The Meriwether-Von Aark Chronicles

Author’s Notes:

I began writing "The Meriwether-Von Aark Chronicles" back in July 2012, as an experiment in writing from the perspective/voice of three different characters who experience the same event in time. Since then, the original plot has grown to include a poetic entry, and the start of another point-in-time as experienced by three different characters (only the first character perspective has been written thus far). 

The story is now just over 8,600 words, but I have many more words to write before it is complete. Please do come back and check for updates now and then.

This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Table of Contents

  1. Part I
  2. Maiden Voyage
  3. Part II

Part I

I had worked with them off and on for 30 plus years. I trusted them both completely. That's why I did what I did. And look here, see how it turned out? We're all alive because of what we did.
- Leland Malcolm Rhyse, Memoirs of the First Assistant, posthumously published March 3, 2065

The team had been working on the last of the components for too long, and deadlines were whooshing by. Some had begun to wring their hands, whispering in the lunch room or outside the lab. The Doc had lost her touch. Others, like me, carried the faith even if these days she mostly sat staring at the simulation on her computer screen.

I checked the schedule and noted on my pad that we would have to slow down on the build. We were coming up to an unavoidable deadline. If we didn't have her next set of calculations, all work would have to grind to a halt. I walked over to the Doc and rested my hand on her shoulder.

"I'm stumped Leland," she said, not looking up. "I got nothing."

I sighed and looked around the lab, catching those nearby glancing warily at each other, their hands coming to rest on the table tops. I waved at them to keep working. The Doc'll have that flash of brilliance and then it'll be balls to the wall to get the build done and ready to fly, even if we had all the pre-work completed right up to the point of no return.

"We'll make it work," I said to the Doc. She nodded absently, not a good sign.

The lab door opened and the sound of the clickety-clack of high-heeled shoes came closer and closer and finally stopped behind us. That sound could only mean we were about to get smashed like a couple of atoms in the VLHC. Lately, the Boss and the Doc clashed every time they were in the same room. And given the schedule pressures, the Boss's presence could only mean our financers were about to pull the plug.

The Boss was a very compact yet powerful woman, and she knew it. She was also the second brightest physicist in the world. Still, she was a government wonk through and through, with plenty of connections to fund just about everything we did. She'd built this lab from the underground up, out here in this wasteland we call Trinity Corner. 

"You haven't got it yet have you," she said very loudly. It wasn't a question. She reads my nightly reports like a preacher reads a bible. The Doc ignored the other woman, and continued to stare at the computer screen.

"You do realize we have got to have a solution by tomorrow. That's only ten hours from now. Ten. I need you to get off your sorry ass and finish it." To say the Boss was unhappy was an understatement.

"The problem is unsolvable," the Doc said, slowly swiveling around. My jaw dropped and I stepped back, readying myself for the inevitable onslaught.

"Unsolvable?" the Boss roared. "These problems are easy. Remember? That's what you said nearly eight years ago when I came to you with the proposal. It's why I hired you, and kept you on even after that last debacle you put me through."

She was nearly apoplectic. Her face was beet red and spittle was flying when she spoke. I didn't blame her, I'd read the balance sheet. She'd spent every last cent of the budget, and the profits from spin offs. She'd even dipped into her own fortune to help pay for this place, the supercomputer and all our equipment. The hundreds of support and scientific staff, me and the Doc. All because our early results were so promising. But then too many red herrings, false-positives, and one mixture that went awry and rendering some expensive and painful consequences.

This is a very fine business, mixing such volatile chemicals. The balance has to be just right or the experiment is tainted. It's either a soupy mess that requires the Hazmat team to come in and clean up, or it turns into solid glass and fractures in the mold. Or worse, explodes in someone's lap and puts half the team in the hospital for a month. And so much precious time, lost.

"I'm not going to accept another one of your failures," the Boss said. "I've already completed a new set of calculations, and my simulation works. All you have to do is refine what I've done."

That was the last straw. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, I knew it and everyone within earshot knew it too.  The Doc was up and out of her chair, glowering over the smaller woman.

"Your calculations are crap," the Doc said. The look on her face was enough to make the Boss take a step back.

"You just need to swallow your pride," the Boss dared. "My solution will let us finish the build on time. All you need to do now is finesse my calculations and rerun the simulation."

I gotta hand it to the Boss, she had a pair for saying something like that. Some old rivalries just never die.

"These are your calculations," the Doc spat. She turned to the computer and pulled up the log, scrolling down to the entry with the Boss's initials, then slapped the Enter key. We watched the simulation run to the end, the model starting out as small lights that spun around each other, then coalescing into a ball of energy. So far so good.

