Cold Storage – 7

Gaia, Sander, Zack, and Thaniel sat quietly while Speaker Law ushered in the rest of the council members. Ever since the arrival of Doctor Jason Freed and the Antarctic, the four had been assigned to assess the mission of the machine that passed itself off as human. The drama had finally played itself out, although not as the android nor its masters had hoped.

“What was on that ship that we just destroyed?” Speaker Law was not one to mince words. “Just how much of a threat was it to Nova?”

“Does anyone here remember Earth?” Gaia watched while every head in the room shook “no”. “Of course not, because we came here on a generation ship with limited resources. Our ancestors brought along a history of Earth. It detailed how the wealthy preyed upon the less fortunate members of society. And we built a colony without such predators.”

“When the mutations occurred, we couldn’t afford to sacrifice lives over petty differences,” Speaker Law interjected.

“But some of those differences were startling in their power,” Gaia grabbed Sander’s hand. “A war aboard ship would have destroyed any possible future. And killing infants was unconscionable when it was necessary to increase the population to useful levels after the disaster responsible for the mutations had decimated our numbers.”

“A decision that no one has regretted,” Speaker Law interrupted. “But you still haven’t answered my question.”

“The rich people who shipped out our ancestors while they stayed behind to finish their rape of the Earth were on that ship. The same people who refused to learn from their history. Those wealthy money hoarders who refused to pay their employees a living wage, who chose to deny basic human rights to people with the misfortune not to be rich – those were the occupants of that ship.”

“They sent our ancestors out to live or die on generation ships and to set up colonies that they might one day invade. They were going to steal the fruits of our hard work. They had forgotten how they had banished our ancestors to die in space, while they traversed space as frozen cargo to be resurrected on some thriving colony. They had forgotten – unfortunately for them, we hadn’t.”

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Cold Storage – 6

Gaia ripped off her mask and sped up the ladder to the chamber where her crewmates were trying to order the mechs to return. Turning to Sander, she asked, “Where’s Jason?”

“Good question,” Sander replied. Raising his palms to face Gaia, he said, “Let’s find him.” Gaia placed her palms against his and the two interlaced their fingers. Gaia closed her eyes and let her mind expand throughout the large ship. She didn’t recognize Jason at first. He didn’t look human; he didn’t feel human. His electrical patterns were too regular, not random enough.

The bridge dissolved around them as Sander moved them through a dimensional shift. Gaia’s eyes were wide open when they arrived at the small command center of the large ship. Jason was standing in a chamber in the back of the compartment. The larger vessel had executed a course change and was heading for Nova Terra. Sander and Gaia sat at what appeared to be the ship’s navigation and communication stations. There were already warnings for the larger vessel to divert its course.

Gaia opened a channel to reply to the incoming messages. “This is Gaia Wald of Nova Terra. We are attempting to divert course, but the ship is not responding. We are requesting consideration of one hour.”

“This is Nova Command. You have 59 minutes.”

Gaia closed the channel. She turned to face Jason. He was standing perfectly still, eyes open and staring ahead of him. Gaia noticed that he wasn’t blinking. “What the…” Suddenly, Jason stepped forward and locked his eyes on Gaia.

“Welcome aboard the Arctic,” he spoke in a relaxed tone. “I’m suppose you want an explanation.”

“Keep it short,” Sander replied, “We have less than one hour to save this ship, if it’s worth saving.”

“It is a treasure trove. The last of every living thing on Earth preserved for transplant on some lucky planet. And Nova Terra is that lucky world.” Jason sounded like a used spaceship salesperson, and neither Gaia nor Sander was buying his pitch.

Zack and Thaniel had already set about getting themselves off the ship before it was blown out of Nova’s sky. The Novan mechs were modular and Gaia had insisted that the evacuation modules were loaded aboard the Antarctic before launch. The spaceport guards had even allowed it.

