“Captain,” Lieutenant Cameron Boyd called out as he raced to catch up. He’d been chasing Bell all the way from the bridge, where he’d narrowly missed him. On the way down he’d nearly collided with Lieutenant Tareen – a fact that the security chief seemed to have found quite hilarious for some reason.
Bell turned and slowed his pace.
“What’s got you in such a hurry Cameron?”
Boyd stopped and took a moment to catch his breath. “I heard you were back on board and wanted to catch you before you got too busy.”
“Well, I think you caught me.” There was amusement in Bell’s voice.
“Captain, I have a request to make. As chaplain, I’d like to hold an official first church service on Xinju. Tomorrow is Sunday, at least by Earth’s calendar. What do you say?”
Bell stroked his chin. “What would this involve?”
“It would just be a sort of dedication of our new world to God – for those who believe of course. You know when the first fleet arrived on the soil of Australia; they held an historic first service in their new land. I thought a similar idea here would be nice.”
“Everyone would be welcome, but there would be no pressure. It’s just something for the Christian community.”
“I suppose there wouldn’t be any harm in it Lieutenant, so long as those who don’t want to participate are left in peace.”
“Of course Captain.”
“Very well Lieutenant.” Bell began to show an outward grin. “Now you might want to go and sit down before you pass out.”
“Aye Sir, I’ll do just that.”
* * *
Bell chuckled to himself all the way into the engine room. His old friend Boyd could be such a laugh. He found Chief Petty Officer Henderson tending a computer panel.
“Good afternoon Chief.”
Henderson looked up. “Oh, hello Captain. I didn’t realise you were back on board.”
“Just doing my rounds. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure Captain, we can talk in my office.”
They stepped into the small alcove that Henderson used as an office. “What can I do for you sir?”
“I notice that you’ve been spending a little time helping with the colony plans lately.”
“Yes Sir. Just trying to put my engineering skills to good use. It’s going to be quite a town when it’s finished. You know we’re finalising the drawings for a fusion reactor power generation facility?”
“Yes, I’m aware of the project. I know you’ve put a lot of work into it, but I would prefer if you left the planet-side work to the civilians. There are a number of engineers awake on the planet now. I’m sure they can handle it.”
“Oh, of course Sir. It’s just, well I wanted to help.”
“I understand that. Obviously your first priority is the maintenance of the systems on this ship.”
“It always has been Captain. I keep this ship running in fit shape, but given we’re not going anywhere, it doesn’t take all of my time.”
“I know, and I have a new assignment for you when you have time aside from Endeavour‘s engines.”
“What’s that Sir?”
“While we were in transit from Earth to here, we received a number of transmissions from home. Among them were some technical specifications on a new inter-stellar engine that had been invented.”
“Yes, I remember you showing me the files. In theory it would allow travel between the stars without the need for cryonic suspension. A great discovery to be sure, but I’ve left it on the back-burner since then.”
“I’d like you to take it off the back-burner and see if you can duplicate the experiments.”
“Aye Captain, if it’s important to you I can do that.”
“Good. My hope is that within a year we can have a working prototype.”
“That’s an ambitious goal Captain. May I ask, why this is so important? I thought the colony would be a higher priority.”
“I’m afraid the reasons for my interest in this project are classified for now Chief. I’ll be checking on your progress weekly.”
“Understood Sir. You can count on me.”
Bell turned and headed back toward the bridge. He was glad to have a chief engineer like Henderson – a man who could obey orders without needing to understand the motivation behind them.
* * *
Laura had not slowed her pace in over an hour. Spearwood was still following at a distance. He had given up trying to talk to her and was apparently letting her have some space. Why did he have to be so darn thoughtful? Eventually, she would have to slow down and let him walk with her. If they weren’t going to travel together then there was very little point to this trip. She wanted to be alone for a little while longer first though. All these years, Neal had loved her but he’d never told her. She felt like a fool. She felt like the butt of a long and very bad joke. Laura wondered to herself if anyone else had guessed Neal’s feelings. Was she the only one who hadn’t known? Had people been snickering at her behind her back?
She kicked a seashell in frustration.
There was a bend just up ahead. When she reached it, she’d get a glimpse at a new stretch of the river – something nobody had ever seen before. She tried to be excited about it but she just felt so confused. Perhaps she should just wait so that she and Neal could see it together. It wouldn’t hurt.
She stopped and turned to look over her shoulder. Neal was plodding along at a steady pace.
“You gonna walk with me or what?” she called out.
Neal quickened his pace a little and caught up with her.
“Hey,” he said when he reached her position.
“Let’s just try and enjoy the scenery okay?”
Neal smiled and started walking again.
Together, they turned the corner. Their eyes were met with the last thing they had expected to see. A few hundred metres away, was a large wooden boat sitting on the sand.
Laura’s mouth hung open.
“Well that’s different,” Neal said.
“How on Earth did that get here?”
“You mean how on Xinju right?”
Laura didn’t answer. Instead she said, “Come on, let’s take a look.”
The boat had clearly not been sea-worthy for a long time. It had a wooden walkway leading up to the door. There was a chimney sticking out of the roof, and there appeared to be long poles grounding it deep into the land. It had been converted into a house of sorts. A house on the beach.
“Who do you think made it?” Neal asked as they walked.
“I dunno, but it’s old. Check out the weathering on it.”
They increased their pace to a jog. Soon they arrived. Neal jumped up onto the walkway first. Laura followed. The door was latched but not locked. Neal pushed it open and it offered no resistance. Cautiously they stepped inside.
The interior of the boat was clearly set up like a home. There was a stove, a bed and a chair.
Laura heard Neal gasp. She turned to see what had taken him by surprise.
There – sitting in the chair was a skeleton – a humanoid skeleton.