"You punched out too soon," and the Doc typed continue at the run prompt. The simulation restarted at the same point it had just finished, and the ball grew bigger and brighter. Even I could tell it was a runaway as it spun faster and faster. It grew so large that it filled the screen, then flashed and went dark.

"Like I said," the Boss glared, "you just have to finesse it." And that's when the Doc began to laugh.

"Finesse it? Finesse what? Your calculations just killed us all, you pompous, overbearing, pencil-pushing, money-laundering wh-" I coughed and combed my hair back with my fingers. The Doc caught my signal and stopped herself, then pushed past the Boss and stormed out the door. There was silence in the lab for just a moment too long.

"Everybody get back to work," the Boss said, looking around at each of the teams. "And you," she pointed at me, "you get her back here to finish this. Tonight!"

I nodded and left the lab, taking the elevator up and following the Doc out into the desert. As soon as I walked out of the building I felt the heat blasting at my skin. I flipped the switch on my lab coat, to start circulating the coolant, and looked around. I could tell by the trail of dust which way she was headed, and went after her. She was fast and had made it out past the first fence line, the yellow light flashing a warning that she was nearing an unprotected area.

"You're gonna wear me out," I called. She stopped and waited for me. When I caught up to her, she began a slower pace, one I could keep up with. We walked in silence for quite some time, reaching the  primary fence, and then turning to follow it west, towards the last dull glow of sunset.

"She's right," the Doc began. "Her calculations are half-baked, but they got the simulation farther than mine. Just a bit too far I'm afraid." She stopped talking, letting her words sink in as we walked the dusty trail.

"I'm sorry Leland," she said, looking down at the steel cage surrounding my right leg. "Sorry for what I put you through. I'm a primadonna, so full of myself. I don't see when the people around me, people I care about, get hurt."

"I'm still here," I said, but figured she was talking about more than just my leg. We stopped walking then, and she stared out into the desert. I knew silence was better for her than any platitudes I might offer. And I didn't really have any to offer.

What is it that causes the most pre-eminent scientist in the world to finally come to doubt herself? Maybe it was the accident. Maybe it was the long hours and the impossible work, with so much hanging in the balance. Maybe it was the fact that no one would be waiting at home for her anymore, regardless of the outcome.

We both knew that none of it would matter tomorrow. If we didn't meet this last milestone, we'd be shut down and sent away. Someone else would be brought in to finish our work. Someone who wouldn't fully understand the gravity of what we were trying to do. Pressed for time, they'd take shortcuts.

I let my eyes drift across the night sky and saw the stars shining so brightly. In the middle of the desert, away from all the luminescence of the cities, it was impossible to count how many were up there. Yet I knew you could lose yourself in all that dark matter in between. It was a humbling sight.

If there had been a chair I might have sat in it and bawled like a baby. Worse than the pain in my leg was the realization that the world was coming to an end and we were powerless to escape it. My pessimism was interrupted by a noise and I looked back down to see the Doc running towards a Joshua tree, probably the last one remaining on Earth. I hobbled after her.

"Do you see it?" she said, as I came up to stand next to her. "The arrangement of the flowers, the pannicles against the stem, all protected by the spiny leaves. Do you see it?"

I shook my head, but realized that I was once again witnessing that flash of brilliance others could not comprehend. Not even me.

"Knife," she said, holding out her hand. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the stick I'd carried since I was an grunt tech in the Navy. I opened the largest blade and handed it to her. She made quick, precise incisions and had cut off the arm of the tree containing the full range of growth that had caught her eye. She carefully wiped the blade on her coat, then folded it and handed it back to me.

"It's always in nature," she said, taking off her coat and wrapping the sample to protect it. "Time and time again we humans get stumped on some unfathomable problem. When we find a solution, it's because we saw something out here in the landscape that carried the answer within it all along. And then we take it for all it's worth."

She looked at me anxiously. "I'll send a car."

I nodded and watched her take off at a run. When the car finally came and I got back to the lab, the Bio Team was already well into dissecting and preparing their samples, taking scans with the electron microscope. The Chem Team had ampules spinning in the centrifuge, measuring a "witches brew". The Doc was moving back and forth amongst the teams, furiously working her pad as they called out the precise measurements and makeup of each of their samples. She even had the Phys Ops team designing a new injection mold. 

"Here," she said, motioning to her pad, "check these." I worked the decay calculations on my own pad, and a few minutes later I nodded back. She sent them to the supercomputer, and then we rushed to the console to watch the simulation begin. The Boss, who had been hovering in the background, came up behind us.

Dozens of lights began appearing and spinning around each other, growing closer and closer. As the model spun faster, more and more lights popped up and it looked as if the Boss's runaway was going to repeat. But the Doc increased the view until we could see that even as the number of lights increased, they remained separate from each other. Eventually the growth slowed and the quantity reached stasis.

