by Tucker Spolter
Krista Tay woke to a page from the v-com. Yawning, she turned toward the screen.
MD - Ob5 KRISTA TAY IS REQUESTED TO JOIN THE ARGO’S CAPTAIN’S
CONFERENCE -- LEVEL SIXTY-FIVE, RED CORRIDOR - #388
IN QUARTER ROT. ARGO SPACE TIME – A.S.T 15:03
‘Class is canceled,’ she thought, folding her scrubs and white coat. ‘We’re out of jump
and solar glide. Krista placed her x-stethoscope on a hook by the mirror and stripped.
At A.S.T. 14:40, Krista exited the dry shower and looked at herself in the mirror. Green
eyes flashed back belying her Asian heredity. Her ebony hair was highlighted and cut short. Two
curtains of hair fell around her cheeks. ‘Not bad,’ she thought. ‘Not bad, for twenty-eight,’ she
flexed her muscles ‘and this planet should be my chance for a down-world. Captain Kohonen
can’t keep passing on a woman of my obvious talent and experience,’ Krista laughed. ‘Or lack
thereof. It would be wonderful to be off the ship for a while. Breathe real air. Ah, and one glass of
unrecycled water.’ Krista dabbed blush on each cheek. ‘Maybe find one place that’s really quiet.
The hum of our Grav-Wheel can be maddening. I’d love to explore a new environment.‘ She
slipped into her navy blue over-jacket. ‘I know every nook and cranny on this ship. Probably
better than Simba, everyone's favorite rat catcher. Poor cat hasn’t caught anything in two jumps.
Probably, nothing left to catch.’
Krista stepped into the foot grips of the red pole, inserted her left arm into the clamp,
pressed sixty-five on the control panel, and descended. As she glided past level forty-two she
peeked down the blue corridor. ‘One entire tier devoted to the ship’s medical facility,’ she
thought. ‘Been spending a lot of time there. Good time. Lynnette’s become my closest
friend. And she’s definitely the best teacher I’ve ever had, and probably the best doctor in this
quadrant. Someday . . . who knows.”
Six people were already seated at the round table when Krista entered Conference Room
#388. Sean Jacobs, Argo’s Communications Officer a bald- headed, robust man with a serious
demeanor. Franchon Almirol second-in-command, tall, with thinning salt and pepper hair, an
easy gait and a guttural voice he employed to emphasize matters of importance. Chief Medical
Officer Lynnette Caffrey the ship's Chief Medical Officer and Krista’s best friend and mentor –
a statuesque, no-nonsense blonde, with ivory tortoiseshell glasses perched on her freckled face.
Lynnette patted the empty chair next to her and motioned Krista to join her.
Krista sat and sighed as she looked across the round table to Juliusz Darrowski, a human
stump, though a brilliant mathematician. The Argo’s nay-sayer and pessimist for want of a
better title. And Dominic Ziggant Ship Security. Tall, muscular, a bear of a man, kind, gentle
with an inherited dark complexion and brown eyes that were in constant motion. Krista caught
his smile and returned it.
Lynnette caught the exchange. ‘Now there’s a man worth considering.’
“I am considering,” Krista whispered.
“Dominic has a great sense of humor.”
“I know.” Krista smiled. “I said I’m considering.”
“Don’t consider too long or I just might gobble him up.”
“Aren’t you a little—“
“Aren’t I a little what?” Lynnette laughed and punched Krista playfully on the arm.
Captain Kalle Kohonen entered the conference room carrying a stack of 3x5 vid-cards, a
manila folder and his omnipresent cup of Bredolin Coffee. He was a presence at six foot four
with short streaks of grey in ebony hair and in full dress uniform. He stood behind a chair. The
room went silent. Quickly six more members of the crew with various ranks and responsibilities
entered and took their places at the table. Captain Kohonen waited until the last crew member
sat down. His grey eyes flashed around the room. “Okay, we’re all here.”
Krista nudged Lynnette and whispered, “Full dress uniform? What’s up with the Captain,
Lynnette put a finger across her lip. “Shss. “ She smiled and looked back to Captain
“I’m going to keep this brief. Please save your questions until I’ve finished. Under the
direction of the World's Oversight Council, we are here to observe social, political and economic
development on the planet Iuama. At A.S.T. 15:57 we will establish orbit. “
Most heads turned to the digital read on the wall.
Captain Kohonen lifted the top vid-card from the stack. “Iuama has not been a part of
the World's Oversight Council for some time. It was colonized one hundred and fifty-seven
years ago. According to the few sketchy records we have . . . At first, they did some
exchanges with other members of what is known as the Outskirts Union. A group of four
solar systems that were far away from the normal star lanes. For various reasons two of those
systems have been abandoned.”
Captain Kohonen stopped for a sip of coffee. Cleared his throat and continued.
“Originally, Iuama’s main contribution to the Outskirts Union was a rubber like substance
from a plant called Tineke.” Captain Kohonen glanced at the second 3x5 vid-card.
“Tineke sap was in high demand. It was a perfect sealant for coating the interior of
any type of space vehicle struck by a sudden puncture. Later it was used to make fine
surgical gloves, and tires for vehicles on desert planets like Choax and Lotal III. A few
corporations tried to make synthetic variations of Tineke, but they were never as good. Then, for
no apparent reason Iuama’s exports went to a trickle, then stopped altogether.” Captain Kohonen
pulled a third next 3x5 vid-card from his stack.
“Apparently, just when the Worlds Oversight Council was about to investigate, the rift
between the Yourkains and the planet Rustiaci escalated. When it looked like it might turn into a
major conflict and different factions began taking sides – a war which, thankfully never
materialized – but, in the confusion Iuama was forgotten by the W.O.C. Different folks went in
and out of office. Data was lost. Records misplaced and time passed. Now the W.O.C. wants to
reestablish contact with the people of Iuama. We’re here to reinitiate contact, but only as
observers.” Captain Kohonen pointed across the table to Krista. “Which is the reason we have
MD Ob5 Krista Tay on board. She’s our expert. It’s her job to make sure no one interferes with
any activities on the planet. . . Is that understood by everyone? ”
There was a collective nod around the table.
