The Surface of Xinju – The Present
All thought of her earlier frustration with Captain Bell was erased from Laura Bank’s mind – banished by the excitement of what she was about to do. She hadn’t felt this way since she was a child on Christmas Eve. She remembered lying in bed trying to sleep – willing the morning to come. Christmas had been a very hot time of year, so the excitement combined with the heat meant that sleep didn’t come easily. She was separated from that memory by hundreds of years and countless star systems, but Laura knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.
The shuttle jarred slightly as it touched down. They had landed. They were on another planet. Laura let that thought sink in for a moment. Then she stood.
“Our lives are about to change.”
There had been no discussion about who would set foot on the surface of Xinju first, but it suddenly occurred to her that there should have been.
“What are you waiting for Laura?” Spearwood asked. “You’re the boss. Go out and claim your place in history.”
She nodded. Slowly, she approached the shuttle door. It slid open when he pressed the control. The air smelt fresh and safe – just as sensors had indicated it should. The one thing that set it apart from the air on Earth was a subtle smell of peppermint. She took a long lungful of alien air.
Thoughts of the stories of Yuri Gagarin orbiting Earth, and Neil Armstrong placing his footprint on the moon, were swirling around in her head. Should she say something? She wasn’t a wordsmith. With no other ideas coming to her, she turned to address her colleagues and said “Friends, we’re home. Let’s go.”
ESS Endeavour – En Route to Asteroid Field – The Present
Lieutenant Hasama Tareen had not expected to be travelling through space so soon after their arrival at Xinju. The Enveavour was a long-range ship. Flying it around in their new solar system felt a little like taking a super tanker down the Arghandab River.
In any case, their journey made little difference to Tareen, whose mission was to find answers regarding the death of Commander Murphy. He had spent too many futile hours trying to gain access to restricted logs under Murphy’s account, so he was taking a break.
The mess hall was crowded. Usually Tareen would have found that a turn-off, preferring to relax in solitude, but he’d had enough solitude for today. He needed company. He spotted Commander Lin sitting at a table for two. It was good to see her off duty. She had been working ever since they’d awakened from stasis – then again so had he. He made himself a cup of Chai and sat with her.
“How are you Commander?”
“Exhausted Lieutenant. I am honoured by the promotion to XO, but doing two jobs at once takes a lot of energy.”
“I can well imagine.”
He sipped his tea. “Not bad, but it’s a little too westernised for my taste.”
“You should try the green tea. It’s good.”
Tareen frowned. “Not really my thing. You know what I really crave?” Lin shook her head. “A big cup of Dugh.”
Lin gave him a blank look. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure what that is.”
“It’s a yoghurt-based drink – very popular in Afghanistan. My mother used to make it for us. It always reminds me of home. I’ll probably never taste it again. I suppose we’re all going to have to let go of the foods that we ate on Earth now aren’t we?”
“Who knows Lieutenant. Maybe Doctor Banks will find a Dugh tree on Xinju.”
Tareen smiled. It may have been his first smile since arriving in this solar system
“So how is your investigation progressing?” Lin asked, turning the conversation sadly back to work.
“Very slowly. Nothing makes any sense about Commander Murphy. The man was a paradox.”
“Most of us are Lieutenant.”
“All through his logs, he writes about how unjust he thought the lottery system was. He thought his family should have been pre-selected to travel with him. He went on record, broadcast before the world threatening to resign in protest – but he didn’t. He came on the ship anyway.”
“Perhaps his threat was just that – a threat. Maybe he never intended to go through with it.”
“No, he was convinced that anybody who remained on Earth would die there. He wanted to meet his end with his loved ones. Something changed him mind – but I can’t understand what it was.”
“You think this has something to do with his death?”
“The one person who dies en-route was a controversial figure whose presence on the ship doesn’t add up. Either these malfunctions are truly random, or else Murphy was chosen deliberately.”
“I had some heated arguments with the Commander over the lottery. Now that he’s dead I wish I’d been more sympathetic with him. I do understand the desire to save your family.”
“So you supported the total lottery model?”
“I did,” she said without hesitation.
“And why was that?”
“Well, I suppose it’s because I value all people equally. I’m a Christian and I believe that all life is precious, and therefore everyone, no matter who they are, should have an equal opportunity to be saved.”
Tareen said nothing but nodded thoughtfully.
“What about you?”
“Well Commander, It seems I’m your opposite, yet we’re the same. I’m an atheist, and I supported complete lottery for the same reason as you.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“I also believe that all life is precious, because afterward there is nothing. That means that whatever life we have before the end is to be treasured.”
“That is interesting. You believe that life is precious because it is temporary, and I believe that life is precious because it is eternal, and that all people were created by God and offered salvation through the sacrifice of Christ.”
“It fascinates me Commander. Who would have thought two people, with such opposing philosophies would find such common ground on an issue like this.”
Line smiled. “It’s interesting how things work out.”
Tareen finished the last of his drink. “I think I need to go and talk to the engineers, but I’m going to have something to eat first. Would you join me Commander?”
“I would love to.”
Darwin, Australia – 23rd February 2135
Alan Murphy’s blood was pounding like a tsunami through his veins. The moment of truth was here and he was going to do something that would change his life forever. He stood outside the local studio of the International Broadcasting Commission. His superiors didn’t know that he had booked this appointment. If Anderson Bell had known he would have put a stop to it.
Today Alan was going to resign his position as executive officer of the Endeavour, and he was going to do it on the air, in front of the world. He would stand down in protest, so that he could die on Earth with his loved ones. Nobody could deter him from the path now.
Alan glanced at his watch. It read 4:45. He was expected inside in a few minutes.
“Commander Alan Murphy?”
Alan turned around to see who had addressed him. It was a stranger. A man in a nice suit.
“Who are you?”
“I’m somebody who watches the news. I’m somebody who feels for you and your family. It doesn’t seem fair that a man must leave them behind to their fate.”
“Well, thankyou for your support. You should watch the news tonight.”
“Oh I plan to Commander, but before you make a big mistake I want to make a proposition to you.”
“I’m really not interested,” Alan said as he started walking for the door.
“I can ensure your family’s survival Alan.”
He stopped – but didn’t turn around.
“You want to get your family off this planet don’t you?”
Slowly, Alan turned around.
“Do I have your attention?”
“You have thirty seconds.”
“You know that there are plans for a second Ark.”
“Yes, and that will be populated through random lottery, just as the Endeavour was.”
”I can guarantee you that your family will be selected.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“My people were not prepared in time to have any impact on the previous lottery, but we are well placed now.”
“You’re going to have to prove that to me.”
“I will Alan, but first I need to know if you’ll cooperate.”
“Yes, there is a price. If you agree to help us then your family get a ticket off this planet.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“For a start, don’t resign. We need you on the Endeavour.”
“But I won’t be with my family.”
“No, you won’t be with them. It’s a big sacrifice, but they’ll be alive.”
Alan thought for a moment. “Okay, let’s go somewhere and talk.”