Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Origin Myth…

Spit © Steven Solomon, 1990

Life, forever dying to be born afresh, forever young and eager, will presently stand upon this earth as upon a footstool, and stretch out its realm amidst the stars. H. G. Wells

They made love with the intimacy of two who had been lovers for half-a-million years. But to them, it seemed like only days since they had first embraced. They were in the full flush of a torrid, whirlwind romance. All the better that it was illicit. By the book, such liaisons among crew were prohibited. In practice, this one was tolerated, for it was perfectly clear to the rest that there was nothing that they could do to stop it.

For Javee, it was transforming. Making love to her, his senses changed. He saw in her the Goddess, or was it the Pharaoh's daughter? In her arms, he slept the sleep of Adam in the first garden. 

For Kamoori, well, the relationship and, most specifically, the sex, seemed to give vent to a different, but equally deep hunger. She gave herself to him, and drank deeply of his wine, but her need may well have been pathological. She had at her core, a profound wound. It was hard for her to be close to anyone. In facing her fear, in conjuring it to reality, she felt oddly in control when lost in passion with Javee. Even in being conquered, it was she that was really in control.

The comm from Jez really could not have come at a more inconvenient moment.
"Hey, Kengaria, get down to ops ASAP! Is Mue with you?" Startled, straining to punch into the comm, Javee reached over Kam, and almost tumbled the two of them indecorously unto the cabin floor.
"Jav...uh, um, Kengaria here, sir. Yes, she is, sir."
"Well, tell her to get her skinny butt down here. This craft needs a Flight Tech on the job."
Kam rolled her eyes and, none too convincingly, protested: "Your Flight Tech is on the job, sir."

"OK, the two of you just get down here, pronto. We've got a problem." The comm went dead with a portentously definite click.

Attempting to get his jumpsuit pulled up, hopping about on one foot, Javee allowed: "That man is the straightest son of a bitch in the Universe.".

Kam was having more success in getting robed, eyeing herself in the mirror and already putting on her earrings. "Oh, he's just doing his job. And, he's damn good at it from what I've seen. Let him be the boss. Your job is doing what he wants. Come on, are you ready?" Javee snapped off a funny, old fashioned salute. He clicked his heels together, but they made only a rubbery "squeesh" from the soles of his flight slippers. "Ops Lieutenant Kengaria, present and accounted for!" 

For centuries, serious research aimed to achieve interstellar travel had been argued against as frivolous. It would be too expensive. It would take far too long. There would be no return on any reasonable estimate of investment over time. Most daunting was the fact that no interstellar traveler would live long enough to make a complete trip, even one way. Ark-ship schemes, trans-generational, interstellar spacecraft were prohibited as being abusive of the birthright of those future generations born amidst the emptiness of interstellar space. Could we ethically deliver our inheritors to such a life without alternative, given only the very shaky promise that their grandchildren, the great-great-great grandchildren of the original travelers, might get to visit an alien planetary system?

Against such sound scientific, financial and ethical reasoning, any argument was couched in nothing more than a sincere desire to avoid "the unalterable facts". This desire was driven, however, by those hallmark imperatives of our ancient seed; rootlessness, discomforture with the status quo, and, best of all, curiosity.

For these reasons, the cultural debate continued over the course of generations until, as always happens, the "unalterable facts" became altered.  The Fantastic Enterprise, the journeys to far away stars were inevitable once the many technologies of near-luminal flight were developed and competently applied.  Relativistic dilation of time alleviated the multifaceted problem of travels longer than the lifespans of the travelers. 

The starfaring crew would narcoslumber during the long, slow climb to near-light speed. They would emerge from stasis only during de- acceleration from relativistic speed. After what seemed to them like  a few weeks of survey and study, they would orbit and begin to explore the new worlds first located by their intelligent spacecraft.  