Gaia thought back to Speaker Law and his question about the Antarctic’s long-range ability. It dawned on her that he wasn’t asking her about that because he wanted her to go on a deep-space mission. He wanted to know if the ship had already flown a long-range mission. It had been Jason’s ship originally; he had arrived in it.

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Cold Storage – 5

Gaia locked her quarters and turned on the pulmonary assist device next to her bed. She wasn’t exactly going to sleep. It would be hours before the mechs completed their survey of the alien vessel. Gaia wasn’t that patient. She affixed the nasal pillow to her face and lay down. As soon as her eyes were closed, her mind began its journey. Because her attention was focused up, she missed the activity below decks.

Sander, like Gaia, was among the last of the Nova Terra colonists born in space. He had his own special talents, but they were not needed yet. Sander was hoping that they wouldn’t be needed. It never ended well when they were. He slept while Gaia prowled the ship above.

As Gaia’s mind drifted up, she could see the two younger crew members busy overseeing the progress made by the mechs as they explored the ship. All of the compartments surveyed by Leena were cold despite the ship generating more than enough power for climate control and life support systems. Devon had reached a deck that was not numbered. It appeared to be a control deck. Gaia pushed on up toward Devon and let her mind flow over the deck. The controls were labelled in an old Earth script, but even without the knowledge of that script, she could decipher the numbers. The chambers both above and below were being kept incredibly cold.

Both mechs registered a change in the ship’s position as they gyros were forced to adjust. The slight lateral acceleration caused by the firing of small rockets was followed by the roaring to life of the six massive thrusters. The burn was brief, but it woke both the sleepers. The course change would prevent the massive ship from passing to close to Terra Nova’s star, allowing the cargo to remain unaffected by excessive solar radiation. It also set the ship on an intercept course for Terra Nova.

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Cold Storage – 4

“That was a little too easy,” Gaia said. “We’ll be sending the mechs out first.”

The ship’s two mechs were standing ready at the airlock. The one-meter tall bipedal mechs were standing at attention when the crew entered. Gaia examined their components to be sure that they were properly equipped for their missions before issuing orders. “Leena, I want a full atmospheric analysis. Scan for life forms, but don’t engage. Devon, find the ship’s control center. Determine its course, flight objective, and defense systems, but don’t engage with any crew. Understood?”

The two mechs nodded what passed for heads in response before entering the airlock between the two ships. The gantry lift carried them up into the larger ship.

Thaniel sat at a monitoring station watching the feeds from the two mechs as they entered the upper airlock. “Signal is strong and clear,” he reported. “Leena reports a breathable atmosphere. No positive signs of life though.”

“Have her keep looking,” Gaia sat down next to Thaniel. “Does Devon have anything to report yet?”

“He’s still climbing the central shaft,” Thaniel replied. “Should I make him climb faster?”

“Too risky,” Zack objected. “We can’t risk Devon being discovered; and he’d make too much noise if he climbed any faster.”

“Zack, Thaniel, we could be here awhile.” Gaia rose from her seat. “Zack, you stay and watch with Thaniel. The rest of us will get some sleep, or at least try to.” Gaia motioned to Sander and Jason as she moved toward the Antarctic’s central lift.

The two followed her into the lift and the three slowly descended to crew quarters. After seeing Gaia and Sander to their quarters, Jason returned to the lift and continued down to a lower deck. He opened an airlock and drifted across the space between the Antarctic’s outer hull and the inner hull of the larger ship.

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Cold Storage – 3

When the Antarctic reappeared, it was several thousand parsecs beyond the jurisdiction of the High Council and Speaker Law. It was also on a collision course with an object that could hold at least a million ships the size of the Antarctic. Gaia and Zack managed to pull the Antarctic into orbit around the giant craft.

“Looks like it times to wake up the rest of the crew,” Gaia knew that Sander was already halfway to crew quarters by the time she finished the sentence.

A slow scan of the surface of the giant cylinder showed no visible means of entry. The front of the behemoth was concave with a central spire that appeared to be either collecting or emitting some form of low-radiation.

