Episode 3 : Chapter 3

Nobody really knew that Kerri was pregnant at the moment, although it would soon be pretty obvious. She didn’t want to use her condition as an excuse for special treatment, but she was very glad when she discovered that her work assignment didn’t involve digging. She really didn’t like digging at the best of times. Her role at present was to help with the cutting of wood into studs for the walls of the hospital building. These were being assembled by another team so that they could be raised quickly.

She had reported for duty first thing after breakfast this morning. She hadn’t slept much last night. The withdrawal pains had been keeping her awake. She really was quite worried about how she would get through the next week or so. Mercifully, she was feeling a little better after eating something.

Kerri had been directed toward a large table where a boy roughly her own age was operating a circular saw.

“Hi,” she said without much cheerfulness. “I’m meant to help you.”

“Great,” he said. “You can grab me that piece of wood over there and help steady it while I cut.”

The guy had a cute Irish accent and he was reasonably good-looking in Kerri’s opinion. Before the baby, she would have jumped at the chance to flirt with him. As it was, she’d had enough of romance for quite some time.

“I’m Liam by the way,” he said as she placed the wood onto the table.

“Oh,” she said after a moment, realising that she should probably give her name in return. “Kerri.”

“I like your name Kerri.” She liked the way he said her name.

Liam pulled the saw down and sliced cleanly through the timber. Then she slid it along to a faint pencil marking so that he could make the next cut.

They proceeded like this for two more pieces of timber before either of them spoke again.

“So Kerri,” Liam said, his voice much quieter then before. “How long have you been clean?”

Kerri looked up at him with surprise. “What do you mean?” What did this boy know about her?

Liam shrugged. “I can see it in your eyes. One user can spot another pretty easily. You must be in for a rough time.”

“Yeah, well that really isn’t any of your business.”

Liam stopping cutting and raised his hand in a show of mock surrender. “Hey easy. I’m not meaning to pry into your personal life, but I just might be able to help.”

Kerri shook her head. “You can’t help me. I just have to sweat this out.”

“Well you have guts, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t have to come to that.” Liam’s voice was now almost a whisper. “I have a little in my possession. It won’t last forever but it’ll keep you going.”

“That’s a nice offer Liam, but it’s just delaying the inevitable. We’re all going to go through this. You supply will run out eventually.”

“That’s why we need to find something local. Think about it, most drugs come from plants. This planet is covered in plants, just like Earth. If we could find the plants with the right properties, we could be the kings and queens of a new industry.”

“I’m not interested in becoming a dealer.”

“Well that’s fine, but sooner or later, the pain is gonna be too much for you.” He started up the saw again. “Look a few of my friends have a place. We hang out there sometimes. Why don’t you come around and join us tonight. If nothing else, you could use some new friends.”

Kerri didn’t know what to day. This could be a good idea or a really bad one.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.


* * *Professor Earnest Toledo’s lab was a small room in the science building. The same structure also housed labs for Laura, her husband Neal, as well as a basic medical centre. Aria knocked tentatively on the door and waited for the professor to answer. The door did not open but she heard a muffled voice from inside beckon her in.

Aria stepped through the narrow doorway and found a very cluttered space. So many posters were displayed that there wasn’t a speck of empty wall. She couldn’t even tell what colour the walls were. Most of the posters displayed pictures of animals. Some showed internal physiology, others were photographs. A few of the animals were familiar to Aria but most were unknown. One of them looked particularly alien – like a skinny dog on hind legs, but covered in fleece rather than fur.

“Oh, it’s you. Miss um….Baker? No Becker.” Aria noticed the short bald man emerge backwards from a walk-in storage cupboard.


“Yes. That’s right. What can I do for you?”

“I was talking to Laura Banks this morning and she suggested that I come see you.”

“Oh, well I must remember to thank her. It’s not often that I have an attractive lady steered in my direction.”

Aria said nothing. She was a little surprised to hear that kind of statement coming from such a proper English gentleman.

“Don’t take me too seriously my dear. I have a unique sense of humour. I didn’t mean to offend. In truth my heart is still with my late wife.” He picked up a tea towel and began wiping something off his hands. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve been dealing with cattle and sheep all day. We’re starting a program where we plan to breed them for food you know. We have to be extremely careful. The last thing we want to do is upset the delicate balance of Xinju’s eco-system with introduced species. Personally, I think it’d be better if everyone just got used to eating local animals, but some find their beef and lamb a little too hard to give up.”

Aria smiled. Already she was liking the quirky professor.

“Now, why did Laura send you to me?”

“Well, yesterday I saw something unusual at the beach party. Tell me, have you catalogued any marine life here on Xinju?”

“I’m afraid not. It’s not really my area you see. I believe we do have a marine biologist on the Endeavour. I’ve asked them to wake him for me, but it seems we have enough scientists around here already. They have this whole system they use to decide who gets woken up when you know.”

“Yes, I’m familiar with it.”

“Anyway until the system chooses Doctor Leopold for waking, you’ll have to settle for my limited knowledge.” He picked up a data pad and a stylus. “What exactly was it that you saw?”

“I didn’t get a very good look at it, but it was out at sea. It had a large tail, but the top of it looked vaguely humanoid. At first, I thought it may have been a person. It had its head above water for a while, looking at me, then it dove under.”

“Well, I’ve certainly not come across anything like that. We have had several species of fish caught from the rivers and the ocean. I’ve confirmed that all of them have been edible. As for large ocean mammals, I really couldn’t tell you.

“Is there an official reason why you want to know about this, or is it just to satisfy your curiosity?”

“Just my personal curiosity at the moment Professor.”

“Well, even though I can’t tell you anything right now, I’d be interested to see such a creature. If you do spot it again be sure to tell me.”

“I will. Thank you Professor.”

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Episode 3 – Chapter 2

The shuttle trip from the Endeavour to the surface of Xinju seemed to elicit excitement from many of the other passengers. For Kerri it was just routine. She had lived in space as a young child and had spent plenty of time in shuttles. Despite this, even she had to admit that the glorious vista that greeted them upon entering the atmosphere was impressive. Kerri had landed on desolate moons, and in smog-covered cities, but never before had she seen a pristine world like this, it was so untouched, the green of the forests and the deep blue of the ocean. Perhaps life wold be good here. One thing was sure, it would be a lovely place to raise a child.

After the shuttle touched down, she waited for her turn to disembark. Too many others were in a hurry to be first. She was content to wait. By the time she was out, most of her group were gathered in a large circle on the dirt. A woman who looked middle-eastern was gesturing to get everybody’s attention. Slowly the group hushed.

“Hello everyone. Welcome to Xinju. I am Aria Bekhit and I’ll be taking charge of your orientation here. If you’d like to follow me it’s just a short stroll into the centre of Moreau Town.”

The woman droned on about the history of the colony so far. The choosing of a suitable site, something about a wedding and the birth of a child. Kerri wasn’t interested. The symptoms of withdrawal were already getting worse. It was very distracting. Soon the distraction would turn to craving, and then it would drive her crazy.

“We are currently operating on martial law. It was always intended that Captain Bell would serve as a military governor to lead the colony until we got up and running. Then, a civilian government will be appointed to take over.” This was met with a few murmers from the crowd. It should not have been news – even Kerri remembered this from her briefing back on Earth.

“We do not yet have a currency-based economy. Food is rationed equally, but everybody is required to do their bit. We’re like a very large family in that regard.

“You will all be assigned a small room in our dormintory building where you can sleep. It’s not much but you’ll be comfortable and safe. We encourge people to build homes of their own, but first, each civilian has a duty to spend two weeks on the construction of town infrastructure. We’re currently laying the foundations of what will one day be a hospital. After your two weeks are up you are welcome to build your own home. We will help you choose a suitable plot of land.

“We encourage you to get together in friendship groups, and help build each other’s homes one at a time. Afterall building a house is not a one-person job.”

Bekhit held up a large bucket. “Now if you’ll all come and take a sheet out of here. It will contain your room number in the dorm as well as a work assignment.”

Kerri tried to concentrate as Bekhit went on to discuss the location of various facilities and how they could get other information. When she pointed out the location of a public toilet block Kerri knew she had her escape. Trying not to draw any attention, she strolled toward the building and slipped into the ladies’ room. All the cubicles were empty. Kerri chose the one on the far side of the room. She latched the door behind her and heaved a sigh of relief.

Kerri reach down the front of her shirt and fished around for the small package she knew was there. She retrieved a small plastic bag containing a white powder. This would either be her life line or her destruction. It had been surprisingly easy to smuggle the drugs here from Earth. Security hadn’t exactly been looking for contraband.

Again she sighed. Kerri had a turblent mix of conflicting emotions. On one hand she was desparate to rip into the bag and get at its contents. One othe other hand, she knew that any relief she would get from the drugs would be temporary. Once her supply ran out she’d be right back where she was now. Then there was the baby to consider. These drugs could be harmful to an unborn child. Could she really pass her adiction on to an innocent baby?

With trembling hands, she ripped the bag open. She had made her decision. There was no turning back now. If she didn’t go through with this immediately she would loose her nerve and give in to the temptation. She quickly tipped the drugs into the toilet, pressed the flush button, and watched her life-line spin and gurgle down the drain. It was time for a new beginning.

* * *

Aria Bekhit enjoyed welcoming new citizens to the planet. It didn’t seem so long ago that she had been given the big speech herself. Of course back then the town had been in it’s infancy. At that stage the dorm block hadn’t even been built, and they’d all been sleeping in tents. There had been a lot of eager and excited faces in the group today. She hoped that life would pan out well for each of them.

