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PBEM 15: A Strange New World

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  • PBEM 15: A Strange New World

    PBEM 15: A Strange New World

    Masterbuilder and I have embarked on one of our storytelling PBEMs after a fairly long hiatus. This time we are trying out the SMAniac Mod with a water world theme. For those who haven’t tried it, the SMAniac Mod reworks most of the tech tree, revises much of the technology itself, limits some of the overpowered exploits, and tries to make more strategies workable. Masterbuilder and I are hopeful this – and the Water World setting – will present new challenges and opportunities for crafting a compelling story. We have set this huge world to have heavy fungus with all other settings standard.

    I am playing the Acedemician and Masterbuilder is Chairman Yang – opposite ends of a spectrum. The other players in this story are the Gaians (fungus friendly, and pretty powerful in the SMAnica Mod), Cult (likewise - and the only faction that can capture worms immediately), the Cyborgs (good researchers and empire builders), Santiago (good at expansion), and the Believers (expansionistic AND aggressive). We elected not to use the SMAniac factions since they don’t have much underpinning and, as Maniac admitted, they haven’t been play tested much. So we relied on the SMAX 12 (not counting the aliens) in this round. For those that are interested try the SMAnica thread in the Mod section of this web site.

    So we hope you enjoy the show. I know Masterbuilder and I will!



    MY 2101

    Zakharov’s ears were ringing and he felt as if someone had worked him over with a 2x4. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed was that, obviously, he was alive. Second, his pod had landed – hard – so it must have made it to Chiron. Third, the pod was listing at an alarming 20 degrees. And fourth, it looks like most of the people in this compartment of the pod were more or less intact.

    He noted wryly that these were small blessings, very small considering the monumental blundering of the last day. Unity was now so much scrap and the mission in shambles.

    But not time for recriminations. That would come later.

    “Zakharov here,” he yelled. “Offices report.”

    “Kline!” a soft voice yelled. It sounded yet and in pain.

    “Zhu!” a woman yelled from the back.

    “Fienman!” a man yelled.

    Zakharov knew Fienman. Solid, dependable, and an engineer. Good. “Fienman, take command of this compartment. See to those that are injured, assess the structural integrity of the pod, and inventory supplied. Understood?”

    “Yes, sir,” he yelled.

    Zakharov started to release his harness and disengage the webbing. It took a while, and during this time he noticed his left leg was throbbing with increasing intensity. He ignored it. He gripped the bulkhead as the last of the webbing was released and made his way to the blast door. The tell-tail aid the compartment beyond the pressure door was intact. He activate the intercom: “This is Zakharov. Report.”

    He waited. After a few minutes a voice said. “Lots of injured, sir. The other compartment door has opened and they’re reporting a leak. No word yet from anyone else.”

    Zakharov cursed. Incompetents! The doors should never be opened until the atmosphere on the other side was verified. He suppressed his rage. “Find an engineer and assess the leak. Tend to the injured, and find a tech to contact the other compartment. Is there an officer in that compartment?”

    “I don’t know. I…can ask.

    “Please do. Ask. Find the officer or enlisted person with the highest rank and have them report to me. Understood?”

    “Ah….yes. I think,” the voice said.

    She sounded young. Well, Zakharov thought, she was going to have to grow up fast.

    In the meantime voices were rising in the compartment he was in. Many were people doing their duty, but more were just one step away from panic and unbridled fear.

    Zakharov knew both fear and panic were killers. Or rather, they lead to conditions that could and would kill, particularly on an alien planet.

    He leg was throbbing insistently, and he still ignored it. It would simply have to wait.


    HIVE 2101

    “Cast off captain and make for the coordinates I have given you.”

    The captain of the transport nodded gravely and began issuing orders to the various crewmen on the bridge.

    Yang watched carefully and noted with satisfaction the precession the crew went about their tasks. A flash of light caught Yang’s attention as he turned to look at the thick windows of the bridge. There in the distance on the small atoll or island was the other colony pod, stripped bare of all non-essential items. It had been necessary to leave one of the colony pods behind since the transport, built from the landing pod from the Unity could only care one of the two colony pods. It had also been necessary to leave behind Yang’s security detachment to keep the selected colonists in order during his trip on the transport with the remaining hand picked colonists.

    “Commander Yang?”

    Yang turned to his left to see his young adjutant standing patiently with a data-pad in his hand.

    Yang took the pad and quickly scanned the information and handed it back.

    “Zhu, remember it’s not Commander Yang anymore, it’s Chairman Yang of the Peoples Revolutionary Command Committee.” Yang commented quickly then added. “Did all of the stores and provisions get transferred as I had asked?”

    “Yes Chairman.” Zhu replied quickly. “All of the extra provisions are stored away and the revolutionary guards have set-up a security system to watch over them.”

    “Good.” Yang motioned for Zhu to leave.

    Yang watched the young man pass through the bulkhead door which was guarded by two revolutionary guardsmen and a slight smile edged the corner of his lips. The extra supplies would insure loyalty among the guards during the long voyage to the coordinates selected by the PRCC. The area was due east of the atoll and if the radar recordings from Unity were correct would have ample land mass to establish his capital city. Until then, the second colony pod and it’s compliment of drones would stand by until fresh supplies could be brought back to them so they could build their city. Yang had selected the most docile and subservient members of the Unity landing pod to remain behind along with a detachment of guards who were instructed to indoctrinate the colonists into becoming even better drones. Once the new capital city was established Yang would send for those drones who would become the core of his new workers proletariat.

    “Chairman Yang we are clear of the shoals and on course to the crater area. I estimate three maybe four turns before we reach the landing site.” Captain Gregor announced as he waited for any additional orders.

    “Thank you Captain, carry on.”


    University Base, MY 2202

    Zakharov reflected on how fast the last year had gone. So much had happened with the establishment of their first settlement called University Base and a continuous stream of problems: finding quarters, the inevitable mechanical breakdowns, improvisation, simply limiting one’s horizons and doing without, and day-to-day troubles of feeding several thousand people. The last was no small concern. Although the area around University Base was rainy it was hardly bountiful. No one would stave, but many had gotten sick as they were forced to introduce alien foodstuffs into their diet.

    Zak scowled. It was like their technical society was being thrown into a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. He had trained plasma technicians grubbing in dirt – dirt! – when they should be tending fuel lines on Unity. It was all so unseemly, and necessary. There were an endless number of dirty jobs that just had to be done, and there were too few people to get them all done. High-minded officers and administrators from Unity had been pressed into service to muck out latrines. Even Zak had done his share.

    Still, their situation was getting better. University Base was along a broad sea and ad the edge of a low mountain range. Evidently the prevailing winds were from the west, hence the relatively rainy microclimate. Some of the ground was clear, and a scouting team had headed east and a thousand colonists had headed west. All of this was pure guesswork, but they had to establish a second base. If disaster fell all of what remain of humanity must not be in one area. Diversification was the key.

    There were worries. The entire area and even the sea were infested with a virulent mat of impenetrable life. Much of it was bulbous, some had what looked like fronds, others multiple quivering layers the pulsed in a disturbingly organic way. There were mobile forms too, and both the plant-like and animal-like forms varied from grey to pink. Few had ventured into it since it was clear that it was an unknown, and potentially dangerous. Standing orders were that no one was to enter the strange fungus-like growths without express written approval. Not that there were many interested in spending any time in such a hostile environment.

    A small production crew was already at work, and some of the colonists were being outfitted as sentinels in case of the worst, their first soldiers, in effect. So much had been lost that there wasn’t really anything else to be done except carry on with the mundane duties of life and learn not to hate Chiron, their new home.


    HIVE, On board Unity Sea Transport Prime, My 2102

    “The scouts from the colony pod reported in Chairman.”

    Yang looked up from his desk with an expressionless face. Zhu tried desperately to read his master’s mood but as always the blank slate or a statue of marble.

    “Report.” Yang said softly.

    “The scouts from the colony pod found another atoll Chairman. Two sectors in size, nothing of any appreciable land mass to speak of. The seneschal in charge of the colony pod has ordered the pod to be re-loaded as soon as possible. There will be no delay in our departure. Captain Gregor reports that the ship will be ready to leave as soon as the colonists and colony pod are loaded.” Zhu said in as calm a tone as possible.

    “So we continue our odyssey eh?” Yang said with a slight touch of mockery in his voice. “So be it. Inform me immediately all is ready for us to depart. From the last report I have from Gregor we still have three to four turns of travel before we make landfall so the sooner we are moving the better.”

    Zhu did not know if he should respond or not. Yang was a mystery, wrapped in an enigma and shrouded in darkness. His control of nearly every aspect of ship board life was amazing. He knew it seemed at any moment what was going on in the ship.

    “What does the science department make of the report by Captain Gregor’s people concerning the sea fungus? Do they expect it to delay us?” Yang asked flatly.

    “No Chairman, nothing new to report.” Zhu quickly added. “The scientists expect the sea fungus to be as deadly to our speed as the land fungus is. As to what organisms thrive in the mass we still do not know.”
    Yang looked at Zhu with those cold, dead black eyes, not a hint of facial movement betrayed his emotions.

    “That is all.” Yang said and looked down to his work on the desk.

    Zhu bowed deeply from the waist and held it for a full five seconds and then straightened and left the small cabin that Yang had to all himself. For anyone else on the ship the cabin would have housed three to perhaps five families. Another luxury afforded to the great Chairman.

    Zhu walked up to the observation deck and looked out into the twilight seas and wondered if they would survive this odyssey as Yang called it or would die in those inky black seas of Chiron.


    University, MY 2103

    The data were finally in. The colony group had surveyed another three sectors and the results looked…promising!

    Yes, the rainy area had ended up being rather mall. In fact, it was tiny and it looked like Chiron would be a fairly inhospitable place after all. But there was space for the colony to establish itself, and it was near what looked like a Unity pod. There was no way to know, and it was far too dangerous to do anything about it now. Orders were given. It would take a vexing two more years to set up the colony, but that could not be helped.

    The scout group had surveyed north and had confirmed what the colony group had found. Most of the area was not wet and fairly friendly. At best it was minimally habitable, which limited options considerably.

    And then there were the…artifacts. The survey team had found more of the massive boreholes that were nearby University Base. These were, frankly, chilling since they spoke of a technology that no one on Earth had ever mastered. And then there was the obvious…aliens had built them. This was equivocal proof that aliens existed – proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    More questions came to mind: were they still here? Would they take kindly to aliens on their world? Zakharov was more than familiar with the plots of innumerable science fiction stories he had read as an adolescent, and also of the study groups that pondered what humanity would do if they ever met intelligent aliens. Most of the old stories were fanciful and other chilling. All were fantasy. The study groups had always struck Zakharov as an extreme and especially pointless exercise in naval gazing. Now he earnestly wished he had paid at least some attention. Even a bit of fantasy would be helpful now.

    It was not like there was any time for musings, however. Day-to-day live was a constant trial. Their first set of defenders was complete and now the Research Council had decided to amass the resources for another colony. It would take many years but it was worth it.

    Life is tenuous. There was no evidence that anyone from Unity survived, so his few thousands of humans may be all that is left of humanity. That is an awesome and frightening proposition.

  • #2
    HIVE, On board Unity Sea Transport PRIME, MY 2103

    “We have to leave this sector Chairman.”

    Yang stared into the gloom ahead but he could still see the vast floating isle of red fungal material with hatred filling him.

    “I dare not risk the mission and make an attempt to plow through the mass without knowing the risks we face.” Captain Gregor reported quietly. “The reports from my scouts indicate the mass seems to shift against the tides and wind which indicates to me that the fungal isle is either anchored or has it’s own means of locomotion.
    “Impossible.” Yang muttered. “It’s only a mass of slim and rotting vegetables. I order you to proceed forward now and make for the mainland.”

    “Chairman!” Gregor’s voice was now edged with fear. “What if there is something to fear and I exposed you to that danger we could risk losing everything?”

    Yang turned slowly towards Gregor and a slight smile touched his thin cold lips.

    “You are correct Captain. I agree. The risk to the mission, to myself is far to great to roll the dice on the unknown. Change course as you wish, west by south I believe is what you said.”

    “Yes Chairman, west by south!” Gregor snapped to attention and turned to towards the bridge crew and announced. “West by south, helm over, set course to 095 and make signals for full speed.”

    Yang returned to watch the fungal mass and he began to use mental training techniques to channel his thoughts and emotions to clear his mind. He hated this planet and what it had dealt him and his dream. He began to feed all of this thoughts and anger into the void and flame that formed in his mind and he began to feel the calm spreading throughout his body.

    The day will come when he will be the master of this planet in all things.


    University Base, MY 2104

    “Academician, I think you should reconsider,” Gregor Kline stated. He rested his clasped hands on the now shabby table and leaned forward ever so slightly. “The colony group has only to go one more sector and they will be able to place their colony at the base of a river valley! All great cities of ancient times and many of modern times were situated on rivers! The economic and transport benefits are obvious, and I think they should be obvious to you.”

    Zakharov resisted a smile at the mild insult. There had been many today, and it would not be the last. “You are quite correct, and based on your limited analysis you are quite correct. But you’ve failed to consider two critical factors.”

    He paused so that the other members of the Executive Council would look over at him. It was an elementary technique he had learned when fighting for his first promotions at the University of St. Petersburg. He still used it because it worked. “First, the site you advise is far from the small amount of rainy fields that will serve to feed the colonists, and having that sector out of the reach of the colonists will have dire implications for the growth of the colony. We have little territory and know nothing outside of our small explored area and we cannot afford to waste any given resources.

    “Second, the river system you mention may be valuable, but even if the mouth of the river is clear the rest is infested with the virulent xenofungus. This fungus is a hazard, and we’ve noted that it contains some aggressive life forms. No one has died yet, but Siemanns and Wills were severely injured in the last month. Or perhaps you failed to remember?”

    Zakharov knew full well that Kline knew of the injured. Jan Siemanns had been his associate in the secondary engineering control system on Unity and, if rumors were to be believed, they were more than friends.

    Gregor deflated a little. Good, Zakharov thought to himself.

    “And third, the location will take another year to travel to, which is a year the colony will not have to be established. Time is of the essence. I feel it at all times; we can waste nothing and have to make practical decisions based on the totality of available data.”

    He surveyed the room and it was clear by body language that he had won the argument. But, there was no use in making enemies, so he continued. “Your analysis shows great promise Gregor, and I wish to that you will consider filling the role of colonization superintendent.”

    That had obviously caught him off guard. Zakharov smiled to himself.

    “Now I know this is a great responsibility and that you will want to consider whether you will accept, but I ask that you give it serious thought. As I said, we cannot afford to let any of our resources go to waste.”

    Gregor shifted a bit in his chair. “Well, you are very persuasive, Academician. I do believe I am up to the challenge.”

    Zakharov bolted out of his chair and darted over to the nonplussed man, took his hand, and shook it vigorously. “Good, good! Good! Now that is settled we need a bit of refreshment. Lunch should be here shortly. Nothing fancy, I’m sure, but I’m advised that we’ve found a way to neutralize the organonitrates in the grenade fruits and they are quite passable, even delicious. Just don’t mind the smell!”


    • #3
      Hive – 2104, Location: Hive Atoll

      “The scouts barely survived the attack and if they had not we would all be dead!”

      Seneschal Bitburg sat quietly as the small group of colonists continued to rant at him. After a few minutes he stood up and pushed his chair back beneath the small desk.

      “Quiet.” Bitburg said firmly. The group of colonists quickly quieted down and watch him carefully. “Good. Now, here is what you will do. Return to your work groups and leave everything to me.”

      The colonist and work leaders began to raise their voices again but were quickly silenced as Bitburg raised his arm and a large caliber earth-made pistol was in his hand pointing at them.

      “I said return to work, there is no need for further discussion. I have noted your concerns and I will address them.” Bitburg motioned with the pistol the direction of the door.

      The group of leaders quickly filed out.

      Bitburg watched the last one leave and then Captain Chusa walked in and a smile broke out on his face.

      “They were upset were they?”

      Bitburg put the pistol back on his desk.

      “Scared you did they?”

      Bitburg said nothing as he pulled his chair back out and then sat down and then swept the pistol back into his desk drawer.

      “Nothing scares me except the Yang. Now, can you replace the soldiers killed by that fungal thing or not? I need to know and report to Yang as soon as possible and hope the transmission makes it through to him this time. The further he gets the harder it is to send signals. We need to maintain security here and keep order. If you can not do either let me know and I will make plans.” Bitburg said coldly and with no emotion on his face.

      “I already have replacements picked out and in training. If one of those fungal blobs or worm masses comes again we will be ready for them.” Chusa reported as he drew himself up his voice full of contempt for Seneschal Bitburg.

      “Good. Send me a report on training progress as soon as possible. You are dismissed.”

      Chusa quickly turned and left leaving Bitburg alone in his tiny office. Yes, he thought, nothing is more terrifying to him than Chairman Yang, death by fungal worms would be a blessing indeed.


      New Arzamus, MY 2105

      Zakharov’s somewhat wild hair almost pulsed as he bounded through crowded room. He was all smiles, as were the colonists around him. Almost everyone turned toward him as he passed, and many shouted a greeting that he acknowledged with a nod or occasionally a word or two.

      He made it to the improvised podium, which was nothing more than a slightly raised platform over bare soil. A curtain of fabric and ferrocrete walls rose to form the largest and very modest room in the new colony. Newly manufactured luminescent panels were proudly displayed, and Zakharov instantly took notice. He stopped and reached to touch it reverently, and then spent a moment looking it over, inspecting the surfaces and circuitry. There were alternating frowns and happy gasps of surprise.

      “Academician?” a voice said.

      Zakharov straightened and turned. He faced a woman older than himself with gray hair that was a tightly bound as Zakharov’s was free. “Ms. Constance. This is excellent work. Is it yours?”

      She graced him with a smile. “Not mine, but my team’s.”

      “I have a thousand questions but no time. I imagine the placement of this was not an accident?”

      Amy shook her head. “You are a busy man, Academican. There is no better way to get your attention than to pique your interest.”

      Zakharov chuckled. “Yes, that is true. But come, you must share this. We can manufacture so little that is of any quality or more than a base utility. Will you present this to the Executive Council? With plans and improvements?”

      “I would be honored, Academician. As long as I can also present other ideas my team has had.”

      An eyebrow rose. “Other ideas? Well, I like ideas. Now, I am already behind schedule,” he said, nodding toward the crowd that was now milling around and watching the exchange with some interest.

      “Of course,” Amy Constance replied, and she graced him with a shallow bow at the waist. Zakharov nodded in return.

      At that he continued up to the podium and applause rippled through the crowd. Zakharov held up his hands until the clapping and raised voices were quieted.

      “One of my more pleasant duties is to officiate at dedications, and since Landing we have never had a dedication of this magnitude! Our first colony!”

      Applause started again, and then died away.

      “I have to say I fully approve of the name you have selected: New Arzamus. It is a tribute to one of our long lost homes, Arzamus in the Nizhny Novgorod region of mother Russia. At its start the town was a fort to guard the homeland against invasion, and it served the purpose of its founder Ivan the Terrible for many years. But the creative ability of the town’s people would not allow it to stay a mere fort, an outpost of Moscow. No, eventually Arzamus was a center of learning and had the first public library in Russia, established by Maxim Gorky himself in his own home, and over the centuries it was a bastion of art and beauty.

      “New Arzamus will follow in the footsteps of its illustrious namesake, for it too will quickly progress from humble beginnings to also be a beacon of hope for humanity on Chiron. Art and learning will return once again as we rebuild our society that has been subject of so many calamities.

      “We must treasure our accomplishments, which are made all the more pleasurable because they are so hard won,” he said. He glanced over at Amy Constance and gave her a barely perceptible wink. “And more and grander accomplishments wait in the future!”


      HIVE 2105, On board Unity Sea Transport PRIME

      “No land Chairman.”

      Yang sat stiffly in his chair as his hands glided across the desk towards some papers which he picked up and moved in front of him all the while never glancing away from Captain Gregor.

      “Our supplies are running short Captain. Our spare parts our almost gone for this ship. We need to find land and soon.” Yang said coldly his hands coming together in his lap.

      “Chairman, there is more fungus ahead and the land we thought was connected to the mainland is not. We have another two to three turns to go before we can reach land.” Gregor spoke hopefully all the while the moisture in his mouth dried up leaving his tongue feeling thick in his mouth.

      Yang said nothing but just continued to study Gregor for several minutes never blinking or twitching a muscle.

      “Chairman please, I am doing everything I can!” Gregor pleaded his body began to tremble with fear.

      “We can not go beyond three turns Captain. If we do not find land our food will be gone, our fuel will be exhausted and our lives wasted. Everything depends upon your ability to get us to land soon. I have confidence in your ability to do so, do not fail me.” Yang finished as he stood up and walked over to wall with the large porthole. “You may leave us now.”