The crew of Algeti Seven had awoken for first time since leaving the home system, in the vicinity of a new family of planets. Indeed, as they had been embarking on their journey, this system was then little more than a solar nebula. It had only been 500 million, perhaps a billion years since the solar disc had taken shape into individual planets. The last phase of early, planetary evolution was still underway as they laid eyes on these new worlds aborning. For eighteen of their "days" they had had the unique opportunity to study this system from afar. Now, as they hurtled toward its core, all that they had learned, and all of the data collected by the Algeti's intelligence, would be crucial to their survival.
Eulee and Jez were huddled over the large sys-comm center as Kam and Javee entered the ops cabin. Jez was clearly irritated. He looked over his shoulder to Bena. Bena Sham, old, short, fat, improbably misplaced, was sitting at the nav station, staring into space, fumbling a foozbal in his right palm. He was attempting to attenuate the experience of profound stress.

"Bena, get your ass over here, now! We're gonna need your help, too... incredible as that may seem." Jez then turned to greet the love-birds: "Ah, how good to see your bright and shiny faces. Ready to do some work?".

Kam disregarded this verbal jab; it was clear that an unprecedented situation was at hand. "What's happening? What's the problem?"

Jez threw his input stylus down on the console: "Well, I'd say that we are simply fucked. Maybe Sci Ops can fill you in on the technical details."

Eulee was staring blankly into the display. She was standing, but she might as well have been asleep on her feet. She'd been feeling tense since they came out of stasis, and hadn't been resting well. Nightly, she was having some very bad dreams. Jez gently smacked her across the shoulders: "Yo, woman, let's have it!".

"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking, thinking that... uh, welp, we don't have a lot of options. Our main propulsion system is hemorrhaging kilos of hydro every time we do a de-acceleration fire. We might lose it all, and our ability to get home, in the course of orbital insertion. But, if we don't slow down, we can't maneuver or come to a relative stop, never mind get into orbit. And if we don't orbit or land, we can't safely get outside to make the fix. That's if a fix is possible. I don't know. Take a look at the data; what do you think, Javee?" Javee strolled over to the display. He was having a hard time digesting what he had just heard. Everything had been going so well with the mission, with the craft. 

The Algeti series were remarkably intelligent, finely designed spacecraft. They had never encountered major problems in flight, as far as anyone knew. Of course, it was also true that, prior to the launch of the Algeti Seven, nobody had yet returned from a fully interstellar journey. As he reviewed the dismal statistics, he wondered if perhaps the six previous crews did, at some time, some trillions of miles across the galaxy, puzzle out this same problem.

As he called to Kam, she was already at his side, her hand, feather-light, resting on his shoulder. "Kam, you should double-check these formulae, but it does look like we're really deep in the soup." 
Eulee broke in, poking her finger at the alert field on the display: "I've already double-checked, and checked again. We got a problem, this is it, and now you two are gonna have to tell us how to fix it!".

Eulee and Kam were not the best of friends. Eulee distrusted Kam for her apparently mercenary alliances with the other crew, her very public romance with Javee, her prideful and frequent displays of intelligence. Most of all, she had a bad feeling about Kam's intentions.  And then, there were the things that she saw in her dreams: things about Kam and Javee, about the others, about the mission, about grave perils and mortal danger.

Kam's dislike of Eulee was a gut response. Eulee was raw, unrefined in manner and speech. She was what she was; up front, smart, kind'a sexy, a competitor. And, Kam had the feeling that Eulee was on to her in some way. Kam untethered herself from her lover and stepped up to Eulee, right in her face. Clear and cool as the ancient ice at the heart of a comet, she pronounced: "OK, if you're data is correct, we'll be able to take over from here. I don't think there's any reason to panic.".

"Hey, honey, I'm not in a sweat. Why don't you just do the job you're supposed to do and maybe..."     

At this point, Jez had had about enough. He was a seasoned space- traveler. He'd been through enough crises, blown plans, mechanicals and circuits to fill an encyclopedia. He hated dealing with amateurs, but there he was, stuck at the edge of the galaxy with an entire crew of beginners. There was nowhere else to go for help. "OK, assholes, let's cut the bullshit and get to work, together!" Again, he turned to Bena, still retreating ever further into panic and dismay. "And you, Mr. Psy Spec, get the fuck out'ta that chair and over here or I'm gonna send you outside through the effluent tubes! You got that, jerk-off?" 