Her destination was a small log cabin on the outskirts of the town. It was a cute design – not exactly her taste but charming in its own way. She knocked firmly on the door and waited for it to open.

“Aria, come in,” Laura Banks invited.

She stepped inside was took a seat at the table. “It certainly is nice what you’ve done with this place Laura.”

“Well, most of this is Neal’s doing. He’s been passionate about making a good home for us.”

Aria smiled. “And how is marriage treating you both?”

Now it was Laura’s turn to smile. “Quite wonderfully actually. I’ve never been so happy.”

“I’m pleased for you, and a little jealous as well.”

“Oh I’m sure there’s a nice bloke out there somewhere for you Aira.”

She scoffed. “I think it’s a little too late for that. Besides, I’m married to the town. Seeing everything function well is my passion.”

“And how is that going?”

“It is looking quite promising. We had a large group of newly-awakened colonists arrive today.”

“You just don’t stop do you huh? You’ve gotta make time for a little rest once in a while.”

Aria laughed. “That is rich coming from you Laura.”

Banks shrugged. “I guess romance has slowed my pace a little in recent weeks.”

“Well I did enjoy the party on the beach yesterday. In fact, I think I saw something unusual.”

“Unusual in what way?”

“Promise you won’t think that I am crazy.”

Laura’s face suddenly went all serious. “Of course not.”

“There was something alive out in the sea. It was vaguely humanoid but I’m sure it had a tail.”

“What, like a mermaid?”

“A little like that.”

Laura scratched her head thoughtfully. “You should talk to Toledo about it. He’s been cataloguing many species on the planet. He might know what it is.”

Aria nodded. “I think I will.”

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Episode 3 – Chapter 1

Laughter. Aria Bekhit hadn’t heard the sound for a long time – perhaps not since leaving Earth. It was a good sound, a refreshing sound. The wash of the waves and the squawks of some vaguely seagull-like birds provided provided a fitting harmony to the laughter on this warm mid-day celebration. Almost the whole of the civilian population of Moreau Town had turned out here today. Consequently, there was very little beach visible. A sea of humanity hugged the shore of the ocean.

“Well this is quite a party isn’t it,” Laura Banks said, her face beaming with a wide smile.

“Yes. It even makes your wedding reception look small.” Aira shielded her eyes from the glare of the nearest sun.

“Well, it was the first wedding on this planet. We didn’t have any family to invite so we wanted to make it an event for the whole colony. Of course we’ve had more settlers awakened since then.”

“And more to come. In fact, a whole group should be in the process of waking up on board the Endeavour right this minute.”

“You’ll be welcoming them onto the surface tomorrow no doubt.”

“Yes, it’s already scheduled.”

“Oh Honey,” Neal Spearwood said, tugging on Laura’s arm. “The Barrowsons are over there with their new baby. You wanted to to see him.

“Yes!” Laura’s face lit up even further – if that were possible. “You coming Aira?”

“No thank you Laura. I met the infant several days ago. You go ahead though.”

Laura and Neal wasted no time in heading over toward the cluster of people who were cooing over the child. He was the first human board into their settlement so everybody was pretty excited. Eric was his name, or was it Ethan? Aria couldn’t remember. Western names were often difficult for her to remember. As a successful business woman in her native Egypt, Aria had forced herself to pay careful attention to the names of foreign contacts. Here on Xinju, she hadn’t bothered so much. The old nationalities no longer existed. They were all part of a new nation – the nation of Xinju.

This party wasn’t about the Barrowsons’ baby though, everybody was eager to celebrate the first two months since settlement on Xinju. Life had been difficult, but despite the challenges, they were thriving.

Aria hadn’t managed to catch a glimpse of the baby today, but it didn’t matter. She’d met him several days earlier. He had looked healthy and strong.

“Nice day for it, right Ms Bekhit?”

Aira turned around to see the smiling face of Captain Anderson Bell – Governor of the colony. He seemed to be letting his hair down a little today. That was good. Nobody wanted a stuffy leader who was too full of his own importance to enjoy himself with the normal people. Back in Egypt, Aria had trained herself to be just as comfortable in the cafeteria with her employees, as in a corporate lunch with international business partners.

“A little bright perhaps, but nice,” Aria replied.

“We have a lot to celebrate. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been two months since we dug those first foundations. The town has come so far in such a short amount of time.”

“Everybody has worked extremely hard.”

“And you’ve been pretty instrumental in all of that Ms Bekhit. I know that you’ve taken on a bit of a leadership role amongst the civilians.”

Aria shrugged. “We do what we can, putting our relative gifts and abilities to good use. I spent most of my previous life leading others. It seemed natural to step up and take charge.”

“Well, I appreciate all that you’ve done.”

“Thank-you Governor.”

“Have you seen the baby yet?”

“I did. Yesterday. He is the first of a brand-new generation who will never know any home other than this planet.”

“You know I’m a little jealous of them.”

“Jealous? How so Governor?”

“They won’t carry the emotional baggage that the rest of us are burdened with. Leaving a home can be difficult.”

From the distance, somebody called out Bell’s name. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Aria acknowledged Bell’s departure with a nod, and turned her attention to the ocean. The noise of the crowd was starting to get a bit much for her. A group of people about a hundred metres away had launched into an impromptu sing-along. She would have preferred that they hadn’t. This beach was usually such a peaceful place.

She began walking away from the crowds, down to the water’s edge. She removed her sandals and strolled north, just in the water enough to let it lap around her ankles. The sky was a deep blue today, and there were only a few wisps of clouds. Aria had seen plenty of beaches on Earth, but none had held the unspoiled beauty of this place. It felt ancient – a land that had not been touched by people. Aria began to wonder if Xinju had ever been home to intelligent life. They’d found plenty of animal and plant life here, but never anything that resembled a human being. Were they really the first people to ever walk this beach?

Aria stared out toward the horizon. The sea was calm. She couldn’t deny that as much as she missed her life on Earth, she was very happy with her new lifestyle. The work was hard but there was a sense of restfulness to it, as contradictory as that might have sounded if she’d said it out loud.

As she stared and contemplated, she became aware of movement out in the water. It was quite a distance away so it was hard to make out, but Aria was sure that she could see somebody out in the water. It was probably just an overly enthusiastic merry-maker who’d gone for a swim, and yet it didn’t look entirely like a person. Was that a greenish tinge to the skin? It was hard to tell from so far away. Whoever it was, they seemed to be staring back at her. For several seconds, they looked at each other. Then, without warning, the figure dived under the water. There was a splash as something that mildly resembled a fish’s tail broke the surface of the water, and then it was gone. Aria kept staring for a good two minutes, but no sign of the creature appeared.

If Aria wasn’t mistaken, she may have just spotted a local – an indigenous life form!

* * *Kerri Meyers looked out through the wide floor-to-ceiling windows, at the planet that they were currently orbiting. Apparently it had been named Xinju. It was Chinese, or something like that. She had been awake for hours, but it wasn’t until she saw the big blue ball beneath her that she finally grasped the reality of her situation. She had come to an alien planet to make a new life for herself.

Until now, her experience since waking had been nothing but tests. The android who had brought her around had poked and prodded her all over. It had insisted that she eat something. “You’re in good health,” it had proclaimed. That was fine – but it wasn’t her own health that she was worried about. “Both of you are in good health.” That was what she’d wanted to hear. Kerri didn’t matter anymore. It was all about the baby. When she’d been informed that the lottery had picked her to be a settler on the Ark ship, and escape the inevitable doom on Earth, she had been afraid. How would the baby cope with long-term stasis? How would she, as a teenage mother all on her own, raise her child on an alien planet, with no family to support her? Then again, it wasn’t like she had any real family to speak of back on Earth. There was her mother – but they didn’t speak very often any more. She’d never had a father, and the guy that she’d thought had loved her was the one who’d left her in this mess.

She felt the faint pangs of withdrawal. It would get worse soon. She didn’t care. The baby was everything now. Her discomfort was irrelevant.

“If I could have your attention please.”

The voice mercifully draw Kerri’s thoughts away from her own problems. She turned to look at the short Asian woman who was addressing them all.

“I am Commander Lin, Acting Captain of the Endeavour. I’d like to welcome you all to the Xinju System. It’s always a joy for me to meet new passengers who have been awakened. I wish we could just wake everybody up at once, but we have to take things slowly. The colony down on the planet cannot sustain the influx of too many new people at once.

“Our settlement on the surface is called Moreau Town. We’ve been building it for about two months, so you haven’t missed much yet. In a few minutes you’ll be escorted to the hanger deck where you will be shuttled down to the surface. Then your new life will begin.”

The woman paused and her demeanour went decidedly somber. “Unfortunately, our journey took a lot longer than anticipated. Five hundred years have ellapsed since we left Earth. I’m sure this will be quite a shock to many of you, but be assured that nothing has changed. We are survivors and we’re here to make a new home for humankind.”

While surprising, this news didn’t really shock Kerri as much as she might have expected. Fifty years or five hundred made little difference. Earth, and everyone she knew, was so far away that the extra time meant nothing.

The Commander’s face perked up again. “You will be given a proper orientation when you arrive on the planet, so you don’t need to fear that we’re just leaving you to your own devices. I hope you enjoy starting a new life here. You are the future of humanity.”

The Commander sounded genuinely excited about their predicament. That was good – perhaps in time Kerri would also be able to view this all as a grand adventure. She placed her hand on her stomach and stroked it affectionately. “You hear that little one. We’re the future of humanity. There’s a nice town down there waiting just for you.”

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Episode 3 Coming Soon

I must apologise that Episode 3 has not yet started. I had said that it would begin in January, but that didn’t happen. I won’t bore you with stories about how busy my life has been, I’ll just say that regular posting will resume with episode 3 starting soon.