      Gregor quickly bowed and turned and left the room quietly shutting the door behind him.

      Yang exhaled slowly and allowed his muscles to relax from the state of readiness he had prepared for. You never knew how some people would react to stress and if they would panic he had to be ready to defend himself. His years of studying para-bindu muscle discipline on Earth and kung-fu with many masters had honed his skills to the level of a grand master. In the chaotic hours after landing and the days that followed as the colonists had panicked Yang had installed discipline and order quickly and he had done it through his words and organizational skills. He had also been forced to use his martial arts skills to subdue Lal’s representatives as they argued against his form of leadership an argument that had not lasted long. Yang could kill with flick of his finger if need be and he could also manipulate the nerve nodes on a person to bring about extreme agony or pleasure.

      Now his dream of a utopian society was on the verge of ending for all eternity. If they did not find land soon, all would be lost.


      University Base, MY 2106

      Zakharov stared intently at the map of the area around University Base and New Arzamas.
      Image 1: Map of University territory MY 2106

      The area of rainy sectors was distressingly small. University Base had three sectors, but New Arzamas only one. Worse, territory to the north was either invested with fungus or was likely only moist enough to minimally sustain agriculture.

      At present it seemed logical to have both of their bases produce colony pods for more settlements. Their population growth was tied to the food they could gather, which was always going to be short. Zakharov almost laughed to himself. Imagine telling a city manager on Earth that they could only sustain a few thousand people before the rest starved to death? Even small cities were 50,000, and the largest many tens of millions. But then, they had technology and infrastructure – and his people had nothing. Nothing!

      Producing enough resources for a new colony would take 14 painful years and there was no real way to accelerate that schedule. In the meantime all they could do is explore the land they had landed in and hope for the best.

      Not for the last time Zakharov cursed the incompetent mission planners, that damned rebel Santiago, Yang for his lax security and letting that piece of work Santiago work under his nose, Garland for not running a tighter ship, and himself for not being able to work hard enough to save Unity.

      Damn it! It didn’t have to be this way!

      But it was. There was no going back and recrimination was in the end a waste of energy. It is much better to focus on the present and what could be done. The goal had to be slow, steady progress.

      Zakharov cleared his head. What was important? That was clear: new colonies. And where to establish them? Why, that was clear: in the one sector of clear terrain in the fungus-strewn river valley and perhaps to the northeast. If they were very lucky the terrain might be favorable, but it was best to plan as if it weren’t.


      HIVE 2106, On board UNITY sea transport PRIME

      “Captain, why did we leave our colony pod and colonists on that island?”

      Gregor was drenched in sweat as he looked up to see Chairman Yang enter the bridge.

      “We had to leave because a scout spotted one of those fungal masses on our starboard bow and it is now chasing us. If it is as deadly as the one reported by the colonists back on home island I felt it prudent to change course immediately.” Gregor’s voice took on pleading tones as he spoke and even more sweat appeared on his face and hands.

      “Return immediately to the island and pick up our colonists and equipment!” Yang said harshly as he walked over to the chart table with Gregor on the opposite side.

      Crewman on the bridge began to look down or out to sea, no one wanted to witness this ordeal.

      “I will Chairman, I will but it will take us time to outdistance this fungal mass if we can at all. Until we can free ourselves from it I dare not turn about.” Gregor whined.

      Yang walked pass the chart table to look out the port side observation turret to see the fungal mass. Sure enough not more than a ½ mile behind the ship a large orange/red mass of tendrils and pod like structures moved with as much speed as the PRIME. Yang fumed in frustration and anger over yet another delay to finding landfall.

      “Return as soon as you loose the mass and report to me immediately when you change course.” Yang said as he gracefully walked through the bridge to the door.

      Gregor let out a deep sigh and then quickly raced over to the radar station. The mass could not gain on them it seemed but neither could the ship at top speed outdistance it either. What a creature it was to have such power Gregor mused as he adjusted the radar screen to get a clearer reading.

      “Begin steering in a zig-zag pattern to see if we can throw it off our sent.” Gregor announced as he stared intently into the radar repeater. He had to loose the creature, he had to!


      University Base, MY 2107

      “This is a key breakthrough Academician,” Senior Researcher Constance stated. “Not only have we been able to unlock some of the key organonitrates that were making native plants and animals toxic, but we also have found additives for the soil that will allow Earth plants and maybe animals to thrive. In fact, I anticipate that we’ll be able to partially mechanize the process and allow us to create the first farms.”

      Amy looked over at the audience. Good, she thought. She had all of their undivided attention.

      “Moreover, we have been able to develop this mechanization one step further. With the proper and rather significant investment we will be able to do some basic terraforming of the lands around us. The team is not speaking of wholesale moving mountains, but something a bit more practical: roads and farms.”

      She rolled out a large old-fashioned paper blueprint that was heavily annotated and placed it on the table. The few remaining datapads were far too valuable for this type of work; technical research had been banished, it seems, to the late 20th Century – at best.

      A small crowd developed and at its head was Zakharov. He was looking intently and muttering to himself. Amy watched as his face twitched, causing his unruly hair to pulse, and also mouthing silent words or phrases – likely in several languages. And it was all going in fast forward, far too fast for her to follow. Zakharov’s mind was racing and evaluating. Studying. Analyzing.

      Researcher Richard Korath looked over at her. He as a holdover from the Unity command staff, a low level functionary who was now thrust into a position of authority that would never have been possible without the lobotomization of the Unity mission. Still, Amy had worked with him in the past and he was a good man and a fast learner. In short, she respected him. “Ms. Constance, I have to say I’m impressed. But I’m also concerned. I can see that you’ve already unlocked one of the biological keys to Chiron’s life, one that we will be able to build on. But your terraformers, they are frightfully expensive. If I understand this correctly, they will cost the equivalent of 10 years of base production. That is a long time.

      Amy nodded. “Yes, Mr. Korath. You are quite correct. The investment is substantial, and the resulting benefits will be equally substantial. For instance, simply roads will mean it will take a third less time to get to any area, so that a colony will not take 4 years to get to its location but only two. We’ll be able to build farms in moist areas, which will give our colonists a chance to have a food surplus instead of just scraping by. We’ll be able to plant forests of Earth vegetation, and then manage those to provide prestigious amounts of resources. So while the terraformers will be frightfully expensive, they will pay for themselves many time over.”

      She glanced over at Zakharov, who had apparently not been listening to her exchange with Richard. He was still muttering and concentrating, so she continued for the benefit of the other members of the council. “The Council should also consider dedicating some of our meager energy reserves to finishing the terraformers earlier than what would be otherwise possible. Every year we can buy will pay for itself for decades to come. It is an investment that we can’t…”

      Zakharov looked up and over at Amy. “This proposal is internally consistent and fits available data. Design schematics are both technically feasibly and within the manufacturing ability of our bases. We must implement this immediately.”

      He shook his head. He’d just stated out loud what he had been thinking. That’s odd. I almost never do that. I wonder why it occurred?

      Amy didn’t let the comment pass, though. “Thank you for your analysis and approval Academician. Perhaps the other council members have something else to add by way of critique?”

      That was the start of a long, spirited discussion, but Amy knew she had won. She caught Zakharov looking over at her a few times with the strangest expression on his face. Was it admiration? Relieve? Or maybe jealousy?


      HIVE 2107, On board UNITY sea transport PRIME

      “Nothing yet from the colonists Chairman.”

      Yang walked slowly down the corridor with his aide one-step behind him and two his left. Yang normally took his morning stroll at 5:00am but the lack of news from the colonists had been troubling his sleep for the past few nights. Normally, by using his martial arts training he could relax his body and bring about sleep in minutes but not the past few nights.

      Suddenly a bulkhead door ahead popped open and Captain Gregor jumped through.

      “Chairman!” Gregor exclaimed. “We have contact with the colonists. They are working their way back towards the landing site and providing we don’t get delayed again should have them on-board very soon.”

      Yang said nothing but merely nodded and then turned around and started walking back down the long central corridor. He could hear Gregor’s labored breathing behind him and could almost smell the fear on him but there was nothing he could do until the colony pod was aboard and the ship making towards land again.

      Yang decided to finish his walk and turned to Zhu.

      “As soon as I return to my cabin you may sound the all clear.” Yang said as he reach his cabin’s door.

      “Of course Chairman.” Zhu said flatly. While Yang took his walks along the main corridor no one else was allowed movement for security reasons, a precaution.

      “I will want my breakfast brought to me and a full report from Gregor on his new estimate for landfall as soon as possible.” Yang said as the door closed behind him.

      Zhu said nothing since the door was already closed and anything he would have said would not have been heard. Quickly Zhu began his day in earnest.


      • #4
        New Arzamas, MY 2108

        “All we know is that they are an anomaly, and likely one of the Unity pods. They were supposed to land proximate to landing sites but it is pretty clear they fell in pretty random patterns as Unity broke up,” Richard Korath stated.

        “That was my doing,” Zakharov said casually.

        That stopped everyone in their tracks.

        “Beg pardon?”

        Zakharov looked up from his half eaten faux sausage sandwich. It was pretty clear he didn’t much care for the xeno basil that some enterprising cook had incorporated into the ‘special sauce’ since it was all scraped off into an overly neat little pile. The sandwich itself was half eaten, and now clearly forgotten. “I said ‘That was my doing’”.

        “Then you caused the pods to fall helter scelter across Chiron? Why?” Richard asked.

        Zakharov’s brow furrowed as if the question made no sense. Then his mouth twisted in to a partial sneer. “You misunderstand. I caused them to be released when it was clear Unity was a lost cause. While everyone else was making for the life pods the engineering team was trying to hold Unity together just a little longer. It allowed Garland to get to the manual pod release…”

        “He did what?” Immanuel Florence almost yelled. “He died at command. Everyone knows that.”

        Zakharov swiveled his stare to the new speaker. The dining hall was now very quiet as the crowd strained to hear what was being said. The breakup and destruction of Unity was a growing source of legend and myth, and every new secret was coveted. “Then ‘everyone’ is wrong. He knew there was structural damage; I advised him so. I was in engineering, and he went to the central hub to blow the main interlock. Evidently he succeeded or we wouldn’t be having this little conversation. It was a one way trip, and he knew that. Brave man. On my way to Pod 4 I triggered an emergency random launch routine for all the supplies from Unity. Better that than have them burn up with Unity as it tumbled through the atmosphere. The pods were designed for atmospheric entry; Unity was not. I’m not surprised that at least a few survived.”

        Richard was trying to take this all in. The Academician had never told this to anyone before, but it still left questions. “Then why didn’t we find anything by the pod by New Arzamus?”

        Zakharov picked up his sandwich, looked at it with some distaste, and then put it down. “Obviously not all of the pods landed intact. They found a mineral lode there instead, didn’t they?”

        Richard nodded.

        “Evidently it was a hard landing. We could speculate for days, if you like. Or I could finish my lunch. Which would you prefer?”

        Zakharov’s tone was clear and Richard backed off. However, the drone of the crowd picked up a few degrees as everyone started discussing the new revelations: Garland as hero, and Zakharov as his helper. It was juicy stuff.

        Zak didn’t notice. He picked up his sandwich again and took a bite. His face screwed up in distaste, but he kept on eating. Sad to say, he knew this was the best the commissary had to offer. Hopefully this time it wouldn’t make him sick.


        HIVE 2108, On board UNITY sea transport PRIME

        Captain Gregor smiled and quickly turned to face the rest of the bridge crew and he saw the same smiles on their faces.

        “Does anyone see any fungus patches in front of us?” Gregor asked.

        The bridge crew all replied no.

        “Good.” Gregor replied with some cheerfulness in his voice, the first in some time. “Send a message the Chairman Yang that we are now clear of the fungus and only two sectors from land.”

        “Yes Captain!” Gregor’s executive officer snapped and quickly left the bridge.

        “Is there any word from the colonists?” Gregor asked hopefully. “Did they make it through the fungus?”

        “The last word is they were still trying to get the pod through the patch but it was not going well for them, in fact, they were stuck for all intents and purposes.” The communications officer commented sourly.

        Gregor frowned and return to look out the forward view ports to drink in the view of clean seas. The bad news about the colonists would not drag down his spirits. He had got them through at last and they were close to land. It had been Yang’s order to land the colonists, not his. However, if they had not landed them they would have all starved by now since the food processors and survival rations would have been all gone. At least the colonists could grow their own food while on land using the hydroponics banks and portable greenhouses.

        Well, Gregor thought one problem at a time now. Get the colonists and then land them on the mainland and hope Yang would be pleased about the whole affair and not demote him.


        University Base, MY 2109

        Zakharov looked around the Council room. There were five men and women seated around the table, a salvaged relic from the Unity pod. There was even a small and ablated icon of Unity near the center of the table, a reminder for all of them that their colony had come across light years and a fiery atmospheric reentry and survived, but just barely. New thinking and a tighter focus was needed or their small colony would perish.

        To his left was Amy Constance. It had taken a good amount of arm twisting to persuade her to leave her brilliant team, and in the end she had agreed and negotiated four months of ‘sabbatical’ every year to continue what she considered her most important work. Zakharov would have smiled at her tenacity if she weren’t so difficult most of the time. Hers was a sharp tongue, and she generally spared no one, especially if she thought they didn’t measure up or didn’t know what they were talking about. She was just as tightly wound as the bun of gray hair incongruously perched on the top of her head.

        Then there was Gregor Kline. He had done reasonably well with his role a colonization supervisor, but he took himself and his role somewhat seriously. There were always endless plans, engineering schematics, alternatives, process improvements – just the things that engineers do best. All the planning might very well come in handy soon, although not in the near future since there were no colonies in production. The new terraformers would take most of their efforts for the near future.

        Immanuel Florence was a new addition to the Executive Council. New Arzamus had insisted on some representation and had sent Immanuel to University base to represent their interests. It was a little awkward, but Zakharov had no dislike of the man. He was a little parochial, and it was irritating that he seemed to see everything through the prism of New Arzamus. Immanuel was definitely not a Big Picture sort of man.

        The person Zakharov felt the greatest kinship with was Gotz Hoeppe, who was an artist of all things. He was quiet most of the time and seemed to be able to observe everyone at once, and he generally had a half formed smile on his lips as if he were enjoying a private joke – perhaps at your expense. Still, he was certainly no dullard and he provided an interesting and generally useful interpretation on topics, if he could be drawn out. Privately Zakharov thought of him as a closet scientist, but one that could actually draw without the aid of a computer.

        Lastly there the acerbic Richard Korath, who had developed from a low level Unity officer into a full fledged pain in the ass. He took his position as an officer to mean he was entitled go give his opinion on everything, and he had a commanding air that struck Zakharov as forced. It did not help that he butted heads with him periodically, but he seemed to be particularly graceless even when he had been clearly wrong. Still, he was clearly a very intelligent man, and Zakharov knew all too well that there was a limited pool of talent.

        And so the conversations on the completion of their first terraformer raged. Personally Zakharov was thoroughly board. This had been effectively settled weeks ago once they allocated a good portion of their limited energy stores to its expedited completion, but everyone seemed to positioning themselves to be ‘right’. It was all so pointless. In the end they’d decide to build a road to the northeast, and then perhaps a forest. The effort would take years, but that was not the point. They had to start somewhere.


        HIVE 2109, At the debarkation site of atoll # 2

        “The transport is finally close enough to begin loading our people and equipment Seneschal.”

        Seneschal William DeFleis mearly nodded his head to acknowledge the news and continued writing his report.

        “Should we commence loading of the colony pod Seneschal?” The worker asked.

        “Well of course you should you idiot!” DeFleis raged at him throwing his scriber down on the e-pad while standing up. “Those were my orders. Now get out!”

        The worker or suboid as they were now classified by Yang quickly bowed and left the small pressure tent. DeFleis was amazed still that within a decade nearly every colonist had been broken and remolded or better yet, re-educated into the new system Yang had built. Those who had not broken had been killed or in DeFleis’s case, he had been promoted. The axiom of it is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven was more true in the Hive soc/political structure than ever before. Many of the suboids did not even respond to their names any more, just their identification numbers. After nearly ten turns of never hearing your name just your identification number they quickly realized that suboid 1A2987 got quicker results when it was feeding time and rest period time than waiting to be called by their given names.

        DeFleis quickly picked up the scribe he had slammed on the table and quickly sat back down to continue writing his report to Yang. Yang had already sad he wanted a day by day account of everything that had happened to include punishment reports, food consumption and any discoveries they had made. DeFleis knew that if anything was amiss that he would find himself in the new suboid class sooner than Yang could blink.

        According to the flash radio traffic he had gotten from the transport it would take a turn to load the transport and then reach land and then another turn to land the craft. It could be another one to three turns after that before they could find a suitable colony site which meant every food pack and supply canister would have to be rationed even more carefully than before. More burden for the suboids it would seem and perhaps the Seneschals as well.

        DeFleis quickly began to write again, he had to finish the report soon.


        University Base, MY 2110

        “Academician, the plans are complete. We can now build micro atomic power plants.” Amy Constance wore a smug smile. It wasn’t condescending, it was simply self assured and confident.

        Zakharov and the rest of the Council took a moment reviewing the results. The schematics were clear and relatively simple. More importantly, they were within the limited technological and industrial capabilities of their fledgling society.

        Gotz spoke up first. He had relatively little interest in the technical specifications and did not have the background for vetting the proposal. “Small atomic piles: for what use will they be put? Would not a power station need a large atomic pile?”

        Amy nodded. “Yes, that is correct. The primary application will be for long range vehicles. If you look on plate 23A you will see the schematics for what has been informally dubbed a speeder. Currently our scouts are able to survey at most one parsec a year due to the difficult terrain. The speeder is optimized to take advantage of open terrain, and it has a robust suspension that will allow it to traverse flat or rolling terrain. The key is the power plant – the micropile – that can supply the energy to keep the vehicle fully operational.”

        “Is this immediately useful, Madam Researcher?” Richard asked. He used the honorific with a slight tint of sarcasm.

        Amy’s gaze swiveled to Mr. Korath. “Yes, although there will be a tooling cost, which is likely to be prohibitive at this stage in our development. The primary ability is that it unlocks other much more productive abilities. In other words, it is a intermediate step to technology that will allow us to understand Chiron, or to other advances in transportation. Time will tell, gentlemen.”

        Zakharov spoke up. “I recall a comment that Commander Yang made long ago, even before Unity. We were discussing technological advancement, and he said:

        Technological advance is an inherently iterative process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and produce a probe. We use crude tools to fashion better tools, and then our better tools to fashion more precise tools, and so on. Each minor refinement is a step in the process, and all of the steps must be taken.

        “This is such a step,” Prokhor continued. “Very well done, Researcher Constance. Please convey my deep admiration to your team. Once again you have done when others said otherwise,” he said as he cast a sidelong glance at Richard Korath, “and I can only hope their analysis will yield even sweeter fruit in the future.”


        HIVE 2110, On board UNITY sea transport PRIME anchored one mile offshore from the unknown coastline

        “Do we begin landing?”


        Yang handed back the e-pad without a hint of elation in his one word response.

        “Thank you Chairman, I will begin disembarkation procedures immediately. All I need to know is our target colonization site.” Seneschal DeFleis said as he pocketed the e-pad.

        “Come with me.” Yang said as he turned away from the viewport and the panorama of the coastline.

        Yang walked over to the chart table and pointed at the large radar image map laid out on the table.

        “Here.” Yang pointed at a point of land about four sectors from the coastline. From the radar image it was a spot centrally located on top of a large mesa-like formation.

        “That is far from the coastline and with these worms about what if we encounter one of them?” DeFleis asked his voice edgy with concern.

        “You will have to deal with it. If you encounter other survivors incorporate them into your control and report to me. I will be here at the landing site awaiting your report as soon as you establish the colony and then I will join you.” Yang said as he tapped the proposed colony site.

        “What if we find the area overgrown with fungus or perhaps other survivors landed there?” DeFleiss asked quietly.

        “You will have to deal with it as best you can. I am ordering the PRIME back to atoll #1 as soon as the last of the colonists leave. They will return with the second colony pod and our scout regiment. Once we are together and combined we will be able to deal with any resistance.” Yang said as he began tapping his fist on the map.

        DeFleiss knew the interview was at an end.

        “Thank you Chairman, I will not fail you.” DeFleis said as he touched finger tips to heart, mouth and head and then bowed. The proper salute of acknowledgement of loyalty in soul, word and thought to the collective and it’s great leader.

        “See that you do.”


        University Base, MY 2111

        Gregory pointed at the recently scouted territory. “This area contains a few rainy areas has a river valley. This will have to be on our long-term colonization list. Unfortunately, it is fairly far away. The road we may be able to construct will help, but not much. I’m afraid it will make more sense to colonize closer to our existing bases for the time being. Additionally, bases that are close will be able to support each other if we have hostiles.”

