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December 05, 2499
Avalon Davo sat alone in the ark ship's darkened atrium, her mind catching the cobwebs of space. She sensed the oily darkness of the Others lurking amidst the minds of the VIPs, but there was no danger to the ship so she ignored them-for now. Asegeir 'scaptain was not expecting her aboard until they entered Dim5 in three hours, and she wanted to say goodbye to Earth from this unique perspective. After all these years, being back in space was as breathtaking as her first time, almost three hundred years before. And as always, leaving Earth was painful.
As the C20 bonded to the Viking class ark ship, Avalon had expected to be pulled aboard eighteen months earlier, when Asegeir tested its Dim5 engines. Ryl, her daughter, was not surprised when it didn't happen. Neither engine tests, said the Meta, nor fifth dimension jumping completed Asegeir's life-force. Only life, including sentient life, could do that.
Avalon had felt that life-force grow as a million humans emigrated from Earth to their new home, adding to the billions of creatures, great and small, that made Asegeir a living machine.
Then the official launch day arrived. Dignitaries and politicians sipped flat champagne in microgravity, and made tedious speeches thanking the alien Kwilloys and Dwins. Again. And they muttered disappointment at the C20s' absence. Again. Custom, convention, protocol, it was all necessary, Avalon knew, but not for her. Though it wished otherwise, the NASA Gaia Corporation-NGC-had no jurisdiction over C20s, so she stayed in character and ignored all invitations. Her bonding to the great spheroid arkship was an experience of the mind and soul, too intimate to be shared.
Now, a month after launching, Asegeir was about to leave its Spacedock cradle and depart on her maiden voyage.
Avalon looked out through the transparent hull of the ark ship. She had been granted such a fortunate life. Time to help in Earth's restoration, time to explore the galaxy, time to love and raise children. Time to grieve. And now, time for an achingly familiar cycle to begin again.
From Asegeir's orbit around Mars, Earth appeared little more than a blue-white pinprick of light, barely distinguishable from countless other lights in the vast inky blackness of space. Although she had been gone less than an hour, Earth tugged at her, begging her to come home. Just a year, she promised, just a goodwill tour before the ten-year voyage to find Gaia. We're not going to abandon you, but we need to find the Great Ones and through them, offer the lesser cousins a place on our journey. And more importantly, ask if they might one day consider returning to you and to forgive us our sins.
My sins, for was I not amongst those that almost destroyed you?
• • •
In his office on the deck below, Captain Christopher Falcon stood grinding his teeth in frustration. Senior Commander Stuart Phelan, Asegeir's Chief of Security, had just ordered the VIPs off the bridge. Through the thin bulkhead separating Falcon's office from the bridge, he could hear a stream of invectives from a voice he recognised as belonging to Senator Matheson.
"That's it," Falcon declared, striding to the connecting door. "I will not tolerate the crew being bullied by Earth-side politicians!"
A section of the transparent hull opaqued, and the image of Admiral Calvin Woodstock appeared on screen. "Do not go in there, Captain, that's an order." Woodstock's bushy grey eyebrows lowered over equally grey eyes. "You try to talk with them and you set yourself up."
Falcon swung to face him. "I was set up eight years ago. This is just a delayed reaction. Sir ." He glanced past the screen through the laminated diaglass hull to the boxlike, administrative hub of Spacedock. Although the space station was over a hundred kilometres away, it was silhouetted by the rising Mars, and Falcon could easily see the light shining from the Admiral's offices.
Woodstock's weatherworn face settled into its familiar, authoritative glower. "You don't have time to deal with delayed reactions now. A delayed departure is unacceptable. I've entered an emergency override to the umbilicals and am resetting countdown from minus forty-eight minutes to minus three minutes."
Falcon glanced at his desk monitors to verify Asegeir's status. They were fully sealed and ready to go. Immediate departure was an elegant, albeit temporary countermeasure to the furore. "AI," he said to the computer. "Command override for emergency detachment. Reconfigure our trajectory for three minutes. And warn Jacobsen that Asegeir will make a forty-five minute parabolic loop past Mars."
"I'll call Jacob personally and explain." Woodstock's voice betrayed a hint of amusement.
Falcon's lips curled in acknowledgement. Jacob Jacobson would wet himself if he saw Asegeir leave Spacedock prematurely then head off in the wrong direction. The gravitational side effect of the Viking Project had already been wildly successful, but the terraforming engineer was depending on Asegeir's close flyby of Mars, combined with simultaneous detonation of subterranean charges, to release a huge underground reservoir of water.
It would take Spacedock three minutes to retract the umbilicus to a safe distance, then Asegeir's manoeuvring engines would back them away. Thirty minutes later the ark ship would cut in its primary engines, then curve out and back past Mars. It was a straightforward procedure that did not require his presence on the bridge. Still, his place was there, if only to support the crew.
Copyright © 2005 Sonny Whitelaw