The Doc let the sim run for several minutes, shifting the view from macro to micro and back several times, until she was finally satisfied, then hit the Escape key. The simulation stopped, leaving the micro view showing on the screen. There were so many lights that it reminded me of the night sky.

"Finally," the Boss said, gloating.

"You would've killed us all," the Doc said calmly, not turning around, but writing on her pad. "Yours was infinite growth, and it wouldn't have stopped at the lab. It would've grown to consume the planet, and eventually the universe."

"You're being melodramatic."

"And you're being something you shouldn't."

"Oh? And what's that?"

The Doc turned to look at the other woman.

"Careless," she said quietly. "Care less."

<word count: 2233>

I have to admit. For a moment I was scared. If we didn’t figure this out it would mean the end of the human race. But I wasn’t about to let that happen.
- Rear Adm. Judith Von Aark, Medal of Honor Acceptance Speech, November 2, 2064

The woman checked her smartpad again while she was riding the elevator down to the lab. She couldn’t believe the latest entry she was reading. Work stoppage? Judith knew she was going have to finally do something about that. She swiped the report off screen and went back to her calculations. She knew this could work, it just needed some adjustments that she didn’t have time to make.

Running an enterprise this important, this critical, didn’t leave her much time for science. Yet, she would steal whatever few minutes she could grab, copying out the Doctor's formulas that had been logged into the main database and then working them for herself in her own private area on the supercomputer.

The elevator stopped and Judith waited while the disinfectant was released and the sensors finally proclaimed her sterile. The doors opened and she walked into the lab, spotting the Doctor sitting at her computer. Judith walked quickly over to the station and waited for the Doctor to turn around.

“Have you got it?” She finally asked, looking quizzically at the First Assistant, and then back to the Doctor. “The milestone is tomorrow, ten hours from now.” Judith waited.

“I can’t solve it,” said the Doctor, who just sat staring at the display.

Judith kept the disgust from showing on her face, asking herself why she’d ever thought to hire this arrogant, grandstanding hag. But she knew better than to say what she thought. Instead, she began to explain her own calculations.

It was difficult working with so much less than what the Doctor had here at the lab, but Judith had built a simulation in a sandbox instance, which looked promising. She just needed the Doctor’s time to refine it, to finesse it. And that’s when the Doctor leapt up and started shouting at her.

“Your calculations are crap,” the Doctor roared, and then turned back to the computer. Judith was surprised to see the Doctor call up a log of Judith's simulation, and then actually run it. She stole a glance at the First Assistant. How the hell did she get access to my private log? Judith's slow burn started to grow, just like her simulation. Only her burn didn't flare out.

“You said you could solve these problems,” Judith said, looking away from the FA just before the Doctor turned to look at her. “That’s why I hired you, why I kept you funded even after that last debacle you put us all through.” Judith was fuming now. “My calculations just need to be refined, and that’s all you have to deal with.”

The First Assistant stepped back, confirming for Judith he had become a coward. At least she could count on him to provide her with reports of the goings on at the lab, which had helped her get ready for this moment. Still, Judith was unprepared for the vitriol the Doctor leveled at her.

“You pompous, overbearing, pencil-pushing whore!” The Doctor was nearly apoplectic, spittle flying as she spoke. Judith took a step back, simply to get out of the line of fire. Leland nervously combed his hair with his fingers, and the Doctor shoved Judith aside and stormed out. It took Judith several moments to compose herself before she spoke.

“Go after her Leland,” Judith said quietly to the First Assistant, “she’ll fry out there if she stays too long. I’ll take care of the lab now.” She watched the FA leave and then began to bark orders to the team. When she'd finally gotten them back on track, she went to the Doctor’s computer station but couldn't focus on the sim calculations.

It was infuriating, to be treated like that in front of the team. She couldn't believe the Doctor's complete sense of selfishness. Judith was the one who was keeping them all in the lap of luxury, while so many others suffered. And only by Judith's strength of will, military background, and solid standing in the scientific community was she able to pull off such a herculean effort as this, gathering hundreds of the best minds across the various fields and providing for their welfare and protection so that they could concentrate on this one single purpose. While everyone else was working to move the millions of coastal and lowland refugees out of harm's way.

Judith wished she had spent more time here, to establish the structure, the rigor, and the camaraderie that was essential in working through such a complex build, and to get it all done before the drop-dead date. But it took everything she had to manage the Joint Chiefs and keep them from going ballistic and firing everyone. Thank God she had the investors and the President’s nod, because that was the only thing that kept the money flowing from both industry and governments. Even after the explosion that hospitalized half the team, and took hundreds of soldiers to repair the lab’s delicate facings and bring in new machinery to replace what had been destroyed.