“Good.” Captain Kohonen smiled and turned his attention back to Krista. “Before I give
the names of our down-world team. . . On a lighter note. . . Some of you may be asking why I am
in full dress uniform.” Captain Kohonen ran his hand up and down his torso and smiled broadly.
“I only pull this out of mothballs for special occasions and this is one of those. Doctor and Ob5
Krista Tay, along with her other duties, has spent most of our last two jumps on the Medical
Deck under the tutelage of chief medical officer Doctor Lynnette Caffrey.”
Around the conference table heads turned to the two women. Captain Kohonen smiled “I
would like to congratulate our newly promoted Chief Assistant Medical Officer . . . Doctor
Krista Aanya Tay.”
Cheers and applause echoed through the conference room. Chief Medical Officer
Lynnette Caffrey nudged Krista to stand. When she did, the cheers and applause grew louder
until Captain Kohonen raised his right arm. “Do you Krista Aanya Tay accept the
responsibility of Assistant Chief Medical Officer along with your other duties?
Krista raised her right arm. “I do, Captain. I do. I do.” Krista smiled.
Captain Kohonen laughed, “This isn’t a wedding ceremony, Krista. Congratulations,
we're all very proud.” Captain Kohonen turned to the crowd. “I hear-by order a twenty minute
Immediately, music from the planet Elgin drifted through the speakers. A team of
midshipmen entered carrying trays of finger food and beverages. Captain Kohonen circled the
table and took Krista by the hand. “I meant it, Krista. We are all very proud of you. Me
especially. If it wasn’t inappropriate I’d give you a hug. . . to hell with it.” Captain Kohonen
took Krista in his arms and when he let go so did the rest of the gathering.
Mathematician Juliusz Darrowski never moved from his chair. “Used to be, you had to
go to study and intern for three years to get promoted to Assistant Chief,” Darrowski grumbled
under his breath.
Chief Medical Officer Lynnette Caffrey waited till last to hug Krista. “You’ve worked
hard. Harder than anyone I’ve known. I have a sneaking suspicion you’re going to be—“
“I hate to cut Krista’s celebration short -- “ Captain Kohonen returned to his place at the
table. “But back to the business of Iuama.”
Quickly, glasses and snacks disappeared. Everyone returned to their seats. “I know many
of you have been doing research on Iuama to get a heads-up on any anomalies we might
encounter. Who will begin?“
Dominic Ziggant raised his hand.
“Acknowledging our Chief of Security,” Captain Kohonen said.
Dominic opened a folder and withdrew two pages. “Captain you asked my staff and me
to check for military capability. From day one the original colonists of Iuama banned all large-
scale weaponry. According to what I could find on the En-Cephal-Net they only brought small
arms in case the original survey missed any dangerous wildlife. They do have two shuttles to
explore their planet. And one deep space vehicle in orbit. Or at least they did one hundred and
fifty years ago. I doubt they’ve built up a military presence --”
“Don’t be so sure,” Juliusz Darrowski interrupted. “Lots of the Outskirt colonies go hay-
wire. Those shuttles and their starships have arms. Maybe that explains the secrecy. They could
“Excuse me. Mister Darrowski, did you discover something,” Dominic pointed a finger
across the table, “that neither I nor my security squad could find?”
Darrowski blanched, “no.”
“Then until you do, I suggest you give it a rest.” Nonplussed, Dominic returned the
papers to his folder and flashed a smile at Krista.
Lynnette nudged Krista, “Keep considering.”
“Give it a rest,” Krista made a quiet attempt to mimic Dominic’s basso voice.
Captain Kohonen took a sip of coffee and looked across the table. “Thank you,
Lynnette raised her hand.
“Acknowledged.” Captain Kohonen said.
“Krista and I spent part of one revolution,” Lynnette looked to Krista for confirmation,
“on the E.C.-Net. Strangely, there is almost nothing about Iuama or its population. All the
material we found is dated. Over a hundred years old. Usually older. We did find the original
survey geo-report, but most of that can be observed out of any port window when we reach orbit.
The planet is basically subtropical except for the poles which are capped in ice.” Lynnette
pointed to Krista. “Krista.”
“Relative to its sun, Iuama hangs almost vertically in space.” Krista began. “There is only
a two degree tilt to the planet's axis. It’s a world with relatively no seasons. Which explains the
abundant vegetation, but not why the colonist –“
“That’s very common,” interrupted Juliusz Darrowski. “Many worlds don’t have
seasons.” stopped here
Krista glared across the table. “Thank you. Thank you, Mister Darrowski. Your pithy
comments are always insightful and informative.” She looked at Captain Kohonen and said
calmly, “Captain, the last entries on E.C.-Net were made over a hundred and thirty years ago.“
Krista referred to her wrist-cephal. “The planet’s geography is standard. Large mountain ranges
on each of the three continents. Oceans with a ph of 7.7. just a bit below normal. The largest city
is called Lakal. . . at least it was the largest city one hundred and thirty years ago. It’s located
near the delta of the Nuaka River.” Krista fingered the side of her wrist-cephal. “And Captain,
here’s where things get strange. Very strange. I don’t remember much about the troubles
between Yourkians and Rustiaci, but, even before then. Even before all trade stopped, the
Iuamains started acting oddly. Their original leader or rather spokesperson, Sagra Kalam, was
selected from a body they called the Council of Equals. Almost immediately after taking office,
Sagra Kalam issued an edict forbidding any further colonization. His reason --”
Darrowski waved both arms for attention. Captain Kohonen sighed. “Excuse me,
Krista. What is it Darrowski?”
