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5. First Landing

“All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my Apostasy, I collected again by the highest reason.”
–Thomas Traherne (British preacher, 1636–1674)

“… my soul stood erect, exultant, envisioning a new world where the light of justice for every individual will be unclouded.” –Helen Keller

I. The Lottery

9/15/2056, In the Cafeteria of the Mayflower.

“Number 134?” Captain Travis read from the slip of paper in his hand.

“Yes!” Kara shouted, jumping up from her seat. She went over and sat with the others already selected to be on the first freighter, The Galileo, that would touch down on the surface of their new world. She joined William Bartlett, Jack the Blade, Natasi, Robert B Thompson, the Kellermans, and several others, all sporting huge grins.

Travis reached into the bowl and pulled out another slip and called out, “Number 16.”

“That’s us,” Hanna Parker said to her family. They, like most families, were entered all under one number. Liza and Emily squealed with delight. Karyn just looked confused as Linda picked her up and they headed over to “the chosen ones.”

In point of fact, Captain Monroe thought to himself as he watched the proceedings, they would all be on the planet within an Alchiban week, if things went well. He reflected on all that had happened in just a couple days. The Galileo cargo hold had been cleaned up, and carpeted using remnants from unused rooms in the Mayflower. Sixty padded seats from the unused movie theater had been installed along with make-shift seatbelts. A portable toilet was installed behind a curtain, and a large area was for storage of the passenger’s personal belongings. The other freighter, The Copernicus, had been cleaned up just enough so that heavy goods, crates, and equipment could be ferried to the planet.

“Number 153,” Travis called out.

The Stuarts, with Ash in tow, rose without ceremony and took their places.

More numbers were called and the Rayes, Marty, Jack Seaworth, and Kristopher joined the first landers.

Monroe would be piloting the Galileo solo while Arte Clark and Harlan Allison would bring the Copernicus down. Actually, Monroe speculated, this would provide an opportunity to give Andy Stuart and Bartlett some hands-on training. The Colony would need more skilled pilots in the future. Come to think of it, didn’t Natasi have a small craft license? Captain Travis was remaining on the ship, for now. It had been decided that either he or himself, the only two truly qualified to pilot a ship as large as the Mayflower, should always be on-board.

More colonists were chosen, including Zoe Heriot, the Benjamins, Dave, Tim Watson, Dave Webber, and a young, goodlooking Indian named Rajnar Singe who, besides being a skilled textiles designer, seemed to have caught the eye of several of the unattached women.

Captain Travis did a head-count and then called out more numbers. Several more colonists were selected, including Historian, Nurse LeGuin, and Janie Cantarubia. He glanced over at Bartlett and noticed that he perked up at that! It was time for the final draw. He pulled out a number and said, “78. Number 78.”

An elderly chinese gentleman, Chen-Ling Yamasak, rose along with his two comely daughters. Travis was glad it was them. Chen-Ling had escaped from communist China in the early part of the century along with his wife, now deceased. He had started with nothing and built up a thriving wine business, growing grapes in California’s Napa Valley, first by himself and then with the help of his daughters. He knew the evils of communism and oppression. He also knew what freedom and capitalism meant.

Travis had spoken with him in the lounge the other evening and could hear the dismay in Chen-Ling’s voice as he recounted how the government, now firmly in the grip of the socialist agenda of the UNWG, had decreed that he owned too much land and should “donate” some of it to the less priviledged, meaning those who hadn’t earned it. Besides, grapes, oranges, it should be all the same to a skilled agriculturist farmer.

Travis spoke to all, saying, “Please don’t be disappointed if you weren’t selected this round. All of you will be planetside within a week. I’m not sure if that’s an Earth or an Alchiban week but you’ll be there all the same.

“Besides, who really knows what dangers, if any, are lurking there? You might turn out to be the lucky ones for not making the first trip down.”

Those colonists not selected began to drift out. Those that were moved to the front of the cafeteria for a “pre-flight” talk by Travis and Monroe.

Travis keyed in something on the deskpad sitting on the table before him and the large screen behind him lit up with a cartographic map of Alchibah.

He said, “After much discussion and weighing the pros-and-cons of different areas of the planet, we’ve decided the first landing should occur where you see the red ‘ex’.