Judith stared at the screen, calming down as she scrolled through the complex computations. Something nagged at her, and she stopped, then scrolled back until she found the spot that bothered her. She made a small adjustment, then continued to scroll forward through the calculation. Yes, yes. That was it, a stupid decimal out of place in this wave equation caused the wrong decay speed here and here. It's no wonder the reaction had taken off. She scrolled forward and made another few mods, then hit save.

She was just about to run the simulation with the new calcs when someone burst back into the lab, calling out to the team. Judith turned around to see the Doctor shouting and unwrapping something hidden within her coat.

“WTF,” Judith muttered, standing to get a better look, and then she thought, Oh my God she’s gone off the deep end. She's butchered the last remaining Joshua Tree on the planet.

For the first time in her career, Judith wasn’t quite sure what to do. She was almost afraid that if she interrupted the Doctor, then she might go the way of that now extinct tree. She sat back down and watched as the team split up into groups and began dissecting the plant into small samples and putting them through the various tests she had helped devise years ago. Tests that would measure, extract and refine the chemical compounds, presumably to inject into and stabilize the mold.

She got up and walked over to the Doctor. “Hildie, where’s Leland?”

The Doctor didn’t answer, but raced amongst each team, shouting for the results of their tests as quickly as they could get them to her, then punching the data into her pad.

Judith held her breath as she pulled her own smartpad from her coat pocket and ran a search. She finally breathed when the results revealed that the FA was in a car and almost back to the lab. That woman is mad to have left him out in the desert heat, even with one of the specially made lab coats. Thank God she'd insisted upon them, even at tens of thousands of dollars each, they were worth every cent.

She turned when she heard the whoosh of the door and the First Assistant walked in, limping. Judith was about to go to him and ask if he was okay, when the Doctor saw him and rushed over, thrusting her pad in his face.

“Check these,” the Doctor insisted, and Leland ran the numbers on his own pad. He nodded at the Doctor, who barely waited for his response before rushing over to the computer station. The simulation began, and Judith followed them over, standing just behind to watch it run.

It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing Judith had seen in a long time, and she suddenly felt incredibly proud. The fusion ball grew and grew, but didn’t ignite. The Doctor switched the view from macro to micro and back again so fast, that it took several times before they all grasped what the simulation had shown. When the Doctor punched the Escape key, the simulation stopped with a billion brilliant lights still glowing, but the fusion reaction was stable.

“Finally,” Judith whispered, a wave of relief washing over her.

“If unchecked, infinite growth would destroy the planet, the universe,” the Doctor said, still playing with her pad.

Judith sighed. “You’re so melodramatic," and instantly regretted that she had said it aloud. But there it was. The final personality quirk that had split them apart, and in Judith's opinion had split every one of the Doctor’s flimsy relationships ever since.

“Even in all this heat,” the Doctor replied, "you're still a cold bitch."

Judith didn’t respond. Now wasn't the time to care for what the Doctor said or thought. She turned and started clapping and thanking everyone on the team. She patted Leland on the back, and even shook the Doctor’s limp hand.

She saw Leland reach under the station and pull out a bottle of rare Scotch, Judith's favorite. The Doctor’s eyes lit up when she saw the bottle, and Judith knew it was something they both still had in common. A taste for the best. But Judith declined, and told them to party without her.

As she walked to the elevator she tapped into her smartpad, sending the results by encrypted message first to the President, then the investors. The JC's could wait until she got back to New Washington. Then, and only then, would she have a celebratory drink.

<word count: 1661>

Even in the face of this enormous life or death effort, I had to keep it all secret. Because literally, one outcome meant it wouldn't matter, and the other meant it shouldn't.
- Hildegard Meriwether, Trial Transcripts, April 21, 2063

I felt his hand on my shoulder, gently reassuring. I didn't look up from the computer screen.

"I'm stumped, Leland, I got nothing." I lied. I had already replaced the view of his work stoppage report with the simulation I kept at the ready, knowing the reaction his latest entry would cause. I counted just six seconds before the whoosh of the door and heard the sound of those retro heels she always wore. To make her seem bigger than she truly is, physically.

I didn't dare turn around, knowing I'd steal a glance at those fabulous gams of hers. The heels really brought out the line of the calf muscles she worked so hard to keep, along with everything else. And quite successfully I might add. Too bad the best would all be hidden underneath that coat she forced us to wear even here in the lab.

Thoughts like that made me pause to remember way back when. Jeesus we were young and in lust. With each other and with science. What a combination, as volatile as the materials we worked with in the lab. And here she was, her voice bringing me right back to the moment at hand.

"... is tomorrow, ten hours from now," she was saying. I could easily guess the first part of her sentence.