“As ship mathematician and economist, Mister Sagra Kalam nay have gotten rich from
selling Tineke sap, then made himself dictator. Didn’t want any outsiders or anyone else sharing
the wealth. Then, he turned off the Tineke spigot waiting for price and demand to make him
even richer. ”
Krista rose to her feet, “How do you do it, Mister Darrowski? Time after time? A
perfect summation of exactly what must have transpired. Of course, the man would be long dead
and until recently I’d never heard of Tineke, have you?” She turned to Captain Kohonen. “Sir, I
don’t even know why we bother having these discussions when Mister Darrowski always has all
Captain Kohonen stared across the table, “Darrowski, will you give it a rest? . . . ”Please
continue, Krista. ” Captain Kohonen glanced at the digital.
“We still have some time before we achieve orbit.”
Krista sighed and sank back into her chair. “Here is the strangest part. According to all
the data we went through on the En-Cephal-Net there is no record of anyone ever leaving
Iuama. No one.”
“Maybe. . . no is allowed to leave?” Darrowiski said quietly.
“Actually, that makes sense,” Krista said. “I hope we are not here to observe a plutocracy or worse.”
A gentle hush of conversations waved around the table.
“Maybe no one wants to leave?” Dominic Ziggant offered with a laugh. “Place sounds
idealistic. Always warm. Oceans. Beaches. T-shits and sandals.“ Ziggant looked across the table
at Krista. “How’s the water? The air?”
“It was fine.” Krista tried to hide a grin. “Probably what attracted the colonists
originally. It does sound like a wonderful world. ” Krista said, turning to Captain Kohonen. “Sir,
do you know how many colonists were on the original starship? The E.C. - Net has no record.”
“That is odd.” Captain Kohonen set aside his deck of vid-cards. “Shouldn’t be anything secret about the amount of colonists. I have the manifest.” He opened a portfolio marked
IUAMA, and figured down a column. “The colonizing ship was called World Seeker
Originally there were six hundred and eighteen colonists. But when the World Seeker
arrived, nine colonists decided the planet wasn’t for them and stayed on board for the return trip.
The others were shuttled down-world in groups of sixty. The shuttle crews were isolated to avoid
any contamination of the mother ship.”
“So Iuama started out with a population of six hundred and nine,” Krista said. “It would
be helpful to have an idea of the current population.”
Captain Kohonen looked to his left and with a huge sigh,” Mister Darrowski, this is your
bailiwick. You’re the math genius. What’s your population guestimate?”
Juiliusz Darrowski sat up large in his chair and began officiously. “Well. . .
Natural population growth is calculated by adding births and subtracting deaths. Em. . . of
course, normally you’d add migration and subtract emigration . . . though neither seem to apply
in this case – which . . . em--“
“Mister, you are trying my patience. Get on with it!” Captain Kohonen's voice rose and
ebbed. “We had a promotion today. Should we cap it off with a demotion?”
“Yes. No, Captain, a safe estimate. Not knowing the hormonal levels of the citizens
“Given normal growth factors . . . I’d say the current population could be upwards of two
hundred and thirty thousand. Note that the larger the population grows, the faster it grows. Of
course if you find--”
“Darrowski,” Captain Kohonen pointed to the digital.
A.S.T. 15: 55
“Hopefully, we’ll find out shortly.“ Captain Kohonen looked around the table. “But
before we get the answers I would like to announce the five people who will be on our down-
world observation team.”
Lynnette took Krista’s hand and whispered, “You got this. I know it.”
Captain read from a 3x5 vid- card. “Our five-member down-world, away team will be
Putri Pincawan, Bat-Erdene, Dasan Hatahle, and our new Assistant Medical Chief Krista Tay.”
Lynnette Caffrey nudged Krista with her elbow and whispered,“ Told you. Your first
Captain Kohonen turned to Dominic Ziggant. “Dom, you have a choice. I need you or
someone from your team to provide security. How about it?”
Ziggant took a furtive glance at Krista. “Captain, I would be honored to accompany the
away team and I promise to leave our ship in good hands.”
“Then it’s settled. We’ll take a break for the basics and meet back here at
A.S.T. 16:20. In the meantime,” Captain Kohonen turned to Communications Officer Jacobs,
“Sean, will you initiate contact with Iuama?” Jacobs nodded. “And the away team will prepare to
down-world.” Captain Kohonen looked around the table. “For the time being everyone is
Newly commissioned Krista Tay was the second person to exit the conference room. She
bolted down the corridor to the core and rode the yellow column up to her tier. ‘Twelve minutes
to toss everything together.’ Krista opened her down-world provisions-pack and smiled. ‘I’ve
waited a long time. Almost everything is already in here. Eye-plus glasses. A pair of low-grav
sneakers and, in case it gets mucky, low grav-hip boots. All weather overalls and jacket. Half a
dozen pep-to energy bars and toiletries.’
Krista crossed the room with a wide grin. ‘Dominic mentioned the weather and the
beaches. Maybe a bathing suit? Something skimpy?’ She tossed a yellow two piece swimsuit
into her back. From a middle drawer she pulled out a state-of-the-art mem-cam-recorder with
attachable lens. She held it gently in her hands. ‘Thanks, Mom.’ She remembered graduation
and receiving her degree in Anthro-Observation. She remembered her mother’s comments.
“Honey, you’ll be traveling through the galaxy,” Krista’s Mother Cynthia Tay said, "This
is to save your memories. You’ll be visiting new worlds. Seeing things you’ll have to
wipe your eyes several times to believe. All your senses will go on alert to the new sounds
and smells. And, oh, how I wish I could be there with you.” They hugged. “And don’t
forget, lots of pictures of my grandchildren,” her mother admonished. Cynthia Tay, died two
days after the Argo departed for Iuama. Krista wiped a tear from her cheek.
At A.S.T. 16:21, everyone except the communications officer Jacobs was back at
the conference table.
“We are still waiting to make contact,” Captain Kohonen opened. “I don’t want to send
the down-world team with no warning and no idea of what they’re getting into. . . It would be
better to be invited.”