Under ordinary circumstances, Jez could be quite charmingly gruff, but this was a new, perhaps scared, Jez. He was no less formidable for this newly acquired quality. At his Commander's urging, Bena found the strength within to get up and join the group. Soon after training had begun, it became clear to the rest of the crew that their mate, Bena Sham, was more likely a sociopath than psychologist. He was consistently sullen and uncooperative. He seemed to have zero experience in anything relating to either to the science of the mind, or to spaceflight. He was perfectly useless and came to be relied upon for absolutely nothing. That was fine by Bena.

Poor guy. He'd signed up on this expedition as a way to avoid a grizzly death at the hands of certain individuals, creditors, business associates: the Kashon'mry Syndicate. Bena was into them for more money than he would ever have likely seen, even in a relativistically extended lifetime. What assets he did have, he liquidated. He used the cash to bribe his way onto this mission as an erstwhile "Psych Specialist".  He figured that by the time he returned, his tormentors would be long dead, his memory and debts long forgotten. But, today it looked like he was going to die anyway.
Jez gently put his arm around Bena's quaking shoulders. The man was soaked in a cold sweat. Quietly, Jez whispered into his ear: "Look, I don't know who you really are. I don't care. I just want to know, will you please try to be as much help as you can and just do what is asked of you by your crewmates?"

Before speaking, Bena looked to each of the others in turn. "Yeah. OK. I'll be OK. I, uh, just don't, um... well, what do we do now?"

"Let's just figure that out. Alright, everybody, let's see where we're at. Eulee, bring up the nav stats. Let's look at the options for a possible landing. We'll attempt orbital insertion for the most preferred landing site."

Eulee was already on the job. While Kam and Javee scanned their sys-comm ports for clues as to the source of the rupture, Eulee, Jez and Bena poured over the charts. She reviewed the data out loud: "We've got a pretty young, medium sized star. There are ten planets, and  possibly a dark, quasi-stellar companion. We can't be sure about that, though. As the system is so new, we've also got a lot of debris.

It looks like at least one of the planets is currently undergoing a break-up. It's oddly out of place; primarily carbon, silicon and metals, badly situated between the sol star and a gas giant. Hmm, the outermost body is primarily ash and ice, probably cometary material."

Jez leaned forward to get a better view of that particular chart. "Is it suitable for our purpose?"

As he spoke, Eulee and the computer brought the graphs up on the main holographic display. "No way. Too small, too slow. We can't make orbital insertion from here. And, the gas giants are out, as are their moons. That leaves the rocky bodies at the inner system; numbers two, three, four. Number one is as hot as number ten is cold." 

Bena uncharacteristically chimed in of his own accord: "Well they all look pretty much the same to me. Let's just pick one and fix things, right?"

"Shucks, Bena, that's a damn useful insight." Eulee mashed her knuckles against her temples and rubbed vigorously as she turned to Jez, pointedly offering, "It might go quicker if he didn't help us.". 

"Eulee, cut the sarcasm and do the work. And Bena, spare us the obvious. We'll tell you where you're needed." Jez drew a deep breath, sucking his next syllable coolly over his front teeth: "Sssss-ooe-kay. Now, Eulee, please tell us your choice for Most Wonderful Place in the Galaxy to Fix the Goddamn Algeti Seven."

"Can't get there, Sir. Number four looks best al'round. Good marks on geologic stability, moderate temp, not much O2, but there is liquid water. But, it's a difficult insertion maneuver from this velocity and range. We probably don't have the fuel to lose even trying."

"Our next choice, Science Officer Deekae?"

"We can make either numbers two or three. Number two appears to be a stinking, sulfurous hell-hole of volcanoes and massive electrical storms. Number three is a hell-hole, but probably doesn't stink as much."

Jez smiled broadly and took Bena collegially under his wing. "Very good! Now you see, Bena, how science works to solve our problems. Have faith. Be patient." Then, spinning on his heels, almost upending Bena over the console, the Commander bellowed to Kam and Javee: "Hey, Gibber Twins, you have any news for us. It's time to make some decisions!". 

