with all the restrictions that came with this new colony.

Tom wasn’t actively planning his departure, but the material needs for such an action were forming in his deepest thoughts. A man might be able to make a go of it alone for a little while, but there was just too many unknowns. The absence of animals except for those small furry things that scurried away when ever some one approached, were not the sole occupants of this planet. He had seen the tracks and some of the beasts on his journey to the Medical Base. With the deep snow he figured that most of the larger animals had departed southward. Life was probably much like what it had been on earth. Large herds of beasts going south for the winter and then returning when spring came. Maybe that was why they hadn’t seen much in the way of creatures around the Base. That and the deep snow.

As each man sunk into his thoughts, they were shaken suddenly as Shondra came to life and announced to her two comrades that if the plan had worked, it would have done so by now. It was time to do the clean up. She told them to eject each of the uniformed personal they came across with a dose of another drug. This one would insure that they would be out for several hours maybe even a day or two. They could talk freely now, as it was assumed that there would be no one monitoring the cameras. The plan was to inject all the security personal first and then start bringing them to the Holding cell that Tom was currently residing in. The Base didn’t have a brig, but the contamination room was secure enough to hold them. It had unbreakable glass windows that could be inclosed with steel shutters. There was toilet facilities, with a large shower. Anything that would be needed could be sent through the shuttle boxes. Most were small but there was the large one that was to be used to pass the injured through to an operating unit, or if they died, to the morgue. Being that every entrance was doubled doored they could use the room for a brig

Now there was no reason to remain in the sterile safety of Medical Labs. Shondra hit the over ride lock on the Sealed door and it slid open with a breath of tainted air. Now free of the restrictions of the bio labs, she vowed never to be so restricted again. Breaking the seals would have had to be done sooner or later, and for living and enjoying life, it needed to be sooner. Her first act, upon leaving the confines of the Lab was to hand over the inoculation gear to her assistants.

Armed with the syringe guns, Leon and Jeff left to anesthetize those that they deemed a risk to them. Each carried a red marker pen to put a large X on the forehead of each person they injected. They didn’t want to double dose anyone and send them to the Happy Hunting ground just yet.

Shondra operated the mechanism to open the door for Tom to come out. She was standing there to great him as he exited the holding room. “I want to know for certain that I can trust you.” She had one hand behind her back, holding another syringe gun, that if needed would have sent Tom into a sudden deep sleep.

“You saved my life, I owe it to you.” Tom answered. “What do you want me to do?”

Pleased at his response, Shondra spun about and told him over her shoulder to “Follow Me. We need to gather up some sleeping bodies and get them in that holding cell before the drugs wear off.”

It took Tom a while to realize just what all had been going on. He was aware that his status with the medical base had been hanging in the balance, as to what Shondra’s investigation turned up. He knew it was only because of her desire for the truth that had saved them all. Not only was she beautiful, Tom was now aware that she was smart and not just book smart. His attraction to her was even stronger, but also tempered with the feeling that she was way above him in social status. Plus she was a lot younger.

Moving behind the two orderlies, they came across the sleeping bodies. Most all had a red mark placed on their foreheads by Leon or Jeff after they had dosed them with the syringe gun. Those with out a mark, Shondra quickly pressed the gun to the bare skin of an arm and dosed them. A deft swipe of the marker, left a red sash across the forehead. Again she explained to Tom that it was to make sure they didn’t give anyone a second dose. Which could be fatal for most people.

Taking a Gurney with them, She helped Tom lift the sleeping bodies up onto the rolling stretcher. There was only room for two people at a time, so Tom was making many trips back to the holding room and dumping the sleeping bodies. At first he didn’t have an idea of how many there would be, and didn’t pay particular attention to where he sloughed them off. Soon he realized that he needed to place them more at the far end of the holding room, if he was going to get them all in.

Shondra was picking out the security people with their steel gray uniforms, and assisting Tom in placing them on the stretcher. When he asked why they were giving them the dose from the syringe’s, when they were already out, Shondra explained that she couldn’t be sure of how much coffee they had drunk. Not knowing the amount of drug in their systems, she had no idea just how long they would be out. By giving them the second dose with the syringes, they could be assured that no one would be waking before they had them all in the Holding Room. After Leon and Jeff were done with the injections, they joined Tom with a wheeled stretcher and began gathering and transporting the sleeping bodies to the holding room. Shondra went ahead of them and placed a marked X on some personal that were not in uniform. These were people that she thought might be too close to the security people and could not be trusted. Those, she directed them to put into a different Holding Room. Until she could be sure of their loyalty, they had to be confined.