“The spot we’ve chosen is along a river about a mile inland from the ocean. It’s also slightly elevated, about 200 feet above sea-level. There’s a mix of forest as far as we can see, and grassy plains.

“Naturally, we don’t know much more than that, trying to peer down there with our instruments. As you can see, it’s on the west coast of one of the main continents. We’re hoping for weather similar to southern France, or California, if you prefer. According to data and measurements provided by Bill Bartlett, it would seem to be ’spring-time’ there, insuring a long growing season ahead of us. We hope!

“This morning, we sent R.Columbus down to that spot in one of the Lancer’s lifeboats. We’ve instructed him to perform some simple tests on the air, the water of a river nearby, and on some of the plant life he finds there. Really, just tests for the most basic questions such as the content of the air and so forth. Mostly, he’ll also be collecting images to find us a suitable spot to land, ourselves.”We should have results back from him this evening and all of you are encouraged to go over those results and offer any suggestions.

“Dr. Hibbes and Arte Clark launched the three communications satellites this morning, as well. They’ve been put in a syncronous equatorial orbit. The three of them should give us blanket coverage except at the northern and most southern parts of the planet. You’re wristpads should provide communication with each other over any distances you’re likely to explore, and you’ll also be in contact with the Mayflower.”

Zoe Heriot raised her hand and said, “Captain, I noticed that you also launched a strange looking sort of funnel shaped ship with wings a couple days ago. What was that?”

Dr. Hibbes had been sitting beside Travis and spoke up, “That is what we call a NIFT, a Nuclear Indigenous Fueled Transatmospheric vehicle.”

Travis said, “Aren’t you glad you asked?”

Many of the colonists laughed and Dr. Hibbes smiled himself and continued, “It’s sort of a gasoline tanker for the Mayflower and all the other ships here. The NIFT will head back to the fourth planet, a gas giant, and cruise it’s atmosphere, separating out the Helium three there, storing it, and returning to the Mayflower. Put simply, we’re low on fuel. Lest you worry, we have enough for a dozen trips to and from the planet by the freighters but still… There’s plenty of deuterium, which we can and have been seperating out of the hydrogen from the frozen water here as we use it, and as it is recycled. He3 is another story. Working with an idea of Hamilton’s, I designed that ship myself!”

Marty leaned over to Tim Watson and whispered, “Quite the ego, huh?” Watson nodded.

Travis said, “Our plan is to launch the Copernicus first, hopefully tomorrow morning. Harlan Allison has overseen the restoration of that ship. It’s been loaded with a great deal of heavy machinery from the mines here. A crawler, back-hoe, portable cement mixer and most of the bagged concete. There are also crates containing a week’s supply of MREs, ten robots, three porta-potties and yes, a couple cases of toilet paper.” More laughter.

He continued, “Once that is down there, the Galileo will follow. This is not a long trip, by the way. From the Mayflower to the landing site should only take a couple hours, most of that spent slowly braking. Most of you have seen the freighters. They’re big, clunky things that launch and land with a main rear rocket. At the last moment of landing, smaller jets located on the the upper and lower surfaces of both wings tip the ship over on it’s side and it lands in a prone position. Take-off is the reverse of that. They were never designed for comfort, being used only to ferry cargo about. Hence, the seat and shoulder restraints many of you helped install. I wouldn’t eat right before going!” There was chuckling at that.

One of the colonists, Burt Buchanan, a plump, sweaty man of about 40 with a florid complexion, stood and asked, “Who’s going to be in charge on the planet?”

The Stewarts and many others rolled their eyes. Buchanan had been rubbing almost everyone the wrong way since the voyage began. He was self-obsessed, arrogant, and obnoxious.

Travis said, “Well, for now, Monroe or myself will be. Once we have the basic necessities of shelter set up, you all will have to decide amongst yourselves on what form of government, if any, you want.”

Buchanan looked defiant and said, “After all, you might be Captain of this ship but you aren’t Captain of the planet!”Some groans were heard.

Travis said, “I agree. But are you all ready to select a new leader? Do you even know each other that well? Give it a week or two of working together and getting to know each other. I’ll be happy, as I’m sure Monroe will be, to relinquish command of the actual colony. Actually, neither of us plan to spend much time there!”

