4 of 6 | Chapter 19

 

In the past ten days, endless convoys snaked between the area of the ASEC and the ships, while the aerial defense units, robot air shields and IRD squadrons from the nearest enforcement poles secured the area. This all served to create a spectacular air show over the metropolis, giving the city an air of expectant excitement.

On the last day, the number of convoys declined and were supplanted by ASEC and IRD command vehicles. The crews had been familiarizing themselves with the vessel for two days, checking and rechecking systems over and over. Explanations for continued obsessive preparations were unnecessary because if anything could go wrong billions of kilometers from home, nothing and no one would come to their aid, and they would completely on their own. So technicians outnumbered scientists overwhelmingly.

Karen arrived on board with Murinko and the space fleet commanders. They were followed by the group of executive chiefs responsible for directing the crew.

The docking bay also functioned as a giant hangar, where hundreds of smaller operational craft were lined up, each in its own dock. From there, distribution corridors lead into the main arteries, and as dictated by ASEC principles, none of them followed a symmetrical arrangement. On board the Carapace, not a single centimeter was left unused. Even in the hangar exits, space was given over to maintenance and supply storage. In extremely wide corridors, where cargo was still waiting to be sorted, colored lines indicated paths for traffic that were to be left free at all times.

Automated transport pods ensured rapid and unimpeded travel through what was, after all, miles and miles of corridors. It had been clear from the start that the transportation system could not be left till last, as even at maximum permitted speed, it took roughly half an hour to travel from one end of the ship to the other, which would be painfully slow if there was an emergency. Yet, there had simply been not enough time to develop the system further.

There were obviously no windows on board, but spatial effects were generated by gigantic ion-projectors built into the interior panels that displayed the view outside with such breathtaking clarity that it was indistinguishable from reality. It was simply enthralling, as if the ship opened out into outside world, giving an enormous sense of depth and reality, almost as if one were gazing out of huge panoramic windows.

A massive oval room, intersected by several corridors, leading from its sides, served as a briefing room. Everyone was present, all 8,550 personnel, including those from the other two ships were there to be a part of the first briefing before the start of their voyage. The meeting had generated some pretty wild traffic among the three vessels as vehicles zoomed back and forth. Spectators down in the city had no idea what to make of the hundreds of aircraft suddenly racing from place to place. Many thought that perhaps a serious accident had happened until the frenzy began to slowly abate.

Murinko held the briefing, most of which was already common knowledge, but that made the details official. He described the two year mission in more detail, the tasks that had to be completed and the areas in which research was to be carried out.

Then, appearing from nowhere, Sean Steersman joined them, surprising even Karen. He waited until the commander had finished, then informed everyone of the purpose of his arrival.

“I have to say, you're in good hands. Your commanders have received the most thorough training possible, and their level of preparation is unmatched. However, they also possess qualities that go beyond mere training. They have the noblest and most valuable characteristics of humankind. Not for a second do I doubt the success of this mission, because no matter what you all face out there, it will be dealt with in a manner that will make us once again proud, make us feel that we are unique and exceptional in our galaxy. If, indeed, there's anything out there that measures up to or exceeds our intelligence and level of development, we are so diverse and possessed of such remarkable ingenuity, that we will be worthy of such a relationship. I'm proud of you all. Give your very best and listen to your intuition. I wish you all a very bon voyage!”

“All hands ready!” snapped Murinko, “Launch in one hour!”

Hearts beat faster and every one of the people in the room felt a huge pulse of nervous energy, even those not taking part in the mission.

The ASEC delegation exchanged a few words with each of the commanders, then returned to the Condor which, after a very short flight, landed on the ASEC tower platform where they could witness the departure of space fleet.

“Did you meet them?” Karen asked in a whisper, standing at the edge of the platform.

Steersman nodded with a look that suggested the whole world had changed within him.

“What happened?” she asked further.

“We got the chance to talk. They sorted it out so that we could communicate. It seems that they wish to become familiar with us, and trade, though it's not that simple. They're not impatient or demanding, they're happy to wait and take their time … and they want to help.”

“The whole thing is … just unbelievable,” said Karen, shaking her head. “So, what are they like?”

“They are alien in every sense of the word, but they are somehow balanced. They didn't betray any strong differences in character and they seem homogeneous, less inclined to rage between extremes than humans.”

“Did you meet more than one of them!?”

“Yes. My first impression of them is that they're a predictable and trustworthy species,” Steersman continued. “They have a level of self interest, but they are curious and their way of thinking is very functional, pragmatic. My guess is that they've been forced to develop such disciplined behavioral patterns because of scarce resources.”

“Well, they will no doubt betray any weaknesses they may have in the course of time.”

“Maybe, but they don't count time. To them the concept doesn't exist,” he informed her.

“They really are alien,” Karen said with a kind of wonder.

“You have no idea,” said Steersman, slowly shaking his head.

Karen could hardly imagine what Steersman had experienced. For her, true understanding, truly grasping the elusive or invisible had always meant first hand experience. This time, however, she was satisfied with eagerly awaiting events second-hand.

*

They watched the retreating hulks silently. Even distance could not hide their immensity, but eventually they disappeared from view as they crossed into space.

Karen looked at her boss.

“Do you have any further work for me, Sean? I think I need a vacation. I need to travel a while to recover.”

“As a matter of fact, I have one more. You need to see this,” he took a package from his pocket. It was tied with a silk ribbon.

“What is it?”

“We met on this day, five years ago in Tokyo, remember?”

“Of course, I remember. I've been remembering it ever since,” she laughed.

“I got this for you, to thank you for everything you've done for me.”

Karen peeled off the ribbon and opened the elegant wooden box. Inside she found an exquisite necklace.

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 4 | ATTACK
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 14 | AFTERSHOCKS
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 18 | TRUTH