They left their home to build a new home for mankind.

They thought they were alone.

They were wrong.

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Christmas Special 2011 – Part 2

I looked on with shock. All of a sudden, I had been forgotten. The guards both had their guns outstretch. Their target was Rocko.

“Release the chaplain Rocko,” one of the guards made a half step forward.

“Not a chance in Hell. Now drop your weapons or I’ll slit the chaplain’s throat.”

Several of the other prisoners were moving toward the back of the room where the guards and I were standing, just in front of the door.

“Have you got a shot?” The guard furthest from me asked his companion.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Then take it.”

Without thinking I lunged forward and tackled the closest guard from behind. Another prisoner grabbed him from the front. I yanked the gun from his hands. It was instinct and I immediately regretted it. I was already skating on thin ice after decking the chaplain moments ago. This wasn’t going to do me any good.

“Well done Boyd. You keep them him covered.” Rocko turned his attention to the other guard who was still armed. “Now you call your people. You get someone in here who can negotiate with me.”

“What do you want Rocko?”

“I want justice.”

“Yeah sure ’cause you’re innocent right? Everyone in here is innocent and wants to be set free. It ‘aint happening. You belong in here and you’re not convincing anyone otherwise.”

“I’m not after justice for me. I beat Sergeant Matheson half to death. I don’t deny it. He got what he had coming. This is about my little brother.” He began to raise his voice. “Now call a negotiator!”

I looked down at the gun in my hands. I had to separate myself from all of this. “Sorry, Rocko, but I can’t do this.”

“What are you talking about Boyd?” the mad man screamed.

“You do what you gotta do Lad, but I have to stay out of this one.” I removed the clip from the gun and threw it across the room. Then, ensuring that there was no bullet in the chamber, I thrust the empty gun back into the hands of its owner.”

Several prisoners started toward me, their faces contorted in angry scowls.

“Listen” I said with raised voice. “This is between Rocko and the Staff. It’s best we all stay out of it. It’ll go easier for all of us.”

“Leave him be,” Rocko called out. “This is not about him. Boyd is nothin’.” He turned his attention back toward the guards. “Now drop your weapons, get the radio and call someone.”

“That’s not necessary Rocko,” the guard replied. “This room is under surveillance. Someone will already be on their way.”

“Then let’s just sit tight until he gets here.”

* * *


Just as the guard had promised, we only had to wait a minute or two before we heard a loud knock on the door.

“I’m here to negotiate,” muffled voice said from the other side. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” Rocko screamed. “You get in here.”

The door opened slowly and a tall man in civilian getup strode cautiously in.

“How are you doing Rocko?”

“I’ll be just fine once my demands are met.”

The man began to move in Rocko’s direction.

“I’m Dave. They sent me in to talk.”

“Good. Here it is then. I want you to go to the secure archives of the ESS Gagarin. Find the bridge recorder from June Fifteenth 2112.”

“That’s an unusual request for a prisoner whose holding a knife to a man’s throat. What are you hoping to get from this Rocko?”

“You’ll find evidence that my little brother was wrongfully convicted of killing two hundred civilians.”

“I can understand that. If my brother had been punished for something he didn’t do I’d be pretty upset too, but I can tell you right now that nothing is going to happen while you’re threatening a man’s life. You let the chaplain go and we’ll talk about it.”

“Not on your life Simon. I let him go and you dump me straight into solitary and throw away the key. I’ll never get any justice for my brother. No the chaplain stays with me until I get some satisfaction.”

Simon took a long slow breath. “Well if that’s your final word. I’ll take your request to my superiors but I don’t think they’ll go for it. Trust me, your best option is to give up the hostage.”

“I said no,” Rocko screamed, the twitching of his right arm causing a trickle of Mike’s blood to form around the edge of his knife. “Go and deliver my message.”

Simon nodded, turned on his heal and headed out the door.”

“He’s right you know,” the guard who was still armed said. “They’ll never give you what you want while you have Mike. This room is equipped with Gas. They can pump this whole place full of an aneasthetic that acts so quick you’ll be unconscious before you can even smell it. We’ll all go out together. By the time we wake up this’ll all be over.”

“You think I’m stupid don’t you,” Rocko said. “You think I don’t know that. Hell if I can get a knife smuggled in here in a Christmas gift you don’t think I can take care of the gas pumps?”

“We’ll just see then won’t we.”

The guard relaxed his stance. He must have known that he could not get a decent shot of Rocko without risking Mike’s life, and the minute he tried to move into another position he’ d get mobbed by the other inmates. He lowered his gun but kept it firmly in his hand.

The waiting game had begun.

* * *


I began to pace the rec room nervously. Less than an hour ago I had been an angry man full of aggression. Now, all I wanted was to be back in my cell minding my own business. I had allowed myself to believe that because I’d made one bad mistake, I was now one of the bad guys, and my path was firmly set. Witnessing Rocko’s behaviour tonight had shaken me up. I wasn’t like him. I didn’t want to become like him. There was still good in me and I would force it back to the surface. At that moment I determined to change my attitude. I would be rehabilitated. Somehow, I’d find a way to redeem myself. I would have to survive tonight first though. This was turning out to be one lousy Christmas Eve.

We didn’t have to wait long before the staff tried to gas the room as the guard had warned. I heard the tell-tale click click click that indicated a change in the environmental systems. I instinctively held me breath – though I knew it wouldn’t help. Sooner or later I’d have to take in some air and the moment I did the gas would claim me. Might as well get it over and done with, I thought. I took in a deep breath. Nothing happened. I realised that nobody else had fallen unconscious either. Something was wrong.

I looked over a Rocko. He was smiling. “So much for your gas buddy.”

“What did you do?” another inmate named Jackson asked.

“I have a friend on the outside who works maintenance on this facility sometimes. He sabotaged the ventilation system. The pipes are sealed. They’re not getting any gas in here. Maybe now they’ll start taking me seriously.

“Don’t count on it,” one of the guards said.

* * *


The mood in the rec room remained tense after the failed attempt to gas us unconscious. I couldn’t help but wonder what the next move would be. Surely the staff were out there thinking through a way to end this. They would never make deals with Rocko, not while he had a hostage.

I paced the room, back and forth. Eventually I made my way toward Rocko. He still held the knife firmly at Mike’s throat. I was impressed that his arm hadn’t tired yet. Mike’s face was covered in perspiration. If I wasn’t mistaken, there was also the evidence of a few years under his eyes. Mike wasn’t a military officer, he was just a prison chaplain. He probably hadn’t been trained to deal with this kind of situation.

“Sorry for hitting you before,” I said weakly to the chaplain. “It was a mistake.”

“Don’t mention it,” Mike rasped. There was almost a little forced humour in his voice.

I turned my focus up to Rocko’s face. “And I’m sorry about the whole gun thing before. I just didn’t want to be involved. You understand right Rocko?”

The big man nodded. “No hard feelings. It doesn’t make any difference.”

“You do realise that they won’t hesitate to kill you if given the chance right.”

“I don’t care. It aint’ about me anymore Boyd. I’m doing this for my kid brother. That’s it.”

“So what’s the deal with your brother anyway?”

“Hayden was a junior gunnery officer on the Gregarin. Real promising career ahead of him too. They were out doing war exercises out past Jupitor. It was serious stuff with live ammunition. Some civilian ships strayed into the clash zone. Their own stupid fault but they were there. Sergeant Metheson was XO of the ship. He was running the exercise and he gave my brother to coordinates to fire. Hayden entered them correctly, but they were wrong. When he fired the torpedo, it destroyed the civilian ship, killing three hundred people.”

I didn’t know what to say. It was unthinkable.

“Matheson had been drinking the night before. I was working security on the same ship. I’d seen him hit the booze when he thought no one was watching. Anyway, Matheson gave Hayden the wrong numbers. The disaster was his fault, not Hayden’s. He framed my little brother; falsified reports, made the odd threat. He even modified the bridge logs to make it look like he’d given the correct coordinates.

The computer Tech. on the ship, Lieutenant Fiona Donaldson figured it out. She tried to explain it in Hayden’s trial, but Matheson got to her too. He made up this whole story of how she’d made a pass at him. He’d turned her down so she was out to get him – a jilted lover wanting revenge. She was a good woman and he destroyed her reputation.”

“So that’s when you beat the hell out of him.”

“Yeah. Maybe I should have kept my cool and tried to get justice for Hayden – but I was so angry. He got what he deserved.”

“Really? Did he deserve to die? Would Hayden have been proud of that?”

Rocko shrugged. “I dunno.”

“And what about this? What would Hayden think about his big brother taking an innocent preacher hostage. I can’t imagine this is what he wants.”

“He deserves to be set free.”

“And how is this going to accomplish that Rocko?”

“Every ship has backup files that can’t be sabotaged. Matheson pulled such a number on everybody that they never thought it necessary to check them, but I know if they look they’ll find the evidence that will prove my brother’s innocence.”

I shrugged. “Well I just hope you don’t get us all killed trying to get it found.”

* * *


My conversation with Rocko had left me feeling cold. I understood the feelings that were motivating what he was doing – but it was wrong. It wouldn’t help. This siege had to end. The staff wouldn’t put up with it much longer. It felt like we’d been awake all night. I looked up up at the clock on the wall. It was after midnight – so it was Christmas day. Certainly this would be one that I’d never forget.