Kam was ready. As usual, she took the lead. "Your analysis was correct, Jez. We are in trouble, big time. Main and auxilliary hydro-couples are shot, corroded clear through in nine or ten places. We don't have an explanation as to why they failed so catastrophically and at the same time, but it's gotta be a generic flaw. We have to slow down to fix it, but with every de-acceleration fire we'll heave more hydro over the side."   

Javee, activating the master nav display, continued: "We got'ta somehow get out'ta near-luminal velocity or die. Well, I mean, we'll lose our manuevering thrust and just drift, and drift, forever."  

This thought, now brought out in words kind'a depressed everyone, even Jez. His brow forrowed as he contemplated near-eternal life, forever young, forever lost, forever with these same four assholes as his only company. "So what's our best shot, Lieutenant?" 

"Yes, sir, here we have our current position and all possible oribtal insertion trajectories around Sol and his planets. The best way to slow down is to get into a planetary orbit. It so happens that number three will be the first prefered destination, allowing us to drag against the gravity of the gas giants and putting number four on our tail as we make insertion. Umm, that's if we can program the initial burn to happen in less than eighteen minutes."
     Jez turned to Bena, again smiling broadly. "Okay, Bena! This is your moment in the sun. You know how to work the 'gator's interface, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah, navigation control, I learned how in orientation, didn't I?"

"That's right. And, now you are going to remember all that good stuff and put it to use in saving our necks. Go help Kam and Javee prep the computer. Eulee, you and I will do the mechanicals." Jez cracked his broad hand over his thigh and spun around to his own command station: "Alright, people, we've got just a few minutes to avoid spending all eternity together. Let's get moving!"

And so, they went to work. As the Algeti Seven hurtled toward the tattered fringe of this new solar system, desperate preparations were made. 

They would have only one shot at this. If it went wrong, if an incorrect computation were made, a bad assumption assigned, if a port meant to be left open were left closed, or a thumb-wheel meant to be cranked one click to the left, were left unclicked, the crew's fate might well be worse than... eternal life.

Did it work? Well, yes and no. All the thumb-wheels were properly cranked; all the numbers accurately crunched. Everybody was in their place and ready for the initial fire. The initial fire went just fine. The craft swung beautifully into the ellipse of the outer planets, arcing gracefully and at great velocity between the orbits of the gas giants, threading ever more slowly through the great ring of debris in the inner planetary plane. As the fourth planet swept directly behind the Algeti's trajectory toward the third planet, they rotated 180 degrees and ignited the final insertion burn. 
At that moment, everything turned to shit. The fusion rocket fired and at once, all three hydro-couples ruptured explosively. Algeti Seven blew out her entire fuel supply fuel in a matter of micro-seconds. They were dead on target, traveling at a mere 9 kilometers per second, but there was no fuel left for crucial maneuvers once in orbit. The orbit that they had programmed would carry them for but one revolution before sling-shotting them back out of the planetary plane and to their doom. Some weeks hence, they would starve or freeze or asphyxiate. No relativistic conundrum in this. No existential dilema; just slow death.
The Algeti Seven slammed into the outer wisps of planetary atmosphere with a horrid roar that continued to reverberate within the hull like the death cry of a great, lizard-bird. Through the viewports, one could only see an opaque pink glow, the ionizing cloud of hydro that enveloped the ship. 

Harnassed to his seat, Bena thrashed in terror, his every fiber animated for fight or flight or sudden death: "THAT'S IT! THAT'S IT! I'M DIEING. WE'RE GONNA DIE NOW!!!".