Andy Stuart said, “What do you mean? Aren’t you two planning to join us?”

Travis said, “Oh, we plan to stake our claim when it comes to divvying up land. That’s something else you all will have to decide about. Anyway, it will be nice to have a ‘vacation house’ to visit, but…” He looked over at Larry Monroe.

Captain Monroe said, “We’re space jockies at heart. Living off the land isn’t exactly what’s in our blood. Besides, there’s a whole solar system here that needs exploring. One of the moons of Alc4 has an oxygen atmosphere and a couple of the asteroids we spotted are large enough to have their own, possibly.”

Travis added, “There’s also something else. We need to build more ships, smaller ones. We also need to plan for, just in case, somewhere down the road the goonies come after us. They might not know exactly where the wormhole entrance is, but you can bet they’ll be looking for it. Whatever the bug is up their collective ass, we could see them again. It might not be for a couple years, or a couple decades, but it could, it probably will, happen. We need to start developing our own navy and plan for our defenses.”

There was murmering throughout the cafeteria at that.

Travis continued, “There’s another nugget for you to process; at some point we’ll need more pilots, sort of a citizen militia of fighter-pilots. Anyway, I guess that’s all for now. You folks need to get packed and you probably want a last stop at the Last Stop!”

II. A Tragic Setback

9/16/2056, 9AM, In the Control Room.

The data and images sent back by R. Columbus were encouraging. The planet, or at least that part of it where he had landed, looked lush and, to the disappointment of some of the children, green. No doubt they had been hoping for purple grasses and pink trees! While it was clear that plant life was not of terran origin, it was also obvious that evolution had worked to similar effect on both planets. No doubt the landing of the lifeboat had scared whatever animal life might be around because there was none to be seen in the pictures sent so far.

Many of the first-landing colonists were crowded into the control room, watching the monitors as Clark and Allison eased The Copernicus out of the cargo airlock and into space.

The one colonist dubbed “The Reporter” asked Travis, “Why did you decide on a mainland landing, Captain? Why not an island?”

“Well,” Travis replied, “We can’t be sure how evolution worked on this planet, and often, as on Earth, the flora and fauna of an island can be very non-representative of the planet as a whole. Indeed, without the intervention, or perhaps I should call it the forced migration of various animals and plants by an intelligent species — something Alchibah no doubt lacks — an island’s population can be quite isolated and peculiar. We’re going to need to find the maximum number of plants and animals, both for building, clothing, and as food. Starting off on the mainland gives us that opportunity.”

Travis turned back to the screen and, cuing a microphone said, “Copernicus, you’re looking good. Over.”

“Roger that, Mayflower,” the voice of Clark came over the speakers, “Just entering the outer atmosphere of Alchibah now.”

The Reporter asked another question, “Wouldn’t it be easier to defend an island colony?”

Monroe smiled and answered, “Defend against what? We haven’t spotted any flying saucers filled with little green men.”

“Not yet!” Hanna Parker added.

Clark’s voice broke in, “Mayflower, we’re having a problem.”

“What is it, Arte?” Travis said, looking concerned.

Dr. Hibbes had been studying one of the data transmission monitors and said, “Something screwy with the Copernicus readings.”

“Instruments failing,” Clarks alarmed voice came back, “Engines not operating correctly, they’re cutting out!”

“Arte, can you switch to manual control?” Travis shouted into the mike, “What’s going–”

“Mayflower, we’ve lost all engine power!”

“Arte–”

“Shit. We’re in free-fall. Temperature rising. Ship breaking up–”

There was the sound of static, and then there was silence from the speakers.

“Arte,” Travis pleaded, “Can you hear me? Please respond…”

“Data stream from the ship has stopped, Glen,” Dr. Hibbes almost whispered.

There was a large flare-up on the monitor that had been tracking The Copernicus visually.

For several long minutes that seemed as if hours, nobody said a word. Captain Travis, who had been standing for the last minute fell back into his chair and covered his face with his hands.

Finally, he looked up and said, Dr. Hibbes, Larry, we need to meet in the conference room right now. Dr, can you stream the data from the Copernicus into there?”

“Yes. Yes I can.”

“Good. We need to figure out what went wrong, and fast.”