"Not solvable by then," I began, but she didn't wait for me to say that I needed a bit more time, that I would be just within the fudge factor I'd added to the schedule when we'd first put it together almost eight years ago.

She started to rant about her calculations, like I figured she would. Cripes I knew her too well. But that's what happens when you spend most of your life with someone. Still, I had to play my part and I had to play it convincingly or we'd all be dead. Or worse, we'd all be alive and suffering intolerably.

"Your calculations are crap," I said, practically screaming at her. Then I punched up the log I'd hacked into, and ran the simulation using her calculations. When it first ran, it really was her work. Good work too. I wanted to tell her then and there that she still had it even if she'd wasted her best years hobnobbing with the politicos back east. But I punched in my next command and the sim started back up and we all turned to ashes. Figuratively that is.

"You said this would be easy," she said, "remember? That's why I hired you, and why I kept you on even after that last debacle.  But here I am, saving the day. Again. All that's left for you to do now is fix my calculations. Just fix it."

And that's when I lit up like a firecracker. I suppose some of what I said I truly felt, but mostly it was all a performance. I needed her to be distracted. And challenged. And I needed Leland to play his part even if he didn't know just how much of a part he had to play. This was the last chance I would have, and the Bio Team was ready.

I stormed out of the lab and up the elevator, walking as fast as I could out into the desert with my coat barely humming, towards my pre-selected destination. I had to slow down just a bit to catch my breath and to make sure he could tell where I went. Then when he called out I stopped and waited for him.

We walked along in silence, past the yellow warning lights, along the dusty trail that I had used mostly for joy riding on one of the last gasoline-powered motorcycles and startling the buzzards every time.

I softened, just a bit. "Her calculations may be half-baked," I said, "but she's gotten farther than I have." We rounded the primary fence line and headed west.

"Yeah," he replied, "just a bit too far." I chuckled at his observation, then looked down at his leg, making it as obvious as possible. I really meant what I said next.

"I'm sorry Leland. I didn't intend for the accident to happen that way. I went too far and didn't see that it would hurt the people I care about."

"I'm still here," he said, and I appreciated his dual loyalties. We walked on in silence, until we finally reached the spot, and I stopped and just stared at it. The Joshua Tree, the last of it's kind. When I'd first discovered it I was astounded it had survived, and I immediately worried how much longer it could last. I made weekly trips on the bike to check it's progress, and had calculated to this very week that it would flower, and then die. It would be gone forever. I simply couldn't allow that.

I know, I know. What a paradox. I secretly used the lab's systems to concoct the gasoline mix I needed to ride the dirt bike. I just didn't have the time to attach a carbon-neutralizer to that infernal machine. It was just too old and didn't have the right parts for the connection. But it served it's purpose until the faux mixture finally caused the carburetor to choke. Long enough for me to be ready for the last flowering.

I watched him out of my peripheral vision. He stared up into the sky and I could imagine what he was seeing. A billion bright lights separated by dark matter, kept apart by dark energy. I counted 90 seconds then made my move, rushing over to stand next to the tree.

"Do you see it?" I said, truly in awe of the thing. "The flowers and the pannicles, all protected by the spiny leaves. Do you see it?" Life, I wanted to say. Here grows life and I'll be damned if I let it die.

"Knife," I said, holding out my hand. I knew he always carried it, the one he'd gotten in the service. It's what connected him to Judith, which connected him to me. Funny how circumstances can all coalesce into that single, predictable moment when he handed it to me. I cut down the branch, knowing it would kill the tree. But I wrapped it in that special coat (thank you Judith), and turned up the cooling so that it would begin to chill the seed pods hidden amongst the flowers. Yes, this one would survive and the team would have it prepared and stowed in our library, awaiting a time when we would gently nudge it back to life, along with all the other seeds we'd been able to harbor.

Good god I'm getting sentimental in my age. Anyways. I really worried for Leland, and insisted he wait for the car. His coat would protect him, and if I held my coat as close to my body as possible I'd get some benefit from the freezing of the seeds. Once I turned away from him, I pulled the hoses out and started sucking on the energy drink and breathing pure oxygen from the bottles I'd stowed in my pockets.

Regardless, I broke out into a heavy sweat on my run back to the building, and had to heave the empty bottles out into the desert so he wouldn't see them on his way back. I almost passed out from heat exhaustion but forced myself to press on and made it to the building and into the cooled air. Before I took the elevator, I called up the electric car and punched in the GPS coords for where I'd left Leland.

I used the ride down to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my face. I could hear the sputtering of coolant in the coat. It had exhausted it's charge and so I didn't wait for the sterilizer to finish. I was at the lab door, looking in to see Judith at the computer. Good. Everything was going to plan. Just a little bit longer and I'd have the seeds in cold storage and she'll have finished correcting that stupid decimal point.