The craft heaved and lurched, skipping like a stone on solid air. The crew's bodies tore against their restraints with such force as to cut through their uniforms and into their flesh. Javee's vision turned crimson and then black as he lost consciousness. Eulee howled in agony as the retina of her right eye peeled from the ocular orb and she abruptly lost its sight.
From across the cabin, above the fearsome din, Jez screamed: "Kam, deploy the balloot!. The balloot! Do it now!".
She did not immediately respond, but she had heard him. Her fingers flew across the interface with blazing speed as she squinted through the accumulating smoke, searching for obscured detail in the heads-up display. From what she could see, deploying the massive aerobrake was not a practical option. "Can't do it, Commander! Too fast. It'll burn! We'll crash!" 
Even as she spoke, Jez was prompting the computer for deployment with one hand, while the other was snapping off his restraints. Bena was first out of his seat, although he had not taken a moment to consider the physics of the situation. The Algeti Seven was de-accelerating violently. As Bena stepped toward what would normally be the cabin floor, he did notice that something seemed strange. He then proceeded to rocket, face first, toward the formerly aft-facing bulkhead, "landing" with a squishy thud. There he remained, as though glued to the wall, pouring blood from the nose, eyes and ears.
Jez was more skillful in his initiative. Plunging toward the bulkhead, he outstretched his left arm and snagged the gleaming pylon of the conn'scope with the crux of his elbow. 

Like the famed man on the flying trapeze, Jez whirled 'round the shaft and dove headlong toward Kam's interface. Before she could stop him, with both hands he clocked straight into the large, red switch that activated the deployment sequence. It was all over in an instant.

The balloot burned. It was spectacular: four square kilometers of incandescent, silvered confetti; gossamer spider-spun threads flashing yellow, blue and white. They did soon crash, but Jez and Eulee had done a cracker-jack job of prep'ing the mechanicals. Everything was set to default to the computers. The balloot slowed them enough to send the craft out of orbit and toward the planet in a rapid but tenuously controlled descent. One thousand times each second, hundreds of active aero-surfaces on the skin of the Algeti Seven extended, retracted, fluttered, changing its shape and aerodynamics and preventing an incendiary tumble through the lower atmosphere.

Hours later, what was left of the crew awoke and recovered sufficiently to begin facing the myriad awful truths of their situation. They first found, to their surprise, the hull and environmental systems intact.

They next found Jez and Bena's smashed and torn bodies, literally stuffed in the small space behind the sys-comm console. If Jez was still alive when the balloot extended, his demise came shortly and abruptly there-after. The craft was slowed to aerodynamic speeds in a matter of seconds. The gravitational force ripped his vicera to pieces: his skeleton was reduced to custard as his corpse was smashed to and fro. Bodily fluids, blood, mucous, excrement, the ocular gel in his eyeballs, all this gushed from his every pore and orifice. His brain was liquified and slathering from his ears. Bena was similarly trashed; merely a man-shaped bag of flesh without the internal structures to give it form.
The bodies were scraped up, bagged and deposited in the vent-way by Javee and Eulee. They hadn't the slightest idea as to what to finally do with them. Nobody spoke for some time. Eulee plugged into the Algeti's medi-comm and had her eye checked out. There wasn't much that could be done. It was ruined. 

Javee went silently and ineffectually about sopping up the human debris that littered the entire cabin. Clots of bloody hair and the occasional finger were tolerable but he was stopped in short order, sickened by the sound of an eyeball gurgling its way through the vac-tube. As Javee was heaving into the vac, Eulee began to get herself busy. She went to work restoring electrical to the bio-assay computer and attendent displays. The Algeti's self-diagnostics were already processing a damage report and developing recommendations for the crew.

Kam had remained strapped in her flight-chair all the while, staring out through the viewport at a red-black sky roiling with electrical activity, clouded by sulfurous volcanic debris, raining pumis and acid upon the shores of a wine dark sea. The Algeti was perched on the edge of a great bluff, overlooking this primeval ocean. Kam ruminated on this basic fact. She understood that even if they could somehow ressurect the ship and secure raw material for processing hydro, even if they could survive long enough to achieve these improbable goals, it would be for naught.

She understood that if they fired the engines, they would merely launch themselves on a short trip to the bottom of that ocean. Being, first and foremost, a interstellar spacecraft, the Algeti was not designed for vertical take-off from the edge of a cliff. It required almost a kilometer of horizontal runway to achieve take-off speed. Their runway was a six-hundred meter drop to oblivion. 

Javee occassionally, timidly looked her way, but was actually afraid to know what she was thinking.     