III. A Tragedy of Errors

9/15/2056, 5PM in the Lounge.

While the men were in conference, studying the data that had come from the doomed ship, word spread fast among the colonists. Glenda and Steven had known Clark well, and led a small memorial service for the two men. A sense of gloom settled over everyone that evening as the lounge, dubbed the Last Stop, became crowded with anxious colonists who wondered if anything would ever go right on this voyage.

Several of the tables had been pushed together and all the usual suspects were sitting at it, as well as one uninvited one, Burt Buchanan.

Travis entered the Last Stop, headed to the bar, and then with drink in hand, headed over to the others at the makeshift long table.

Historian asked him, “Have you determined, Captain, what happened to the ship?”

Travis took a long pull from his drink and said, “Yes. One of those stupid mistakes that one of us should have caught, or thought of, but didn’t.”

He took another sip and went on, “Just like any computer system, the computers on-board the Copernicus have a battery back-up for the CMOS and other circuits. Harlan Allison went over the ship, of course, but must not have caught that. Without backup, the engine and instrument computers had no recent programming left except for what little was in ROM.”

Mariana Stuart said, “Wouldn’t there have been some warning that the battery was failing?”

“Only if you ask for it, do a check on it. These freighters are old, and have been sitting in that cold bay for four years, more probably, since they’ve been there ever since actual mining had ceased on this rock. Allison was asleep — in cryo — for almost four years. To him, as I’m sure it was for many of you, it seemed like only yesterday when he was revived that he had last looked the ships over.”

“Somehow that all seems ridiculous,” Jack Seaworth said.

“Just one of those inane things that happens, that reminds us that machinery can fail when you least expect it, and for the silliest of reasons. An innocent mistake. God knows Monroe and me didn’t think of it and we’ve been awake the whole time.”

Buchanan, clearly into his cups, said, “All that precious equipment and supplies, lost.”

Travis stood and, glaring at Buchanan, said, “I think what you meant to say was that two precious lives were lost.” Turning towards the bar, he added, “Excuse me,” and headed off in that direction.

IV. First Landing

9/16/2056, 11AM, Within the Cargo Hold of the Galileo.

Needless to say, Monroe and Hibbes went over all systems of the Galileo again and replaced the battery in question. It was decided that all colonists originally selected would still go, and that the storage area would simply be packed tighter. It had always been known that due to the delicacy of the lab equipment, that that should travel on the carpeted and cushioned ship with the colonists rather than being banged around with crates and equipment on the Copernicus. Linda, Sally, and Dave Webber supervised that part of it.

Finally, everyone was on-board and it was time to leave. With Bartlett and Andy in the contol cabin with Monroe, he eased the Galileo out of the bay and then paused to go over the instruments one last time, explaining them to the two men with him.

This time, the ship operated flawlessly and just shy of two hours later, from a couple hundred feet above the surface, Hanna looked at a monitor fed by a video cam:
A few minutes later, the first human beings landed on Alchibah.

Stepping back into the cargo hold, Captain Monroe said to the passengers, “Well, R. Columbus didn’t report any obvious pathogens in the air, not that he could really have detected any, anyway. The ramp is down and I guess we’ll open the airlock!”

“Captain,” Kristopher’s wife asked nervously, “What if there really are germs in the air here?”

Sally answered for him, “We don’t know what actual evolutionary steps have occurred here but since we’re the first humans, it’s unlikely that there are bacteria or viruses that would have developed a taste for a human host. It’s not impossible but it would be surprising.”

The airlock cycled and both doors were retracted. There was a definite breeze from the inside to out but then a mild, pleasant scent seemed to make it’s way into the hold.

Monroe peeked out and said, “Actually, folks, it looks quite beautiful here. And there’s R. Columbus striding toward us! Who wants to be first out?”

Historian said, “Why don’t we let the Parkers and Benjamins lead the way. After all, their children really are the future hope of us all, and certainly are one of the reasons we’re here.”

The Parkers and Benjamins, kids in tow, made their way to the door, down the ramp, and onto the surface of the planet. The Historian and Monroe followed, and then everyone else.

What they all saw was pleasing. They were in a rocky clearing but just to the north was a large field of tall green grass like plants, with scattered purple flowers interspersed. To the east of them, a lovely small river flowed south. To the west, hills and forest, some of it quite tall, in the furthest parts.