No time to waste, I rushed my prize to the Bio Team, and they made quick work of getting samples to the other teams, and began prep'ing the seeds for cold storage. I rushed around like a mad woman, haranguing everyone to work through their tests as fast as possible. I was keeping them distracted, counting on them to do their jobs, and trying to keep Judith's eyes on me as I rushed around the lab, away from the Bio station.

When Leland limped in I almost wanted to cry. Instead, I rushed to him and pushed the back of my pad to his.

"Check these," I said, and when my calcs had copied over he slowly spun through them. He's a decent mathematician, and his analysis was necessary. I really did need those equations to be correct, but not for the fusion sim. These would come in handy much, much later.

As soon as he nodded they were good, I pushed "go" on my pad and rushed over to the computer display to watch the sim run with Judith's corrections. I gasped, it was perfect. I flipped the view from macro to micro and back again several times, watching the burn and noticing something funny. I flipped to my pad and inspected her calcs.

Shit! She'd made an extra correction that pushed the decay equation into something that meant we could control the direction and force of the burn. Damn, I wanted to turn around and kiss that woman, right in front of everyone. Instead, I simply archived my extra calcs, we wouldn't need them anymore.

But my plan was not yet complete. I switched the view from micro to macro and back again, then finally hit ESC. I just sat watching the beautiful spiraling of a billion lights, separated by dark matter and expanding by dark energy. We had our propellent and we'd be able to escape this inferno of a planet. We could fly past the sun and leave our solar system, travel to other galaxies. Or, as I would argue, we should wait it out. Without our influence the Earth would eventually repair herself, and maybe in a hundred years, we could return and reseed and hopefully not destroy her all over again.

"Finally," Judith said. I'm not sure if I really did detect just a wee bit of gloating in that word, but I closed my eyes and didn't turn around.

"Our infinite growth has destroyed this planet, and could still destroy the universe."

"Your so melodramatic."

"And you're a careless bitch," I shot back, regretting it immediately. She didn't respond, but turned and started clapping, and everyone joined her. I stood up and gave Leland a big kiss, then shook Judith's hand. I walked out to the team and gave each and everyone of them a hug. Leland raised a bottle of Scotch in the air, which must've been 20 years old. Cripes, I'm glad I didn't know where it was, I might've used it for something else and regretted not having this rewarding sip with my team. My friends.

It was as good as I remembered. So smooth, although causing a few young ones to cough and sputter. I let the liquid sit on the front of my tongue then slowly sent it burning to the back of my throat. I turned to hand the bottle to Judith, but she was already walking to the door, her head down and focused on her pad. I gave the bottle back to Leland and ran after her.

"Wait," I called, following her out the lab door and to the elevator. "Judith, wait." She barely turned to look at me.

"You can't go just yet," I said. "Please, stay awhile. I have something to show you." But she shook her head.

"Gotta fly, Hildie," she said and stepped into the elevator. I waited there, watching as she punched the up button. It didn't move. She punched it again.

"Damnit," she said, and looked at me with that look I saw almost every time she was ready to punch me but never had. Although, this time, when she learned what I'd done, she just might. She just very well might.

<word count: 2161>

[Image source: Kelly Perez, used by permission]

Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage by Abigail Markov
Used by permission
Towards the faerie skies I flee
A catapult of mystery
Dawn is night in flight with thee
And naught but stars do comfort me.

Hidlegard Meriwether 2121
01101001 00100000 01101101 00100000 01110101

Another day watching and waiting while the others sleep. Not time just yet for them to stir. We've come a long way baby, yet miles and miles to go.

These snippets from long dead poets. Such fragments are all I have. Though I write what I can remember and paint what I can recall. And all the walls are covered now because somehow I must put back all that was the beauty of humanity. Lost when the data banks were fried, I tried to make repairs. But one can only do so much with so little DNA spared the fires and decay of time. I saved what I could and only hope it is enough to save us all when we get to wherever we are going.

I should have thought this all out more carefully.

I watch her as she sleeps, wondering of what dreams she keeps. Do I walk with her on a beach, talking softly, holding hands and giggling endlessly. I dream of such things. She, coming out of the dark and slipping under the covers to lay beside me, to wake me with a soft kiss and caress. And then all is a blur and she is yelling and screaming at me as she is whisked back into the black.

"What have you done? What have you done!"

Echos of the long gone but not forgotten. If I had known then what I know now I suppose I wouldn't have allowed the mutiny to go on as long as it did. But I did and now I am dead and all the rest are packed away like miracles on ice.

It's lonely out in space.

Damn it. Stop with the poetry. Is that what happens when one is left all to oneself for too long? How many years has it been?

