(Zebra, Oil, Supernova)
Jim Rivers was dreaming about swimming. It had started out nice, but the water was cold now, and an octopus had wrapped its tentacles around him. The hateful creature was reaching down his throat, chilled fingers reaching … choking.
He woke with a scream, strangled by tubes running down his nose and throat to his stomach and lungs. Confined in some sort of capsule, he had no room to move his arms and legs – pod. There were tubes going everywhere – they seemed to be attached to him. They went into his nose, down his throat and a couple of other places that his mother taught him never to mention in public. He couldn’t look down, the containment was that complete. Pod.
Jim’s breath began to come in bursts; he couldn’t suck in enough air. Struggling against this terror, his heart raced. His skin felt like it was on fire with pins and needles, from his feet all the way to the top of his head. There was no window, just darkness. POD.
Maybe he could rock the capsule and get it to fall over. Ha! Fat chance of that when it was all he could do to move his head from side to side. A red light suddenly began pulsing next to his right eye. There was no noise, just the red light blinking. Heart nearly beating out of his chest, Jim struggled all the more. Was the damn thing going to blow up? THE POD!
Just as he was about to reach full on panic, he heard a metal whirring noise and then heard a series of clicks. Memory returned and Jim realized that he was in a pod, a cryonic chamber designed to keep him alive for the ten years it would take for the cargo ship to cross interstellar space. Thank heavens, he wasn’t some entrée on ice in an alien spaceship. Coming out of cryostasis always left him a little confused at first.
Suddenly he felt the tubes retracting. The pain was – white and fire and electric. The mouth and nose tubes being the last to come out, he couldn’t even scream his horror and outrage. As the last one retracted, the door opened and without its support Jim fell to the floor. He vomited repeatedly, an oily brown fluid. When there was nothing left inside of him, he curled up into a fetal position and passed out. This time he dreamed of sunlight and ocean.
Jim Rivers signed on to make the journey as a navigator. Aside from his regular duties he had another responsibility. In the event that something went wrong with the mission he would be reanimated first. It was his job to find out what was going on and then decide on the proper action to take. It wasn’t such a bad trip, as interstellar travel went. He would sleep through the actual space travel and awaken at the other end in orbit around Altera, the new Earth. The cargo? The ship was the cargo. The Valiant Explorer was a Premium Class Trinite Excavator and Processing Facility. Upon arrival it would orbit the host planet. The ship came apart in sections that could then be towed to the planet’s surface. Ten sections in all. It was a massive undertaking.
Once on the ground each unit was broken down and when reassembled and brought to the whole, it would be part of a self-contained, fully automatic excavation community. Each assembly team consisted of six men and women who traveled and lived in their sections or modules, frozen for the trip as Jim had been in his pod outside of the navigation deck.
Trinite was as necessary to life as oxygen. At least big business thought so. They discovered that trinite, when fused with iron and then cooled, resulted in a metal that did not transfer heat. It did not melt or absorb it either. Trinite simply reflected it away. This caused a sensation, as the applications were endless. A spaceship could fly into the sun to recharge its plasma engines, a ship could (theoretically at least) burrow to the center of a planet. A spaceship with a trinite shell could conceivably even make it through the heat of a supernova.
Scientists on Earth mastered gravity and interstellar space travel between the years 2100-2400; the only limitations mankind maintained in space travel today were those that caused erosion. Oxygen and water recycled easily enough, and food could be grown in greenhouses aboard the ship. That was another thing. Once cast, trinite didn’t seem to rust or chip. Of course large deposits had been found on Altera, hence the cargo delivery. To date, it had yet to be found on the planet Earth. It was beyond valuable.
So far it looked as if this wasn’t going to be much of a fresh start. A brand new planet with fresh air and clean water and the first thing they do is bring in an excavator. Of course, the planet would have to be made habitable, and the natural resources at hand would play a major role in that. Right now there wasn’t much more than grasslands in the south and icy frozen land in the north. The local residents looked a lot like zebras and had the brain capacity of Labrador retrievers. At least, that described the ones they had found. It was a shame, after the near ruin of the planet Earth back in 2459, mankind had not learned a thing in the thousand years since.
To be continued…