Captain Kohonen turned to Franchon Almirol his second in command. “You’re unusually
quiet. Any thoughts. Comments?”
“Mostly questions, Captain. Why did they stop trade? Why cut off all communication?”
Franchon slipped his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. “What have they been doing for a
hundred and thirty years? What happened to their spokes-person Sagra Kalam? Why did he cut
off contact with the rest of us? Was he ordered too? Or was he the one who gave the order?”
Franchon looked around the table then focused on Captain Kohonen. “What about the Council
of Equals? Sounds democratic, but so did the ‘Society for Harmony’ on Rustiaci and that
friendly cabal almost got three different solar systems involved in a war. . . I don’t know what
we’ll find on Iuama. . . I hope it’s all good.” Franchon finished with an air of confidence. “But
knowing you and the members of this crew, I’m sure we’ll be prepared for any eventuality.”
“That you can count on.” Captain Kohonen smiled and turned to Dominic Ziggant. “Just in case . . . if a situation arises that the team believes deserves immediate attention, relay your
findings back to the ship for a decision. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Ziggant replied.
Captain Kohonen looked specifically at the other four members of the down-world team
- just as the last member nodded, Communications Officer Sean Jacobs re-entered the
conference room and hurried to Captain Kohonen’s side. Jacobs gave a furtive look around the
table then bent low and whispered in Kohonen’s ear.
“What?” Captain Kohonen extended an arm and gently moved Jacobs backward. “You
think you’ve made contact?“ Jacobs cupped his hand and continued to whisper.
Looks of confusion swept around the table. Lynette adjusted her glasses and joined
Krista in a shrug.
“Jacobs, stop it. Stop whispering.” Kohonen gestured around the conference
table. “These are the ships officers. What have you found?”
Reluctantly Jacobs began “Sir, it’s strange. We’ve made contact . . .”
“The contact identified himself as Sagra Kalam.”
“Sagra Kalam? Sagra Kalam has to be dead!” Juliusz Darrowski said. And immediately
got a glare from everyone at the table. “Just saying.” He pouted.
Krista whispered to Lynnette. “Dead, or turning one hundred and eighty-seven on his
next birthday.” Lynnette bit her tongue to smother a laugh.
“I’m sure we can clear up the confusion,” Captain Kohonen said. “Get Mister Kalam on the vid-screen. “
“I already suggested that. He won’t go vid, Captain. He insists. It’s audio only or and
I’m quoting Mister Kalam directly, ‘There will be no contact.’”
Captain Kohonen looked around the table and was greeted with more puzzled looks and
shrugs. “Okay. Put him on audio. “
Jacobs pressed the side of his wrist-cephal. A crack of static came from the speakers
followed by a sharp intake of breath and a cough. . . then a warm, raspy baritone voice filled the
conference room. “By way of introduction, I am Sagra Kalam. Your Communications Officer
said that I am addressing Kalle Kohonen, Captain of the Star Ship Argo. Is that correct?”
“Please call me . . .” a long gasp for air interrupted the conversation. “Please call me
Puzzled, Captain Kohonen stared up at the blank vid-screen. “Well then Sagra, on behalf
of the Officers and crew of the Argo and the World's Oversight Council I would like to welcome
“Captain Kohonen. . .” A series of coughs and wheezes halted communication a second
Everyone in the conference room exchanged looks of confusion.
“Excuse me . . . Regrettably. . . I’m dying."
A series of gasps came from the conference table.
"Actually, everyone on Iuama is . . . Captain Kohonen, everyone is dying. . . Captain, I wish circumstances were different and I apologize for what must seem like a curtain of
secrecy. I’m sure you and the members of your crew have many questions.“
“Oh, we do. I’m quite confused. I don’t mean to sound jaded or callous, but if you are
dying and if you are Sagra Kalam you’d be almost two hundred years old.”
Sagra’s laugh was cut short by a long pause and a series of coughs. “Ah, a simple
miscommunication, Captain. I am Sagra Kalam. Sagra Kalam the fifth. Though there are so
few of us now. . . and declining rapidly. . . there is no need to add the fifth.”
Again the conference room was filled with looks of puzzlement.
“Captain Kohonen, on behalf of those who remain on Iuama. On behalf of all humanity, I
ask that you forget we exist and leave our planet as soon as possible. . . and never return.”
Bewildered looks spread from person to person. Whispered comments flew in every
direction across the table. Under her breath, Krista asked Lynnette “What is going on?”
“Whatever it is, it is not --.”
Captain Kohonen stood and faced the blank vid-screen. “Sagra, I -- I don’t believe I
understand your request. “
“Our world has turned against us.” Sagra coughed. “Iuama has become a cesspool of
disease and infection.”
“Everything was fine for the first decade or so. Our population grew. Our communities
spread. We thought we’d found paradise.“ Sagra's voice turned to a wheeze. . .“ But, our
paradise has turned to hell. . . We think . . .We think it started when we began harvesting
Tineke. No one noticed for a while. It appeared on our children first. A rash. A rash that
developed small pustules. At first, we thought it was a form of the measles virus. It had many of
the same symptoms. Incessant cough. High fever. We thought it was spread through coughing
and sneezing. It was. We wore masks. It slowed the spread for a while. Then we realized our air
was contaminated. Any surface, any object touched by the infected . . . became a source of
infection. It spreads so fast. It was—“
Wheezes and coughs barked out of the conference room speakers. Unconsciously, some
of the Argo crew members covered their nose and mouth.
There were cracks of static, then silence.
Around the room people began to speak and shuffle in their seats. Captain Kohonen held up
his hand for quiet and pointed to the speakers. “Shsssssss.” A hush fell across the room. Captain
Kohonen turned to Jacobs. “Have we lost contact?”
Jacobs looked at his wrist-cephal. “Not on our side, Sir. Mister Sagra broke contact.”
Captain Kohonen was up and pacing “Always expect the unexpected,” he murmured.