        “Hostiles?” Getz asked. “Do you mean native life?”

        “Primarily,” Gregory explained. “We need to be aware that there may be aliens on the planet. The boreholes just north of the capital are evidence enough, I should think. We also have to consider the option that other survivors from Unity might not be friendly.”

        “Any why not?” Getz continued.

        “Any number of reasons: desperation, insanity, greed, politics – the same reasons that governments were at odds on Earth. We did not leave that behind when we lifted out of orbit, and from what we know the malevolent influences of Earth came with us.”

        “You mean Santiago’s little coup attempt,” Amy said.

        Gregory nodded. “Yes. We don’t have all the facts, but it seems that Yang wasn’t able to completely eradicate the cells since the leader was his second in command. Who knows what else went wrong, or what other little surprises are out there? No, we need to do what we can to be prepared. Our position is tenuous at best, so caution is the optimal course.”

        Zakharov interjected. “Agreed. And when will our colony pod be ready?”

        “At least 12 years. New Arzamus is still working on their terraformer, and our energy supplies are very low. We will have trouble doing much more than we are currently, and it will be a long while before our options increase substantially.”

        “Sadly, I have to concur. Good summary Gregory. Thank you.”


        • #5
          HIVE 2111, Colony pod #1 in route to colony site alpha

          “Seneschal there is fungus all around us!”

          “It does not matter, we have orders to press forward and we will!”

          The driver of the massive colony pod nodded glumly and turned to leave the cramped compartment to return the cockpit.

          DeFleis watched the man go with fear in his heart, not about the driver but the report of more fungus. It was nasty stuff and until they had the scout regiment DeFleis only had his colonists to rely upon for any defense.

          Slowly he turned his swivel chair to look out the small porthole that gave him his narrow view of the alien landscape as the pod lumbered along.

          Soon, he hoped the few volunteers he had out would find a passage but perhaps they wound not return. It was all to depressing, too depressing as DeFleiss quickly reached in his pocket for a relaxer. He knew he was using too many of them lately but he was the seneschal and no one had his problems.


          University Base, MY 2212

          Zakharov knew he should be pleased. University Base now had 2000 citizens, which amounted to 50 percent more then when Unity broke up 12 years ago. That gave them a little more cushion against disaster, but no very much. At best life on Chiron was a little less tenuous.

          What was distressing was that the resources that could be devoted to research were thin at best. So much was required for basic subsistence and their modest plans for expansion. If the projections could be believed, it would take eight years between likely breakthroughs.

          The sad fact was that the currency of the realm was energy, and they didn’t have enough. No terraforming techniques were available to harvest solar power, and there were no rivers nearby. Perhaps a forest might help. Yes, that might be a stopgap answer. The University Base terraformer had just finished the road to the east, and there was some flat territory that could be used to plant a basic forest.

          There was also the prospect of the boreholes. They would yield an impressive array of minerals and energy, but no food. And without food there would be no growth, and that was critical to reduce uncertainty in their fragile position. No, for now utilizing the boreholes were out of the question. But perhaps in the future…


          HIVE 2112, On board UNITY sea transport PRIME

          Captain Gregor watched in horror as the massive wave of reddish/orange tube like fungus worms flooded across the deck of his ship. The worms, which was the closest thing they looked like engulfed crewmembers in tidal wave and swept them from one side of the deck to the other. The large floating isle and attached itself to the bow of the PRIME and was now, for lack of a better term, was eating his ship.

          “My God!” Gregor screamed. “Where is security! Where is the defense attachment!”

          Kaxons began to erupt all over the ship and quickly crewmembers began to respond to the attack with flame throwers and petro-gernades ( Molotov cocktails ). Within minutes the mass of worms that had been close to encapsulating the entire ship had been destroyed.

          Gregor waited impatiently as his second in command went about collecting damage reports for the ship. Within an hour the XO had returned, his face stern and cold.

          “We lost a full third of the crew Captain and anything organic that was forward of the bridge, on deck was consumed by the worms. We still have propulsion and steerage but we have a lot of repair work.” The XO sat down across from his Captain beside the chart table.

          “Begin repair as soon as possible. Lets get the crew, what’s left of them some food and rest before we start. I will want to make best possible speed to atoll #1 and pick up the colonists but I have no intention of every going back into fungus again, no matter what the Chairman says or how long it takes for us to get to the colonists.” Gregor said as he raised his coffee cup and took a quick drink of the now cold liquid.

          He hated this planet more than anything in the world.


          University Base, MY 2213

          “It is worth every joule, every last one,” Zakharov said. His arms were crossed across his chest and his eyes hooded.

          Richard Korath spoke up. “Academician, the cost to hurry the production of the terraformer at New Arzamas is fully 70% of our available energy reserves. That is significant, especially when you consider that it will take us eleven years to replace the energy! If we have a crisis then we will be in deep trouble.”

          “It is an investment,” the Prokhor replied. “The University Base terraformer will start a forest soon, and that will bring very valuable resources our city. New Arzamus will be growing soon, and if a forest is established in the flat river valley the resources will be prestigious – an effective tripling of their modest energy production. The same is partially true for University Base, where a forest will increase our energy production by 50%. In that you we the nature of the investment: more resources at the cost of resources today.”

          Zakharov paused. “Unless there is a more compelling argument then I am going to approve the expenditure. We will gain an entire year of terraformer time, and also get an advance on the production of a colony pod. That will, incidentally, be vastly expedited by the resources from the forest, when it is finally productive.

          “And I have been led to believe that, given time, the forests will spread and replace the blasted xenofungus that infests Chiron. I am sure none of you will argue against that, now would you?”

          The question was a rhetorical one and it generated no reply. That suited Zakharov just fine.

          “Now, to the next item on our interminable agenda: grenade fruit production…”


          HIVE 2113, one sector northeast of landing site

          “This fungus continues to bog the tracks down like nothing I have seen before!”

          “Seneschal the tracks are nothing to what happens to you if you stand in it for a while. I saw a young boy nearly engulfed in it and after we pulled him from it he died a few days later when those grubs started crawling out of his mouth, nose and ears. I nearly lost it when I saw it.”

          DeFleiss had read the report as well and nearly had vomited from it. The vid-tape was taken after the event but even after scorching the body with a flame thrower the worms continued to crawl out of him.

          “Here is the lastest progress report Seneschal.”

          The pod commander handed over a e-pad that blinked on as soon as DeFleiss’s finger hit the on button. It showed clearly that by next turn they would reach a sector of land free of fungus. The sector was just short of the mesa area target by Chairman Yang for colonization.

          “Proceed north to this sector.” DeFleiss pointed on the e-pad map. “Make best possible speed for this point. When we reach there if we find that the way ahead of us is blocked by fungus I will want to disembark the colonists and set-up the colony there.”

          DeFleiss handed back the e-pad and crossed his arms.

          “Of course Seneschal.” And the pod commander bowed slightly and left the cramped room.

          Turning slowly to face the small porthole DeFleiss let out a long breath and waited. He was taking a deep risk here in contradicting the Chairman’s orders but supplies were running low and crossing unknown territory was beginning to worry him more and more. DeFleiss had consulted with several of the construction foreman and they all agreed that if they had to choose a spot to build the colony on they would choose the slopes of the mesa rather than the mesa itself. They still had no idea if any sectors on the mesa were free of fungus and it would take another decade to find that out, if not more.

          The time for quick action was at hand and DeFleiss had to act.


          University Base, MY 2114

          “Mr. Kline, what is your assessment?” Zakharov asked.

          Gregory stood up, taking his time, and then paced to the front of the small Council room. “At this time I would say that we have the territory for three moderately spaced bases or five closely placed bases. The optimal sites are here, here, and here,” he said as he pointed toward two river valleys and a site near one of the very rare rainy sectors. “We do not know the extent of the landmass he happened to land upon, but we do know that it is infested with xenofungus. To date we have spent very little effort trying to penetrate the fungus for the very practical reason that we haven’t had to. Our lone scout has been able to make progress without battling the virulent alien life systems. But that may change.”

          He shifted and highlighted the latest explored areas. “The scout has been out for 14 years and has explored considerable territory. Now they report that there is little fungus free land they can approach. There are a few possible areas, but we will eventually need to decide if we are going to commit resources to this effort and, if so, how much.

          “At this time it is my opinion that our single scout can attempt to penetrate the fungus if that is necessary, but only if necessary. I have advised them that, unless they receive other guidance from this Council, that they are to avoid the fungus if at all possible. All other avenues are to be investigated.

          “Further, our two bases are now producing colony pods, which will take considerable resources and likely a decade to complete. We can spare no additional resources at this time for additional scouts, and if we did it would be likely that they would negatively affect our manufacturing base by needing large amounts of supplies that, frankly, we can ill afford to lose.

          “Our strategy should be to continue what we are doing: explore what we can, expand the number of bases, and then if we can invest in exploring the fungus and the territory that lies beyond it.”

          Gregory scanned the room and saw a series of nods. Zakharov was reserved, as usual, as he glanced at his erstwhile leader. Finally Zakharov said, “I agree with your analysis Mr. Kline. There is no reason to change our policy at this point, although perhaps in the future we will be in a position to alter this decision.”


          • #6
            HIVE 2114, Two sectors northeast of landing site

            “The terrain is getting better Seneschal.”

            “Let me see!”

            Quickly but gently the surveyor placed the large e-pad on the tiny metal desk in front of the Seneschal.

            DeFleiss did not pick up the large e-pad but deftly activated the large display screen. The larger e-pads were getting hard to maintain and service and without any manufacturing capabilities to build replacement the ones they had needed to last a long time.

            The digital photos displayed large amounts of land that looked very fertile and rich, almost lush.

            “Where were these taken?” DeFleiss asked as he quickly looked through the remaining pictures without looking up.

            “Just east of our current position, one sector east to be exact, just on top of the mesa area.” The surveyor said happily.

            “Any views or information about the sector just east of that, our target site?” DeFleiss asked hopefully.

            “No, nothing on that yet but if we head east as planned we will know soon.” The surveyor quickly added in a subservient tone.

            “Good. I will inform the helmsman to head east immediately and make for that sector and I do hope for all of our sakes we find the target site clean of this filthy fungus.” DeFleiss said as he deactivated the e-book and gently handed it back to the surveyor.


            University Base, MY 2115

            Zakharov smiled. “I have not been ordered to do this, Sergi. No one in Moscow, the Ministry of Defense, or the University of St. Petersburg has mentioned this, and I suspect that if they knew they would be highly critical.”

            The old man on the other end of the view screen scowled. “This is not like you Prokie. Why would you want to be around those blundering idiots at the UN? All they can do is examine their navels while the house burns around them. Did you hear about Kazakhstan? Again? There was another gas attack right under their noses. And you trust these…people to sail a space ship to another star.” Sergi issued a very rude noise as an exclamation.

            “And that is precisely why they need someone with practical experience, who know how to build and understand how systems work. This mission to Alpha Centauri is an opportunity, and without me it will not get off the ground, or if it does it will never make it to Alpha Centauri. You know this. I know this. As you say, navel gazing bureaucrats can get resources, but they will fail in the execution – unless they bring in someone from outside to ensure it happens.”

            There was a pause. “Da. You are right,” he said, but it was clear he was not happy about it. “They will fail without you. But what of us? We will fail if you leave. The Ministry is tearing itself apart, not that you can prevent our own idiots from ripping each other’s hearts out. You, at least, can make sure the pieces are put back together correctly. Just like at Kolymar.”

            “Ah, Kolymar. You will not let me forget that,” Zakharov stated. His voice proud, but with a tough of sadness.”

            “Kolymar. Your finest hour. What you did saved the war, and perhaps the Republic. You made sure the generals – may God smite their souls – had the tools to…well, you know. It does not bear repeating. That is why the Ministry will not want to let you go. You know too many secrets, and perhaps you are the secret. Prokie, you are the head of the Ministry’s research and development, the top minister. You report directly to the President’s Council. What more could you want?”

            Zakharov didn’t reply right away. “What I want is to do something new, to build a world – nothing less. The Republic is diminished, Sergi. The last war ripped the façade we had worked so long to build, and now it is there for all to see. The next decades will not be happy ones. I have to go, to make a place for humanity, and to leave old ideas behind.”

            “And old friends?” Sergi said. His voice was clear, even if he was over 80 years old. But there was a touch of bitterness in the question.

            “Yes, and to leave old friends. I am going, Sergi, and I wanted you to know. You will understand, even if you do not like it. Would you go if you had the chance?”

            Sergi pursed his lips, and then gave in.” Da. I would go. You should too. Just be sure to take good people with you. You will need them to clean up all the messes those UN idiots will make for you.”

            “Thank you, my friend. Thank you. I could arrange to have you come. If you wish.”

            “Nyet. You need the young, young minds and healthy spirits. I will stay and keep the Republic alive for a while longer, and when I am gone then it will have to fend for itself. And then heaven help us all.”

            Zakharov fingered a small cross, a gift from Sergi and one of the few mementos that had survived the Unity disaster. The cross symbolized tradition, and the deep seated ways of the Eastern Orthodox Church – survival, adaptation, and perseverance. It was not so much a religious symbol as a symbol of hope against terrible odds.

            His fingers closed around the cross and he felt the metal bite into his hand.


            HIVE 2115, rear command post for Chairman Yang

            “Here is the report from Seneschal DeFleiss Chairman.”

            Zho handed over the e-pad to Yang with a slight bow.

            “What does it say.” Yang said as he laid the un-activated e-pad on his desk.

            “Seneschal DeFleiss reports that the proposed colony site is covered in fungus. However, his current position, one sector west of the proposed site is an excellent area for colonization. With time he suggests the fungus could be cleared away and then another colony site could be established on the mesa.” Zho said quietly and in even tones.

            “With the loss of our scouting regiment at the Alpha landing site I see no other option but to proceed with colonization of the site DeFleiss suggests. I have sent instructions to Captain Gregor to proceed with all due speed to the Alpha landing site and secure our second colony pod and return it to this area.” Yang said flatly his cold blue eyes fixed on Zho.

            “Of course Chairman.” Zho bowed his reply. “Will you be leaving soon?”

            “I am leaving now.” Yang said as he stood up and quickly adjusted his tunic. “Inform my guard that we break camp now for the colony site.”


            University Base, MY 2116

            Amy Constance sipped her tea as she looked out of the wavy glass in her new quarters. The glass was far from optically perfect, but it was continuous and had none of the structural impurities that had previously meant windows were rare in any building. Each had to have a positive seal, and any noticeable flaw could cause serious problems – such as a leak. There had been numerous instances of entire pressure tents being overcome with nitrogen narcosis, and sometimes the results were more than just injuries or incapacitation. Several times individuals had become disoriented and had gone off into the fungus – never to be heard from again.

            Sipping the bitter tea and looking out a real window were a luxury, even if they were a simple luxury. Even though she was a member of the Council and a research head she insisted her entire staff have access to similar accommodations. It was right and proper to have elites and a privileged class, but not on a team that required a fine integration and egalitarian work systems. Elevating herself too much would drive a wedge into the team, which at best would decrease its productivity.

            It also helped that Amy knew she didn’t really care about the niceties in live. She was quite happy with her 90 square meter apartment, daily tea, and a first rate team of intelligent individuals to work with. Sean had now left to form his own team to pursue some promising physics leads, and Edward has now more involved in largely solitary life sciences work. Amy was happy for them, and in reality they were now an extended team. Generating the environment for creative minds was half or perhaps most of the battle here on Chiron. There were so few people, as Zakharov had noticed sourly on many occasions. Amy didn’t spend much time brooding about that. The future was much too interesting.


            HIVE 2116, Main entrance to the HIVE

            Yang walked slowly through the massive blast doors that secured the underground complex from anything short of thermonuclear device. The team of engineers Yang had secured and used from the UNITY exploration expedition had designed his ‘dream’ city during the nine month journey through the Alpha Centauri solar system. The engineers had all perished during the calamity that had befallen the stricken UNITY but not the plans. Yang had given out packets of the construction schematics to Seneschal DeFleiss so that the various construction brigades would build the complex without knowing what the others were doing. Even the chief Seneschal of HIVE would be responsible for the operation of the complex would not know the entire plan. Only Yang would know or have the complete design of each city and his control, his access to each future city would be insured.

            “The upper levels for command and control and, of course, your administrative offices are done Chairman. The lower levels for manufacturing, living and recreation are still under construction.” Seneschal DeFleiss reported happily.

            Yang stopped and quickly snapped his head towards DeFleiss which in turn stopped him cold as well.

            “What do you mean by recreation facilities?” Yang asked coldly.

            “Well, I thought a few areas could be set-aside for recreation and exercise areas. I”

            “Don’t think!” Yang cut him short, his voice like a frozen wind. “I think, you do. Is this clear.”

            “Of course Chairman.” DeFleiss almost babbled.

            “Good.” Yang said in his usually flat voice. “It is now more critical than ever that we succeed where others have failed. Seneschal Burton allowed my scout regiment to see it’s doom as well as his colony pod and colonists. So we are it, alone. I have ordered Captain Gregor to begin collecting Unity sea pods in hopes of finding more equipment we can use here. Once we have trained new guards I want you to take them out to the two pods adjacent to this complex and discover what goods might be in them.”

            “Me Chairman?” DeFleiss almost squeaked his response.

            “Yes you.” Yang fired back his step picking up again as he walked down the ramp. The hiss of hydraulics announced that the massive doors were now closing. “I want you to take them out and find supplies. Is that clear.”

            “Most clear Chairman.” DeFleiss said weakly.

            Yang continued to walk even more quickly down the ramp to his new home, his subterranean vault and the new world he was about to bring about.


            New Arzamas, MY 2217

            Immanuel Florence was very happy. His city, his pride and joy had finally doubled its population! The facilities were a bit Spartan, but it was the progress that counted. Young men and women that had been born on Chiron were now coming of age and were becoming productive members of society instead of its potential. Some were even starting families, which was not at all discouraged. There were even a few of those new group marriages, and other more simple cohabitation social contracts. Regardless, as long as his people were healthy, happy, productive, and prolific that was all that mattered.

            There were some disturbing rumors, though. Facilities hadn’t expanded quite fast enough and there was dissent. It was manageable but it was clear that further growth might push it past the tipping point. Chaos would be catastrophic, and hundreds of productive citizens would have to be recalled to keep the peace.

            The new colonies were a natural outlet for dissent. The extra population could go and form new cities and, to some extent, form their own societies, and it took the pressure off fragile infrastructure. It was a huge investment – 15 to 30 years worth of their meager industrial production – but it was worth it. The long term health of this city and the expansion of the University demanded it.

            Yes, today was a good day – a happy day. Immanuel only hoped there were many more like this.


            HIVE 2117, One sector east of HIVE

            “What is it?”

            “Don’t know, don’t care.” The Chief Fireman said lazily. “The Chairman said to check it out and we did. Whatever it is we bring it back for the Chairman and his scientists to work it out.

            “Yea, I know but aren’t you even curious?” Another fireman asked hopefully.

            “You lot get it straight right now and hear me good.” The Chief said menacingly. “We do as we are told, we enforce the will of the Chairman and keep order. I don’t think I said anything just then about being curious. As Firemen we fight corruption and disorder we protect the great plan Chairman Yang has for us and that is that. So now you slugs pick this piece of **** up and move it!”

            About thirty of the firemen quickly jumped to lift the three and half meter tall device from the cubicle it was lodged in. Another hundred or so firemen patrolled the surrounding area on the look out for worm sign. The remaining firemen in the brigade were stationed further out in companies of hundred or so men, all told the brigade had ten companies of a hundred firemen each.

            “Should we take it back immediately chief to the Chairman or move on to the other site?” One of squad leaders asked as he trudged by holding a corner of the device.

            “Don’t think just left you piece of ****!” Stormed the Chief. “We take it back now for the Chairman to inspect and then take over operations back at Hive while the 2nd Fire brigade searches for the next pod.”

            The men just nodded and continued to trudge along with the device. Chief Lancey looked around at the ruins one last time and a chill ran up his spine. Whatever that piece of **** was it was not made by humans, that was for certain and whoever made it might still be around.


            University Base, MY2118

            The video scanned back and forth, showing a wide expanse of young but vigorous trees in the mouth of the river valley. There was a mixture of what looked like oak and pine, with the oak taking the lowlands and the oaks along the edges of the river valley. Through the middle ran a meandering river with a vast wetland that spread out over the flat terrain. To the north was a wide expanse of xenofungus that spread as far as the eye could see, and the contrast between the deep blues and reds of the xenofungus and the vibrant hues of green with brown in the forest was stark, and to human eyes breathtakingly beautiful. A squad of workers from New Arzamus was working near the river valley harvesting some of the young stands of pine. They were obviously being careful to only thin the stands. There was no woodland strip mining in this new forest.