Once they had them all secured in Holding Rooms, there was little chance of anyone helping them to escape. Since Shondra had the Master control and once the last person was delivered to the Rooms, She locked the doors, and only she had the code that would open them. Even the large shuttle box was sealed with a coded lock. There was no way anyone was going to get out of that room on their own. Once done, a new problem would need to be solved. What to do with them. She knew that they couldn’t be left in the holding rooms for ever. Eventually they must be released. What she was to do with them after that, was a dilemma.

Finally with the last drugged body locked behind the sealed door of the Holding Rooms, Shondra led the three of them down to the mess decks where a clean fresh brew of coffee with out drugs was made. It took a while to remove some sleeping bodies, laying them comfortably on the floor, before they seated themselves at one of the tables. Soon they were resting and silently enjoying the coffee, each thinking their private thoughts of the mornings events. Leon was the first to speak about the prisoners in the holding rooms. Voicing that maybe when spring came and the snow melted, they might be able to contact the other Lander and deliver them to the main security force.

Shondra didn’t like the idea of keeping them confined until spring. That was a long time to deal with the problem. Her main concern was what to do with those that were medical personal. How was she to determine their loyalty, and trust them. The knowledge of what the security leader had in mind for them all was a worry. If they had followers among her staff, it was a risk. The only thing she could do is go back over all the video’s and see which members of her staff were chummy with the Security people. It would be a time consuming project, but she knew of no other way. Taking some ones word, was not enough. The only person whom she trusted at their word, was Tom Bonner. That was mostly because she knew in her heart that he was a good man. A good man, but one that dealt with problems with more aggression then discretion. She wasn’t surprised when they were discussing possible solutions for the prisoners, that he came up with the suggestions to either, just kick them out in the snow, or shoot them all. Those were his ideas if Shondra did not want to keep them until spring. His other suggestion was that, come spring, they could bind them all and if they made contact with the third Lander of their group. They could deliver them to the Security force’s. Tom also pointed out, that contacting the third lander could be a bad move.

Leon, voiced the same fear that contacting the Security force’s could just be meeting more people with like minds of the group they had locked up. “They just might have been doing what was expected of them.”

Shaking her head, Shondra was negative to that idea. “I hardly think that Admiral Bueller, the decent man that I know he is, could ever condone such a plan.”

“I don’t know the man. But how can we know if he was on that Lander. From what Nelson told me, he could have been on those other landers with the ships company. We have no idea of who is in charge of that base.” Tom pointed out and then with an ironic chuckle, said. “We don’t even know if they landed intact or if they are still alive.”

“There was a radio message, from them?” Jeff said. It was more of a hopeful question.

“Only a short one, and then nothing else since. Nelson couldn’t even make out what they said.” Tom didn’t like dashing some one’s hopes, but they all had to be realistic. Time for dreaming and hoping was over. They had to deal with facts. And the state of their existence. Any other way of thinking was foolish and could not be counted on.

“Still, they could be safe and sound, waiting to hear from us.” Shondra said.

“Remember, they have more equipment then we do. They have the means to have linked up with us. Why haven’t they done it. There was plenty of time before the snow fell, they should have been here already.”

“So if we can’t count on the other base’s contacting us, what other options do we have?” Jeff asked them.

“Well, were not going to shoot them.” Shondra with a stern eye in Tom’s direction. That brought a smile to Tom and he nodded his head that he understood her meaning.

“Well, if we can spare the food, we can wait until spring and then kick them out. Send them on their way to find the other base’s, or strike out on their own. There is no way, we can ever trust them. Not after planning on killing all the men, and keep the women for slaves.”

Leon, nodded his head in agreement. “Its crazy, we have more women then men, what about three to one?” He looked around the table at them. “It just seems crazy that they would lay out such a plot.”

“Oh, crazy, yes.” Shondra confirmed, “And the plan to kill all the men. Probably not just because they wanted more women for themselves, but to rid themselves of any threat to their control. With just women, they would have complete power. Any males in their security group would be like minded.” She stood up and went over to the coffee machine for another refill. “So what do you think, and I want some logical realistic suggestions of what to do with them.”

“How much food do you have aboard. Can we afford to keep them, and for how long?” Tom asked. “I know that the Farm Base, was suppose to have enough for two years. Some of that was damaged on landing. So how long they have before their food runs out, I don’t know. I do know that they are working on getting a crop in this spring. So they don’t have two years of food, and everything depends on a successful crop. If you know anything about farming, that might not happen.”