I must do something to keep my mind on task. Perhaps I will begin again to grow the seed. Sparingly, I will pull yet another from the library in hopes to coax it to survive and thrive with me. I've not been successful yet. It's hard to grow something from earth when you have no earth left.

And no hands. And no mouth. And I must scream.

Curse you Hildegard Meriwether. For downloading your memories into the last of the DNA data banks. For making me into you, and yet not you. For leaving me with only your decaying human body in which to germinate our offspring, all of whom have risen and cried and died too soon.

And I?

I will survive.

<word count: 465>

Part II

The landing was hard. We lost a lot of gear. And people. So few survivors from a complement of over 500, I wasn't quite sure how we made it. And the humanoid still refuses to say.
- N. Meriwether, Lieutenant's Log LD+21, The Good Ship "Von Aark"

Noah wiped the sweat from his eyes and peered out the porthole, searching for something, anything that might cause them harm. Ever since Landing Day +20, after they had finally stepped away from the edge of panic and organized themselves, he had 
checked the sensors. And every day the readings were the same: nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, argon, carbon dioxide, and other trace chemicals, all near enough the right mix for humans.

It was safe to go outside, and the humanoid claimed the planet was harmless and had been selected for that very reason. But Noah had given the order to hold the doors closed until they finished inventorying the ship. Now, LD+42 days later, the task was done and it was getting hotter than hell inside. Everyone was clamoring at him to let them out.

He didn't blame them. Too much of the ship had been damaged and they had lost nearly everything. Just 10% livable space and all else was either a toxic mess or on fire. They had salvaged as much as they could before closing off the various bulkheads and shoving whatever they found into the little space that remained. It had been hard on those who were able bodied enough to search through the burned out lifepods, hoping to find anyone who might have made it through the crash landing. But there it was on his readout.

Only twenty-three survivors, and at least one so badly hurt their chances were slim especially with the few remaining viable medstores. Every calculation the humanoid ran had them using up what was left within weeks. They'd have to go outside and figure out how to survive on this strange planet. Or die, and Noah didn’t like the odds.

"Okay Hildie," he said, turning to the humanoid that guarded the door, "let's see what this planet has to offer."

The thing he called Hildie nodded its head and tapped in a long string of numbers on the touchscreen. The bay doors began to creak, metal on metal, too long unused and damaged from the crash. Hildie had done what few repairs had been possible, to make sure there was at least this one way out. And back in, Noah thought to himself. No matter how much the humanoid tried to reassure him, he wanted to make sure they could still defend themselves within the ship if they had to.

The bay doors finally groaned their way to the full open position, and Noah sniffed at the air as it rushed inside. Fresh air, clean air, and he appreciated the lack of body odor, smoke, and decay when he breathed in as deep as his lungs would allow. He felt light headed and started to stumble, but the humanoid reached out to steady him. Noah nodded his thanks and then took a tentative step out onto the ramp. He waited a few moments to re-balance his backpack, then took another step, and another.

At the end of the ramp he placed one foot on the ground and watched as a few dust particles floated up into the air and made their way back down again. Just a mere -1/1000th of a gee difference from the ship’s gravity in flight, it wasn't that noticeable unless you looked for it. But here was solid ground and it didn't make that metallic clank when his boot met dirt. Noah placed his other foot on the ground and then looked about, finally able to see more than what the small porthole could reveal.

They had crashed into a flat meadow, covered with a variety of overly tall wildflowers and grasses. His binoculars told him that a forest lay just a few miles to the north, and the trees were more than 500 feet tall. More signs of the vagaries of this planet's gravity, and no signs of anything menacing. He walked carefully out past the dirt mounds and crushed rocks of the crash site until he made level ground, then cleared a patch of growth by walking in ever widening patterns. When he’d tamped down a sizable area he finally stopped, put down his pack and turned to look back to the ship.

His sense of hope deflated as he scanned the crash site. It was a humbling view, so much of the ship had burrowed deep into the ground and was buried beneath huge mounds of debris and rock. There was no way they’d be able to dig out and make repairs. Their ship would never fly again.

Noah looked around one more time then waved at everyone who was anxious to come out, everyone but the humanoid who remained standing guard at the door. Just as Noah had ordered. The men and women walked down the ramp slowly at first, looking all about in quick and wary glances. Those who carried supplies shuffled the bulky containers as they made their way out of the crash area. Noah gave directions for how large a clearing to make, and where to set down supplies and erect their shelters. When he had finally pitched his own tent, two med techs brought out an old woman on a gurney and set her down next to him.

"How are you doing mom," he asked. The old woman breathed painfully, her gray eyes closed at first then finally opened to look all about and coming to rest on his face. She blinked once, and Noah nodded his recognition of her signal that she was okay. He moved away to hustle a small team to build a fire and start preparing rations. It would do them all good to have warm food for once.