            A second video camera panned over a forest that covered an area by the sea near University Base. This forest was not blessed with a river, but the growths of pine were virulent nonetheless. They seemed to form a dark green blanket that extended from the edge of the fungus-infested sea to the fungus-infested rise to the north. A group of newly arrived arborists-in-training were at the edges of this grove, and they were also carefully harvesting selected areas for University base.

            Zakharov looked on with approval. This was a real achievement: the first widespread adaptation of Earth life to this forsaken planet. True, only two sectors has been planted, but perhaps in time more areas could be managed in such a way. It was also possible that the Earth-modified forests might spread. It seemed unlikely, but there was always hope. The resources the forests were providing the two University bases were significant. University Base would finish their colony pod in two more years, and New Arzamas would finish theirs in five years. That was progress. Even more, their research rate had increased by 40% and their income had doubled. Granted, going from one megajoule of surplus energy to two was not much to brag about, but it was something.

            Finally he turned off his private viewer and went back to the technological specifications for Centauri Hydrology, their latest advance. At first he had been disappointed since it was little more than rediscovering how to build bloody boats. But then it became obvious that this was more than that. True, they could now build boats and transports – if they wanted to make that huge investment – but what was more important was the ability to create sea terraformers. This was a far off goal due to the huge costs involved, but it was worthwhile. And of course there was the prospect of this technology being the underpinnings of more technologies.

            Overall the forests were a very positive development, as was their breakthrough. Now if their scouts had a bit of luck in exploration he would be happy. He had been reluctantly convinced to send University Base’s defender to scout out some territory. They would be gone for at least several years, during which their city would be defenseless against any nasty native life form that might show up. That was just like the early days, and it made him very nervous. He just hoped the squad came home safely. Soon.


            • #7
              HIVE 2118, The Hive – central labs

              “What is it?”

              “Chairman we do not know.”

              Yang looked menacingly at the lead scientist and then he swept his gaze over the small group of men his face twisted in contempt.

              “None answers and not knowing is not acceptable.” Yang said coldly. “I can tell you it did not come from the Unity so it has to be indigenous to this plant, created here.”

              “Yes Chairman.” Several of the scientists mumbled.

              “So if it was here before we came then it has to have been built by another sentient being, correct?” Yang said frostily.

              “Well, yes, of course Chairman.” The chief scientist replied. “Our tests also indicate that the device was made tens of thousands of years ago, perhaps as old a million years. Our instruments are not sophisticated enough to truly extract an exact age. The power supply for this device also posess major questions, for example, the device has been operating for as long as a thousand years but the power levels we are reading show massive power levels more than enough to run HIVE for decades if needed.”

              Yang said nothing but continued to circle the device in his slow methodical steps. The device was clearly not just a power supply, the fool scientists. Now, if he had Zakharov and some of his scientists he might be able to have unlocked this mystery sooner but he had to work with the tools at hand.

              “See that you continue your research efforts at maximum efforts. Any shirking by you or your team will result in my disfavor.” Yang said as he turned to leave the room.

              Zho quickly fell into step just slightly behind Yang along with the security detail.

              “Zho order surveillance teams to increase coverage in this area 24-hours a day and post a detail to the lab as well. Inform the scientists that anyone caught leaking the news of this discovery will be eliminated for treason.” Yang said quickly as they reached the elevators.

              “Of course Chairman.” Zho murmured as he quickly jotted down some notes on his e-pad. “Any additional security?”

              Yang stopped short and turned to look at Zho his face expressionless.

              “Are you suggesting that the creatures that built the device we found still might be alive?”

              “I suppose I am Chairman.” Zho said quietly.

              “Nonsense.” Yang said in an almost jokingly manner. “Any society that would dispose of such a device, leave it lying a around would be insane. No, they are all dead I am sure of it.”

              “What if the device is a Trojan horse of some sorts? We find it, take it into our city and then it explodes. The chief scientist clearly indicated that the potential power of the device is massive.” Zho countered.

              Yang said nothing for a minute then shook his head no.

              “Zho your thinking is flawed. Your argument presupposes that the creatures who built it knew we were coming and placed it there many thousands of years ago. From the reports taken by the Fireman no evidence was found that the device had been disturbed for some time. No, we are dealing with an ancient, lost alien culture and we are now picking the bones clean, salvaging the relics of their time. Once we unlock their secrets it will make us more powerful to be sure.” Yang replied as he waited for the elevator doors to open. “No Zho we are perfectly safe I assure you.”

              Yang stepped into the elevator followed by the security detail and then the doors shut leaving Zho alone.

              The Chairman was so positive about this but could he be wrong Zho thought. No, he prayed that Yang was correct or they were all lost for sure.


              University Base, MY 2119

              “But look, just look!” Gregory said as he pointed to the area the scout had just explored. It showed a rolling and more importantly fungus-free area due east of University Base. “We have to send our scout further so see what is in that area. If there is another sector or two of fungus-free territory then we may be able to build another base. We had assumed, for heavens sake, that the area was infested with fungus! We have relatively little territory. We have to give them the order to continue!”

              Zakharov looked impassively at Gregory Kline as he continued his argument. The discussion had been going on for over an hour, and most Council members were on the fence. Gregory was, obviously, for sending University Base’s defending infantry further east to explore new territory. All heads turned to Zakharov, who to this point hadn’t said anything.

              “I agree that this might be a possible colony location,” he started, and Gregory cracked a smile. “But we have to weigh the defense of our home city against exploration. We have at least four sites for new bases, if they are relatively closely spaced, so there is no critical need for exploration at this moment. A colony pod will be completed in the coming year, and this colony will be placed – at your recommendation – north east of University Base to take advantage of a rare rainy sector. The colony pod from New Arzamus will be located north of University Base in a short river valley. It will take decades at best before we can think of a new base, and during that time I am certain we will be able to spare an explorer to scout this territory.”

              Gregory looked somewhat defiant, so Zakharov added. “I appreciate your zeal in finding new colony sites, Gregory. My trust in you was not misplaced. However, if an infestation of native life were to appear the men, women, and children of University Base – a critical portion of all that may be left of humanity – may die. That is too great a risk. So we will keep this as a second tier priority. We will explore this territory. But not now.”


              • #8
                HIVE 2119, Citizens Command Complex ( CCC )

                “Chairman, work is proceeding at good pace on our first terraformer.”

                “Your ‘good pace’ does not meet my expectations of good pace Steward and I expect that as the Peoples Steward for Production you will improve on this delivery date.”

                Shop Steward Melanie Mitchell nodded her head in agreement and quickly sat down.

                Yang swept his cold eyes over the assembled group of Shop Stewards who ran the day to day operations within HIVE.

                ”Let me make myself perfectly clear.” Yang began his voice edged with anger. “Our long sea journey to this new land I am sure has put us behind any of the other survivors from UNITY. I want to make up that time double quick, is that clear!”

                Yang was not really asking their opinion as everyone knew, he was telling them.

                “Zho will coordinate your efforts more closely and I will have Fireman install more surveillance equipment in key production areas so that any worker caught in non-productive efforts will receive corrective training.” Yang said forcefully. “I want to have our terraformer completed within the next three turns and then begin construction on a new colony pod. It is crucial that we expand our settlements and the site I want to put our next colony pod is infested with that pink slim.”

                Everyone in the room had bowed heads as they jotted down notes on everything Yang said.

                Yang continued. “It is clear to me that the need for tighter social order is required and I will see that the Fireman stand vigilant in protecting the people from corruptive influences and distractions. We as a united people need to strive forward, not backward and rebuild our society into a utopia that all share the fruits of their labor. We will create a new citizen who is focused on the prosperity and health of their fellow workers and not his own selfish needs. This is our dream my fellow citizens and I will insure it becomes reality whatever the costs.”

                As Yang finished everyone finished writing their notes and then quickly stood up and clapped. Yang just sat there with no expression on his face.


                University Base, MY 2120

                The motley collection of prefabricated buildings, installations, and supplied had been leaving for the new colony site for well over a year. University Base’s industrial production had been completely absorbed in the process, and even their meager buildings had been cannibalized to ensure the new colony had enough basic infrastructure. At first the migration had been barely noticeable with a few mechanized teams leaving every week, but in the last months the few teams had turned into an exodus. Hundreds of people were now leaving for the new base site, and University Base was feeling rather empty. What hurt the most was the loss of all the young people. Already they considered themselves members of the ‘University’ and called this strange and antagonistic planet Chiron their home. They had never known Earth, and they most likely never would. The young outnumbered the Unity survivors, who were called ‘Landers’ by the youngsters.

                Of course, Landers went too. The most mature of the young were now just entering their second decade, and although they grew up fast they were still so green. Rapidly aging Unity survivors acted as mentors, team chiefs, teachers, and senior administrators, and the Chironites were rapidly moving up to fill vacated stations and ever more critical positions.

                This was natural, but it did cause stress among the old timers. Then again, the new generation always causes the older generation stress with fears they won’t measure up or be up to the task. But from what Zakharov had seen they would do just fine, and it would require the Landers to be more flexible. The choices were either to be flexible or to break, which was a lesson Zakharov had learned oh, so well as a combat engineer along the Bering Straits.

                Yes, they would do fine, if given the chance – and it was the Lander’s duty to make sure they got that chance.

                HIVE 2120, Chairman Yang’s private chambers

                Yang studied the report intently that had just come in from the UNITY sea transport PRIME and it pleased him greatly. The idiot captain had been fortunate to find one of the computer storage modules from the UNITY when it broke up over the planet during re-entry. The hardened data storage modules were incased in heat resistant alloys and shielded to protect them from anything including a EMP ( electro-magnetic pulse )

                The data pod contained schematics, construction plans that would give HIVE engineers the required guidance to build fission reactors and heavy to light ground transport vehicles equipped with fission reactors. It was a boon in deed that would allow Yang to build a mobile force of Fireman to scour and scout the area around HIVE to secure it.

                So far the location of the HIVE on top of the mesa had been more than fruitful and his people his society was thriving. The terraformer would soon be completed and it could begin its task of scourging the land of this foul fungus. The next item on the production agenda was to replace the lost colony pod and get it moving to the new colony site. Roads and the removal of fungus would vastly decrease the time the transport would take to get there.

                The door security alarm began to chirp at Yang and he quickly activated the view screen on his desk to see who was out there. Yang saw that Zho was standing there with an e-pad in hand holding it out to be inspected by the two Fireman standing guard outside.

                Yang hit the door lock release and then settled himself into his chair.

                Zho entered quickly and moved over in front of Yang’s desk and bowed deeply holding it till Yang spoke.

                “What do you have to report?” Yang asked softly.

                “The 3rd Fire brigade reported they found a large mineral deposit to our northeast Chairman. It has double the mineral capacity the site we are currently mining and it also is as rich in nutrient soil so we can maintain our current food production and increase our mineral production by moving the drones to the new site.” Zho replied respectfully as he handed Yang the e-pad that had all the details.

                “Good.” Yang began as he quickly scanned the e-pad as he talked. “Inform the Seneschal to transfer the workers to the new site immediately and get them to working on it. Work first and then set-up their base camps. I want no delays in production.”

                “Chairman if they do begin with setting up the mining gear and farming apparatus first it will take weeks before they will be able to set-up habitat shelters to live in. Some of the drones could die of exposure without proper shelter.” Zho quickly responded his voice tinged with fear.

                Yang said nothing at first then smiled.

                “Zho you have your orders, carry them out. It is imperative to the collective that we get that additional mineral production as soon as possible. If a few drones die for the advancement of the collective then those are the hard choices I make to build our new society. Now you may leave and Zho.” Yang paused for a few heartbeats. “You are not to ever question my decisions. You are the tool not the hand, do your function and you will prosper. Broken tools are recycled. Is that clear?”

                Zho bowed again his fore head slick with sweat.

                “You may leave.”

                Zho quickly left the room.

                Yang smiled again.


                University Base, MY 2221

                The loss of all the colonists that were slowly migrating to the new colony site was distressing. Resource production had fallen by half at University Base, and scientific output by 50 percent. Who would have guessed that a mere forest could make such a difference? The effects would be even more pronounced when New Arzamus finished their colony pod since their forest was in a river valley, which would be a sorry loss indeed in terms of energy production, much less raw industrial output.

                But there was nothing to be done for it. The University had to expand, and the only way to do this was to establish new colonies. There were a number of promising sites, but as of the last count there were only likely locations for a total of 6 colonies.

                University Current and Planned Base Locations, MY 2221

                Worse, since the roads were either rudimentary or nonexistent it would take years for the key resources for each base to be established. Building roads over the rocky sectors was painfully slow, taking three entire years – three times longer than over flat terrain. It would take a distressingly long time to even connect the first two core University bases, much less newly founded bases. Still, it had to be done. The only reason that the forests were constructed was to ensure that the core bases had access to resources, and in the hope they would spread into the vile fungus in the future.

                There was bit of good news. The lone scout had finally penetrated the fungus and found what might be more territory. If so this was very fortunate indeed, and it promised a possibility of new base sites to the north.

                At this point all was wishful thinking. No new bases had been established, and it would be a long time before bases were possible. No amount of wishful thinking would make it so, and in the meantime all Zakhrov could do was wait.

                HIVE 2121, The mesa

                “What is that?”

                “That my young Fireman is a worm mass coming straight for us.”

                Several of the Fireman surrounding Captain Stanis began to chatter and even one of them began to cry.

                “Cut this **** out you pieces of ****!” Stanis roared. “I have faced these worms more than once and we just burn the hell out of them. Now get your gear on and check your flame units. We are Fireman not some band of scarred women so MOVE!”

                The groups of young men quickly began to put on their heavy black coats and bulky fuel tanks to and then adjusting the flame guns.

                Stanis quickly began to arrange the men in a phalanx formation to meet the oncoming worm mass. It would hit soon and he had no idea if his young brigade of Fireman would withstand the attack but he knew he would soon find out.


                Northern Territories, MY 2122

                Tal looked around and then over to his team mates. “Looks clear. Move out.”

                A squad of 20 men and women rose with their shredders and flame guns drawn and fanned out. The terrain was flat to rolling and fairly easy to travel over, and no one broke much of a sweat. Three men lead the left flank and two women and a man lead the right flank. Tal was in the middle with a squad behind him.

                “Left. Report,” he barked.

                “Just tagged the sector to the northwest. Looks arid with a few moist areas. The only fungus we saw is due north. No rivers or other features, sir.”

                “Acknowledged Ensign Watkins,” Tal replied. The fact that he was using a nautical moniker meant nothing to him. To him ‘Ensign’ was a name for a raw recruit, and he’d never known anything else. “Right. Report.”

                “Same as Left. Unity pod or a similar anomaly to the north. It is unclear what its disposition is, Sir.”

                “Acknowledged. Teams prepare to make camp. Roll call, then have Team A form a defensive perimeter. We just came through the fungus without a hitch and I damned well don’t want any glitches in open terrain. Now MOVE!”

                His teams scrambled to set up their portable pressure tents and mess for the evening. Meanwhile Team A formed into three squads to guard against any intruders. Lieutenant Tal Talx was a hard nosed bastard and he’d chew your butt if you got out of line. The key was not getting out of line, and his tough-but-fair attitude made that do-able since he was clear, set out workable rules, and occasionally broke them when it wouldn’t affect he mission. So far there hadn’t been any snafus, and Tal intended that there wouldn’t be any.

                HIVE 2122, HIVE central labs

                “Very interesting.”

                “Yes they are Chairman, very interesting indeed.”

                Yang continued to slowly walk around the large clear plexi-glass walls that housed the basketball sized pearls. The ‘pearls’ gave off a slight hum and even seemed to glow.

                “How much energy do they contain again?” Yang asked as he stopped to try and look more closely.

                “Ten megawatts of power!” The lead scientist exclaimed. “It is simply amazing that those worm creatures used these pearls as power sources. How they used the power or even re-charged the pearls is a mystery to us but it is clear this is the source of their power.”

                “Can we harness the power?” Yang asked a slight hint of excitement in his voice.

                “Well, we are still working on that. The one way we know we can harness their power is thru old-fashioned steam turbine electrical production. The closer we place the pearls to each other the hotter they become. We convert water into steam and then turn turbines to generate electrical power. Very simple in fact and we can implement the plan almost immediately.”

                “Do so!” Yang snapped. “Stop your research and turn them over to the engineers. We need power more than anything else right now and if these pearls can give me electricity then so be it.”

                “But Chairman these pearls seem to generate the same type of energy that the relic we found does. They are in some way linked. We need to research this and.”

                “Enough!” Yang cut him off sharply. “I doubt those worms could have built that relic and most likely the relic is powered by a form of these pearls as well. If our Fireman find more of the worms and kill them then you will have more pearls to study but for now I need power. See to it that these are removed at once and given over to the power plant engineers.”

                “At once Chairman.” The lead scientist squeeked his response, fear edging his voice.

                Yang took one more look at the pearls and left, all this was just more resources to be used, nothing more.


                Zvecky Gorodok

                Zakharov had a real reason to smile. The establishment of the third University base was now a fact after well over a decade of toil and investment. Resources are tight, and no decisions were made lightly. In fact, construction of anything took so long that the Council had literally a decade to make any serious decision.

                All in all Zvecky Gorodok promised to be a good city site. It had access to one of the very rare rainy areas and one of the strange Unity anomalies nearby. As of yet there was no burning desire to explore them for fear of what they might contain. At this time there were no extra resources to react to any emergency, so the Council though it best to ensure no unnecessary emergencies were created. One day the anomalies would be explored, but not now.

                Other good news was that University Base now had 2000 population again, which boosted research and resources thanks to the forest. New Arzamas had also finished its colony pod, which would take a long time to get to its colony site. That, however, couldn’t be helped. A short cut through the fungus was being considered, and unless their meager road system was finished faster than expected it would be a very long time before their primitive transit system was completed.

                Now it seemed prudent to consider other options. After the next colony pod University Base would consider other improvements. But what? That remained to be seen.


                HIVE 2123, The Mesa

                “Wake up my beauty!”

                “Give off!”

                The dirty and well used blanket was suddenly ripped off of Jonas’s body and a hand quickly grabbed his smock and yanked him off of the cot.

                “Get moving Jonas or I will have you in front of a Fireman before you can piss your pants!”

                Jonas picked himself up from the ground where he had tumbled out of the cot and quickly squared himself to face his tormentor, Overseer Gruber.

                “Now that I got your attention Jonas I see you appreciate my wonderful bedside manner. Now get out there and relieve Culver from hose duty. We have a lot of fungus to burn off today and those hoses need to be stored after Culver checked them for wear.” Gruber bellowed at Jonas inches from his face.

                “Yes Overseer.” Jonas mumbled as he zipped up his jumpsuit and ran fingers through his hair.

                “Good.” Gruber smiled his foul breath washing over Jonas like a tidal wave. “Now get moving!”

                Jonas snatched up his pressure gear for outdoors and quickly ran down the cramped hallway to the assembly area and began to put on his gear. Jonas looked around to find replacement air filters and an air bottle and quickly fitted them to his gear. Then a new outer jumpsuit that went over everything and then zipped that up. The outer jumpsuit was disposal or more correctly recyclable. Nothing was wasted on a terraformer, even the urine and feces from the terrafromers were broken down to make needed compounds for the machine. The outer jumpsuit served to keep fungal spores from landing on your skin or penetrating someplace you did not want them namely your ears. Damn spores had killed more people than any worm attack.

                Jonas quickly finished suiting up and then hit the airlock button and stepped inside. The air pressure quickly equalized the Jonas stepped out into the blazing morning sun of Chiron.

                Another day in hell Jonas thought as he trudged down the ladder towards the front of the terraformer, yep, another day in hell.


                • #9
                  Zvecky Gorodok, MY 2124

                  “Then it is resolved. The Council will allocate 19 mega joules of energy to allow the engineering team at Zzecky Gorodock finish their terraformer four years ahead of schedule. Any further comment?” Zakharov asked.

                  Everyone shook their head. There was no dissent, which was unusual. This amount of energy represented a decade of carefully horded surpluses, and this rate of surplus didn’t look like it was likely to increase any time soon.

                  “Very well. The energy will be sent immediately, pending another emergency.”

                  More nods of agreement.

                  To Zakharov all the agreement was almost uncanny. Had he finally found proof of another dimension? Or an alternate reality?

                  That thought made him smile. But it was empirical proof, not tangible proof - such the pity.


                  HIVE 2124, Main drone dormitory complex

                  “I sometimes wonder why I just don’t walk outside into the fungus and end it.”

                  “Stop talking like that Jennifer, you don’t mean it and don’t let anyone else know either.”