I’d been thinking about the environmental systems. I’d been an engineer’s mate on a starship for a good portion of my career. The environmental systems in this prison were not so dissimilar to those on a battleship. The simplest most obvious way that Rocko’s friends may have sabotaged the system would have been to close the manual valves on the pipes into this room. I surmised that if I shut down the primary air intake, the computer would try to automatically release all other pipes, re-routing to compensate. It was a safety feature. The computer had the ability to release even those valves that had been closed manually under those conditions. It might take the staff hours to find the offending valve, but the computer would do it straight away.

Once the pipes were open, they’d be able to pump their sleeping gas into the rec room and end the situation.

I began pacing the room again. I didn’t want to draw attention to what I was attempting. I slowly circled toward the environmental control embedded in the wall. I stood in front of the pipe with my back to the wall. Discreetly, I reached back and began to turn the dial that would close the pipe and trigger the emergency response. It was a long-shot and not really very logically thought out – after all if it were this simple the staff would surely have figured out a way to do it themselves by now – but it was the best I could come up with. The dial was turned. It was done.

I continued pacing the room – waiting.

About thirty seconds later, I heard the clack-clack-clack again. I could hear the rush of air coming from the vents in the ceiling. This was it. I took a small breath and fell to the floor.

* * *


When I awoke I was back in my cell. The guards must have spent all night dragging unconscious inmates from the rec room to their beds. I was worried that the other prisoners would blame me for what happened. It was possible that someone had noticed me near the environmental systems. Nobody said anything, but I was sure some of them suspected. It didn’t matter.

Nobody saw Rocko for a week after the incident. He’d been sent into solitary confinement.”

I spent my days after that in contemplation. I’d been impacted in a strong way by the experience, but I wasn’t quite sure how. I knew I needed to respond in some way, but I couldn’t figure out how.

About two weeks after Christmas Eve I had another visitor. He was brought to my cell. I was surprised to see that it was Mike – the chaplain.

“How are you feeling?” I asked. It seemed a stupid way to start the conversation but I didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m fine. Rocko didn’t do me any permanent harm.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“I wanted to come and thank you for talking to him. I think you almost got through to him you know. You’re a natural. Perhaps when you get out of here you should think about becoming a counsellor. You’re good at talking to people.”

I laughed. “Not exactly my scene Lad.”

Mike smiled back at me. “Oh,” he said. “I almost forgot. After the incident was over I did some checking. We managed to get the backup files that Rocko was talking about. He was right – they proved his brother’s innocence. Hayden was released two days ago.”

“That’s brilliant,” I said. “But I’m a little surprised. You didn’t have to do that. You didn’t owe Rocko any favours. Why, after all he did to you, did you go out of your way to help him?”

Mike shrugged. “I guess it was the spirit of Christmas.”

“I don’t understand.”

Mike looked at me with seriousness in his eyes. “I’ll explain it to you, if you promise not to hit me this time.”

I laughed – a little guiltily. “You have my word chaplain.”

“Well, it’s like this. I see all people as valuable. I believe that God loves all of us, including the ones in jail. He sent his own son to suffer and die on earth for us as a Christmas gift. If God considered Rocko worth dying for, then how could I value him any less?”

I nodded thoughtfully.

“Anyway, I’ve got places to go. I just wanted to say Hi. See you around Cameron.”

The chaplain walked away from my cell. I had more to think about than ever.

* * *


The room was silent as Boyd finished speaking. It seemed that everybody had been quite taken with his tale.

“Anyway,” he said. “I should be doing more working and less talking. I didn’t mean to go off on such a tangent.”

“No, don’t apologise,” Laura said. “It was quite a story.”

“So, that was when you decided to become a military chaplain?” Neal asked.

“Oh no Lad. That was just the first step of a very long journey to faith for me. I did make a personal commitment to God while I was still on the inside though. After I was released I made the decision that I wanted to earn my commission back and serve as a chaplain. There were a lot of officers out there who just needed somebody to understand what they were going through. People like Rocko. People like me. I wanted to be the support to others that I’d never had.”

Boyd took a sip of water. He’d been talking far too much tonight. He surveyed the pile of decorations they had made. The work had gone very well. “I think we should be proud of ourselves. Look at all of this.”

Neal stood. “I think I need a break. I’m going to get some fresh air.”

“Good idea,” Cameron said. “I’ll join you.”

Together they left the room, descended the wooden stairs and wandered out into the night. The sky was clear and the stars were bright.

“You know it’s after midnight now don’t you Cameron.” Neal said, looking at his watch.

“Yes, I suppose it must be. Merry Christmas Neal.”

The man smiled. “Merry Christmas Cameron.”

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Christmas Special 2011 – Part 1

Cameron Boyd liked to go to the outskirts of Moreau Town to eat his lunch each day. He’d arrived on the surface to begin his new life as a civilian a few days ago, and had been assigned a work detail straight away. He was helping the agricultural team with the planting and managing of food crops. It was simple but gratifying work. Already he had started some meaningful relationships with new people.

As much as he liked to socialise as he worked, his lunch time was an oportunity to be alone, to contemplate and pray. There was a nice fallen tree that he like to sit on while he ate.

Today, as he approached his usual place he noticed that it was already occupied. Two people were siting on his log. As got closer he realised that it was Neal and Laura – the newlyweds. They were sitting very close, staring into each others eyes. It seemed that every sentence spoken between them was punctuated by a quick kiss on the lips. Boyd felt heart-warmed that people were finding such happiness here on their new homeworld, but he also felt slight pangs of regret. Cameron had never been lucky in love. He considered turning and going back so as not to intrude on their privacy, but his foot caught a dry twig and made a loud snapping noise. The couple look up and saw him.

“Well, I see you two lovebirds have re-appeared already. Shouldn’t you be somewhere else enjoying yourselves?”

“Oh, we’ve just got back from honeymoon. There’s a lot to do around here and we’re eager to get back into it.”

“Argh, people today just don’t know how to enjoy themselves.”

“Oh,” Neal said. “We’ve been enjoying ourselves. There’s no question about that.” The couple smiled at each other and kissed again.

“Ah, I should give you some space. I didn’t realise you were here.”

“No, it’s okay,” Laura said. “Come join us. I’m eager to hear what’s been going on here in town while we’ve been away.”

“Well Lass, life continues on much the same.”

“I heard that you’d resigned as Chaplain of the Endeavour.” Neal moved slightly so that there was room for Boyd to sit comfortable at the other end of the log.

“Yes, that’s true. I’m just an ordinary man now.”

“Well, I’m a little surprised Chaplain, I mean, uh Mister Boyd.”

Boyd grimaced. “Please, just Cameron.”

“Cameron.” Laura smiled. “Anyway, I hope it works out for you.”

“I’m sure it will Lass.”

“You know I realised something this morning,” Neal said suddenly. “If you look at the Earth calendar, then technically it’s Christmas eve today.”

“Seriously?” Laura asked.

Neal nodded.

Boyd shook his head in wonder. “How far we’ve come that a day like Christmas can arrive without us even noticing.” He took his seat next to the others and began to unwrap his sandwich. “It certainly doesn’t feel like Christmas. It’s been quite warm lately. I’m sure this is Moreau Town’s summer. We won’t be getting a white Christmas I don’t think.”

Laura shrugged. “I grew up in Australia. Christmas wa always in Summer so it feels quite natural to me. Besides, Christmas was about family for us, it was never about the weather.”

“It sounds like you had better childhood Christmas experiences than I did lass.”

“We should do something,” Neal said.

“Something? Such as?” Boyd took a bite and savoured the fresh bread.

“I dunno, but we need to mark the occasion.”

“Perhaps we could put on a special Christmas dinner for the colony, give everyone a small gift. I think it would do the people a lot of good – give them something familiar to enjoy here on this alien world.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Laura said. “Having been a chaplain and all, I vote that you take charge Cameron.”

Boyd smiled. “I’d be glad to lass if you both agree, but I can’t do it on my own. I volunteer both of you to help me.”

“I’m keen,” Neal said. “I discovered a new type of fruit while we were out on our honeymoon. There’s a grove of trees not too far away. I could take a group of people to collect some. They’re delicious and they’d make a decent gift.”

“I’ll help Cameron get things ready here,” Laura said putting her arm around Neal. “That is if my husband can bear to be apart from me for a few hours.”

“I think I’ll be able to cope,” he said, before launching into a passionate kiss with her.

“Well,” Boyd said standing. “I think I’ll ah, go see if I can enlist Aria Bekhit. If anyone is good at organising people it’s her.”

“Mmmhmm,” one of lovers said in a muffled voice through the kiss. Boyd couldn’t even tell which one of them it was. He wandered off back toward town, feeling a little embarrased but quite bemused.

* * *


Boyd and Laura found Aria Bekhit inspecting the half-constructed facility that would soon serve as a science building. Laura and Neal would both have labs in there when it was done.

“What can I do for the two of you?”

“Well Lass, do you by any chance know what day it is today?”

Aria shrugged. “I can’t say that I do.”

“It’s Christmas Eve – the twenty-fourth of December.”

“Oh,” Aira said. “I haven’t had much experience with Christmas.”

“Yes, I support it wouldn’t have been such a big deal in Egypt,” Laura said.

“Not especially. I grew up in a muslim family, not that we were particularly devout. My cousin converted and invited me to a Christmas service at the Coptic church once. It was interesting.”

“Well we were thinking of doing something for the colony, putting on a little celebration as it were,” Boyd said with enthusiasm.

“That isn’t such a bad idea actually. A lot of people are missing Earth. They’re feeling very out of their depth here on Xinju, as if they’ve left behind everything that is familiar. An old familiar holiday could really lift their spirits.”

“Then you’ll help us?”

“What do you need?”

“Well we’d like to put on a special meal. We’ll need to use a few extra supplies than normal.”