“And this is not what I expected. Contagion? Infection? “ He shoved his 3x5 vid-cards to one
side and looked straight across the table at Lynnette and Krista. “You are our medical officer's
time to opine. Thoughts?”
“Sir, we don’t have much to go on. We need at least a visual.” Lynnette opened.
“Sounds like a Maculopapular rash, but with pustules? Measles and its symptoms we can
treat. But why are large segments of the population dying? The man . . . Sagra, sounds like he’s
ill. Perhaps dying. But what we really need is to do some blood work. Run some scans. For
that would need to be in physical contact.”
Krista raised her arm.
“Acknowledge,” Captain Kohonen said.
“I agree with Lynnette. In the mean I suggest we re-fit the down-world shuttle into a
medical ship. We have enough—“
There was a crack of static from the vid speakers and Sagra Kalam began, “I apologize
for the interruption, Captain. Tineke Elastica or what we call T.E. comes with a persistent cough
and great difficulty in breathing. A cough so incessant it’s difficult to inhale. I was suffocating
and had to break contact. It’s difficult to --” Sagra gulped in air. When he spoke again, “it’s
incessant, Captain. Incessant. T.E. is highly infectious. Air and water-borne. After all these
years we still don’t –“ Sagra coughed again. “We still don’t know the incubation period. Go
home, Captain. Tell the World's Oversight Council -- tell them that Iuama no longer exists. You
found us all dead. Which—“ Sagra wheezed . . . “Which will be true in a few years anyway.
Please go away--”
Captain Kohonen took the next coughing episode to look at Lynnette and Krista. “Will
one of you speak to him? See if you can persuade him to accept our assistance?“
Lynnette nudged Krista. “You bring more than one expertise to this conversation.”
Krista pushed a strand of hair from her cheek and began softly. “Mr. Kalam, as you catch
your breath, may I introduce myself? I am Krista Tay, MD -Ob5.” Krista looked up at the blank
Vid-screen and was greeted with silence. “Mister Sagra are you still—?“
“I am . . .listening,” Sagra wheezed.
“Sir, the Argo is a sophisticated starship. Over the last hundred and thirty years we’ve
made medical and technological advances you’d find hard to imagine. I am certain --”
“And, Ma’am you cannot imagine what we have tried to deal with. Tineke Elastica is
horrible. Once infected, one dies a painful, lingering death. So painful many of our infected citizens have chosen a quicker course of action. Too many. . . “
There was no cough or wheeze, Sagra sighed. His voice cracked, “Captain Kohonen and
MD-Ob5 Krista Tay, a while back, to escape the pandemic, a group of uninfected citizens
commandeered one of our only two remaining shuttles. They wanted to get to our only deep
space vehicle and escape to another world. No one in the group was infected. At first, we wished
them well. Then we had to destroy the starship. One hundred and twenty-eight people . . .
thirty-six of them children, three unborn. I gave the order to blow up the ship. I gave the order
to kill them.”
A lingering sob came from the speakers. The eyes of many in the conference room
members watered over.
“Ma’am, Captain . . . I want you to know that large weapons are not allowed on Iuama.
My son Hunar and friends used the weapons on our second shuttle to destroy our only
remaining deep space vehicle. Hunar’s best friend, his wife, and their newborn were aboard that
ship. We had to kill our own. Our friends. Their children. We had to. . .” Sagra wheezed and
drew in a gasp of air. “And only because . . . Only because we discovered two teenagers had
stowed away aboard the shuttle. . . Tanus and Janus. . .Brilliant. Identical twins. But they were
both infected with Tineke. They hoped to find medical help on another planet. Everyone and
everything on that spaceship would have been infected within weeks. Long before the first
jump. Long before they arrived at one of the Outskirts planets. From that world, Tineke Elastica
would have spread and decimated humanity. Please go away. . . Delete Iuama and its sun from
your data banks. If you don't, Ma'am. . .Captain. If you don’t-- you’ll be responsible for the
demise of the human species. Before—“
“Mister Sagra. We have sophisticated medicines and medical supplies” Captain Kohonen
looked across the table to Krista and Lynnette, “and a medical staff that knows how to utilize
“Captain,” Sagra said with frustration. “I don’t believe you are listening. Before I end this
conversation. Before you reach a decision, let me reiterate. There is nothing, I repeat nothing
you can do to stop the spread of Tineke Elastica. For seven decades our best minds have –“
“Excuse me Mister Sagra, the personnel on this ship have encountered several dire
situations in the past. If you give us a chance to assist you I am certain we can help.“
“You are not listening,” Sagra said with a deep sigh of frustration. He paused for a long
time before he spoke again. “I’ve decided. Captain Kohonen, is your communications officer still
Captain Kohonen looked to Jacobs. “He is.”
“I am going to activate the video on my side. I would suggest those with weak stomachs
Krista, Lynnette and everyone else at the conference table exchanged confused looks.
Darrowski buried his face in his arms. “I have a bad feeling.”
A repeating series of clicks came over the conference room speakers. Sagra coughed
and said, “I have activated my video link. Have your communications officer activate yours.”
Captain Kohonen nodded to Jacobs who immediately pushed a dial on his wrist- cep.
“Captain, and officers and crew of the Starship Argo, I believe it’s time we met face to. . .
What is left of mine.“
Except for Darrowski all heads looked to the Vid-screen.
There was a crack of static, a smear of black and white, then a spongy cloud of grey
spread across the middle of the screen. The sponge darkened and morphed into what appeared to
be the speckled cap of a mushroom. A jagged speckle near the bottom split open exposing a
greenish-pink interior. Sagra's voice came from the orifice. “Welcome to the world of Tineke
Gasps of disbelief and cries of anguish filled the conference room.
“What a horror!”
“Oh, you poor man.”
“We have to do something,” Krista whispered to Lynnette. Lynnette fell to her elbows
sobbing. “Never. . . I’ve never seen. . .“ Tears flowed down her cheeks.