It was Eulee who was first to breach the dreadful silence. "Okay, I got the bio-assay working. We've got a picture of the environment. We can start looking at options while the Algeti reviews damage and figures out the priorities." Nobody responded. Javee looked to Kam. Kam stared out the view-port. Eulee tried again. "Hey folks, three of us are still alive. If you want to stay that way, let's see what's to be done!"

Kam didn't take her eyes from the port, but spoke like an oracle of doom. "There's nothing to be done."

Javee pulled himself from the floor, knelt next to her and taking her hand, limp and cold in his own, said: "Hey, sugar, let's give it a try. We can't just...".

"We'll die here. I know it."

Eulee approached from the other side, sitting on the deck in front of Kam. "Listen, sister, I know we haven't been hitting it off, but let's try and work together on this. I ain't ready to die, and neither is your man, here."

Ever optimistic, always trying to be helpful, at least when he wasn't shirking his duties, Javee stood up and declared: "Ok, me and Eulee are gonna work on the assays and see what's up. You just relax here and, when you feel ready, you can join us.". The assays had indeed turned up several interesting, if not useful facts. Although only one of the probe-dexters was working, using repeated passes, they were able to get atmospheric and soil samples for analysis.

The atmosphere was completely unsuitable for respiration, almost devoid of free O2. It was, however, chock full of CO2, organic compounds, esters, alcohols, hydrocarbons and even formaldehyde. All of this appeared in the aerosol wafting off of the great sea with the tumultuous winds. Within that sea, some very complex chemistry was taking place. 
Kam instructed the computers to assay the soil. She was looking for sources of free atomic isotopes of hydrogen from which to process hyrdo. They were available in the atmosphere, but in quantities too diffuse for practical use. The atmosphere and ocean were basically a gigantic photo/electro/chemical engine powered by the Sol star, lightning and volcanism. This engine was very busy converting and reconverting elements into complex molecules. Perhaps, she thought: "We might find something bound up in the spew of recently ejected magmas. She could find no significant source of hyrdo, but the intelligence routines of the computer kept alerting her to something else, altogether.

At first, she insisted that the program was in some kind of loop, facinated, in a computer kind of way, with something that a truly sentient being would know to note and forget. But, the assay kept flashing the bio-alert, and when requested for a full scan, would stop at the first level routine. At this level, it was saying that it had detected biology familiar enough to be classified as such, but no more. It would never go to the next level, verifying a metabolic cycle of some sort to complement the replication of biotic chemicals. "Must be some kind of resonance. It may be picking up proto-membranes. Maybe it's seeing unfamiliar replicating molecules. It seeks the next level and loops back when it can't confirm."

Javee was concerned that they produce some kind of encouraging news, something to get Kam back on the ground. "Well, let's move on. We need to find hydro, right? We're not looking for critters."

Eulee continued to drill at the interface. Her head and eye were causing her terrible pain, but she kept her concentration. "No, Javee. We can't be sure any of our assays are correct, or that the Algeti can properly perform her diagnostics until we eliminate this anomaly. I'm worried that she's taking so long with those reports... Let me run this down, first." 
Her instincts, as always, were good. A few moments later, she had massaged the program out of the loop and into further examination of its origin. As the display flickered into full color, holographic glory, she exclaimed: "Oh, my fucking God!". She yelled to Javee and Kam: "You gotta see this!". Kam seemed not the least interested.

Eulee tweaked and twiddled. The display sharpened. New side-bars opened with rows of changing stats and equations that tracked an apparently living chemistry teeming within the alien mud. "Ok, what we got here is not a computer anomaly. We got us an anomaly of nature. We got some kind of proto-cell, not bacteria, but it has a membrane. The soil's full of 'em, probably all deposited by the wind off the water. Hmmm, no internal structures of consequence, but plenty of RNA and it appears to be replicating. Weird, though. How does it make a new membrane? I see it processing ATP. It's an anaerobic cycle. No photosynthetic component. How does it metabolize? It looks like a chondriosome, but without all of the parts. No wonder the computer was confused!"

The computer was not alone. Javee had to interrupt: "Hey, don't we really have more pressing problems?".

"Javee, we are in a bad spot. Anything we can find out might be of value. Listen, the aft dexters are shot and I need a thorough sample of the area before we can figure out our best source of hydro. With my eye like this..."