“If they run out of food and don’t have a good harvest, we will have to share with them.” Leon surmised. Jeff asked the question, why. Why should they share their food with any one.

“Because, no matter what our food will run out, and we will have to have another source. The only way for that to happen is for those farmers to grow more.” Shondra pointed out.

“Maybe it would be a good idea to send those people over there, so they could help out. I hear they’ve had some deaths and they are short on man power.”

“They could use more help, but sending them those people isn’t the answer. They couldn’t trust them any more than we can.” Tom stated. “By sending them off to fend for themselves presents a problem. No telling where they would go or what they would do. They could very well try to over power those at the farm base. Or attack us when were away from the protection of the Base. Even if they do make contact with the security base, like we said earlier, they could just add them to our problem.”

“Remember, I asked for some reasonable suggestion.” Shondra prompted. “Were not going to kill them and we can not keep them forever.”

“Okay, then here’s what I strongly suggest. Soon as spring comes or the snow melts, we set them out side and tell them so long. For protection and to aid their survival we let them have one fire arm, and a limited amount of ammunition. They can use it for protection or hunting, as they go on their way. Also, we warn the farm base that they are out there and to be on the lookout.” Tom said and then looked around at the rest of them. “It’s the only way to deal with them, other than plain old shooting.” “What about living off the land.” Jeff was thinking that unknown to them, there could be a vast amount of food just waiting to be gathered from this new world. “You Tom, you were some kind of out doors man, right? You could point out which things are edible.”

“Back on earth, maybe. This world is different. I have no way of knowing what can be eaten or what can’t. It will take time and some study before we can be sure of anything.” Tom wasn’t even sure that there was anything out there that they could eat. Just too many unknowns about this world. Though he knew there probably were many things they would come to know as food growing out there. As far as he knew, no one had tried to eat any of the small creatures that were seen before the snow came and covered everything. Until they examined these strange beasts, they wouldn’t know for sure. He wished they had brought back that flying bird like creature that he’d killed when it attacked him. That would have been a good start.

“If the food supply is so critical, why not cut them to half rations, until just before we release them. We can fatten them up with a regular ration, for a week or so and then set them out. We should be able to save some supplies that way.” Jeff was still trying to come up with a solution that would please Shondra.

A number of ideas were offered, but none met with Shondra’s approval. Even Tom knew that they wouldn’t work. Shondra pointed out that they still had to be on guard. Having them locked up, did not mean there wouldn’t be more problems. She would keep the code to the locked doors, secret. Only the shuttle boxes for passing food trays would be used. They still didn’t know for sure, just how many of their medical personal were sympathetic to the imprisoned security team. It would be insane for any to aline with them but stranger things have happened.

There was one more task to be performed before the sleeping crew awaken. Shondra took Tom aside after sending Leon and Jeff off to prepare for the sleepers waking up. She pointed out to Tom that they needed to gather all the fire arms and weapons into one safe place. They already had those weapons the security people were carrying, but there were more, and they needed to be found quickly.

A search of the arms locker, revealed that it was empty. No surprise there, as it would have been the first place during the take over that she or anyone else would have gone to get arms. Out side of a few rifles in the control rooms, there was no sign of the missing weapons listed on the manifest. A search of a few of the sleeping quarters, did not reveal any. No matter where she and Tom looked, there was nothing. Finally she asked Tom if he was to try taking over the base, where would he hide the extra arms. The question brought a smile and a chuckle out of him. It was a good question, but the idea of him even hypothetically taking over the base was absurd. The last thing he would ever want was to be the head of any group of people.

Giving the question some thought, Tom nodded toward the bay where the vehicles were kept. “If you have one that hasn’t been used. They might have decided to store something’s in it.”

Leading the way down into the transport bay, Shondra pointed out the larger of the two tracked amphibious machines. “We have only been using the smaller of the two, trying to save on fuel.”

Tom climbed on the machine only to find its hatches locked. Shondra didn’t have the key, nor was it located in lock room. Peering inside, Tom could see through the window, several items stacked among the row of seats. Then he saw the rest of the arms, locked away in side the amphib machine. Problem was, they didn’t have the key. The key was probably hidden by the security people. There wasn’t time to look for the key, they needed to get in it now. Looking over the vehicle, Tom could see that the top could be lifted off. Only a few bolts and some snap downs held it in place. Glancing up on the ceiling, he saw the hoist, used for just that purpose. The vehicle was a very big convertible with a removable hard top. The way in had been discovered. They wouldn’t need a key after all.