On the Vid-screen a swollen human hand, covered in lesions and pustules, reached across
the grey mass and peeled open one of the speckles in the middle exposing Sagra’s left eye. His
iris was covered by a filmy, viscous milky liquid.
Then the Vid-screen shrunk until only Sagra’s mouth was in focus. A string of drool
dripped out of the left side as he spoke. “Captain, crew members of the Argo, this abhorrence
awaits all of you if you elect to make contact. And, if you choose that course, if you do make
contact and then leave Iuama, you will infect the rest of humanity. Do not be presumptuous.
Neither you nor your scientific advances will stop—can stop contagion. I have pictures of our
young and our old, and what Tineke Elastica has made of them if you’d like me to upload them
to your video. . .” Sagra paused for several seconds. “Ah, no takers? No one wants to see what
this does to a group of infants and children?”
Even Darrowski had abandoned the safety of his arm. Heads whirled around the
conference room. By silent consensus everyone had seen enough.
What served as Sagra’s mouth opened further. He coughed. Spittle splattered on his side
of the video feed. “Please, let the rest of humanity forget us. No other world wants what we
have to give them. Leave us. Please, leave us, Captain. . .” What was Sagra Kalam’s face
turned slightly to an inaudible comment beside him and then, “Captain, I will reinstate contact
shortly.” A crack of static was followed by silence.
Conference room #388 filled with chatter and whispered comments.
“Dear God, I thought I’d seen . . .”
“Wouldn’t wish that on my . . .
“How long . . .”
“I hope I never see anything like—“
“That . . .that whatever it is, is right. Let’s get out of here.” Darrowski said.
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Krista asked Lynnette.
“I don’t know. I think some of those pustules may be larval hosts.”
“Larval hosts?” Dominic Ziggant asked. “I couldn’t help overhearing.”
“You’re always welcome.” Lynnette eased her chair backward to give Dominic more
room. “If they’re anything like Oestridae -- internal parasites -- the larvae burrow into the skin –
grow spines that become brittle and hit the nerve endings beneath the skin whenever they move.
People within earshot moved closer to the trio. Krista was forced closer to Dominic as
she began. “I bet we could get rid of those with blood samples and the right –“
Suddenly, Krista looked from Lynnette to Dominic and across the table to Captain
Kohonen. She did not wait to be acknowledged. Below the cacophony of the conference room,
Krista whispered clearly. “Captain, we could re-fit the down-world shuttle into a medical ship,
With enough--“ She looked at Lynnette and Dominic. “I’d be willing to recruit a team of
volunteers to travel to luama. We have an array of vaccines. State-of-the-art surgical
“Krista, did you see that man? No member of MY crew is getting near that planet.”
Undeterred, “Sir, with the right medical materials and vaccines and a little bit of luck, we
might be able to –“
“Krista, anyone going to Iuama is on a one-way trip. My ship will leave Iuama with the
entire crew on board.” Captain Kohonen held eye contact with Krista. “That said, I’m in full
agreement with you.“ Captain Kohonen taped his coffee cup on the conference table and raised
his voice. “May I have everyone’s attention?”
Immediately all discussion stopped. Every head turned to Captain Kohonen.
“Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, we have to do something for the people of Iuama.
Krista proposed we re-fit the down-world shuttle into a medical ship, and I agree.” Captain
Kohonen paused and looked directly at Krista. “It will be an unmanned shuttle.” He turned his
gaze to the rest of the staff. “And we’ll load it with all the equipment and medical supplies we
can afford to share and replicate here on board.”
Captain Kohonen looked back at Krista, Lynnette, and Dominic. “Will the three of you
see to the shuttle’s preparation?” He looked at the trio and waited until each one nodded
acceptance. “Good. I’ll leave it to you to create the initial manifest.”
Captain Kohonen stood and turned to everyone in the conference room. “But it doesn’t
end there. Please, spread the word throughout our I ship. I want everyone’s input. If anyone
thinks of anything that might ease the plight of those people bring it to the shuttle team. If
there’s room aboard – it will go down-world. The next time Mister Sagra makes contact I want
that shuttle ready to depart.” Captain Kohonen took a long look around the conference table. I
believe we are all on the same page. We all know what to do. Let’s do it. Dismissed.”
Within a quarter of a turn, the shuttle bay of the Argo became a frenzy of activity. Lynnette
and Krista worked as a team collecting medical supplies – vials of anti-virus –surgical lasers,
masks, and gloves. Blood centrifuges. Every piece of medical equipment and supplies was
handled by a crew member in a hazmat suit, passed through a disinfectant portal, and loaded
aboard the shuttle.
“Most of this is state of the art,” Krista said to Lynnette. “How are they going to figure
out how to use it to their best advantage?”
“I’ve included a manual for everything. They can read.” Lynnette replied.
“You taught me the importance of hands-on experience,” Krista said. “The human
“What are you thinking?”
“Just that the people of Iuama are more than a hundred years behind the times in
technology – especially medical technology. We’re giving them new machines and medicines
that demand certain expertise. You saw Mister Sagra’s hands. If the rest of the population's
hands look like that, how will they be able to use half of the things we’re sending them?”
“Kirsta, you have to trust human ingenuity.”
Dominic Ziggant joined the two women at the shuttle on-ramp. His arms were loaded
with boxes. On his back was a familiar pack. He handed it to Krista. “You wanted this.”
Krista smiled, “It’s my . . . Well it was my down-world backpack. If I’m not going to use
it,” she pointed downward. “Maybe someone on Iuama can.”
“I feel like I’m loading Santa’s Sleigh,” Dominic laughed. “Lots of good stuff for the
folks on Iuama. . . Em, I like that. Operation Santa’s Sleigh.”
“Operation Santa’s Sleigh it is.” Krista and Lynnette said in unison. They laughed and it
was back to task.
