When Captain Bell arrived back in the senior crew lounge it was alive with activity. He motioned for quiet and was quickly obeyed. Bell took his position at the front of the room, standing directly in front of the large windows.
“Good morning everyone. Today beings our new life. As you can see behind me, we have arrived at our new home. Before we get too excited I’m afraid I have some problems to tell you about.” Bell went on to explain the situation with their delayed arrival, and then the untimely death of Commander Murphy. After he had finished, the crew remained motionless and silent.
“I know this is a lot to take in, and it is probably making you all feel a little anxious, but I can assure you that life will go on. We all still have a very important mission to accomplish.” He turned his attention to Lieutenant-Commander Lin. Her face was creased more with concern than worry. He liked that. Lin had a genuine empathy for people, which Bell himself lacked. She also had confidence.
“Lieutenant-Commander Lin, as next in line I hereby promote you to the rank of Commander and assign you to the position of Executive Officer.” Lin nodded gracefully. “Until we can choose someone from your staff to replace you, you will have to continue to perform your duties as chief of operations.”
Bell now searched for his security chief. He located the young Afghan near the back of the group. “Lieutenant Tareen, I want you to conduct an investigation into the death of Commander Murphy. I’ll brief you on this task personally when this meeting is over.”
“Captain,” one officer spoke up. “What about Earth? If five hundred years have passed then…” Bell cut him off with a motion of his hand.
“There are many un-answered questions like that Ensign, and we will find answers when we go through our communication logs. I’m asking you to be patient.”
His crew went silent and he gave them a moment to process all that had been said.
“Now, all of that nastiness aside, this is still a grand day for us. I would like Lieutenant Kerensky to brief us on our situation here in our new solar system.”
Bell stood aside and waited for his astrogration officer to come forward. Kerensky was one of the most brilliant minds to come out of Russia in Bell’s lifetime. He had clearly not taken the time to shave before reporting here.
“As you can see,” Kerensky began, “we are in orbit of the planet MA 77481 Ab. We are in a binary system, but both stars are far enough apart that each has its own system of planets. This system was first catalogued by the Mars Array in 2073. You may be interested to know that both stars were named a year later through the international star register by a man named Reginald Mayne. Our sun is called Erica after his wife. Our sister star is Debra, named after his daughter.”
“What is the planet called?” somebody in the group asked.
Bell stepped in and answered that question. “The Colonial Council assigned the name Xinju to this planet.”
“It is mandarin for new home,” Commander Lin said by way of further explanation.
“We have the authority to name any settlements that we build on the planet ourselves,” Bell said. He then motioned for Kerensky to continue.
“There is an asteroid belt in this system which may contain useful minerals so we should investigate it at some point. Now, moving back to the planet, we will need to conduct detailed scans to confirm what our astronomers believed, but from a visual inspection it seems that Xinju will not only support life, but be an ideal place where we can flourish.
“As for the system of planets orbiting Debra, there are no planets that would sustain long-term settlement, but there are one or two that we could spend short amounts of time on. One of them may even have a breathable atmosphere. From a statistical perspective, this is quite amazing.”
Kerensky took a step to the side indicating that he had said all he had to say for the moment. Bell took centre stage once more. “We will need to begin assessing the planet immediately. The sooner we can get people off this ship and onto the surface the better. Our civilian geographer Doctor Laura Banks will be in charge of this effort.”
Banks stepped forward. Bell’s gaze lingered on her a moment longer than he intended. While he had no romantic interest in her – she was far too young for him – he could not deny that as a woman she was particularly attractive. You would never know that she had been in stasis for hundreds of years. She always maintained an immaculate appearance. Bell wondered if this would continue once they moved down to the planet.
“I probably have the most exciting job out of all of us,” Banks said in her noticeable Australian accent. “As soon as we leave this meeting I will began scanning the surface for possible locations for settlements. Drinking water will be an essential resource. I’ll also be taking notice of the terrain for purposes of shelter and defence. We need to understand if there is any wildlife on the planet. Also, I’ll be coordinating with our Botanist to determine the suitability of local plant life for food.”
“Once potential settlements have been located,” Bell added, “I want ships in the air to do a visual fly over.”
Banks nodded her agreement.
“All right everybody. We will meet back in four hours to report progress. I want to see activity. Dismissed.”
An hour or so had passed since the meeting and Bell was pleased to see that his crew had wasted no time in busying themselves. There was so much to do that all would have adequate distraction from the troubles at hand. By now many more of the ship’s crew members had been awakened and were preparing for duty.
Bell was on his way to the flight deck. The Endeavour was not a warship or fighter-carrier like the Destiny, one of his previous commands. However, it did have a small flight deck with a limited number of fighters. Despite their name, on this ship the planes were intended more for exploration and reconnaissance than combat. Still they were part of the military structure and their pilots were the best. They were led by Commander Air Group Colonel Brice Millwood.
Bell found Millwood standing by his plane performing routine checks. After being out of use for so long a lot of the equipment on the ship would need careful testing. Millwood’s plane was a thing of beauty. It shined brighter than any other aircraft on the deck. Painted brightly at the front was a Union Jack, along with Millwood’s call sign: Badger.
Upon seeing Bell, the Colonel snapped to attention and saluted. Bell returned the gesture.
“At ease CAG. Status report on your planes.”
“We’re just finishing up some diagnostics Captain. All systems have weathered the long journey surprisingly well. They will soon be in working order.”
“Good, because I have an assignment for you. In due course I’ll need some planes to eyeball some potential settlement locations, but before that I’d like you to perform some reconnaissance of the solar system. Get the general lay of the land, for lack of a better term, and identify any potential hazards.”
“There is one other thing I’d like you to do while you’re out there, and this is strictly need-to-know.”
“I understand Sir.”
Bell handed Millwood a small data card. “This contains a particular mineral signature. While you’re in the asteroid belt I want you to scan for this. Determine how much of this material is out there, in what concentrations, and which rocks are the richest sources.”
“Consider it done Captain.”
“Report to me personally when you have the results.” Millwood nodded and Bell dismissed him. The CAG would do his job no questions asked, and that was exactly what Bell needed from him at the moment. The only thing Bell was unsure of in this situation was whether he wanted Millwood’s results to be positive or negative.