“I’ll talk to the  catering team,” Aria promised. “What else?”

“Well there are decorations to make and gifts to prepare.”

“I’ll volunteer to put in a little time with you if you can wait until tonight.”

“Absolutely Lass. I have to return to my agricultural duties soon anyway. Can we perhaps use a room in the dormitory building?”

“Certainly. I’ll have a room ready if you meet me there tonight.”

“It’s a date!” Boyd beamed. Then added, “In a platonic sense of course.”

Bekhit laughed. “Go back to work you crazy man. I’ll see you tonight.”

* * *


It was starting to get dark by the time that Boyd met Bekhit, Laura and Neal at the dormitory building. He’d gathered a few people who had attended his recent church service to help out as well. Bekhit, true to form, had already taken charge of things. She was organising people to make decorations, prepare gifts and making novelty biscuits for dessert during tomorrow’s Christmas dinner. Boyd was surprised at the amount of materials they had found to work with. Ingenuity had ruled the day it seemed.

Laura had managed to secure a large quantity of burned out plasma modules from the engines in Endeavour‘s shuttles. With a little work they would look like like red and green balls which could be hung on trees. Boyd sat down and started to tie string to the modules.

“We could be working on this lot all night,” he said. “You know It’s funny, this reminds me a little of my first Christmas.”

“You remember your first Christmas?” Neal asked. “I find that a little hard to believe.”

Boyd chuckled. “No, not my first as a child, I mean the first year that Christmas meant something to me. I spent the night in a room about this size with a small group of people. Then just as now we stayed awake most of the night. Of course we weren’t making decorations. It was a life and death situation, and I didn’t think any of us were going to get out of it alive.”

“Sound positively festive,” Aria joked.

“It was in the Barrow Military Correctional Facility.”

“You were serving as a prison chaplain?” Laura asked as she mixed icing sugar with red food dye for the biscuits.

“Oh no Lass. I was an inmate.”

This admission seemed to bring the room to an awkward silence.

“Ah, what we you in there for?” Neal asked.

“That, my lad, is a different story for another time. Let’s just say that I was in there.” Boyd sighed. “I was angry with the world.  I cared nothing for anything or anyone – least of all myself. You see, I felt I’d suffered a great injustice, but at the same time I Was carrying a lot of guilt. It was a particularly dark time in my life.”

“I find it hard to imagine you in a situation like that Chaplain,” Aria stood to fetch a basket of fruit from the other side of the room.

“Well, let me paint the picture for you,” Boyd said, and he began to tell his story.

* * *


Barrow Military Correctional Facility was in Northern Alaska. It was dark outside all day every day, and the cold was baltic. I’d spent most of the last few years living in space. I’d become accustomed to the perfectly regulated climate on board military space craft. I wasn’t used to this kind of weather. I found myself doing a lot of exercise, just to keep warm. It wasn’t as if the guards tried to make our life miserable, there was heating in the prison, and good food to warm our bellies, but with the frame of mind I found myself in, it could have been a medieval dungeon.

When I had first arrived in my cell several weeks ago, I’d found only two possessions: a mouth sanitiser and a Gideon Bible. I’d spend my evenings ripping pages out of the bible one at a time. The last thing I wanted was the mocking words penned by self-righteous authors from ancient times, telling me how bad I was. I was rotting in prison – I didn’t need reminding of that.

I hadn’t heard the guard’s footsteps approach this particularly afternoon. I’d given up paying attention to the ‘staff’ as we called them. I was dragged with a start from my self-pity by the clanging sound of my heavy metallic door being dragged open. I looked up into the face of a guard – Simon was his name.

“You got a visitor Boyd.”

I regarded his expressionless face with curiosity. “Who is it?”

“You’ll find out when you get there.”

I was in no mood for entertaining guests, but the curiosity got the best of me. I literally could not think of a single person who would care enough about me at this point to come visit me. I had no living family, and no real friends to speak of anymore.

I stood, shrugged my shoulders and said “Lead the way Giles.”

Simon visible stiffened at my words. This was the way we mocked the guards. We called them all Giles – that’s how we got through the day – by pretending they were our butlers. Some times a prisoner would get a mouthful of fist for such a wise crack, but Simon always ignored the barb. The challenge was almost like a sport amongst us – see who could be the first to make Simon snap.

I stepped over the threshold from my cell into the corridor. It was the mystic barrier that I was only ever allowed to cross when given permission. Crossing that line was always a strong reminder to me that I had lost my freedom.

“By the way,” Simon said. “I’ve arranged for a prison chaplain to come spend some time with you all this evening in the rec room. You’ll get a Christmas gift and a dessert. All residents who behave themselves are invited. I assume you’ll be there?”

“Christmas huh?” It hadn’t even occurred to me that it was Christmas eve.

“That’s right. Now move along Boyd. Your visitor is waiting.

* * *


There was only one cubicle free when I reached the visitor room. Evidently, Christmas Eve had brought plenty of well-wishing family members. I clenched my fists at the thought of it. Why would people pretend to care about each other this one day of the year? What was the point?

Simon directed me to the only empty seat. I pulled it out and thumped into it. Only then did I bother to look up into the face of my visitor.

“Anderson Bell!” I spat – literally. As soon as I’d done it I realised what an adolescent gesture it had been, but it as too late to take it back.

“Nice to see you too Cameron.”

“What are you doing here?”

* * *


“Hold on a second,” Neal blurted out, interrupting Boyd’s story. “Aren’t you and Captain Bell good friends?”

“We are now, and we were before. Think of this as a temporary setback in our relationship.” Boyd rubbed his eyes and blinked several times, then glanced at the clock on the wall. “Now if you’ll let me continue my story?”

“Sorry.” Neal gave a sheepish grin. Laura squeezed his shoulder and kissed his ear.

“Now where was I? Oh yes, I’d asked Bell what he was doing there.”

* * *


“I came to see how you’re doing,” Bell said, staring me directly in the eye. His mouth was straight, his jaw set, but his eyes betrayed his emotions. He felt sorry for me. The goon actually felt sorry for me. I thought I could also see a little guilt hiding behind his eyes – but that might have just been wishful thinking on my part.

“I live with terrorists Anderson. I sit down to eat breakfast next to murderers. How do you think I’m doing?”

Bell’s gaze dropped to the bench in front of him. There it was – the guilt I’d been hoping for – well he deserved to feel it.

“It’s Hell in here. I just want you to remember that when you get tucked up in yer bed tonight.”

Bell said nothing.

“You should be in here with me. You know that right.”

Bell sighed deeply. “Yeah.”

I crossed my arms tightly over my chest like a declaration of victory. What more was there to say?”

“The fact of the matter is Cameron, the jury made their decision – in both our cases. You just,” Bell searched the air for words. “You went too far.”

I slammed my fist on the bench, hard enough to cause several other inmates nearby to look up at me briefly. “I did it for her. I was all for her.”

Bell shook his head. “She didn’t see it that way. You scared the hell out of her.”

“I know, and you know the worst part? It was all for nothing. It was always you that she wanted – not me.”

“Look I didn’t come here to talk about Sonya,” Bell straightened up, suddenly all business. “I just wanted to come see you, and make sure you were okay.”

“I’m not okay Anderson. I don’t think I ever will be. I’m not going to help you salve your conscience. If you want forgiveness you’ll have to look elsewhere. Try talking to someone who cares.”

I stood, and pushed the chair so hard that it skidded a few metres across the floor.

“I’m still your friend Cameron,” Bell raised his voice.

I turned my back on him, hesitated for just a second, and then looked back over my shoulder. “No you’re not Anderson. No you’re not.”



* * *


I spent the rest of the afternoon fuming in silent rage. How dare he show his face to me. I was enraged at the injustice of it. His visit had been nothing to do with my feelings – it had all been about him. He was trying to feel better about himself. Why had he chosen Christmas eve to make his little appearance? I’d been in this prison for weeks. Did he really expect I’d be more open to forgiving him on this festive day of the year? Peace on Earth and all that crap.

Dinner time couldn’t have come sooner. A hot meal would take my mind off the turbulent storm of emotions raging in my heart. The meal that night was traditional Christmas fare – Turkey with roast vegetables. It seemed to cheer many of the other inmates, but the dark cloud over me would not shift.

I was sitting next to Rocko – a large man who was doing time for beating his superior officer half-senseless. The officer had died several days later from health problems that had been complicated by his injuries. Rocko was unusually jovial tonight. That wasn’t like him.

I said nothing during dinner. I think everybody around me could tell that I was in a bad mood. They conveniently ignored me and I quietly appreciated it. What I would have given for a little glass of whisky that night. I’d never been a big drinker, but a single grain scotch had been something I’d often treated myself to on special occasions.

After the meal was over, people stood from their seats and started milling about the mess. Around that time Simon appeared. He whistled for silence and was granted it quickly.

“If any of you would like to follow me into the rec room the chaplain is waiting for you.”

To my surprise, Rocko was the first to start moving.

The last thing I wanted to do was indulge the chaplain in his Christmas cheer. Despite this, heading back to the solitude of my cell didn’t seem appealing either. I’d only go and stew on things again,

“Come on Boyd. You’ll regret it if you don’t go.” I looked up to see Simon standing over me.

“I’m not in the mood.”

“There’s a free gift for everyone, and some Christmas pudding.”

I shook my head.

“Fine, be that way.”

Simon moved on, looking for someone else to harass.

I sat there staring at my empty plate.

I needed to drag myself out of this bad mood if I was going to have any chance at sleeping tonight.

I was feeling curious about the gift. Since I’d ripped up the last page of my Gideon Bible I had only one possession left. Perhaps it would be something good.