Articles were loaded, packed, then unpacked for more important items. When there was
still a small pathway to the shuttle's control room, Krista crawled forward and set Santa’s Sleigh
on autopilot. Then set the dial for remote launch commands.
Among the last to leave the cargo bay was the down-world supply team. They took a
long proud look at the shuttle.
“All they need to do is shut the door,” Dominic smiled.
“Santa’s Sleigh is a good name,” Krista said.
“Dominic Ziggant looked at Krista. “I. . . I was looking forward to exploring Iuama with
you,” he said.
“So was I,” Krista smiled.
“Will you join me for a toast to Santa’s Sleigh on rec-14?” Dominic asked.
“Okay, you two,” Lynnette grinned. “Let’s get out of here before our sleigh launches.”
“Oh, I meant you too, Lynnette.” Dominic apologized. “Drinks are on me.”
Krista looked back at the shuttle and took out a small cylindrical package. “I’ve been
debating about this, but I think it should go down-world.” Krista turned, “I’ll meet you both on
Rec 14 in half a turn.” Krista hurried back toward the shuttle.
“What was that she was holding?” asked Dominic.
“I have no idea,” Lynnette said. “But you know Krista.”
“Not really,” Dominic replied. “Well, not yet.”
Only Captain Kohonen, First Officer Franchon Almirol, and Communications Officer
Sean Jacobs were in conference room #388. “Any contact yet, Jacobs?” Captain Kohonen asked
as he lapped the conference table for the seventh time.
“What is wrong with that man? We’re trying to help.”
“So far, he’s been reluctant to accept it, Sir,” Franchon said.
“Thank you. Now you’re sounding like Darrowski, when what I—“
A crack of static filled the room. Jacobs pointed to the screen. “Got something.”
An instant later Sagra opened, “I’ve decided to dispense with the video, Captain. “Have
you reached a decision?”
“I have regarding most of your requests. First, the Argo will leave soon. But, before we
depart my crew has prepared a shuttle—“
“Captain, we do not want your shuttle nor its crew. Anyone who comes—“
“Mister Sagra, the shuttle will be unmanned. It is a gift. It has been loaded with medical
supplies and equipment that we hope will be of assistance in your dilemma. The shuttle will be left behind for you to use as you see fit.”
Silence. . . “I suppose. . . suppose --,” Sagra coughed. “A thank you is in order.” Sagra
gulped in a large breath of air. “You said most of our requests.”
“As an officer of the Worlds Oversight Council, I don’t know if I can, in all honesty,
remove Iuama and its solar system from our database. I will think more about it as we return
“Think well, Captain. Consider the following. Suppose there was a starship in an
emergency situation or a conglomerate that wanted to reinstitute Tineke production and products;
if either entity could still find Iuama on their star charts. . .” Sagra sighed deeply. “Think long,
Captain. There are too many disastrous scenarios to contemplate. A starship could land here
during our dark cycle, load its cargo bays, and be gone before first light. But it would be
carrying more than untreated Tineke. Before its first Jump, crew members would break out in a
rash. The starship would head for the nearest inhabited planet for medical assistance. Think
hard, Captain Kohonen. Think hard.”
“I will Mister Sagra.”
“I don’t mean to be abrupt, but depart soon, Captain, I have some highly infected—
desperate – people here who would like nothing better than to force their way onto your
“Mister Sagra, I’m sorry we didn’t meet under happier circumstances.”
“Me too.” Sagra wheezed. “Thank you for the shuttle and now goodbye.” A crack static
Captain Kohonen turned to Second Officer Franchon Almirol. “Give the order to launch
the supply shuttle. When it’s safely down-world we’re leaving.”
Near a star portal in rec 14 Dominic Ziggant and Lynette sat huddled over glasses filled
with a pale green liquid topped with a bubbling foam. Dominic looked at his wrist-cep. “What’s
“Give her time,” Lynnette said, sipping gingerly from her glass. “She’s been on a roller
coaster – Promoted to Assistant Medical Officer, then her first down-world as an Ob5
Observer. Only to discover the planet and its people are infected with some unknown diseases.
Krista cares deeply about others. She wanted to go to Iuama. Right now I think she feels like
she’s been wasted, impotent. Krista is a very determined woman.”
“I’ve noticed,” Dominic said.
“And I think she’s noticed you too,” Lynnette lifted her glass. “Toast. We did a hell of a
job with Santa’s Sleigh.” They clinked glasses. “And the Milky Way is a big place with billions
of stars and trillions of planets circling them. Maybe you two will get a chance to explore –“
“CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER LYNNETTE CAFFREY AND SECURITY CHIEF DOMINIC
ZIGGANT REPORT TO LEVEL SIXTY-FIVE, RED CORRIDOR #388 NOW!” Captain Kohonen’s voice boomed over the Rec 14 speakers.
Lynnette and Dominic Ziggant were not quite through the doorway into conference room
#388 when Captain Kohonen shouted. “Where is Krista Tay?”
“Krista?” Lynnette and Dominic asked in unison.
“Am. . . I not . . . enunciating? Krista Tay. Where is she?
“She was to meet us on Rec 14. She –“
“Did you check her room?” Lynnette asked
“Maybe she’s in the –“ Dominic started.
“OR MAYBE SHE’S IN THE SUPPLY SHUTTLE ON HER WAY TO LUAMA.”
“Sir, I am –“ Lynnette pointed to Dominic. “Sir, we’re both confused.”
“You’re confused. Neither of you had anything to do with helping Krista stow away on
the shuttle? This was all her idea?” Captain Kohonen looked from Dominic to Lynnette and back
again then slammed his fist on the table. “Oh, damn you, Krista Tay!” Captain Kohonen paced and
turned to Jacobs, “Have you contacted the shuttle yet?”
“Sir, there’s been no response. But, depending where Krista is on board, she might not
be able to reach the com-command.”
“The shuttle was stuffed, Captain.” Lynnette offered quietly.