                  Jennifer Watson looked up slowly to face her bunkmate James Preston. Jennifer and James had known each other since the UNITY training camp back on Earth where they had joined the expedition. Jennifer had joined the team as an assistant to food processing team and James was an agronomist.

                  That was then.

                  Now Jennifer was drone 21A45 and James was drone 43G456 and both of them were in waste recycling. Both of them lived in the same massive underground complex with hundreds of other ‘drones’ who toiled away in various support jobs that kept the HIVE running.

                  “We will get through this.” James said. “You know I was talking with 57TANGO just yesterday and he said.”

                  ”STOP!” Jennifer wailed in anger.

                  “Don’t you see!” Jennifer pleaded. “He is changing us; we are all changing. You just called someone by their drone name not their given name. Do you even know 57TANGO’S real name?”

                  James looked shocked at first then his face changed to a gloomy shroud of disgust.

                  “No.” He replied sadly. “I don’t. I just know him as 57TANGO. Your right, we are changing. All of Yang’s rules are breaking down our identities and personalities. Just last night I saw 41.” James stopped and gulped some air realizing he was doing it again. “I mean Robert and Michelle having sex in front of everyone without even a trace of shame. I mean right out in the open. What does it matter anymore since Yang since has prohibited marriage and all of the old social customers that constrained our society, us.”

                  “We have just switched from one set of rules to another.” Jennifer countered. “We are free to express ourselves sexually anyway we choose so long as it does not interfere with work but try to read a book or speak out about food rations or anything and a Fireman is called and you end up at a firestation undergoing re-education. No James, we are drones in spirit as well as form.”

                  James said nothing for some time and then the klaxon went off to alert them to return to work.


                  Zvecky Gorodok, MY 2125

                  The new terraforming crew was dealing with another problem: the door to the excavator would not open. They’d tried everything short of C4 explosives to convince it to open, but nothing.

                  “Oh, just kick it! Damn it, get it open!” a muffled voice from inside the massive canopy yelled.

                  Dennis didn’t bother to reply. Ranny had been going steadily more nonlinear with each passing hour. It didn’t help that he was officially in charge of the debacle. He was only 24 years old, and he was one of the Zvecky Gorodok’s ‘anointed ones’, or so he was called behind his back. There were times when having official endorsement at a very young age was a distinct disadvantage.

                  Dennis cocked his head and looked at the now much abused iris valve. It was supposedly the latest in University engineering and, frankly, he thought an old fashioned gate with a screw seal would have worked much better. But some egghead at Goro had insisted that their creation be on their terraformer, so they were stuck with a very pretty but almost useless iris valve. Its interlocking plates opened much like a camera lens, but it was bigger – and fairly ominous looking. If it decided to close at the wrong time it would neatly and efficiently cut you in half.

                  “No kicking this, boss,” he said with a note of finality. “My boots aren’t strong enough. Maybe you should use your head?” As soon as he said this he regretted it. Ranny did not appreciate sarcasm.

                  “What? What was that?” his far-away voice said again.

                  “Nothing,” he yelled clearly, glad that Ranny had been distracted. Small favors. “Hey, got an idea. Why don’t you go to the command section and try the auto mode again after a restart. It might work.”

                  There was a moment of silence. “Fine. I’ll do that.”

                  Dennis stood back. The last time they’d tried it the whole excavator had bucked, and he swore it had jumped a meter into the air. He did not want to be anywhere near a jumping excavator. After a moment the whole massive excavator did rumble and then buck not once but twice, but it didn’t jump – thankfully.

                  “Hey, it worked! Glad I thought of it!” Ranny said over the intercom. Dennis scowled and had a few unkind thoughts, but stifled them.

                  Then the excavator lurched forward and immediately started gaining speed. Dennis turned his intercom down as far as he could since Ranny was screaming almost incoherently and using very colorful language.

                  “Great,” Dennis said to himself. “He’s finally lost it, and not at a good time.” Dennis pinged the rest of the terraforming crew as he jogged over to the slow trencher. At least this beast was reliable, even if it wasn’t at all shiny. As he settled into the driver’s seat he could see the excavator weaving about as Dennis tried to control its vector. Obviously he wasn’t having a whole lot of luck.

                  “Marilyn,” Dennis said. His voice was calm. “Please call HQ and tell them we have a problem with the excavator and that Ranny is on it,” he said, savoring the irony. “Also tell them that unless he changes course he is going to enter the anomaly by Goro within about 30 minutes, give or take. We know it is off limits, but the excavator is malfunctioning. I’m in pursuit. Ranny may not be able to answer, but try if you can. Put it on broadcast.” Dennis smiled at the last comment. As soon as the comm was on broadcast they’d all hear Ranny’s incoherent babble, which had now degenerated into screams and a little sobbing.

                  Yes, talent will out, he thought to himself as he eased the trencher into gear.


                  HIVE central tunnel access, MY 2125

                  “Back home at last!”

                  “QUIET IN THE RANKS!”

                  54J33 or fifty-four-Jay as he was called quickly shut his mouth and wiped the grin off of his face. The sergeant had been tough on all of them after the fire-fight with the worms and those who had survived the battle had earned the sergeants respect but it did not mean he was going to be easier on them.

                  54J marched along the plas-steel ramp as it spiraled downward in the heart of the HIVE. The main entrance to the HIVE was protected by a triple set of blast doors reinforced by steel-alloy crossbeams that were raised into locking positions from hundreds of feet below the main gates.

                  Once through the main gate the tunnel entrance was a large low ceiling area that was used as a marshalling area for Fireman or drones before they came down into the HIVE or topside to do work. Once through the assembly area the tunnel spiraled downward deep into the HIVE with no access to the facility until you reached the bottom. Then the main internal entrance to the HIVE could be found. Another set of quadruple blast doors and locking steel beams protected this area long with a variety of other very deadly defensive blisters. Once through the main internal entrance the ramp spiraled back up into the HIVE with blast doors at each level that you would have to negotiate. In all, the HIVE was one of the most complex and heavily fortified cities in human existence.

                  54J finally reached the main internal lower entrance where he quickly disrobed and stood at attention as a team of decontamination teams sprayed their bodies with white powder and then blasted them with cold water. Their Fireman’s uniforms were quickly picked up by the decon-teams and taken to a chute access point that fed into the main furnace rooms for incineration.

                  New uniforms were handed out and quickly put on.

                  “Now you slugs get moving. You have 40 minutes to get to your barracks and settle back in. Chow will follow after. Once done with chow report back to barracks for further orders.” The sergeant bellowed.

                  54J smiled to himself and quickly dashed through the now open main gates to the HIVE happy to be home.


                  University Base, MY 2126

                  “Is the terraforming crew OK?” Richard Korath asked.

                  “Yes,” the image of Base Provost Madison said. As the base provost spoke the image flickered and then reformed. “The initial investigation finding is that the problem started with a terraformer malfunction and that the crew leader was not able to get it back into control. The former moved randomly and, in the process of its movement, entered the anomaly near Zvecky Gorodok. The rest of the crew followed when they finally caught up with the former they found the crew leader semi conscious and outside the former. It was not clear how he got out since the iris valve had been jammed, was semi lucid, and he does not remember exiting. However, he was clutching this.” The provost broke away and focused on a gray and blue irregularly shaped object. It appeared to be about a half meter high and almost as wide.

                  “It is clearly an alien object, perhaps related to the boreholes north of University Base. The difference is that this object is active. It is alternately warm and cold and some people say that it hums to them, although they can’t quite make out the tune or repeat it to anyone else. Two people in the terraformer crew including the crew leader were affected.”

                  Zakharov stared at the object and then said, “Bring it to University Base immediately, and use any quarantined and safety protocols at your disposal. We need to link it into our network systems to see if we can determine what this object is.” He sat back and smiled. “It must be an alien artifact of some sort. Soon enough we will see what it contains, if anything.”

                  “Academician,” Amy Constance said. “Are you sure this is wise? We have no idea what this object is, why it is here, or what it might do once it is linked into our networks. Plenty of situations come to mind, and some of them are quite alarming. As I recall you were insistent that we exercise great care to ensure the survival of our few bases since we may be the only remnant of humanity that still exists in the universe. Taking this artifact in among our people is reckless.”

                  He gave her a dismissive stare. “I’m surprised. I would have thought you would be at least a little curious about this object. It is from an alien civilization, and it could contain wonders we can scarcely imaging.”

                  “Or horrors to freeze our souls,” Getz Hoeppe interjected. He wasn’t even looking at Zakharov or Amy but at the object. “So many questions. Is it a weapon? A communication beacon? Or a discarded lunch container? Why has it survived who knows how long when all else has perished?”

                  “Are you through?” Zakharov said. “The decision is made. The artifact comes to University Base. Immediately.”


                  Hive 2126, Central command complex

                  “By the end of this turn our population will have doubled.”

                  The speaker looked over at Chairman Yang who had not said anything during the briefing so far, no interruptions at all so the beaurcrat continued on to complete his report.

                  “And in conclusion we need to expand our living quarters by 50% in the next three turns and in the next decade we need to double that again along with more recreational spaces and additional support departments.”

                  The beaurcrat finished and sat down.

                  Yang said nothing still. He continued to just watch the small knot of administrators for several minutes.

                  “Is the new colony pod ready?” Yang asked at last.

                  “No Chairman.” The Seneschal of HIVE reported quickly. “Another three turns.”

                  “If we focus all of our resources on the completion of the pod can we have it done sooner?” Yang questioned.

                  The Seneschal along with several of his assistants quickly began to speak to each other and several of them pulled out e-pads to do quick calculations. After about five minutes they Seneschal turned to Yang.

                  “Yes, we can do it.” The Seneschal began. “If we draw some off some reserve supplies and energy and focus the workforce completely on the production of the pod it can be done by this turn.”

                  “Then do it, do it now.” Yang replied. “I want the second colony with the excess population moved out immediately from the Hive as soon as the colony pod is built. That should solve the collective’s problems and establish our second colony sooner than expected. You may leave.”

                  The Seneschal and his assistants quickly filed out of the room.

                  Zho who had been standing in the shadows crept out.

                  “Once the pod leaves order the production manager to begin construction of the new fire brigade attack rovers. I want those new faster scout and attack vehicles up and running as soon as possible.” Yang said as he stood up and smoothed out his jacket.

                  “Of course Chairman.”


                  University Base, MY 2227

                  Prokhor Zakharov was gloating, and the rest of the Council knew it.

                  “And so I give you the latest results of University research,” he said with a smug grin on his face, “Biogenetics! This key breakthrough is a rediscovery of our own genetic heritage along with the basic building blocks of life on Chiron. We have just gained the tools for further breakthroughs in science, and with it our chances of survival on Chiron have been drastically improved.”

                  Amy Constance looked on and let him drone on. She had learned long ago that it was best to let him get it all out of his system, and that Zakharov’s keen mind did not take kindly to interruption or contradiction. Still, in the past he had been more generous in acknowledging the scientific team who made the breakthrough – her team, as a matter of fact. Now he lorded over the breakthrough as if he had made it himself. Which he hadn’t.

                  She snapped out of it. She knew she’d better pay attention or an off hand question would reveal that she’d had something else but the Brilliant Prokhor Zakharov on her mind. Perish the thought.

                  “…and now we can improve our bases with recycling tanks. Biogenetics allows us to reuse what was previously discarded and put it to productive use. With a considerable investment we can make our bases efficient, and eve more productive.

                  “But that is not all. Few of you know that we have linked the alien artifact to our central scientific network.”

                  Amy sat upright. She’d heard rumors, but nothing substantial. Plus, she’d been busy with her team and the biogenetics breakthrough.

                  “My team was amazed that, as suspected, the artifact was in fact active.”

                  Another key item, Amy thought: ‘Was’ active.

                  “The humming was not just a by product, it was a form of communication. After a short bit of experimentation it formed what can only be described as a sympathy with our own communication systems. No, it didn’t communicate per se; it is more like it configured itself to our systems. It actually formed a small magnetic field, activated a lead we had nearby, and then turned itself on!”

                  Zakharov paused for affect. He had everyone’s attention now. Amy realized she was holding her breath.

                  “It took no more than 30 seconds, and after that there was a slight dimming in the laboratory. When the lights came back on the object had ceased humming and much of its bluish color was gone. The magnetic field had collapsed and the lead was hanging limply on the ground.

                  “We were crushed, but that quickly turned to concern over what had happened to our data systems. A few checks revealed no damage, but there was a problem. There was less capacity than there used to be. A query found the location of the extra data, and it was obvious that the alien artifact was the source. Some of the data was not intelligible, but the bulk was diagrams and formulae in numeric base 11 - high order mathematics, to be sure, but nothing beyond our abilities.

                  “Six hours later we had the answer. The device had transferred the files on gene splicing local DNA! This stupendous breakthrough along with biogenetics will allow us to leap frog our growth.

                  “Why, you ask? This is the key to unlocking the potential of native life, and getting our farms to be fully productive through basic DNA manipulation. We will be able to fully adapt Earth crops to Chiron and modify Chiron plants and animals to be fully compatible with human physiology.

                  “It is all here,” he said as he patted the local computer terminal. “Already two of our former crews are in place and working on new farms for New Arzamus and University Base. Our third former is completing a forest near Zvecky Gorodok. That project had already been started so there was no real way of stopping it without waste.”

                  Zakharov’s eyes were wide and his brown eyes fully dilated. His almost white hair wafted as he jerked with each point. Amy reflected that he looked just like any eccentric professor from Earth, or a caricature of a Mad Scientist. Amy sincerely hoped it was the former and not the latter.


                  • #10
                    HIVE 2127, On board colony pod-ALPHA

                    “What do you mean a delay?”

                    “The former crews just finished preparing the last section of roadway to the new colony site that’s why!”

                    Seneschal Gupta’s eyes flared into anger at the insolence in the response he had just heard.

                    “What do you mean talking to me in that tone!” Gupta erupted. “I will have you cleaning the filters on the biomass recycling units if you don’t have a care!”

                    “I meant no disrespect Seneschal it’s just that I am tired, we are all tired right now and hungry.” The foreman responded in a much more respectful and meek tone.

                    “Leave me!” Gupta bellowed. “I have your number 33ECHO so make sure you remain centered from now on and serve the collective with your whole heart and mind. The Chairman in his great wisdom knows what he is doing and that should be enough for you!”

                    The drone-foreman bowed deeply and quickly left the small, cramped but private compartment that the Seneschal was allotted on board the colony pod.

                    Gupta watched the man quickly leave and shut the door. Sweat began to break out on his forehead which he quickly wiped away. The drones were once his friends, shipmates on the UNITY but now they were just units of labor, nothing more, he had to remind himself of that each and every day or else he would slip just once and that slip would cost him his life.


                    Tsiolkovski Institute, MY 2128

                    Prokhor Zakharov walked up to the front of the crowd. His white hair whipped about in the brisk breeze, almost like it was frantically trying to escape. As he turned his suit had a slightly metallic geometric theme that tried to sparkle in the fading light of the darkening sky. Normally Zakharov didn’t much care for suits or uniforms, but he made an exception in this case since the cloth was wholly Chiron made and the design was called University Prime. In short, it struck his fancy.

                    “I offer you all of you my congratulations,” he said above the wind. Some of his words were almost stolen but enough remained that his intent was clear. “Our newest base Tsiolkovski Institute is in a key location within what is an ever expanding human presence on Chiron, and with each outpost our position is strengthened and we are able to gain access to more resources.

                    “Your choice of a base name is inspired. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky is a hero of mine. As one of Mother Russia’s finest inventors and first aviation engineers he designed one of the first monoplanes in the world, and as we all know was the father of rocketry. His vision dwelt not only on the practical aspects of advanced flying machines, but also to the future. He said that, ‘Mankind will not forever remain on Earth, but in the pursuit of light and space will first timidly emerge from the bounds of the atmosphere, and then advance until he has conquered the whole of circumsolar space.’ For him the atmosphere was but the first step of many toward a bright future. He was, of course, correct and space exploration continued, even if unsteadily, for the next 150 years. All of us are evidence of his vision, and if we open our minds this vision can guide and inspire us. For, like him, we are at the beginning of a long road. Much of our technology isn’t much more advanced that what he had due to our circumstances. We can change these circumstances, expand our society, and correct the errors that were committed on Earth. We must keep our minds and also our hearts on the joys of discovery; we must never shut our minds out of fear or ignorance.

                    “Chiron is our cradle now, and as a child we learn about our environment. Some lessons are painful, but they are necessary. But as Konstantin said, ‘Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.’ So it will be with us. We will soon outgrow our cradle – Chiron - and then we will once again belong among the stars. Greed, incompetence, blindness, and brute force almost extinguished our light, but we will not allow this to happen again. Never again will we allow ignorant ideologies or ancient poetry to snuff the light of discovery. We will nurture this light, and with it we will see it grow. One day it will become a flame, and then it will burn impossibly bright. Then we will understand our new world and will be able to reach for – and go to – the stars.”

                    As he finished there was a low rumbling. The sky darkened as a storm moved in from the west. Not much was said as the assembled hundreds of colonists from the newest University city hurried into their pressure tents or one of the few hard wall buildings. Soon enough sheets of rain poured down and the primitive streets ran with muddy water. The cold winds seemed to permeate everything.

                    Zakharov watched the rain. He believed everything he said but also saw how clearly wretched their condition was: their newest city was nothing more than flimsy cloth huts carved out of a raw world. This was not a house of learning, but there was science even here – rudimentary, true, but real science.

                    That gave him hope.


                    HIVE 2128, Central fabrication and production hall

                    “Are you in need of more drones?”

                    “No Chairman, the allocation we were given at the start of the project was more than sufficient for the task at hand.”

                    Yang nodded slightly in acknowledgment as he continued his slow walk along the catwalk high above the fabrication and production hall floor. Below him hundreds of drones were busy in a myriad of tasks that ranged from machining to final assemble. Across the vast area that had been hollowed out by construction drones these factory drones were busy assembling the latest addition to the Hive’s arsenal, attack/scout rovers.

                    “When will they be all done?” Yang asked flatly as he stopped walking and gazed down below him to watch the drones.

                    “Another six to seven turns my Chairman. We had to build many of the machines needed to build the parts we need for the rovers. Gearboxes and drive shafts and axels all needed new machinery to make those very important sub-assemblies.” Foreman Franks replied quickly. “However, production is picking up nicely now and I think we should be able to improve on our projected delivery dates.”

                    Foreman Franks beamed in pride as he finished his report.

                    Yang did not say anything right away but continued to watch the drones below. After awhile he spoke.

                    “Foreman I will hold you to your word.” Yang said coldly. “The benefit to the people, the collective in completing this project is paramount. Failure is unacceptable.”

                    Foreman Franks nearly wet himself as Yang finished. Franks was frozen in his tracks as Yang and his assistant Zho and four Fireman continued their inspection.


                    • #11
                      Northern reaches, MY 2129

                      “What do you mean we have to go back the way we came and then north again?” Watkins asked.

                      Lieutenant Talx looked over at him but didn’t respond. There was no need to since this was just one more instance of Watkins grousing.

                      “I mean, I don’t mind. The territory is kind of enticing for a bloody desert. Watching those pinkish Chiron tumbleweeds is really fun. And then there’s the patches of fungus we see – makes me want to rip my clothes off and roll around a bit.”

                      “Hmm..” Wils interjected. “Kind of like a dog? Fits.” She looked over at Talx and gave him a quick wink. Watkins didn’t notice.

                      “And then there’s that friendly looking fungal tower! A pile of fungus that is 50 meters high with lively tentacle-like things on top, what could be more interesting? I could just go and give it a hug; a fungus hugger, that’s what I am. And then there’s the balmy climate…”

                      The prattling continued, and Tal Talx considered ordering him to shut up but he knew from experience that it would do no good whatsoever. He had a better job for him, though: digging the squad’s latrine. In fact, he had a nice rocky patch of ground in mind.


                      HIVE 2129, Rock crusher #1 attached to the terraformer #1

                      “What has my life come to!”

                      “Shut up and keep working 93JAY!” The headset screamed.

                      93JAY or Michael Jacobs as he was once known as grabbed the headset off his head and dashed it to the control board in a fury.

                      “What does that get you 93JAY.” 58TANGO said, his voice full of annoyance. “I mean they will just find out who broke it and then what, I will tell you what punishment for us both.”

                      “This is terrible!” 93JAY fired back hotly. “I was a school teacher at one time, I was supposed to run the upper educational system here on Chiron and now all I do is clear rocks from this sector turn after turn. What life is this!”

                      “It’s life, pure and simple and nothing more.” 58TANGO countered just as angrily as his co-worker 93JAY. “We live, we work, we eat and we **** and for now that is all we do have until we build this world into our new collective. So stop complaining and work or else I will turn you into a Fireman for counterproductive behavior and revolutionary thinking!”