I left out a long deep sigh. Perhaps it would be fun to mock the chaplain. I was sure I wouldn’t be the only one doing it.

Against my better judgement, I stood and made my way toward the rec room.

* * *


The Chaplain was a man in his thirties. He had an immaculately trimmed beard, but was dressed very casually. “How you doin? he asked as I entered the room. Come take a seat. I complied. “I’m Mike.”

“Cameron,” I mumbled.

“Well,” Mike said, addressing all of us in the room. “This is gonna be pretty informal. I’ve got a gift here for you all, just to make you feel a little Christmas cheer. They’re gonna bring some desert in for us later but I’m basically just here to chat.”

Mike started handing out gifts. It looked almost amusing, seeing these tough men accepting small parcels wrapped in coloured paper. They were all quite eager to get their hands on something. Again, Rocko was at the front of the queue.

Mike handed him a red parcel. “Hey Man, mind if I have the silver one instead.”

“They’re all the same.”

Several inmates behind Rocko chuckled. He turned around and gave them a stare that silenced the laughter. “Hey I like silver okay?”

“Sure thing Pal,” Mike exchanged the red gift for the silver one. Rocko went and took a seat and the queue moved on. I slowly took my place and waited for my turn. Mike handed me my gift and offered me a huge smile. I didn’t return it.

I sat back at my place and slowly opened the gift. It contained a safety shaver. It used a low powered energy beam to cut the unwanted facial hair – but it couldn’t be used to injure anybody. There was also a data pad which had been pre-loaded with several books and a film. All in all it was a pretty decent gift and more generous than I had expected.

I had barely finished throwing away the wrapping paper when Mike plonked himself down on the chair next to me.

“So how you doing?”

“What’s it to you?”

Mike shrugged. “I’m here to talk. Simon tells me you’ve had a particularly rough day.”

“Look brother, I really don’t feel like telling you my problems right now. I’m sure you get paid whether we open up to you or not, so let’s just pretend that we got all touchy-feely together and you put some joy back into my heart okay.”

Mike laughed. “Ah, they don’t pay me for this Pal. That’d be the day.”

“So what are you doing here then?” I scoffed. “Why all this?” I held up my gift.

“I do this because I believe it’s important. I do it to show people like yourself that you matter – that you’re important and valued. Christmas spirit and all that.”

“I hate to break to you brother, but perhaps you haven’t heard. We’re the bad guys.”

Mike smiled. “Well we’re all bad in our own ways aren’t we?”

“I just don’t get it. Why do people make such a big deal out of Christmas – like it’s some significant thing. How can the world be made a better place by everybody spending money they don’t have on stuff for people they don’t even like?”

“That’s your experience of Christmas?”

“Pretty much.”

“Well I’m real sorry to hear that Cameron.”

I was taken aback. “So Simon told you my name as well huh.”

“Don’t be offended. He was quite worried about you today y’know.”

“I don’t believe that for one second.”

I turned to face the chaplain eye to eye.

“So you really think people like me matter huh. That we’re to be valued.”

“Yes I do. See that’s what Christmas is about. I believe that God valued me, all of us so much that…” Mike didn’t finish his sentence. My hands balled into fists of granite. Before I even knew what I was doing my arm powered around thrusting my knuckles right into Mike’s face. He almost fell off his chair as I bounded off mine.

“Don’t talk to me about God.” I pointed my finger at him. My voice was like gravel.

Before I knew it, there were two guards behind me. I was dragged backwards, their firm grip under my shoulders, toward the door.

Now I’d done it. I already felt bad about what I’d done to Mike, but my course was now set.

I didn’t bother struggling against the guards. They were too strong for me.

“Nobody move!” Rocko’s voice echoed through the small room.

Suddenly, the guard’s grip on me went limp and I almost collapsed to the floor.

I looked up to see that Rocko had taken advantage of the distraction I had caused. He was standing behind Mike, holding something under the man’s chin. As I looked closer, I saw that it was a knife, and it was  embedded hard against the chaplain’s throat.

“Just relax everybody,” Rocko said. “It’s gonna be a long long night.”

 To Be Continued…

Boxing Day – 26/12/2011


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Episode 2 – Chapter 20

Cameron Boyd had already packed up his office, but he’d left his quarters till last. He’d lived in quarters like these for most of his professional life. It felt strange to be leaving them for the last time. His uniform was hanging from the knob of the wardrobe. He would never again wear that garment which he had always put on with such pride.

Was he really doing the right thing? He had second guessed himself a dozen times since telling Bell of his decision. But each time he came to the same realisation – this was what he wanted to do. Still, he would miss military life, and he would miss the crew of this ship.

Taking one last look at his uniform, Boyd turned and walked out to door. There was a shuttle waiting for him.

* * *


It was a perfect day for a wedding on the beach. There was not a breath of wind and the sun felt warm but not too hot. It was about time that they all had a little bit of good luck. Neal Spearwood was dressed nicely, but not too formally. He hadn’t brought a suit with him from Earth, but he had a nice shirt and a reasonable pair of trousers.

They had set up a small maquis on the sand where they would exchange their vows. A few chairs had been set up for onlookers, but many were just standing. Neal was struck with the number of people who had come to witness the occasion. So many of them were unknown to him. It seemed that everybody wanted to celebrate Xinju’s first wedding. It didn’t feel like an intrusion to Neal. He was flattered that so many would take an interest.

Neal didn’t have many friends. He’d never been an overly social person, and several of the friends he did have had been left behind on Earth. He had asked Professor Toledo to be his best man. It seemed fitting. The short bald man was standing proudly by his side, wearing a full dinner suit. Why he’d chosen to bring such a garment to Xinju was beyond Neal – but the professor was a unique man.

“You almost look as nervous as the groom,” Toledo said to Captain Bell.

“Well, it may sound surprising but this is actually the first time I’ve conducted a wedding.”

“In all the years you’ve been a ship’s Captain? I’m surprised. I suppose that romance is dying.”

“Not today Professor.” Bell motioned toward Neal, who just smiled.

“I still can’t quite believe I’m doing this. It all seems too surreal. I guess it’ll feel more real later.”

“Don’t count on it Neal,” Toledo said. “I remember the day I married my late wife. If anything, the fairytale aspect of such a day only increases with time. Now after the honeymoon, that’s when the reality of marriage will settle in.”

“Well, getting married on an alien beach is about as exotic as it comes.”

Neal looked out to see if there was any sign of Laura yet. He couldn’t see anything.

“You know I think it was I that introduced the happy couple to each other,” Toledo said happily.

“Really?” Bell said.

“You know I’d forgotten that,” Neal turned his attention back to the other men. “I was a recent graduate. The professor here knew I was looking for work and thought I would make a good addition a research team being put together by a Doctoral student. That was Laura. It was the first time we ever worked together.”

“So were there any romantic flames back then?” Bell asked.

“You know I think even that far back I did have a little crush on her.”

“But nothing from her side until recently my young friend?”

“No Professor.”

Suddenly the silence was pierced by the sound of music. An officer from the Endeavour was playing the Wedding March on a violin.

Neal spun around to catch a glimpse of the wedding party moving toward them. He could see Aria Bekhit – Laura’s bride’s maid – emerging from the bushes near the mouth of the Tigris. It sounded a little silly to refer to such a commanding accomplished woman as a bride’s maid. Bekhit had run a company of some kind back on Earth, and she was becoming rather influential amongst the civilian population of Xinju.

Neal was straining to see behind Bekhit, hoping for a glimpse of Laura. The party neared the group of onlookers and began to separate so they could walk up the aisle. Neal was stunned to see that Laura was wearing a real formal wedding dress. Where had she found such a thing? Somebody must have brought one to Xinju. Neal had seen Laura covered in the mud and dust of a field trip on many occasion. He had also seen her displayed in full beauty when she was home from the field, but never before had he seen her in this light. Today, she was more stunning than she had ever been. In the past, Neal would have looked away from her beauty, embarrassed to be seen staring, but not today. Today, he took in her appearance for all it was worth.

She wore a huge grin on her face that seemed to say “Surprise!”

The music ended as Laura arrived at the maquis by his side. Captain Bell began to speak, but Neal heard very little of it. His mind was consumed with his bride.

At the appropriate time, Neal and Laura shared their vows. They had chosen personalised but still relatively traditional words.

Then came time for the ring. Chief Henderson had done a brilliant job of polishing it up for him. Someone had even attached a small stone to it. It was something a little like quartz.

Neal slide it on to Laura’s finger. It wasn’t a perfect fit but he got it on without too much difficulty.

Then Bell said the words Neal had been waiting for.

“You may now kiss your bride.”

And there – on a beach on this new planet, two long-time friends, now husband and wife, shared their first real kiss.


And further out to sea, curious eyes looked on – wondering who these alien beings were, who had invaded the shores of her world.


Author’s Note

I am going to take a short break over December, but The Colonists Episode 3 will begin in January 2012.

Also, don’t miss The Colonists Christmas Special – Begins Christmas Eve and concludes on Boxing Day.

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Episode 2 – Chapter 19

It had been a busy afternoon for Anderson Bell. in addition to his regular duties on board the ship, he had checked in with Chief Henderson to see how things were progressing with the hyperlight engine project. The chief had little to report so far, which was understandable because he’d spent a lot of time assisting with the Laura Banks situation. The new engine could end up being the most important project for the survival of their colony. He hated having to keep all the details from his crew, but it was better to avoid panic at this point. He was more concerned about the civilians than his crew, but the less people who knew it all, the less the likelihood that word would get out.