“What in the name of space is that?” Thaniel Phoenix, the Antarctic’s Engineer was the first of the now awakened complement to reach the command deck.

“I was hoping that you would know,” Gaia replied. “We’ll check it out if we ever find a way in.”

“Have you tried the back door?” Jason Freed was the ship’s Med Tech. He was from Old Earth, unlike the rest of the crew. He had joined the crew to study the Novans. He wanted to find how much alike or how different they had become since settling Nova Terra. . He had stayed because the Antarctic had become his home.

At the goliath’s stern, the massive thrusters forced them to move away to avoid a collision. As the Antarctic pulled away from the mystery ship, they were treated to a view of the leviathan’s engine array. Dead center of the ship’s massive thruster array was the way in.

The opening was just large enough to allow the Antarctic entry after trimming the shields and shutting the ram scoops. Thaniel started channeling power from the field drives to the shields and the scanners.

The crew braced themselves for penetration, but the Antarctic slipped smoothly inside the larger craft. The scanners revealed that the docking equipment on the unknown vessel was compatible. Gaia let her ship drift slowly against the docking contacts. The Antarctic was suddenly pushed backward as a docking airlock extended from the unknown ship.

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Cold Storage – 2

Docking Bay Six had never seen so much activity in its four hundred and ninety-three years of existence. Four fully armed security officers posted themselves at the outer bay door, while four more posted themselves at the inner door. Two guards moved in on the Antarctic’s crew hatch while four more took stations at its cargo hatch.

If they had known about it, the Council would have assigned guards to the service hatch and the corresponding service entry to the docking bay. Gaia was able to slip through their security net through the service crawlway.

“Welcome aboard, Captain.” Sander Phoenix was the Antarctic’s second in command. He was a competent pilot, a capable engineer, and a master of the art of combat in space.

“Let’s get out of here,” Gaia took the pilot’s chair next to Zack Wald, her cousin as well as the ship’s navigator. I see that Council is still thinking in two dimensions.

Sander took his seat at the Antarctic’s defense console while Gaia brought the ship’s engines to life. The engine whine caused the guards to run for safety, which they barely reached in time.

As soon as the Antarctic cleared the bay, Sander activated the shields. Gaia kicked in the rams just as three patrol fighters appeared. The Antarctic managed to escape by engaging the field generators the instant the ship left atmosphere.

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Cold Storage – 1

Gaia Wald was not looking forward to her meeting with Speaker Herald Law. When the highest planetary official requests your presence in the Council Chamber, it means serious business. If only it were business, the Antarctic could climb out of the financial hole that it was in. What Law and the High Council wanted was a favor that they believed Gaia was in no position to refuse.

Speaker Law sat at the center of a horseshoe desk. There were no other members of the Council present; Gaia saw this as an advantage. Never one to waste time, Gaia asked, “what do you want?”

Law smiled, “Who says that I want anything?” He waved his hand to usher her toward a chair closer to the desk. “How’s business?”

“Not so good, but you already know that,” Gaia declined the seat and instead stood behind it. The Council had gone to a lot of trouble to drive her into debt; and now they were about to pay off her debts in exchange for something dangerous. “Just cut to the chase. Now that you have me dangling on a string, what do I have to do to get free of it?”

“Do I detect hostility in your voice?” His whole face smiled, “I’d like to think that we could be friends.”

Gaia turned to leave.

“I understand that the Antarctic is outfitted for long-range.”

“There are plenty of other ships outfitted for deep-space exploration. Any one of them would be willing to open a new trade route or look for new sources of industrial raw. I suppose you want us to bring down the price of industrial crude.”

“Something more dangerous,” he replied.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than carrying industrial crude.” Gaia continued her slow walk towards the exit.

“You’ll be back,” he yelled after her. “You’ll never leave port.”

“Don’t bet on it,” she said as the door closed behind her.

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