                      93JAY said nothing more for the rest of the work cycle as he continued to operate the grader that scooped up the larger boulders that were then ground down into gravel to make roads. Once this sector was clear or rocks and large boulders the agro-drones would move in to start building farms and food processing equipment.

                      When the work cycle was finally done 93JAY and 58 TANGO suited up in their environmental jumpers and adjusted faces masks and tumbled out of the cramped cabin and nearly knocked down their replacements, 87GAMMA-TANGO and 21BRAVO. 87GAMMA-TANGO was one of the youngest workers on the crew, barely 15 turns. 93JAY thought the young boy should be in school, knew he should be in school but the new collective needed workers and 87GAMMA-TANGO had been tested and found lacking in the aptitude so at 12 turns had been assigned to start as a terraformer drone. It made 93JAY sad to see the young boy struggle to climb up the ladder into the cab and know how tired the boy would be at the end of the day after sitting on a piece of cold steel, breathing in dust fumes and frantically adjusting controls to keep the equipment at maximum production. Was this a life at all 93JAY thought?


                      University Base, M 2130

                      Gregory Kline sat up and thumbed his fingers. He wanted to know the status of the scout team investigating the anomaly by University Base, but he didn’t want to have to walk all the way over to the other side of the low-slung complex they called an administrative center. There was no wireless that could be used for mundane questions like this, and their telephone system was rudimentary at best.

                      He sighed. There was nothing for it, so he stood and padded his way to Mr. Fienman’s cubical. It took all of 10 minutes, but that was wasted time as far as Gregory was concerned.

                      As he approached the office area he saw a number of people huddled around Mr. Fienman’s office, and they were talking in hushed voices.

                      Uh, oh. This isn’t likely to be good.

                      “Engineer Fienman, report,” he barked.

                      Everyone looked over at him and the talking stopped.

                      “Um, well, we have a problem. University Base scout team 1 has disappeared. They entered the anomaly and then all hell broke loose. Five minutes later we got some unfocused EM signals, and emergency beacon. But that was coming about seven sectors to the east where we haven’t explored yet. Just now we got some voice fragments, and they appear to be from University Base scout team 1. All we could make out for sure was something about an attack with three dead, and panicked voices saying things like, ‘The fungus! It’s moving! Get the shredders!’.”

                      Gregory remained calm and resisted the impulse to interrupt. Fienman was a fine engineer, one of the best, in fact. He was logical and orderly. If anyone could have this under control it would be him.

                      “Keep on it, and get a relief team ready if we can. Once we figure out what is going on we may need top rescue them, or at least they may need supplies. Clear?”

                      Fienman looked relieved for some reason. “Yes, sir. Clear.”

                      Gregory looked around at the crowd. “Mr. Fienman has the situation under control. Please return to your duties. I’m sure he’ll let you know what is going on as he is able.”

                      There was no change in posture, and the crowd of five people just looked at each other.

                      “MOVE!” Gregory said. That got their attention and they filtered away.


                      HIVE 2130, On board the UNITY sea transport PRIME

                      “Do we make for shore?”

                      “No we continue our course as laid down and we need to maintain same speed as well.”

                      The few members of the bridge crew nodded and continued to work silently. There was no reason to make any comments or complain since it did no good at all.

                      Captain Gregor watched the radar screen intently trying to not make eye contact with his crew. The struggles, the hard work, the hardships they had been forced to face on an ongoing basis with no relief was beyond description.

                      “Master-chief, you have the con.”

                      Gregor stood up and walked towards the main hatchway as the master-chief of the boat quickly moved to replace Gregor in the command chair. The crew basically maintained the ship and the bridge crew did all of the tasks needed to steer and command the ship in any situation but the symbolic need to have that deck commander was important.

                      Gregor saluted as he left the bridge and walked down the short hallway to his day cabin and office. For the past three turns or so he had just come to use the two room as his office and sleeping compartment. His actual cabin had been turned over to the executive officer which allowed all of the senior staff could move up as well. The master-chief was given his own compartment as well.

                      Gregor flung himself down in his cot and quickly fell back to sleep. In another four hours he would get back up and check the boards and sea. It was not that he did not trust his people, far from that, he got up every watch turn to help give his crew some guidance and support. The seas of Chiron were far from the safe seas of Earth and the ship had been attacked several times. Another such attack would end them all, and he knew it.


                      University Base, MY 2131

                      Mr. Kline finally had his answers. The scout defending University Base had disappeared, and now there was positive information that they had been transported at least 7 sectors away. That was stunning news since, technically, that sort of matter transmission or instantaneous travel shouldn’t be possible. But, there was ample evidence of previous alien habitation and artifacts – like the one accessed by the University Base network system and the painfully obvious boreholes north of University Base.

                      Even more strange was the report from that and the defender from New Arzamas that they had encountered very hostile native live. That was what they’d heard in the disjointed and somewhat nonsensical voice transmission shortly after they had disappeared when exploring the anomaly. When the two scout teams had tried to enter the fungus they had disturbed something in the fungus, which immediately attacked. The attack was both disorienting and horrific since the victims had delusions, and if the thousands of worm-like alien organisms overcame the incapacitated person they then infested him. There were reports that the still semiconscious victims were laced with alien eggs and larvae, and that they were killed out of mercy. Gregory didn’t blame them one bit. Plus, no base would allow such an infested person into the confines of their enclosures for fear of riots.

                      Fortunately both teams had prevailed. Their flamers worked fairly well and their shredders worked somewhat, but the fact that they had some defense was the crucial element. Moreover, they found what looked like energy sources in the husks of the dead wormlets, and the initial estimates were that each dead worm swarm was the equivalent of five years of surplus energy – quite a haul.

                      Some of that energy had already been put to use finishing the University’s fourth terraformer. The problem was that the scouts were now horribly wounded and deep in fungus. Word was that it would be suicidal to try to move them through the invested fungus again until they had had a chance to heal and get supplies sent in by glider. It was possible it might take months or longer for them to recuperate sufficiently to give the fungus another go.

                      Now there was an ethical question: have more of their scouts plunge into the fungus to try to take on the native life to get the energy from their husks at significant human cost, or take a more conservative approach that succored the well being of the University individuals.

                      Gregory Kline knew how this would eventually resolve itself. Energy was critical, and after a careful analysis they would decide it was worth the risk.

                      He was just thankful it was not his neck in the fungal noose.


                      HIVE 2131, 5 sectors northeast of HIVE

                      “Sergeant when do we get to go back to the collective?”

                      “Stop your bellyaching 87ROMEO and pick up the pace. The Chairman wants this whole area scouted for possible colonization sites as you well know and we are going to do it.”

                      The young Fireman quickly picked up the step as he adjusted the massive backpacks straps for more comfort, which would only last a few minutes until it shifted again.

                      “I am not complaining Sergeant!” 87ROMEO countered. “I am just saying how long can we stay out here without support or new supplies?”

                      “As long as it takes!” Sergeant 12KILO fired back. “The Chairman has supplies on the way as I speak. We just need to loop back towards HIVE in a couple of weeks and we are all set. But, we are not going back until I get new orders, and that is that.”

                      The trek had not been that bad at all and supplies were really not that big of an issue. The river they had used to traverse a good portion of the distance they had come had also made it easy to transport a vast amount of extra supplies. From the new base camp they had staged a great amount of food stuffs and equipment for use.

                      “When do we get our chance to return to HIVE!” 87ROMEO erupted. “I have some family and friends back there sergeant and I want to see them!”

                      Sergeant 12KILO suddenly whirled and smacked the young Fireman across the face which dropped him to the ground.

                      “You do as your told!” 12KILO roared. “You take your orders and work for the collective and nothing else! If anyone else has any more ideas just let me know!”

                      The other Fireman quickly lowered their eyes and continued to march.


                      University Base, MY 2232

                      Zakharov walked around the Unity Rover. His right hand reached out to touch – almost caress – the metal flanks of the utilitarian vehicle. It had the ‘Produce Of the Indian-Indonesian United Nation Consortium of Manufacturers’ proudly stamped on the outside hull on multiple places. Zakharov saw this and thought with a note of sadness that the UN, India, Indonesia, and everyone on Earth was likely dead or worse.

                      Still, it was the best and finest that the University was likely to have for some time. They had the technology to make rovers but, frankly, their limited resources were being allocated toward other ends, namely colony pods, terraformers, and basic defenders. The Council fully agreed that expansion and basic defense against the hostile environment of Chiron was the best way to ensure their survival, and by extension the survival of the human race.

                      The rover would be a great aid, however, in exploring the land mass they had found themselves upon. As of now they had determined the limits to the south, west, and to the north. All indications were that their land was limited, and that at best they’d be able to establish eight bases. Most of them would be in less than desirable places, but considering their lack of options they would settle them anyway.

                      There would be no resources available for extra exploration teams, so the rover would be put to good use. This Unity pod had been just outside Tsiolkovski Institute. The Unity pods were actually potentially dangerous since one had obscured an alien artifact and a second had transported the defender from University Base very far away. Still, with some care the other pods would be explored – but only with care. A disaster now could wipe them out, and none knew better than Zakharov how precarious their position was. Caution in most things was in order.

                      The good news was that their road network was starting to look like a network, and that their fifth base would be established soon. Both advanced farms were now complete and had fueled the population growth of University Base and New Arzamas. There was always more work to be done and now enough people or manufacturing ability to do it. The situation was frustrating to say the least.

                      Zakharov patted the hull of the Unity Rover and decided on a name: University Hope. Indeed, in many times that is all they had.
                      HIVE 2132, Central Operations/Planning and Evaluation ( COPE ) for HIVE

                      “Chairman our anaylsis is before you and it is clear to us that the need for further expansion transcends all other concerns at this time.”

                      Yang studied the group of senior planners and managers who were seated on the other side of the table. All nine of them were the best that could be ‘culled’ from the survivors from the survival pod that Yang had landed with. Each of them possessed some superior quality of thinking and technical expertise that lead Yang to give them special positions in the HIVE. Another reason for assembling this group was that each of them also possessed the greatest threat to Yang and his collective leadership. Yang believed very strongly in the axiom of keeping your enemies close but keeping your friends closer.

                      “Consul Blair I have read the report you sent me and the supporting documentation. What I am disputing is the final conclusions.” Yang began coldly. “I know of the need to expand our population. The loose of the second colony pod on the atoll we landed on was devastating in many respects but we have established a new second HIVE city and will soon begin building two more. What I don’t agree with is the exclusion of building Fireman units in addition to the pods.”

                      “Chairman, our resources are thin and will not get better anytime soon. The production of anything beside colony pods or terraformers is a waste of those resources.” Consul Blair countered in a firm but polite tone.

                      Yang said nothing at first then slowly pushed back the report across the table.

                      “Let us agree to disagree on this point then my consuls.” Yang said as he slowly stood up. “I will issue orders to my production foreman to concentrate as best as possible on pods and formers but I will also issue orders to build, when possible, additional equipment for the Fireman. Chiron is not a friendly planet as we all well know. I do not see the wisdom of not looking to our defenses on this planet and the security of the HIVE.”

                      The consuls quickly looked at each other, some of them leaned towards each other an whispered a quick word or two.

                      Yang continued. “The Firemen are a vital componet of the greater collective. The offer stability, they give security and contain the excess of our society that might weaken our resolve and vision. In addition, the Firemen perform a defensive function against the worms and serve as our exploration force. Already the Firemen have found alien artifacts and lost data pods from the UNITY that have aided our survival on Chiron. No my consuls, the future of the HIVE is tied hand in hand with the Fireman and as such will continue.”

                      Yang turned and left the room followed by his own personal detail of Firemen inspectors.

                      The door shut and the consuls quickly looked at each other and then silently left the room.


                      Planetary Archives, MY 2133

                      The afterglow was in full force. Zakharov withdrew a little from the festivities of the founding of the University’s fifth base Planetary Archives. The colonists had come from University Base so he knew many of them, and already they had clustered into working groups to focus on the necessary details of starting a new base. A forest from a nearby base was supplying ample mineral resources, but little to allow their population to grow. That would be taken care of shortly with the rush construction of Planetary Archive’s new terraformer. This terraformer would be put to work shaping some of the marginal moist soil into a basic farm, which would supplement the forest to provide optimal resources. In time all the University bases would have a farm and forest as they grew, with preference given to farms to encourage growth. Right now, thought, they were pressed to have any improvements in the new bases.

                      A little good planning had resulted in the base already having a road system to it. Flat terrain helped in that regard since roads built in a year instead of two. The fourth University base Tsiolkovski Institute wasn’t yet connected, but their former was quite busy constructing a farm. The road could wait. All in all the road system was coming along as well as could be expected.

                      There was the problem of limited land, however. The new rover was moving up the river valley into the fungus to the northeast and their single scout patrol was stalled to the north while they recovered strength from the damage they sustained in their attack on the worms. One more base might be possible, that that land was arid. Other bases could be placed, but they would crowd existing base. That issue had gone round and round in Council and was not resolved. But, it would have to be resolved soon since a new colony pod would be complete in two years.

                      But for now he could enjoy this gathering. Planetary Archives was situated on a river, and that energy plus the energy from the forest meant they had the capacity to produce prestigious amounts of research. Moreover, there were two anomalies that might be Unity pods adjacent to them, and they would be investigated shortly.

                      Yes, today was a day to celebrate. After all, what could go wrong?


                      • #12
                        HIVE 2133, Private quarters of Chairman Yang

                        “Zho do have that report for me?”

                        The e-pad was quickly and quietly laid on the desk as Yang put down the one he had just finished.

                        “Good.” Yang said quietly.

                        Chairman Yang quickly scanned the report and an ever so small smile crept into the edges of his mouth. The new rovers would be done soon as well as the ones at the new base. Striking power was now his, quick and efficient striking power. The construction warrens would be cleared soon so new colony pods could be constructed. This was even better news.

                        “Chairman.” Zho asked coldly. “Here is the report from the treasury.”

                        Yang took it in a fluid motion as he handed back the construction report.

                        Yang quickly scanned the last e-pad and his ever so smile was gone.

                        “Nothing?” Yang began. “No energy credits?”

                        “A few Chairman, our last strategic reserve is all we have in case of an emergency. The need faster production times required more energy credits than anticipated it seems. The construction warrens had to be expanded as well to accommodate the vast numbers of new Fireman rovers.” Zho explained.

                        Yang said nothing be laid the e-pad down on the desk. It was clear the first task of his new corp of fast attack rovers would to scour the fungus fields for the worms and harvest the rich planet pearls for their energy.

                        “Inform the Fire Marshal I want to see him at once. I have the need of his most aggressive Fireman commanders for a critical mission.” Yang said thoughtful. Yes, this was the means to an end and the key to getting his Fireman trained in the field solved yet another problem as well.


                        University Base, MY 2134

                        “The Exowomb? What is an exowomb?” Zakharov asked.

                        Amy’s face betrayed none of laughter she was having. “It is a womb outside of the human body,” she started.

                        Zakharov’s eyebrows darted upward. “Outside the body?”

                        “In a manner of speaking,” she continued. “This is a principle that will allow us to invest in base improvements that will significantly improve our infant mortality rate and also ensure that our children receive the best nurturing possible. Moreover, further investment will allow us to build this.” She handed the Provost a data pad.

                        He scanned it over and then said, “Is this possible? Build cities - new bases – that immediately have 3000 citizens and built in stabilization against unrest?”

                        “Oh, yes,” Amy Constance said. “But you need to look at the investment that is needed. It is significant.”

                        He scanned down and his eyes locked on to the bottom line. “That is more production than any base can produce in 100 years!” He almost threw the datapad back at her. “I do not like fantasies, Councilman.”

                        “Provost, this is no fantasy. When our bases are larger we will be better able to afford such investment. Planetary Archive has uncovered a nutrient lode and after the forest is complete its growth will be significant. University Base will have 2000 citizens again and, if I understand the Council’s recent directives, there will be no more colony pods produced at our capital to ensure we have optimal population. We have five terraformers that are busy at work, and with a few rainy sectors with farms our overall growth will improve. I would hazard to guess that in due time this level of investment will not be out of our reach. Granted, we have larger needs now and our resources are modest, but in the long term we will be able to do this – and more.”

                        The Provost didn’t say or move. Then he nodded. “You are correct. I must try to look beyond the immediate and to what is possible. That is my task, is it not?”

                        Amy nodded. “Yes it is. And my job is to give you the tools to do that job.”

                        Now Zakharov smiled. “You do that well, my friend.”


                        HIVE 2134, On board UNITY sea transport PRIME

                        “Captain I have new orders from the Chairman!”

                        Gregor looked up from the chart table and watched the radio man approach with an e-pad in hand. Gregor stood up and held out his hand and took the e-pad as the operator handed it to him.


                        TO: Captain Gregor – Commanding Officer HIVE transport PRIME

                        FROM: The Central Directorship
                        Chairman Yang

                        REF: New operating orders

                        You are so ordered to investigate any land pods you may find along the coast line and return any material to the HIVE promptly. With the discover a UNITY pod full of fast scout rovers you will be able to quickly investigate any and all UNITY pods you find.

                        Use of discretion is advised in all things. Destruction of native lifeforms authorized with zeal.

                        Chairman Yang

                        “Well, people.” Captain Gregor said in a sad and tired voice. “We just got our death warrants.”


                        Planetary Archives, MY 2135

                        “I don’t like this,” Malkin said as she looked out across the endless fields of xenofungus.

                        Shar moved the old fashioned Earth-style shifter on the Unity rover into drive-low and the vehicle lurched forward. “We have our orders. This shiny new Unity rover may be 80 years old now, but it is a honey.” He reached out and patted the forward console below the slanted forward windshield. “This river valley extends who knows how far to the northeast. You know we need more room to expand, and this rover along the river system is the only realistic way we’re going to be able to do it.”

                        “I…know,” she replied as her eyes darted to look through the left and right side windows of the forward cab of the rover. “but I still don’t like this. The…fungus…it’s like it can see me and I don’t got anything on.”

                        Shar looked over at Malkin. She may be a first rate engineer but her use of double negatives never failed to irritate him. He chose to ignore it, as usual. “You’ve been in fungus before. It’s not that bad. The colors are a bit unnatural and the shapes disorienting, but teams have made it through for decades now.”

                        “Yah,” she said. Her voice was noncommittal. “But Scout Team 1 encountered that mindworm thing. It ate people.”

                        The rover hit a rough spot and Shar slowed to ensure all six wheels got as good traction as they could. In front of them loomed the fungus.

                        “I’m sure it will be ok,” he said as the lurching stopped. He shifted back into full drive.


                        Rover 1 to Planetary Archives. Can you hear me?

                        Til bolted awake. He had been half asleep, but no one ever called on the comm unless it was an emergency. “Planetary Archives, Rover 1. How can I help you?”

                        There was a pause. “There was an attack,” the woman said. “I’m…trying to fend them off. Shar went crazy and I had to stun him. The hills are alive! Moving! I can hear them! What do I do?”

                        Til was now fully alert. He toggled the full broadcast to alert all other bases and to get their attention. He’d need help on this one, and quick. He looked up the crew of Rover 1: Malkin Johns and Sharzin Wong, engineer and pilot, respectively.

                        “Go to the weapons locker on the lower level. Pick out at least two shredders and a flamer with an extra canister. Fit the shredders in the left and right ports and set the sensor to auto. Take the flamer and go to the cupola at the top of the rover. Keep watch, stay alert, and flame anything that gets anywhere close to you. Clear?”

                        Another pause. “Yes,” she said. Her voice was strangely calm.

                        “Don’t worry,” Til said. “You’ll be fine.” He tried very hard to make sure his voice didn’t betray the worry he felt.

                        “I see them now, like a moving carpet. Swarming over the rise, engulfing the lower fungus. Its like a wave breaking over a low hill. Gotta go,” she said.

                        The comm. was open and he heard the sounds of the shredders opening up and the whomp of the flame gun. Til hoped to god that it would be enough.


                        HIVE 2135, Frontier sectors northeast of HIVE

                        “What do you think that is?”

                        The Firemen slowly advanced on the giant monolith and began to encircle it. Hand signals were quickly flashed by squad leaders directing which Firemen were to cover the monolith with their weapons and which ones were to turn around and keep an eye on the surrounding area.

                        “Now keep still you luggards!” The Fire Chief bellowed as he crept closer to the monolith.

                        As Fire Chief 33BRAVO approached he realized the object was covered in some sort of writing and pictures. It now looked more like one of the Egyptian pylons he had seen in picture books as a child or in museums. It was a massive structure with a pedestal that covered nearly 20 meters in length and width. Behind 33BRAVO several Firemen were filming the event and beaming the information back to HIVE. 33BRAVO probably thought that the Chairman himself was most likely watching him and the obelisk.

                        “Chief shouldn’t we wait or something?” One of Fireman behind him asked hopefully.