Now he had another additional duty to perform. He was hesitant because it would be a bitter-sweet moment, but he knew it was right. He picked up the phone receiver on his desk an dialed the bridge. The ensign assigned to communications answered. “This is the Captain. Would you send Commander Lin into my office please.”

A few minutes later there was a knock on the steel door.


Lin entered and stood at attention in front of his desk.

“At ease Commander. Take a seat.”

Lin obeyed.

“You want to know Captain, that Colonel Millwood has returned to the ship. He found no evidence from orbit of the other planets in this system of the Phoenix.”

“It was a long shot anyway. Xinju is the only habitable planet in the system.”

“So what did you want to talk to me about Captain?”

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while Commander. We’ve all been busy. There are so many distractions here to take our focus from where it should be. I’ve recently had to remind Lieutenant Boyd that his duties are here on ship rather than on the planet. It occurred to me that I needed to be told about my priorities as well.

“You see Commander, I’m not just the Captain of this ship anymore. I’m the Governor of a colony of people. It’s time that I stopped running back here to the ship because this is where I’m comfortable. The truth is, I’m not really needed up here.”

“That’s hardly true Sir.”

“You have things well in hand here Commander. It’s time I stepped aside and let you have the recognition for what you’re already doing. As of now, I am going to focus more on my responsibilities down on Xinju.” He stood. Lin followed suit. “And I’m going to promote you to the position of Acting Captain.”

Surprise showed on Lin’s face. Clearly she had not been expecting this.

“You’ve earned this Captain. I think the only reason I’ve waited this long is because you were thrust into the position of first officer unexpectedly when Commander Murphy died. That doesn’t matter anymore though. You’ve proven yourself capable.”

“I don’t know what to say Sir.”

“You’ll retain the rank of Commander for now, but in time that will change as well.” He extended his hand and she shook it enthusiastically. “Congratulations.”


* * *


Laura looked down into the grave that hug been dug for the skeletal remains they’d found in the boat. The anthropology team had done all they wanted to do with him and everyone agreed that he should be given a proper burial.

Neal had objected to her walking all the way back out here again so soon, but Doctor Heoux said she was medically fit to do so.

“Is everyone ready?” Neal asked.

The few members of the anthropology team all nodded.

“Well, I guess we should say something. We don’t know much about this man. We don’t even know his name. It seems pretty likely that he came to Xinju on the Phoenix, or at least his ancestors did. We don’t know why he was out here living all alone in a boat. We don’t know what became of the rest of his people. We do know that he was pretty old when he died. I hope that it was peaceful and painless. I really don’t know if there’s an afterlife, but if there is, I hope he’s enjoying it.” Neal took a step back. “Anyone else want to say anything?”

There was a lot that Laura wanted to say, but not publicly. She shook her head.

Neal picked up a handful of dirt and dropped it into the grave. The others all did the same, and started to walk away.

“If you don’t mind,” Laura said to Neal, “I’d like a moment alone.”

He smiled sympathetically. “No problem.”

Laura knelt down and looked into the eye sockets of the skeleton and let out a long sigh. “Look, I don’t know for sure if you really were Kenneth Bailey, but I’d like to think you were. I don’t know if Janicka died after her injuries, but it seems pretty likely. I’d love to think that she survived and that the two of you had a happy life together. Either way, I know it would have been a difficult life. The odds were against you in every way. I’m sorry that we weren’t here for you when your ship arrived.”

Laura stopped and wiped away a tear.

“She never really had a chance to tell you how much you meant to her you know. It seemed silly to me given the time you spent together was so short, but in some way, I believe that Janicka loved you Kenneth. She really really loved you.” She took a clump of dirt and dropped it in. “Goodbye Ken. Rest in peace.”

* * *


Boyd jumped when he heard the knock on his door. It had happened several times this afternoon, Each time he’d assume it would be the Captain. So far it hadn’t been. He opened the door slowly. Captain Anderson Bell stood on the other side. “Oh, come in Captain, come in.”

Bell entered and closed the door behind him.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. I did.”

Bell waited expectantly.

“Right. How to start. Well, I’m sure you’re not going to like this, but I want you to know that I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and prayer too. This isn’t a decision I’ve taken lightly.”

“Cameron, slow down. What are you trying to tell me?”

“I’m telling you Sir, that as of this moment, I officially resign my commission as an officer of the Space Service.

Bell didn’t say a word. He just stood there.

“Please say something Anderson.”

“Why should I? This is ridiculous Cameron. You don’t want to do this.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure if I want to or not, but I know that I need to.”

“I can’t let you throw all of this away Cameron. This is a big deal you know. You can’t just come and go as you please. If you resign then that’s it.”

“I understand that Captain.”

Bell sighed. “After all we’ve been through, I just can’t understand this. Do you remember how hard it was to earn your commission back after everything that happened? You were lucky to get that uniform back on at all.”

“I know that.”

“And this was your dream. You wanted more than anything to be a military chaplain. You said it was your new life calling.”

Boyd nodded. “It was.”

“And now you’re going to throw all of that away.”

“Captain, I just have a new calling now. An extended calling. This is the next logical step in my life’s work.”

“What work? You’re walking away from your work. What exactly are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

“I’m not sure Anderson. Not completely. I just know that I can’t do it in this uniform. I need to be down there among the people.”

“You realise I don’t have to accept your resignation.”

“But you will. You wouldn’t hold me in a job that I no longer want. I know you too well.”

Bell kicked the leg of a nearby chair in frustration.

“Please don’t be angry at me Anderson.”

The captain turned to him. “This is a mistake Lieutenant.”

“If it is, then it’s mine to make.”

“I don’t like it Cameron. I don’t like it at all, but if you’re determined to do this, then I won’t stand in your way. I accept your resignation.”

Bell stormed out of the office.

Boyd hadn’t expected it to be an easy conversation, but it had gone particularly badly. At lest it was done now. He could start packing his things.

“There is one positive in all of this,” he said to himself. “Chaplain al-Najafi will be glad that he no longer has to share office space with me.”


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Episode 2 – Chapter 18

“So,” Laura said.

“So,” Neal said in response.

They looked at each other expectantly.

“You go first,” they both said in unison. Then they laughed a good-hearted genuine laugh.

“Ladies first,” Neal said.

Laura wasn’t going to argue, or they might be at this all day.

“Okay, well I’m sorry for the way I reacted when you told me how you feel. I was frustrated that you’d kept it secret, and a little surprised, and I treated you quite badly. There was one emotion I felt though, which i didn’t express very well. That emotion was happiness. I was very very happy to hear that you have such strong feelings for me.”

Neal smiled shyly. “I’m glad.”

“Unfortunately, I let my frustrations to overrun me, and drive me to make completely unreasonable demands of you. I’m sorry for that Neal. Please forgive me.”

“Of course, you don’t even need to ask.”

“I just want you to know that I’m not going to rush you. I want us to be together, but I’m willing to slow down a little, and I hope that you will consider trying to speed up – just a tad.”

Neal laughed again. “I promise. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about things over the last twenty-four hours. When you didn’t return to boat I got worried – really worried. When I found you unconscious out in the bush I thought I’d lost you. I’ve never been so scared in my life.  I realised how much of a fool I’ve been. I almost let you slip between my fingers, and I’m not going to risk that again.”

Neal stood and moved his chair aside. He dug his hand into his pocket and withdrew something. Laura couldn’t see what it was. “I have something here I want to give you. I got this while I was out. It’s not much, but it means a lot.” Neal sank to one knee. Laura’s mouth went dry.

“Laura Banks, will you marry me?”

Her jaw hung open for a moment, until she realised that she wasn’t speaking. Before she could give an answer Neal started talking again.

“I’m not doing this because you want me to, I’m doing this because I want it. I want it more than anything in my life.” He extended his hand. There was a small metal ring sitting on his palm. It wasn’t a real ring – not jewellery anyway. It had a flat surface and it was a little stained with a buildup of old grease.

“Where did you get this?” she asked, taking it out of his hand and turning it between her fingers.

“Chief Henderson helped me find it actually. It was part of the Endeavour‘s engine. It’s a worn part that had to be replaced.”

“It’s wonderful.”

“I’m sure there will be a jeweller amongst the colonists somewhere. We can get a real ring made later on, if you’re interested that is.”

She leaned forward and kissed him. “No, this is perfect. It’s a piece of the ship that brought us to this planet, where we discovered our love.”

“Ah Laura,” Neal said awkwardly. “You still haven’t given me an answer.”

Laura laughed at the realisation. “You’re right I haven’t.” She grinned at him. “Now let me see. I might have to think about this you know.”

Instead of looking uncomfortable and shrinking into himself as Neal often did when she teased him, he reached and snatched the ring of her hand. “Okay. That’s fine. I’ll take the offer off the table then.”

He turned and started to leave the tent.

“Okay,” she yelled, with humour and joy coming out in her voice in a way it never had before.

“I’ll marry you Neal!”

He turned on the spot and grinned at her. Then he ran forward and they fell into each other’s arms.

“It’s about time,” the amused voice of Marcelle Heroux said. ” I was wondering how long I was going to have to wait back there.” Laura barely heard it. She was consumed with the universe of Neal Spearwood.

* * *


Boyd stepped onto the bridge of the Endeavour. It was a quiet shift. Commander Lin was sitting in the command chair looking over something on a data pad.

“Ah, Commander, may I have a word in private?”

She looked up. “Chaplain, of course.” She stood. “We can make use of the Captain’s office.”

Boyd followed her in. She sat in the Captain’s chair and he took a seat on the opposite side.

“How are things Commander?”