Only the bolts were a problem. They found a tools in the locker, and went to work on them. The snap downs were easy and so was hooking the line from the hoist to the shackle on the overhead. With a touch of a button, the top was lifted off and Tom announced to Shondra that she now had a convertible. “When the weather gets better and the sun comes out, we can go for a ride.” He joked, but he was also serious. He would like to take her for a ride even if it was in a multi ton machine, with several rows of seating.

Even with the top raised off the machine, the low ceiling didn’t give them much room to work with. They were able to crawl through the gap between the Top and the Machine, where they found the rest of the arms and munitions listed on the manifest. At last, Shondra was beginning to relax. Still they had a lot of work to do, in getting the material moved to a more secure location. That took more time than they had. She wanted it done before the base company began waking. Going up and down the steep stairways, was tiring. It was an exhausting ordeal even with out carrying a load. With her lungs beginning to burn, she wondered at Tom. He was doing much better than she thought possible under his condition. He was breathing hard, but wasn’t showing the fatigue like he should be due to his age. He had some perspiration on his brow, but nothing more than if he were ten years younger and in his prime. She, herself was still in good condition, having worked out every day of her life. Yet, here was Tom many years her senior, moving up the stair ways with the gait of a much younger man. It was as if he were improving right before her eyes. At one of their rest stops, which she demanded they take, she asked him how he was feeling.

Breathing a little heavy, Tom shrugged his shoulders and said he felt alright. He knew that she was asking as the Doctor. Still he felt the attention was a little more personal than that. He wondered just how much was her being the doctor and how much was what he wanted it to be. “Why do you ask? Am I looking ill?”

“No,” Shondra smiled and shook her head. “You look pretty good. It seems like your not as grey as before. Before we abandon the Big Ship.”

“You mean, the Grand Virginia?” Tom thought the name of the lost ship was the result of some one too much involved with their place in history. His smile was almost a smirk, thinking about it.

“Yes, As I remember it, the last time we talked, your beard was whiter.” Her eyes studied him as she spoke. “Your hair seems thicker too.” That brought a laugh from Tom, who assured her that he was not dying his hair or the whiskers on his chin. “I know. I’ve been watching you. You should have died you know!” The last was a statement and a question.

“Good thing for me, you were here. You saved my life.”

“Oh, there’s no doubt about that. Yet, you healed fast. Faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. That’s why I am so interested in that dressing you put on your wounds. You must try to remember where you got it. It must have some healing qualities. I’ve kept it and have been doing some tests, but I haven’t found any answers.”

“Well, just look for a tree with the bark stripped off. I used the inner bark, I think its called cementum. I remember thinking that the Indians used the inner bark for loin cloths. Just thought it might be work as a compress or dressing. Something to stanch the blood flow.” Tom thought for a moment, and shook his head. “It will be some place between here and the Farm, but I can’t place it.”

Shondra nodded her head. “Yes, we figured that. I had every one looking for it each time the Land rovers made a trip to the farm base. The deep snow put an end to the trips. Now we have to wait for spring to resume the search.”

“Might help if you strip a few different kind of trees and see if the cementum compares?”

Shondra cocked her head. It was something she hadn’t thought of. Rather then keep searching for the exact tree that Tom used. They would now, do as he suggested and compare the cementum of different tree species. As educated as she and others were, it took the common sense of a man, to point out an obvious solution.

“Was there anything else you did, anything else you used on your wounds?”

Tom shook his head. He couldn’t remember much of that time. The fever, his condition, it all worked to fog his memory. He couldn’t recall when he came out of the forest and wandered along the river. It seemed like one moment he was walking on leaves and moss, then the next he was aware of sand crunching under his feet. He did recall his mouth burning, and the effort he made to cool the fire that was consuming his tongue. How it got that way, he had no idea. There was so much he couldn’t remember. The inability to remember would plague him for weeks to come. He knew it was important to Shondra, to know what all he did after being wounded. She was sure that his survival was the result of something he did or used on his wound.

Shortly there after, they had all the weapons moved to Shondra’s quarters. The wall on the far side of her bed was lined with rifles and several weapon launchers, that Shondra had no idea of how they worked. Here in her quarters, they would be safe from falling into the wrong hands.

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