Monroe walked partially back up the ramp and, clearing his throat for attention, said, “I was going to try to prepare some clever words for this momentous event but instead I think I’ll simply quote Lord Byron:


“It is not one man nor a million, but the spirit of liberty that must be preserved. The waves which dash upon the shore are, one by one, broken, but the ocean conquers nevertheless. It overwhelms the Armada, it wears out the rock. In like manner, whatever the struggle of individuals, the great cause will gather strength.”

Someone, it was unclear whom, shouted, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

There was applause, and then the first task at hand began. The main doors to the cargo bay of the ship opened and another ramp slid down. The ship was landed on a rocky area about a quarter mile wide. Off in the distance, grass and trees and the river. The colonists began gathering their possession and other equipment and toting it over to there. Those who already had robots had some assistance.

The plan was that the Galileo would immediately lift off again and return to the ship for more supplies and return here by dusk.

Individual colonists can tell their own stories but it should be noted that — for a change — things went as planned and by evening two huge tents had been set up to sleep in. Sleeping bags were distributed for those who did not have them.

Since there was no longer any “heavy equipment” to bring down, most of it having perished along with the Copernicus, when the Galileo returned, it was filled with crates of robots for those who didn’t have them, battery operated lights, a couple nuclear generators a half-dozen large folding tables, folding chairs from the cafeteria, the two remaining porta-potties, and yes, a couple cartons of toilet paper. Also, more crates of MREs, and other supplies as well as smaller tents.

With armed escorts, some gathered downed brances from the woods located a couple hundred feet away and built fires as the gathering darkness spread.

One of the smaller tents, about 30 feet diameter and round, was set up with the tables and chairs. On one of the tables, three battery operated portable stoves were placed as well as a nuclear battery operated refrigerator and a seperate freezer. Since they had not actually tested the local water yet, 30 5-gallon water drums were included. Monroe promised more of the same the next day when he returned.

Before lifting off, he brought out one more crate and handed it to Hanna, saying, “Better put the ice in the freezer!” And then he left.

Hanna peeked inside and found four bags of ice, a sleeve of plastic cups, and a dozen bottles of booze!

That night, after spaghetti and tomato sauce as well as fresh baked bread brought down on the second trip, and a goodnight toast, everyone, weary from carrying and lifting and setting up things drifted off to the large tents. It was agreed that several of the lanterns would be left on regardless of the remarkable brilliance of the two moons in the sky.

Taking shifts, four armed colonists would watch over the camp although, no doubt once again scared off by the landing of the massive cargo ship and all the strange activity, no animals were to be seen.

That night though, some of them were heard.

V. Daybreak

0001/01/0001?, 4 AM?, On Alchibah.

The sun — make that the star Alchibah — was just rising off to the east of the camp. Historian made his way outside the tent. Most of the others were still sound asleep. Jack the Blade and Andy were on duty. Presumably there were two others out back of the tents.

“Good morning, Historian,” Andy said, “Hanna and Marty are already up, preparing, or more likely sorting, MREs to find which ones resemble breakfast. There’s plenty of coffee, though.”

After a time, Zoe, Connor, and Bartlett joined them, aluminum cups filled with steaming coffee in hands.

Jack said, “I heard some pretty strange sounds out there during the night.”

Bartlett said, “I did, too, along with some rustling near the edge of the forest when I was on guard.”

“I suggest,” the Historian said, “that while many of the unarmed colonists remain here and, with their robots, continue to set things up, perhaps the rest of us need to break into small groups and begin exploring this new world of ours.”

Just then, Kara came out of the sleeping tent and, tapping her wristpad said, “We really do need to settle on a time and day keeping scheme. What the hell is the time, anyway?”

The Historian said, “It’s time to start a new world!”

Mosaic made up of stills taken from the cam aboard the Galileo during first landing. Click for larger image.–From The History of Colony: Alchibah
3rd Edition, 0026
Author: The Historian
Alchibah CyberPress



Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Probably.

All Contents (written or photo/artwork) not attributed to other sources is
Copyright (C) 2006 - 2011 by Jeff Soyer. All rights reserved.