“I’ve just had the disappoint the Captain I’m afraid. We’ve been searching the planet for evidence of the Phoenix survivors. Apart from the boat that Doctors Banks and Spearwood found, we’ve detected no other evidence. We can’t even find the Phoenix herself, although we know that it did arrive and land on the surface.

“That’s a shame.” He said nothing for a moment. Lin looked at him in silent expectation. “You know I’m not used to sitting on this side of the desk. People come to me for advice all the time. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to someone else for the same thing. That’s probably been a mistake. We all need advice.”

“Lieutenant, I’m here to listen. What do you want to talk about?”

“I had a vision last night. An angel came to me, claiming to bring a message from God.”

“What was the message?”

“I was to bring the message of God’s love and grace to the people on Xinju, to remind them that he still cares.”

“That’s wonderful Chaplain.”

“Then you believe it?”

“Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s just, I’m still not sure I believe it myself. I’m not exactly pentecostal Commander. I’m not used to signs and wonders manifesting like this.”

“Well, angelic visitations are not something that happens every day, but at important times in history, God has revealed himself to people in special ways. It’s usually when he has a very specific point to make, or when people are particularly in need of hope. These wonders serve like a bookmark in history, to note a special time of transition.”

“Well our arrival on Xinju certainly qualifies on that grounds.”

“Let me ask you this, is the message brought to you consistent with the teachings in the Bible?”


“Then you don’t need to doubt it do you. Proceed carefully, always checking things against the Bible and talking with others, but accept the message in faith.”

Boyd nodded. “Thank you Commander. I think I will.”

“I’m glad to be able to help.”

Boyd stood. “Do you know when the Captain is due back on board?”

“Yes, later today.”

“Good, because I have something to tell him, and I’m certain he won’t like it.”


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Episode 2 Chapter 17

Laura knew the true meaning of pain. It was so intense that her awareness of the world around her began to fade. She know nothing but the pain. It was her reality, her universe.

She wasn’t sure how long she stayed in the pool of boiling water. It might have been seconds, it might have been years. Time no longer existed, only the pain. Nothing but the pain.

There was something hard and solid in her hand. It was a stick, or a long pole. Instinct took over and she clutched it with all her strength. Moments later she felt strong hands pulling her up out of the pool. Parts of her body were now free from the water. Then she was lying on the ground.

Members of the team were pouring cold water out of their canteens over her body. Janicka was confused but Laura knew it wasn’t good. With injuries like this, Janicka had little hope. She would be dead within a few days.

Every mental instinct in Laura wanted to separate herself from Janicka’s experience. This wasn’t her body, and she didn’t want to die in it.

Janicka was so scared. Laura found it hard to distinguish her own thoughts from the thoughts of the girl, but she believed that Janicka had a pretty good idea of the seriousness of her condition.

Above them, Kenneth was looking down, tears streaming down his face. He really did love Janicka. Strange, that love could grow so quickly between two people.

“You’re gonna be okay Sweety,” he said.

Janicka’s head shook. “I don’ think so Ken,” she rasped.

“No, it’s okay. It’s just a bit of hot water. You’ll recover. There are doctors back on the Phoenix.

“Not with the resources to treat me. Ken, there was meant to be a colony here, but there isn’t. We’re all on our own.”

Kenneth was crying. Laura felt for him.

“I want you to keep the necklace. If you have it then we’ll always be together. You’ll know me in a way nobody ever has before.”

Then Janika resigned herself. She was ready to let herself go. She was a very brave young woman. Laura admired her, but she could also feel her fear. Janika was terrified.

You’re not alone Janicka, Laura thought. I’m sure you’re not aware of my presence, but I’m here with you. Now Laura knew what she had to do. She would be Janicka’s companion. She would die with her. At least neither of them would be alone. I wish I’d had the chance to meet you, to speak to you and have you speak back.

Slowly the word began to go fuzzy. It was an honour to share your existence Janicka Brauer.

Then everything went black.

* * *


“She’s coming around.” A woman’s voice with a thick French accent was speaking. Was there a french woman in their party? Laura hadn’t remembered one.

“Laura, can you hear me?” Neal!

“Neal?” she said groggily.

“I’m here Laura. Come back to us.”

Slowly, very slowly, Laura opened her eyes. She began to focus. She was in a tent. Standing above her was a middle-aged woman. She recognised her as Doctor Marcelle Heroux. The doctor smiled. Laura turned her head, looking down on her was the face of Neal Spearwood. Laura felt her mouth twist into a smile. “Neal.”

“Hey Laura.”

Laura looked down at her clothes, to see if she really was herself. She was not wearing her own clothing, she was dressed in very old handmade trousers and shirt. Panic gripped her. She was now in a man’s body.

“A mirror! I need a mirror,” she said urgently.

“Relax, it’s okay. You just need to take a moment to rest and I need to remove this.” Heroux reached around the back of her neck and took hold of the necklace, pulling it away gently but quickly.

“No, I must see a mirror. I have to know.”

“Okay, relax Laura, I’ll get you one.” Neal stepped away and returned moments later with a small round surgical mirror. She grabbed it out of his hands and peered into it. With great relief she was greeted with her own face. She was Laura Banks again.

She let herself flop back onto a soft pillow.

“Welcome back to us Doctor Banks,” the voice of Captain Anderson Bell said. “You had us all quite worried.”

“I had myself quite worried too Sir.”

“The necklace, it was a memory serialiser,” Laura said – as she closed her eyes.

“Well, I think we should all leave  her in the capable hands of Doctor Heroux. Henderson, Spearwood?”

Neal looked over his shoulder at the captain. “You go Sir, but I’m not leaving Laura’s side.” A flash of understanding seemed to be visible in Bell’s eyes. He was just starting to appreciate the depth of the relationship between her and Neal. “Very well. I’ll talk to you both later on.”

Laura closed her eyes and let herself relax. Try as she might though, she couldn’t help letting her thoughts wander to Janicka Brauer and Kenneth Bailey.

* * *


Doctor Heroux had a long list of tests that she wanted to conduct on Laura. Neal stayed by her side for most of them. Eventually she insisted that he go and grab a bite to eat, which he did.

“What a relief,” Heroux said. “I thought he would never leave.”

Laura smiled. He is very loyal. “If you really wanted him to leave I’m surprised you didn’t order him out yourself.”

“Ah, well if if had been called for I would have, but I don’t like to separate loved ones unless I have to. The two of you appear to be rather close.”

Laura sighed. “Yes, we are, sort of.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow in a grandmotherly kind of way. “Sort of?”

“Yes. You see it’s complicated.”

“Ah Oui. I’ve heard that before. Love should never be complicated.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“It is. Love is simple. Now relationships, they can be tricky. I never did figure those out myself.”

“Well Neal and I have a lot to figure out.”


After another test and a little rest, Neal strode back into the medical tent, followed by Captain Bell and Chief Henderson.

“How are you feeling Doctor Banks?” Bell asked.

“Much better Captain.”

“Chief Henderson and I have been doing a little research. Doctor Heroux, you may be interested in this as well. It’s about that necklace device.” Bell motioned toward Henderson. “Chief?”

“Yes, I did some checking, especially after you mentioned memory serialisation. It was a fairly new field of technological study when we left Earth. The idea was to be able to store memories and thoughts from the human mind, in much the same way as we do with electronic data.”

“It makes sense in a way. We back up out computers, why not back up out brains as well.”

“It sounds like foolishness to me,” Heroux said.

“In any case,” Henderson said, ignoring the doctor’s opinion, “that necklace appears to be an early prototype. It was designed to act as a recorder. It took a memory stream from a person’s mind and recorded it for later playback.”

“That’s what happened to you Laura,” Neal said. “You got the playback.”

“Yeah, I figured most of that while I was under. The thing I don’t understand is that near the end, I took control. I changed the memory, and the people around me reacted to what I was saying. Where did that come from if it were just a memory?”

“At that point the program was degrading and your brain was suffering damage,” Hereoux said. “I suspect your subconscious simply filled in the blanks, like it would in a dream.”

Laura nodded.

“What memories did you experience?” Bell asked.

The device was originally worn by a young woman named Janicka Brauer. She was a passenger on the Phoenix Captain.”

Bell’s eyes grew larger at the mention of that ship.

“Her idea was to document their voyage and new life on Xinju. I can confirm that they made it here. They landed on the surface with the intention of starting a colony.”


“I can’t tell you that. I know that there was a geyser field near their landing site.”

“I understand there are a few of them scattered around the planet surface.”

“I suspect that the boat that Neal and I found was built by one of the Phoenix settlers. In fact, I think his name might have been Kenneth Bailey.”

“It’s a shame we can’t know more,” Bell said. “But given the danger that it represents, I don’t think that we can risk using the device any further.”

“But Captain,” Laura said. “The answers to all our questions are stored in that necklace.”

“You can’t know that Doctor. You may have seen all there was to see.”

“That can be easily checked.”

“The device will be studied, but I will not allow anybody to put it on. I’m sorry Doctor, but the risks are just too great. Perhaps one day when we know more about how to control it safely.”

Laura’s heart sank. She desperately wanted to know what became of the Phoenix colony. She also wanted to know what happened to Janicka and Kenneth.

“I’ll be sending a team to examine the boat and the skeletal remains in detail. You are welcome to lead that team if the Doctor believes you’re up to it.”

“She’ll be all right,” Heroux confirmed.

“Then I’ll leave you all to it. Good day.”

Bell and Henderson left.

“I think I’ll let you have some time,” Heroux said. “I’ll be in the back room doing some cell cultures if you need me.”

“That wasn’t exactly subtle,” Neal said after she’d left. Laura looked into his eyes.

“We need to talk.”

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