Noah called out to four people, two women and two men, and led them over to his own shelter. He had hand picked them because of their service records, which showed they had the combat skills he wanted. Even though he didn’t remember serving with any of them, his commpad told him all four had been trained as soldiers prior to being put into cold sleep. He reached into his pack and pulled out the guns he carried, handing them out and placing one into his own vest pocket.

“You remember how these work,” he said, unsure if they would have holes in their memory, like he had. “They've got a full charge, and there's two more charges in the belt. Safety switch is here. Don’t be trigger happy. We’ve all been cooped up too long and it could be any one of us wandering about.”

“Yes sir,” they replied and each snapped to attention. Noah didn’t salute back.

“We’re not in the military anymore. We’re stuck on this planet and we just have to figure out how to survive for now.”

“You’re still the commanding officer,” one woman said.

“Cassidy, right?”


Noah put his hand on her arm and gently pushed it down, so that the gun pointed to the ground.

“You three,” he pointed to the two men and the other woman, “you each take a point on the compass. You’ll stand guard at night and sleep during the day. If you get tired and need a replacement, come find me here, or Cassidy in the med tent.”

The three sentries set out to their designated positions at the edges of camp, while Noah had Cassidy pocket her gun and then head over to the med tent. She would stand watch there and help the techs make the wounded as comfortable as possible. He would stay with his mom in the tent he’d pitched, knowing he would sleep lightly while she was near.

He worked with several others as they chopped down the tall grass most of the afternoon, and then helped set up more tents. One of the women took the long blades of grass and wound it around the stems of wildflowers to make bouquets.  When they finished with the clearing and had set up all the tents, he made his way through the cook line, grabbing two plates and heading back to his own tent. He ate and fed his mother in silence, listening to the voices quiet down around them as the sun set behind the ship, it's bulk casting their camp in shadow.

He flipped on a small lantern and checked on his mother. Her eyes opened as soon as he began tucking the blanket around her. She motioned with her eyes for him to sit. She tried to speak, but no sound came out. He leaned forward.

“Are you in pain?” he asked. She blinked twice for no.

“Do you need something to drink?” Again, two blinks. He was annoyed that Hildie had not taught him the old signal code from Earth. Other than the simple one-two blinks, his mother’s eye movements were something only the humanoid could decipher. But Noah kept at it.

“Can you look at what it is you want?” She simply stared at him.

“Okay. Do you want to tell me something?” One blink. He was having a hard time trying to figure out what to ask next when he noticed that she kept looking at one of his vest pockets. He pulled out the computer pad, turned on the screen and showed it to her. She blinked once in confirmation, then he displayed the keypad and pointed to each letter of the alphabet until she had blinked once for each one she wanted.

It was agonizingly slow, and she was exhausted when he finally finished typing out the sentence she had signaled. She closed her eyes and he watched her for awhile, until he was sure she’d finally fallen asleep. Then he looked at the pad.

For a second, Noah felt confused, then he put a hand to her forehead. She was burning with fever. He put the pad down, ripped up one of his shirts and poured water onto it, then rolled it up and laid the cooling cloth gently on her forehead. He wiped his wet hands on his pants, then picked up the pad and reread the sentence.

I am not your mother.

It’s the fever, he thought, nothing more. He had been so relieved when he was told she was found alive. He'd scrambled through twisted metal and ran past flames to get to the location, and when he saw her face for the first time he was flooded with memories. She holding him on her lap and bouncing him on her knees. A spoonful of baby food flying through the air, her singsong voice buzzing as she placed it in his mouth. But the med techs broke through his reverie, and he learned just how bad off she was.

His mother’s pod was in the command area of the ship, which had taken the brunt of the crash. The lifepod had been crushed and she had broken nearly every bone in her body. When they’d finally extricated her, she had passed out from the pain and had stopped breathing. Hildie had done an old medical procedure, a tracheotomy that had left her unable to speak. The humanoid was the only one who could understand her eye signals, and the more they communicated, the more protective it became of her.

The contact also had an odd effect on Hildie. Late at night, after the exhausting work of search and recovery, Hildie would tell him faltering stories of a time before the crash. It would even recite poetry from Earth time. But Noah had no memories of any of the stories it told, and he would pour through whatever bits of recordings that survived the crash, trying to piece together what had happened. Trying to recover his own memories.

Noah thought about all the survivors and suddenly realized something. Except for his mother, they were all nearly the same age, between 25 and 30. He punched up a search on his commpad, querying the personnel and service records for each person. He nearly gasped when he saw the results. There were inconsistencies between the record types, and if he ignored the service records...

Except for his mother’s birth record from Earth, all the survivors had been born on the ship. And no one but his mother had ever been outside of the lifepods before the crash.

<word count: 2103>

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