Javee held his breath. He knew what she was asking before she even got it out. She continued: "I need you to go outside. The winds are bad, but not impossible. The pressure's tolerable, a bit higher than cabin pressure, so you'll be okay with a catalytic breather. Can you do it?".

He froze. He didn't want to go out there alone. Nor did he want to leave Kam like this.
Rising from the her station, Kam suddenly decided to enter the conversation. "It's alright. Maybe we should go together, Javee and me."

Concealing her surprise, Eulee smiled her most reassuring smile. "So, the gibber twins ride again. Go for it, young lovers. Suit up and decontaminate. We don't want to muddy the samples or get any germs on our brand, new baby planet."

The suit-up was pretty simple matter; out of flight-gear and into what they called the "bunny-suit", a single piece, polyester jumpsuit with a hood, radio and goggled face-mask. One entered through a slit in the back that was then sealed air-tight with epoxy. The breather was equally simple: a valved intake tube connected to a catalytic apparatus that fit over the nose and mouth. It filtered through regulated amounts of O2 and nitrogen while collecting other gases in a porous "sink". With their several kilos of assay equipment and sample containers, they entered the decon station at the interior end of the airlock. From there they disembarked onto a new world.

The seal popped open with a muted thump and a gentle whoosh as pressure was equalized. Then, a few seconds later, the hatch opened and they heard the roaring music of this apparently living planet. The wind screamed, the rain went rat-a-tat as it pelted them like flying nails, the blowing volcanic grit raised an fearsome sizzling noise that was bested only by the echoing thunderclaps from overhead and all around. Javee was quite scared, yet he took hold of Kam's hand and proceeded toward the aft of the Algeti. Before he could complete his first step, she pulled back on his arm."Kam, what's wrong?".

She did not respond. Not sure that she could hear him, he tapped at his earpiece and yelled: "CAN YOU HEAR OKAY?". She simply turned and stepped toward the the promintory, some three meters away. Puzzled, he nonetheless followed in tow, holding her hand, his other arm around her waist.
The wind was gusting mightily off of the sea. It was all but impossible to see where they were going, other than in the general direction of a long drop into the water. He tried to slow her down, yelling: "HEY, KAM! HEY..." He dug his heels into the clay as she gave one final yank.

In the cabin, Kam and Javee's transmission was all but indecipherable: a cackling mess of white-noise. But, Eulee did look up from her console at the sound of this last, shrill utterance. She was shocked to make out two shadowed figures at the bow of the craft, tumbling toward their deaths. She slammed on the comm with both fists. "KAM! JAVEE!!! YOU'RE GOING...", but the two were already over the precipice, first Kam, then Javee, still in the embrace of his most trusted and beloved.

About an hour later, Algeti Seven completed its diagonstic report. It's intelligence was programmed to search for options and priorities. It was very thorough. It seemed that it took it a long time to arrive at any conclusions when there were no options, hence no priorities. Kam had been right. Even if they could refuel and restart the ship, there was no way to launch her. 

Eulee had been sitting on the cabin floor since watching the lovers leap. For some time, she just sat and dwelled on what had happened over the past few hours. It had happened so fast. "Is it real?" Half blind, she looked around the cabin. She was indeed alone. "No Kam and Javee. No Jez Jukie. No Bena Sham." Occassionally, she'd try to focus and logically seek a way out of this impossible situation. Always, her thoughts returned to the death that now surrounded her, waiting to claim her as well. Every once and a while she would begin to weep and then to sob. 

As the hologram came alive and lit up with the final report, Eulee was prostrate under her console. Impassively, she watched it spell out, in multi-colored, animated pictograms, the variety of likely deaths that she would face. It rated their probability from one to fourty-three.
1: Asphyxiation (acidification of blood gases, anoxia due to depletion                 of environmental gases, 88% probability w/in 468.57 hrs.).
2: Hypothermia (failure of electorical and environmental controls during           planetary night cycle or major weather disturbance, 59% probability             w/in 293.7 hrs.).
3: Starvation (depletion of supplies 76% probability w/in 776 hrs.).
     And so on. The report ended with this terse remark.         
     Recommended Course of Action: NO RECOMMENDATION.