                        “No!” 33BRAVO barked. “Our orders are to investigate anything alien and I think this counts.”

                        33BRAVO slowly approached the base of the obelisk and studied it for some time. He had been with the team that had found the artifact and this obelisk was covered in the same writings/letters or whatever you wanted to call it as the artifact.

                        Gently 33BRAVO Reached up and touched a picture on the obelisk, one that had caught his eye. The picture depicted the obelisk with rays coming off of it and next to it was a human like creature but with a massive head and what looked like lobster like claws.

                        As soon as he touched the picture a low hum started that caused the group with 33BRAVO to jump back a few feet and look around.

                        Then the tip of the obelisk began to glow a white light that seem to pulse with the sound of the humming.

                        “Firemen!” 33BRAVO shouted excitedly. “Stand your post!”

                        Suddenly the tip of the obelisk flared up like a massive search beam but in all directions flooding the area in white light.

                        33Bravo felt a wave of heat flow through his body that left him feeling dizzy at first but then afterwards he was amazed with himself. He now felt stronger than ever before, the pack on his back which had been bothering him was as if it were a feather now. His eyesight was clearer and he seemed to hear every little thing that was going on. But what was most amazing was the fact that his mind was clear and fresh and seemed to be working at top speed.

                        “What has happened to us Chief!” One of the camera men asked.

                        “Do you feel better? Do you feel changed?” 33BRAVO asked.

                        All of them nodded in amazement.

                        33BRAVO turned to the cameraman who had the live feed back to HIVE.

                        “Chairman, I have something amazing to report!”


                        University Base, MY 2136

                        “The change will cost 40 megacredits, but the investment is well worth it,” Gregory Kline stated. “As you can see in illustrations two and three, a change to a Planned economy will allow the Executive Council to better direct industrial output. This change will result in an overall increase in industrial production by ten percent, which is significant. An even larger advantage is demonstrated in charts four and documented in subsection 3.2: an increase in the population growth rate of twenty percent.”

                        Amy Constance put down her datapad. “So you’re telling me that orders from this Council will improve the birth rate?”

                        That got a few snickers. Gregory didn’t react. “No, it doesn’t quite work like that. What does happen is that we are able to centralize resources such as food to ensure that everyone is properly nourished. Other key supplies such as school materials, immunizations, and safety rules all will increase the survival rate of the young and also the older citizens. In the end, the growth rate reflects an increase in population and an increase in the productivities of the citizens we already have. We can do more with less, a it were.”

                        Zakharov was still scanning the report, and the text and images were reflecting off his duel colored glasses as he scrolled through the report. “And the down side?”

                        “First, there is the cost. 40 megacredits will about wipe out our treasury. We have had a few sets of planet pearls from native life forms our scouts have eliminated, which has helped enormously. Our yearly surplus is 5 megacredits. Between the occasional infusion of planet pearls and our surplus we will be able to rebuild our working pool of energy reserves. The cost is significant, but not insurmountably so.

                        “The larger cost is shown on graphic 17. Although there will be increased industrial production and population growth rates we will have a noticeable problem with efficiency. All the centralization of our economy through warrens of subcommittees will result in the inefficient allocation of resources. Or I should say, we will redirect resources regardless of the impacts on efficiency. The increased bureaucracy takes a toll, too. All the people we put on the allocation committees and staff we have to enforce the edicts of the Executive Council have a cost.”

                        Zakharov thumbed through to the last pages of the report and then looked up. “My opinion is that at this point we will suffer very little effective loss due to the toll of inefficiency and that the benefits to our industrial production and growth are worth the sacrifice. If all Council members have finished their review then I’d like to thank Councilman Kline and call for a vote.”

                        The measure passed unanimously.


                        HIVE 2136, Primary entry point into HIVE

                        Chairman Yang watched as the last squad of fast scout/attack rovers rumbled past the massive blast doors that protected the main entrance to HIVE.

                        “Impressive site Chairman, most impressive, I am sure they will do fine.”

                        Yang turned to face his Fire Marshal.

                        “They will or will suffer the consequences. Were you clear with their orders?” Yang said stoically.
                        “Of course Chairman!” Fire Marshal Yazov replied confidently. “They were told to search out any Unity pods they find and return back to HIVE with any supplies or information they collect.”

                        “Excellent. So long as they perform their orders promptly and seek out all pods I will be pleased.” Yang said smoothly as he then turned to leave.

                        “Chairman, about my request to destroy the fungal tower to our southwest, did you approve?” The Fire Marshall questioned his voice pitched to be as pleasant as possible.

                        “I have directed our two terraformers to first clear a path for the troops to reach it. Then you may launch your attack.” Yang replied as he continued to walk.

                        Fire Marshall Yazov smiled to himself again and knew more glory awaited him and his Firemen. Once they cleared the fungus from the mesa the man responsible for this achievement would gain the trust and gratitude of Chairman Yang.


                        North of Tsiolovski Institute

                        Lieutenant Tal Jalx couldn’t believe his luck. His bad luck, that is. They had finally been recalled to a home city after decades of exploration and fighting through fungus when they had encountered yet another one of those blasted mindworms in the fungus! What was so irritating is that this last wall of fungus was all that stood between them and Tsiolovski Institute, and some much deserved rest.

                        Now they were licking their wounds. The nasty little spoor launcher had put up quite a fight, but in the end their flamers had made short work of it. There was a certain satisfaction in watching its tendrils curl and smoke as the flames ate through its rubbery hide, and as the shredders tore ever larger chunks out of it spoor tubes. Finally one tube and then another had collapsed and the flame started spreading. Game over.

                        But there had been a cost. Marslin was comatose and babbling, and his main squeeze Christlene was hurt and mostly immobile. She would be in no shape for any rolls under the moonlights any time soon.

                        Even worse, the colony pod had that had been scheduled to establish a northern base in the desert had been diverted. Apparently the brainiacs at University Base had decided that a river valley with a rainy sector was a better place than a desert for a new base. Now, that was brilliant. Due to limited land Tal was sure a base would be set up in sometime in the future, but the next pod wasn’t going to be finished for years at best.

                        So now he had to wait. And wait. And then try to breach the fungal wall again.


                        HIVE 2137, Office of the Fire Marshall

                        Fire Marshall Yazov waited impatiently at his terminal for the reply from Chairman Yang. Yazov was not sure if Yang would take the news on a positive note or not. Just hours ago the 1st Fire Brigade had reported in that for all intents and purposes the unit ceased to exist. An attack on one of the massive fungal towers had been a suicide attack. On the other hand the 1st engine company had reported in that they had found what they had thought was going to be a Unity pod but in fact was a nest of worms. The engine company quickly dispatched the worms and their nest without a loss and retrieved 10 planet pearls throbbing with energy.

                        Yazov had quickly reported the news to Yang and had asked for updated orders. Either Yang would have him demoted and perhaps killed for the failure and the misjudgment in attacking a fungal tower or he would be rewarded for the defeat of the worms.

                        Suddenly the terminal began to beep and Yazov activated the screen.

                        It read, “ Proceed as ordered.”

                        Nothing more.

                        Yazov wiped the sweat from his brow and quickly began typing in orders to his remaining field team the 1st fire engine company. They were to continue the search for pods and open them at all costs.


                        • #13
                          University Base, MY 2138

                          “Isn’t that a rather extravagant waste of time?” Councilman Richard Korath stated. “Granted, New Azamas is a fine base, but can we afford to spend almost a decade terraforming a single sector? Granted, the mineral lode on the rocky lowlands is enticing, but it will take three years to construct the road and then perhaps six to build the mine – and that is assuming we have the technology to do so! The rest of our bases have enough terraformed land – barely – to meet their needs, but that is not true of future bases. Let me respectfully remind this Council that the limited land we have is not friendly to our presence, and that the good base sites have already been taken. What remain are in…difficult…locations: deep within fungus, arid deserts, along the sea with no nearby sectors to harvest resources. These sites should be our priority since within 10 years we will need these sites for our bases. Moreover, our road system will be difficult at best to extend to these bases, meaning that they will be utterly isolated and behind unending fields of fungus. These types of terraforming decisions, in other words, will cripple our long term growth needs.”

                          Amy Constance nodded in agreement. “I agree with Councilman Korath. We need to have more long term thinking to allocate our limited resources. Gregory Kline has identified key colony sites, and perhaps we should use his work to determine where our terraforming needs are.

                          “What I propose is that we establish terraforming priorities: terraform up to three sectors near our key core bases, have roads to all bases if at all possible, and have at least one optimally terraformed tile for new and developing base. After these criteria are met then we can consider other priorities such as long term projects like mining, fungus removal, and the construction of extra forests.”

                          “I think there do need to be exceptions,” Immanuel Florence said. “Your priorities are well reasoned, but we need to consider other long-term goals – such as having enough production to start a Project! We would all dearly love to construct the Weather Paradigm, for instance, be the resources required for such a Project are daunting. A mine with the mineral lode at New Arzamas would allow us to build such a Project in 18 years instead of 30! Clearly there is advantage in that!

                          “And although it will be a dire strain if early bases have little improved land, the bases will suffer from this limit for only a short while their terraformer that we build at each base completes the terraforming near its home base.”

                          Zakharov watched the debate unfold. This sort of intellectual discussion was highly interested due to the ideas it generated and since it allowed him a view into the views and values of each Council member: Immanuel Florence was a long-term thinker, Richard Korath was conservative, Amy Constance was utterly logical and practical, and Getz Hoeppe was a dreamer who never failed to be ‘outside the box’. All of these were valuable points of view, but they were frequently (or almost always) at odds. Zakharov knew that was what he had to do – gather data and make decisions.


                          HIVE 2138, One sector southeast of HIVE

                          “There it is Chairman.”

                          Yang looked again through the large electro-binoculars and quickly found the massive fungal tower. It was huge, massive and it towered hundreds of feet in the air with a base as massive as any thing he could imagine. Surrounding the tower was the richest growth in fungus he had ever seen on Chiron.

                          “Amazing.” Yang whispered.

                          No one commented.

                          Around the Chairman was a small group of elite Firemen along with their commander, Fire Marshall Yazov. In addition, several Consuls had agreed to join the secret expedition to this area.

                          “Chairman from what we know the tower is the source of the growth in this area. We can burn this stuff till the end of time but so long as the tower still stands more will grow back.” Yazov commented sourly.

                          “Your proposal to destroy is?” Yang let the question hang.

                          “After our loss recently of nearly the entire 1st Fire Brigade we did learn a lot from it. If we can clear a path to the tower the creation of the path and the destruction of the surrounding fungus will weaken the tower, hopefully enough for our assault to succeed.” Yazov replied.

                          “See to that it does this time Fire Marshall. I want that thing cut down so we can continue to expand our society along this plateau area. This growth is also a security risk to both of our cities right now since they set on the edge of this vast field. Destroy the tower then destroy the fungus fields quickly!” Yang said curtly as he handed the electro-binoculars back to one of the Firemen.

                          Yang turned and quickly walked back to the awaiting escort of rovers to whisk him back to the security of the Hive.


                          Lab Three, MY 2139

                          “It’s good that we have Planetary Archives so close! I mean, they’re only a sector away. It’s like we’re brothers!”

                          Zakharov quietly sipped his brandy, which was surprisingly good, as he eavesdropped on the conversation around him. Undoubtedly the man didn’t know that the Provost was listening in on his idle chatter and probably would be horrified if he knew. Still, it was good to get unfiltered information every now and then. It was a real hazard to have a good number of management layers – which had increased noticeably since they had started their Planned economy.

                          “I have to say I love the little river valley,” the man continued. “We’re upstream of Archives, but this is a nice little location.”

                          The woman near him snorted. “Little isn’t the half of it. We have the largest fungus field we know of to our north and east, and the small bit of open territory we’ll have to share with Archives. Our growth is definitely limited.”

                          “You’re being too negative,” the man said with a dismissive wave of his drink, which sloshed dangerously. “The farm was just finished, and another formers is already working on the rainy sector adjacent to us. Our former will be completed in a year, and it will join the fun! And remember, we already have a road link to Archives, and the flat area there is scheduled to be a forest! We’ll have plenty of land, take my word.”

                          “Well,” the woman said. “You sure know a lot about the terraformers. You’re not a crew leader, are you?”

                          “I’m not supposed to say, but I may be,” he said as he winked and leaned closer. The woman smiled in return.

                          Zakharov had heard enough and he angled away. He could see by the body language that the alcohol had largely shut down the two’s higher brain functions and they were now in a well known mating ritual that both might regret come the morning.

                          Still, Zakharov didn’t disagree with anything either had said. The base site was less than optimal and very close to Archives. But, he knew that this was the only way to utilize one of the very rare rainy sectors. This one happened to be in a river valley and outside of the reach of Planetary Archives. It would be a real shame to let it go to waste, so Gregory Kline had scheduled it to be colonized sooner rather than later. The base had already increased their productive output, and the rainy river valley was producing considerable energy for their treasury and laboratories.

                          The last was especially welcome. It would now take 9 years between breakthroughs, which is a rate they’d been able to maintain even as each breakthrough became more difficult. The only way to beat the research inflation was expansion, and right now that expansion was horizontal. Eventually the horizontal expansion would have to stop when they ran out of land, which would come all too soon. Then they would either have to build up, and Zakharov had visions of shining cities of research and discovery that put those of Moscow and Shanghai to shame.

                          Or it could be that the brandy was finally getting to him. University cities still had dirt streets and ferrocloth reinforced walls. Shining cities on a hill were a long way off.


                          HIVE 2139, Human, Intelligence, Vector and Education command center or HIVE ComCent

                          “This is the best news we have received in some time Chairman!”

                          Yang stood motionless next to the massive holographic map projection table. On the other side were arrayed the Consuls of the Hive and along another side stood Fire Marshall Yazov and several of his senior Fire Chiefs and along the last side stood members of the HIVE science, education and thought liberation board. These four groups represented the major power brokers in the HIVE heiracrchy of power. Some of the men and women were well pleased with themselves at the thought they stood with the sphere of power but in reality on Yang was the true source of power.

                          “The Firemen dispatched in our new fast scout/attack rovers have recovered data files from UNITY that we were not able to download prior to our escape from the doomed ship. The files have given us the technical planes and science to construct our own hyper speed shoulder launched missile launchers. In addition, the PRIME uncovered a sea pod that was full of portable energy generators that could easily generate 50 megaquads of energy. In all these discoveries have helped to improve our situation on Chiron.” Yang finished solemly as the folded his arms behind his back.

                          Consul Tegrain quickly pushed forward and began to claps his hands in applause which was quickly picked up the rest of the attendees.

                          “I have ordered the PRIME to continue its search of the local seas and our orders are the same for the scouts, seek and return. If all goes well we should find all we need on the land and seas of Chiron.” Yang finished as the last of the applause had died away.

                          “Reports are positive as well from our terraformers. The first patch of fungus removed has weakened the fungal tower as hoped and we should be able to launch our attacks as planned.” Fire Marshall Yazov added.

                          The meeting lasted another fifteen minutes as various other officials reported but the main news had been delivered by Yang. Plans were underweight to take full advantage of their new technology and wealth.


                          University Base, MY 2140

                          “We’re now only exploring around the fringes of our space since, as you all well know, movement into the fungus is fraught with danger. About a third of the time our explorers encounter mindworms. So far they’ve always prevailed, but at cost. We have only two explorers – our original scout team and our Unity rover, so we have to proceed carefully.”

                          Minister Kline activated an image that showed a schematic of the territory around University territory. “We can safely build at least three more bases. One will be on an arid rise east of University Base. Note that if we place the bases close together we can get two in this territory. That will limit long term growth potential, but we’ll be able to harvest the two Unity pods nearby. One of the cities will be a port, of which we only have one.

                          To the north we have the desert, and in this area we can site two bases, here and here,” he said, pointing to a central area and a second area to the west on the coast. “Neither holds much promise and I’m afraid that the best we can do is planet forests. Nothing else will be productive.

                          “Perhaps the most provocative idea is placing a base here, north of New Arzamas. There is only a single sector surrounded by fungus. This space will not be viable until we can find a way to remove the fungus efficiently, or have spare terraformers that can handle the job. If we are fortunate our forests will spread, as has already happened twice now.

                          “Our eastern explorer has opened up part of the eastern-most unknown territory, with tantalizing clues of what might be beyond the fungal wall. This space also is completely surrounded by fungus and we’ll have to remove fungus for any growth to be possible.”

                          Amy Constance leaned forward and said, “Not exactly true. We could build a sea former and lay a kelp bed. That would provide food, although the base would be mineral poor.”

                          Gregory turned and nodded toward Amy. “A good suggestion. Eventually we will build sea formers, but he cost is prohibitive. So, barring any new territory being exposed to our north and east that is amenable to colonization we have space for three bases, or possibly four. As of right now we have one colony pod en route and three building. So, you see the problem. Some of the colony pods will not be complete for some time, and perhaps we’ll be able to have a useful spot for a new colony by then. If not then we’ll have the difficult choice of scrapping the pod and losing considerable hard-earned resources or keeping the pod just in case a new site becomes available.

                          “As of now I suggest we construct no new colony pods. Our cities are growing such that their existing terraforming may be insufficient, and in that case we will need better infrastructure. Additionally, the limit of bases we can construct before our Planned economy starts becoming a limiting factor will become an issue soon, and perhaps with the pending establishment of our eighth base in the northern desert.

                          “Council members, this concludes the report of the Executive Council Colonization Supervisor. Please submit any recommendations to my office, or bring them up in full Council for discussion. As we expand we will need to select among growing options more carefully, and the best way to do that is to have the best plans possible.

                          “Thank you.”


                          HIVE 2140, Frontier sectors north of HIVE

                          “Is that what I think it is?”

                          “Let me see you oaf!”

                          45KILO grabbed the electro-binoculars from 12ZULU and scanned the area again and stopped where 45KILO had indicated.

                          “Yep, I would say you found one.” 12 ZULU said happily. “Radio in to command to have all tankers roll on these coordinates. We should be able to reach them in a turn or less. These damn hills are hell on the gear and transmissions but it does give us the high ground and it paid off.”

                          “What do you think is in it?” 45KILO urgently asked.

                          “How in the name of Chairman Yang would I know you idiot! We can barely see it from it let alone tell what’s inside of it. Now get on the radio and inform command!” 12 ZULU barked his reply as he quickly stowed the precious electro-binoculars and began to start up the ‘tanker’ as the Firemen had begun to call their rovers.

                          “When we found that last one full of data chips we got **** for it!” 45KILO whined in reply. “Why in the hell should we not get a taste of the riches or a reward at least. All we got was an extra set of rations and a day off. No tell me what good it does to have a day off out here!”

                          “You had better shut your hole right now 45KILO and right now!” 12ZULU shouted. “I don’t care if you run your gums all day long but you are talking some weird **** now and if you keep it up you could get us all into trouble and in particular me!”

                          45KILO said nothing after that went about typing out the message on the VOX transmitter (Virtual Orbital Xchange network ) even though UNITY had crashed the ship had been able to fire off a whole set of low and high orbit communication satellites as the UNITY had entered the solar system of Alpha Centauri. Now VOX was the lifeblood that connected the ‘tankers’ to the HIVE and all the cities and other vehicles, including the sea transport PRIME.

                          “The reply is to hold our position and wait for all 1st ‘tankers’ to converge on our location.” 45KILO reported glumly.

                          “Oh get over it 45KILO.” 12ZULU said sarcastically. “The captain will be here soon along with the sarge and you know how much fun that will be!”

                          45KILO only moaned and held his head in his hands.


                          Tsiolovski Institute, MY2141

                          Lieutenant Tal Talx enjoyed being back in civilization. Tsiolovski Institute was a far cry from University Base, but at least it had hot and cold running waters on most days, pressurized buildings so that he didn’t have to wear that damned nitrogen scrubber mask all day, some temperature control in the rudimentary but functional buildings, and real food! Off all these amenities it was the food that he savored the most. While the rest of the colonists were whining that the pudding was thin or that the faux meat protein was ‘simply ghastly’ he said nary a word. While in the field for over two decades he had the joy of eating off the land – and paying for it with bouts of terrible gas, food poisoning, and borderline malnutrition – or the hard protein bars, carbohydrate supplements, and vitamins. Of the two he preferred eating off the land.