Seeing this, Eulee got herself up off the floor. Slowly, she made her way to the ready-room and put on a bunny-suit. There was nobody left to epoxy the back, but that didn't matter now. Walking toward the airlock, she stopped to take one last look at what was left of Jez. She had held a very special place in her heart for that man. She had never told him so.

Opening the vent-way hatch, it was hard to tell which pile of gore was Jez and which was Bena. She said a few, quiet words under her breath, wishing them farewell and a better life beyond. She closed the hatch and turned out the light. It took her over two hours to climb down to the ocean-side. The spongey grit that comprised the surface of the bluff offered little support for her feet and nothing in the way of hand-holds. Bubbling rivulets of molten sulfur further complicated her path. 

It was almost dark when she arrived at the shore below. Exhausted from the climb, she stood there, the soupy maroon water lapping at her feet. The sand was black as pitch, blacker than the clouds, but like them, riddled with flowing veins of yellow. She wondered about the weird, half-live automatons that floated in this sea, percolated through the soil and rode on the wind. Was there some measure of hope to be found here? "Thay always say, hey, life goes on."
That final image of Kam and Javee floated across her mind. "They'd been right, I s'pose. Well, at least she was. He probably didn't even know what was going on, as usual. Mmh, it's all how it turns out in the final 'nalysis, I guess. Good riddance to the queen bitch and her little friend, too."

The Sol star was now sitting, huge and violet-orange, on the horizon. Shining from its heart, phosphorecent tendrils descended through ragged, red holes in the opaque cloud-tops. Eulee lifted both of her arms up and back and reached for the slit in the bunny-suit. She pulled the hood over and off of her head with a decisive tug. The gail strewn debris and ocean mist stung at her face, but she kept her good eye open, looking squarely into the dieing sunlight in hope and defiance. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment. Then she removed her breather. 

Standing upon this new shore, gazing upon a new night, itself presaging near endless cycles of sunrise and sunset, Eulee whistled through her teeth and spit into the ocean. She laid down to die.

Three billion years later, Professor Klosko is called to the excavation site. Twenty meter wide, five-hundred meter long, shock pylons were to be installed in these borings. All that would have to wait for the moment. Poised and lovely, even in a hard-hat and pressure mask, she was used to such interruptions. This excavation was at the center of the complex charged with building and launching Earth's first interstellar spacecraft. Professor klosko was in charge of the project.

Assistant Chief Engineer Holt was the first to greet her as she stepped out of tube at the bottom of the pit. "We got somethin' here, way deeper than we ought'a. Seems to be a skeleton. Actually, three of 'em. The other two were found in the number three boring. Ain't human, for sure. Ain't any kind'a animal I recognize. But they are skeletons! I don't know what it means."     

Driven, as always, by the relentless cascade of events, Humanity was faced with a new and profound reality. Here they had the first undeniable indication that they were not and never had been alone. It would never be imagined that a few c.c.'s of someone's spit, laden with alien bacteria, might have changed the exact course of cosmic history. 

Oh, Protochondriosome; Mother of Life. Your chemical magic, your wizardry with enzymes mingled with the refined and robust reproductive capacities bequethed to our seed by one long departed Eulee Deekae. Or, perhaps, life like ours is just one of the things that happens in the Universe. Kick the dirt, and something grows. Blow up a first generation star and history unfolds in an unprecedented direction. It somehow folds back on itself and, eventually, gains an awareness. It knows something that it couldn't know before. It wants to know more.  

Some hours later, returning to the surface, Klosko quietly looked to the desert horizon. The wind was gentle and dry, blowing from the west. There, on the mesa, riding the giant gantry-transport was the Coleman Explorer I. Yes, in a few weeks, all would be ready to take Humankind's first interstellar explorers to their destiny.  As she looked to the clouds and the sky, she could hear Holt and his team coming up the tube. She turned to see them lifting the specimens out of the depths and into the sunlight for the first time since the World was very young. She smiled. She too wondered what it all meant. 

Hic Finis Est, S