                          Before him was the latest culinary delight of Tsiolovski Institute: curry meat loaf, fresh green beans this jalapeño side sauce, canned apples, and the watery vanilla pudding everyone complained about. The curry meat loaf wasn’t bad at all, and he thanked the curry for that. As with all soy protein products the texture was not quite right and it didn’t have the signature greasiness that he remembered from Earth. The green beans were heaven, pure heaven. They were steamed so that they were hot but still slightly crisp, not overcooked and mushy. Although the jalapeño sauce was good, in this case he did not put it on the beans since they needed absolutely no help. Preserved apples were actually quite good, too, once you got over the fact they were soft and almost like applesauce. These were some of the most treasured parts of the forests that now laced their territory – orchards! Of their seed stocks the apples had adapted the best to Chiron’s ecology, but there was talk that they’d finally gotten the peach and cherry trees to take outside of the jealously guarded greenhouses. Chiron pests hadn’t developed a taste for them yet, and the bees were doing OK. The first few bee population crashes had been difficult to deal with but eventually they’d gotten it right – the queens were suffering from nitrogen narcosis, just like humans did. That meant the hives needed to be pressurized or the bees re-engineered. A side benefit was the honey they produced, but that was an extreme luxury.

                          The pudding was watery, but very tasty. Apparently some genius had grafted vanilla root stock to a native fungus. The result was a strange hybrid where the vanilla branches acted as a parasite, but that was fine with Tal. Each bite of watery pudding was a delight, and he gladly took any uneaten portions he could get his hands on. To a point, that is. It was easy in this cushy environment to let yourself go. Tal wouldn’t that happen, no matter how good the pudding was.


                          • #14
                            HIVE 2141, Terraformer crews #1 & #2

                            “We have to keep going!”

                            “Like hell we do!”

                            The new terraformer commanders stared at each inches apart. Flanking each commander was the bulk of their crews.

                            “I have told you once 27INDIA that my team is not going into that without a Fire brigade nearby and that is that!” 88FOXTROT shouted through his breathing mask.

                            “Look,” 27INDIA began. “I am just trying to save us as a whole lot of grief here and you know it. Once the Chairman hears that a half of his terraformer crews revolted he will send you all to re-education centers and most likely us as well since he will be afraid you contaminated us. Just move your damn former into position and go to work and you will save us all a lot of grief and pain.”

                            The commander of terraformer 2 looked suddenly pale as the words sunk and he knew they were true.

                            “Look 27INDIA if we just stick together.”

                            27INDIA quickly interrupted 88FOXTROT. “You are talking nonsense now and you know it! I have no intention of loosing everything now just to give you cover you damn fool.”

                            27INDIA quickly sidestepped 88FOXTROT to talk directly the crew of terraformer #2. “You men and women of the HIVE know Yang will curs us both if word gets back. You all need to go back to work now if you want any chance at all!”

                            The crew from terraformer #2 hesitated a minute and then quickly stomped back to their machine.

                            “Look what you have done!” Moaned 88FOXTROT.

                            “I know what I have done, do you?” 27INDIA replied as he turned and waved his crews back to work.

                            Within a minute 88FOXTROT was left alone in many ways.


                            Academy Park, MY 2142

                            The festivities for the establishment of the University’s seventh base Academy Park were in full swing. A new alcoholic beverage called Fungal Gin was making the rounds. Of course it was not made out of fungus, but the additives gave it a very light pinkish red color. That was all that was needed to make it a novelty, and it was the hit of the dedication party. After three or four rounds it was unofficially the drink of Academy Park and a cure all for almost any ailment. There would likely be more serious ailments – hangovers – the next morning, but right now no one cared.

                            It was hot and the very air seemed to such the moisture out of your skin. Zakharov felt this keenly. He was used to University Base, which was blessed with two rainy sectors and a few forests. All of these gave the real and imagined impression of a moist, friendly environment. This base was different. To date it was the furthest north of all University bases and it was in the middle of the northern desert. There was one barely moist sector within the range of the new city, but everything else was either barren ground or fungus. It was hardly the most inviting place, but all of the better colonization locations already had bases established on them.

                            Zakharov swirled the pink gin and was very grateful for the ice that was stacked high in his glass. He occasionally used it to cool his forehead and it did provide some comfort. He had just joined the outskirts of a small crowd of people who were discussing the loss of the Planetary Archives scout patrol to a mindworm. It had been a horrific event that was told and retold over the comm. system. Not all that much was known except that the group was given authorization to engage the worm if they decided it was tactically prudent. Then there were a few muffled transmissions, then nothing. That could only mean the worst.

                            He’d heard of it in Council yesterday. Lab 3 was given an appropriation to finish their scout defender early to ensure the worm didn’t make it into the base, and the Unity rover was recalled to provide mobile defense for Archives and Lab 3. It might be possible for the rover to get to the worm and engage it, but that sort of action was fraught with risks. The two vulnerable terraformers were told to evacuate the area by the fungus and they would be able to do so before the worm was able to attack.

                            Zakharov didn’t participate in the conversation and noticed several sets of eyes made it his way to get confirmation of one bit of speculation or another. But he demurred and simply sipped his drink and watched the byplay.

                            Privately, he was grateful there hadn’t been more losses to native life before this. They’d been on Chiron for over 40 years and although some people had died from exposure to the planet and its life forms there hadn’t been a catastrophe. Now a hundred people in the patrol and its support elements were dead or presumed dead. The area of the encounter was four or more sectors north and any survivors would take time to make it to safety.

                            When the crowd saw that the Prokhor wasn’t going to be adding any juicy tidbits they tried to ignore him and continue. That was difficult since he was pretty famous. Some here were young enough to know nothing but Chiron and the little pocked of humanity they’d established. It was indeed small and safe – as far as they know – and for all its limitations Zakharov did have to admit he considered it home.

                            HIVE 2142, 2nd Fire Brigade lead element

                            “My oh my!”

                            “Can it 11CHARLIE!”

                            Sargent 8LIMA walked slowly up the ‘device’ and looked it over carefully.

                            “Yep.” 8LIMA said confidently. “It’s just like the one they found on the mesa about twenty turns ago, one of the techs told me it’s some sort of energy or data storage device left by an alien race.”

                            “Yea but sergeant why would they just leave something like this out here for someone to take let alone the elements to destroy!” 11CHARLIE replied quickly.

                            “Look you brainless bum!” 8LIMA turned on the group of soldiers behind him. “These things have been out here for thousands upon thousands of years and they look brand new to me. They are built out of a metal we don’t even know about yet. As to why they would just leave them out here who can say? My guess, well, I would say they left them out here and for some reason they forgot them, just like we would forget a book or something.”

                            “Like a book is left around the HIVE!” Another soldier spat. “If it was we would find the culprit who had one and burn the book and send the owner to a re-education center.”

                            “I know it’s what we would do but maybe not these aliens you son of a stone!” 8LIMA shot back angrily. “NOW! You get your asses in gear and get the clamps on this thing and left it out right away. We need to get it back to HIVE for study.”

                            The Firemen quickly got into action and began to remove the artifact from the alien built chamber. The small complex of four buildings looked like they had been built yesterday. The fungus that normally grew everywhere never seemed to get any closer to the area than 5 meters.

                            After some time of pushing, pulling, grunting and lifting the artifact was placed on a motorized sled that an operator walked behind and controlled with a remote. It would take some time to get it back to HIVE but it would have to be done and as quickly as possible or they would all face the wrath of Chairman Yang.


                            University Base, MY 2143

                            “And this is the key to an increasing industrial economy,” Amy Constance said. “We have just discovered how to efficiently use and a few energy production systems in Chiron. With Renewable Energy Resources we will be able to construct energy banks in our cities, which will optimize energy management and yield an effective 50 percent improvement in energy reserves. But more importantly, we will now be able to construct solar panels. We’ve struggled with this for years, and there was something in the ecology that seemed to attack the carbon strips we had been using. Of course we knew that this is a carbon poor ecology, but we never realized the organisms were so aggressive as to attack manufactured carbon wafers! We’ve replaced them with bromalated silicon, which the little beasties ignore.

                            “At this time I recommend that we start construction of solar panels at New Azamas, University Base, and Zvedny Gorodock. Each has sectors that are being used for farming that are above 1000 meters, which will yield optimal energy production. This is key, since a typical base with 2000 population generates 2 to a maximum of 4 terraquads of energy each year, and the upper end assumes they are in a river valley and have access to a forest. If we construct a single solar panel for these bases we can increase their energy production by at least 50 percent!

                            “The down side is that it will take four years to construct the solar arrays. But the investment will be worth it, and I strongly recommend we start relocating terraformers as we can immediately.

                            “Another option is to have the three bases that are finishing colony pods soon start on a supplemental terraformer. As we stop producing colony pods our populations will grow vertically, and the will require more terraformed area. As you all know that is at a premium and the low-hanging fruit has already been taken, as far as terraforming goes at least. With our Planned Economy our growth may outstrip our ability to provide useful areas for our citizens to harvest, and that is wasteful. Those decisions I will leave to our Colonization Minister, Mr. Kline.”


                            HIVE 2143, Chambers of the Consuls

                            “What is this plan that you called us here today to hear?”

                            Yang stopped just a foot short of the podium where he normally stood and snapped a cold stare at the consul that had made the question. The cold stare quickly silenced the consul and Yang took the last step to the podium and then looked at each of the consuls in turn then began.

                            “I have initiated a program to build a new Firemen command and control network here at HIVE that will enhance the training and capabilities of our Firemen to meet the mounting threat the mindworms pose. In addition, the Firemen will receive extra training in routing out subversive elements within our society.” Yang concluded and stood their silently.

                            “How extensive will this be?” Consul Montgomery asked hesitantly.

                            “It will take us 41 turns to complete as of today but my engineers expect it to take far less than that.” Yang answered flatly.

                            “That’s incredible!” Montgomery sputtered. “You are asking to tie up our production resources for four decades!”

                            “I am not asking you at all consul.” Yang quickly countered. “I am informing you of what I have done and that is all. It is now your responsibility to coordinate the various departments under your supervision to cooperate with my lieutenants to see that it is built, nothing more.”

                            Everyone in the room was silenced by the bravado in Yang’s statement but on another level they knew it to be true.

                            Yang quickly turned and left the room followed by Zho his aide-de-camp and four elite Firemen as bodyguards.

                            None of the consuls said anything as they stood up and left the room. What was there to say.


                            University Base, MY 2144

                            Zakharov adjusted his glasses to stereoscope so he could better see the totality of the diagram. He cocked his head sideways and then reached out to touch a section of the schematic. “This is the key element of the Rejuvenation Tank Project. Am I correct?”

                            Amy Constance smiled. “Yes, you are. This is the key to the Project and why it is vital to our society. The re-sequencer will be able to analyze any subject’s DNA to code any known genetic defect, and this will be done quickly and easily. These data will then be used in combination with our existing database of human physiology to determine if there are any treatments or cures for the defect. Further, by pushing the integrated systems further here and here,” she said as he pointed toward a few side schematics, “we may be able to correct at least part of the genetic damage, or at least eradicate some of it.”

                            “You mean cancer, don’t you,” Zakharov said.

                            “Yes. Cancer. This is one of the prime abilities of the Rejuvenation Tanks – the eradication of up to 70 percent of the cancer for the vast majority of our citizens. The systems are almost fully automated and since we will be investing in this infrastructure ahead of time the costs after construction will be more than made up for the reduction in medical costs. Productivity will be enhanced, of course, as will the sense of well being. Cancer is feared, Provost, and knowing there is now a real weapon against it will allow us to build a more stable society.”

                            Zakharov nodded and then turned back to the schematics. His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to absorb the critical details, or to find flaws. “To what degree is this scaleable? As the University grows will this system be able to grow with it?”

                            “All indications are that, yes, it will be able to grow with the society. In a strange way the extra data from a greater number of citizens will make it more efficient, providing a greater data store that will enhance its diagnostic potential. But you can see that in Node 3,” she said as she pointed to the extreme left side of the electronic schematic.

                            Zakharov glanced at Node 3 for a while and then nodded. “I won’t pretend to understand everything, but the theory is sound. This will take over three decades to complete?”

                            Amy nodded. “Perhaps less when our population grows, or if we have an influx of energy reserves.”

                            He snorted. “Then it will take longer. Our surplus is only 8 megajoules a year, which will buy us less than half a year’s production at University Base. It looks like we’ll have to complete the Project the hard way.”


                            HIVE 2144, HIVE-3 Operations Center

                            “Very impressive Seneschal Loman.”

                            “Thank you Chairman!”

                            Yang continued to review the operations center of HIVE-3 the newest and third base within the HIVE network of cities. The operations center was the nerve center for all management operations of the HIVE and the care and servicing of the drones.

                            “Did you allotment of Drones meet with your approval?” Yang asked absently.

                            “Of course Chairman!” Seneschal Loman quickly replied. “From the 33ALPHA’S to the 86ZULU’S were more than satisfactory. We have them all allocated to quarters and duties now and things seem to be progressing well.”

                            “Good.” Yang said quietly. “I want to make sure nothing upsets the program of re-education and societal reforms I have begun. The creation of a new human is my paramount concern but without discipline and the willingness to create hardship to forge a new human within that matrix my work will be for nothing. Surely you do not want to see that?”

                            The question seemed to hang out there for an eternity before Loman could reply that nothing in the world would stop him for helping the Chairman.

                            Yang stopped, turned and smiled and then turned back to his inspection.

                            “Sometime soon a group of Firemen will be transiting your base with an object of great importance. Make sure it gets to me as quickly as possible. Is that clear?” Yang said as he continued to walk from the operations room with its hundreds of surveillance monitors and operators to the door.

                            “Of course Chairman!” Loman said happily but with a slight edge in his voice of fear.

                            “Good.” Yang purred it seemed as he left the room.


                            Hill near Zvedny Gorodock, MY 2145

                            The wind was more than brisk. Zakharov and his protégé Amy Constance stood facing into the wind. The rest of the Council had wandered back to the base on an official inspection tour and were likely seeing the intricacies of the construction of their recycling tanks. Zakharov had seen the tanks at University Base and, frankly, once you saw the efficient stew of semi identifiable materials that was quite enough.

                            “It is quite a risk you know,” Amy said. The wind seemed to almost steal her words away, and her breath mask muffled them in any case.

                            Zakharov looked over to invite her to elaborate.

                            “The three colony pods that are on their way. This was a huge investment that took decades, and the new bases will probably cause problems. For one, I’m not sure our Planned economy will be able to function under the strain. I expect we will have a rash of shortages and delivery errors, all due to our low efficiency. That will cause resentment, and perhaps riots. We haven’t had any riots, Prokhor. I’ve seen riots back at Amsterdam before the levies breached. It was horrible. The city burned for days.”

                            “I am aware of the risks, but we have no choice. We now know that our continent is an island, and a not very hospitable one at that. We must diversify our population. There are too few of us, only 11 thousand. If we are the only humans left in the galaxy this is not far above a critical mass. Expansion is the only solution.” He turned his head back into the wind, which whipped his errant hair in a wild fashion.

                            “Then all we can do is prepare for the worst. It will be a few years to a half decade before the bases are established, so we have some time. There will be other hurdles. University Base will have 3000 citizens next year if our projections are correct. That may cause instability problems, too.” Amy looked away.

                            “All the more reason to finish the Rejuvenation Tanks. It will take a long time, and I hope we have a little good fortune. For all our sakes.”


                            HIVE 2145, Southern slops of the mesa

                            “What do you mean we can’t get back!”

                            “Just what I said Captain, we can’t get back and that’s that!”

                            Captain 12ECHO looked at the two you scouts and shook his head which caused his re-breather unit to wobble on his face.

                            “Look, I sent you two both out to scout the way back. We need to get our people back for medical treatment after our battle with that worm mass. So why exactly is the way blocked?” Captain “ECHO” said angrily.

                            “As I said sir that damn fungus has grown back over the road and even though it’s not everywhere its on the road and to avoid it we would have to steer damn right near that fungal tower. Do we really want to do that?” 67TANGO said respectfully but with a tinge of weariness in his voice.

                            Captain “ECHO” said nothing but looked down to survey the crude map his ‘boys’ had brought back to him. If what they said was true they needed to turn back and head north to HIVE – PRIME rather than their own base of HIVE-ONE.

                            “Shall I tell the men?” 13LIMA said hopefully. He had lost both of his friends to the attack and his nerve was shattered from it as well. All he wanted was to get the hell out of here.

                            “Yes, tell the men and get the wounded into the rovers. We move out as soon as we get our gear stowed and can roll.”

                            Captain ECHO saluted the men and then turned to leave but his eyes caught the glimpse of fungal tower and shiver ran down his spine. His orders had been to ‘follow-up’ and attack that damn thing but with only a handful of Firemen it was useless.

                            The thing that worried ECHO now was what would Yang say when he returned with his mission unaccomplished.


                            • #15
                              University Base, MY 2146

                              Guards armed with shredders and batons had been positioned outside of the modest University Center. Two pair flanked each entrance, and another set were positioned at each portal. Each guard’s uniform was a light gray with chevrons of black and gold. They looked efficient and somewhat lethal and were a far cry from the ad hoc scouting parties that had been formed after Landfall almost a half century ago.

                              Outside random gangs of disaffected citizens were marching and demanding immediate action on any number of complaints: poor food, over crowding, lack of recreation facilities, or for the sheer fun of anarchy.

                              Zakharov ventured a look out a second floor window and saw none of the reported mobs, but he had seen more than enough of the damage by vid to convince him that they were experiencing their first full fledged riot – just as Amy had predicted.

                              Damn it, where was she? Zakharov didn’t realize until this very moment how much he valued her, no matter how irritating and sanctimonious she might be. Talent was a rare thing, and Zakharov could appreciate a first class mind. Or he would if he hadn’t been blinded by the immediate issues of the day, which were mostly trivial and in the end irrelevant.

                              Now Amy was somewhere out there among the mobs. He hoped to god that she was OK.

                              HIVE 2146, On board the UNITY sea transport PRIME


                              “Yes, land.”

                              Gregor watched the bridge crew thump each other on the back as forward observer in the bow kept yelling land.

                              It would be good to be back on land again, if not for just a little while to feel the earth underneath him and a good place to eat and sleep. The ship needed a vast amount of repairs as well, something that could not be done at sea.

                              Gregor watched the groups of soldiers below jump up and down below their faces full of happiness. If they only knew Gregor thought what they would need to be doing as soon as the transport hit the beach.

                              Yang had ordered the Firemen stationed on board to attack a much reduced fungal tower to clear it away once and for all. Gregor had never seen a fungal tower up close and had no idea if the Firemen could even do it but that was not even important, all they had to do was try and if they achieved victory, great, if not well there would always be more Firemen.


                              Gregor turned to the sailor who had yelled his name.

                              “Captain there is a Unity pod floating just off of the port bow, should we bring it in?” The sailor asked hopefully.

                              “No, our orders are first to deposit the Firemen and then return back for the pod. Mark it down on the charts and drop a marker as well.” Gregor ordered.

                              Several sailors snapped to attention and quickly began to dispatch orders.

                              Gregor walked over to the port side to see the massive pod slide by the hull not more than hundred yards away. It looked innocent enough but many of the pods had submarine fungal growth on lower hull of the pods which could be infested with worms. He had lost more than one crewmember to those damned things.

                              Gregor looked down at the soldiers again and smiled they had their doom to face as he did.


                              Pavlov Biolab, MY 2147

                              Zakharov was getting tired of base dedications. Pavlov Biolab was the eighth University city they’d founded and, in truth, all the early bases looked the same: inexpensive prefabricated ferrocrete meeting hall and city center, basic water treatment and power facility, a single utilitarian road, and identical temporary pressure tents for its citizens. The pressure tents sometimes were in place for years before more permanent structures were put in place, and even then they were trotted out when population pressures demanded it. On the whole they weren’t completely horrible, but they were almost terrifying during severe weather, stiflingly hot in summer, and bone chillingly cold in winter.

                              Pavlov Biolab was the University’s southern most base, so the winters would be very cold indeed. It was also was at a very high altitude, which in general didn’t mean much except for the placement of future solar panels that would yield prestigious amounts of energy. Fortunately Gregory Kline had done his job and there was a forest for the city to harvest resources while the farm was constructed at the lone moist sector. Everything else was either arid or infested with fungus.

                              Reflecting on this, Zakharov thought that although farms have the ability to grow their population it was the forests that would prove the most useful. Already they had forests spread into neighboring fungal fields and replace them. No one had an adequate theory for why some forests spread and others didn’t but several were on the table: forest spread near river valleys, when near other forests, or totally at random depending on local conditions. Right now Zakharov favored the latter theory since there seemed to be no rhyme or reason. But he was thankful that they spread since it solved so many problems, the keenest of which was the scarcity of terraformable land and the huge amounts of fungus that was everywhere.

                              On that note he earnestly hoped they learned how to better harvest the resources of the fungus, for any ecosystem had resources that could be utilized if it was properly understood. There was also the constant threat of the native life forms. They were, of course, alien in every way, but there must be a way to understand them. That, eventually, would be the key to mastery of Chiron.

                              He took another pull from the tasty drink he had been offered. It was first rate, but not all that interesting. Now, Chiron was interesting. If it didn’t kill them all first.