"All right, keep trying, Jacobs.” Captain Kohonen gestured to two empty chairs. “Would
you both . . . please sit down. Sorry about the outburst. If we can get Krista on audio maybe one
of you can reason with her. The woman’s impetuous. She’s trying to be a hero. Maybe if she
doesn’t open the —“
“I beg to differ, Captain.” Lynnette sat down slowly. “Krista doesn’t do things for ulterior
She’s on a mission. She thinks she can help.”
“She wants to do something. Maybe she can, Sir.” Dominic interrupted. “It will be hard
to stop her. And with all due respect. . . Sir, I’m not going to try to stop her.”
“She’s heading to an early demise.”
“I know she’s considered that.” Lynnette said.
Captain Kohonen looked back and forth between Lynnette and Dominic. “I detect
dissension in my ranks.” Captain Kohonen sighed and headed for the door. “I’m going for some
Bredolin coffee” He looked over his shoulder. “Anyone else? . . . Captain Kohonen started out
the door. Over his shoulder he said. “No one leaves here until we hear from Krista. Jacobs, stay
As soon as the shuttle left the Argo launch bay, Krista shouldered her way close to a
porthole. Far off, behind the tightly packed stacks of equipment and medical supplies, Krista
could hear the muffled voice of Sean Jacobs, “Doctor Krista Tay, please initiate
‘Sorry Jacobs, I doubt a mouse could get to the control room,’ Krista laughed as she
peered through the porthole.
The shuttle's descent was well programmed. A long, slow series of loops around Iuama
to avoid any atmospheric anomalies that might shift the cargo or disturb the multiple vials of
vaccines and medicines.
‘What a beautiful planet,’ Krista thought as she retrieved her mem-cam from her down-
world backpack. ‘Snow-covered poles. Three continents separated by one ocean. A pastel of
different blues and greens.’ She pressed the lens of the mem-cam to the port hole and pressed
record. ‘So beautiful. Mountain ranges. Waterfalls. Rainbows and long beaches of beet red
sand. What a shame. Take away the Tineke-Elasitca and they did find paradise. Take away that
damned virus, and I could have spent a long time observing, and exploring this world.'
“Krista, it’s not too late.” Captain Kohonen’s voice came from the control room. “I have
a shuttle pilot here with me. She can tell you how to turn the shuttle around. Please, Krista, we
don’t need a dead hero.”
Krista looked over her shoulder and shouted. “Damn it, Captain, I’m not trying to be a
hero. I made a choice. I has to have import. This is a chance. I believe I can make a
difference. Maybe… just maybe I can provide it.”
“Krista, it’s not too late.” Captain Kohonen’s repeated “I have a shuttle pilot here with
Krista ignored the rest of the message. “Why am I shouting he can’t hear me.” She held back
a sad laugh, and returned to the port hole and immediately fell back from a flash of blinding light. “What the hell was that?” As quickly as the light appeared it disappeared. Krista looked down across a river delta out on to the ocean. The shuttle circled. Again, Krista was blinded by light. She peered
behind her. 'Glass! A city of glass!'
The landing pad had not been used for decades. A large funnel of dust and dirt spiraled
above the shuttle as it slowly descended to the surface of Iuama. Krista squirmed her way back
to the shuttle door and paused. ‘No turning back now,’ Krista thought as she pulled down the clamps, turned the wheel lock and pushed. There was a low hiss as the shuttle ramp extended, and
came to rest on the ground. Krista stepped on to the ramp.
Almost immediately three figures emerged through the settling cloud of dust. Krista
braced herself for the encounter, then gasped in disbelief as a tall male figure stepped closer.
‘He’s beautiful,’ she thought. ‘Absolutely beautiful. Ebony hair past his buttocks and grayest
eyes I have ever seen.’
“MD- OB5 Krista Tay, I am Hanar, oldest of Sagra Kalam.” Hanar extended his hand.
hand. “You have made a serious error in judgment, but still, we welcome you to Iuama.”
A red-headed woman, who could have anywhere from fifteen to thirty, appeared on
Hanar’s right. Her hair was in an intricate braid which fell easily off her shoulder. Only the
pictures and sculptures of the goddess Xrene from the planet Nethas rivaled her beauty.
As the third person stepped into view Hanar moved closer.
Krista sweep her arm to the open door of the shuttle. “I’ve brought medical—“ Krista
started, “but right now I am very confused. None of you seem to be suffering from Tineke in
fact the opposite seems to be –“ Krista barely felt the injection as she fell into Hanar’s open
Krista woke slowly. Groggy. Disorientated. Warm sunlight poured through a dome of
glass from the ceiling and three walls. Only the floor and rear wall seemed to be made of solid
material. With effort, Krista stood, made her way to the window, and looked down at the city of
Lakal. It was beautiful. A city of glass. Though most of the streets, parks, and bridges were
empty. A dozen multicolored creatures that resembled carnival balloons glided past the window.
Instinctively, Krista tapped the glass.
“We call them Gazbags.” Came a female voice from behind her. “Our city is lovely, yes?"
The redheaded woman crossed to her side. “I am Tyree, third daughter of Sagra Kalam.
“I remember. You’re part of the group that drugged me.”
Tyree smiled with embarrassment, “I’m sure you have lots of questions. When you are -“
“I do.“ Krista stared rudely. “You are so beautiful. . ."
“Why thank you.” Tyree pushed her braid off her shoulder. “So are—“
“Lady, that was not meant as a compliment.” Krista pointed to Tyree’s face. “You have
no sign of any kind of infection. Neither did . . .what was his name. . . Hanar? The sneak with the
“Hanar, my older though, not necessarily wiser brother.”
Krista pointed to the city below. Where is everybody? How do you build a city of glass?
Why all the chicanery? The lies upon lies. What is wrong with you people? What are you--?
Tyree held out a hand. “Oh, so many questions. So quickly,” she smiled easily. “Let me
answer those that I can and when the Council of Equals has assembled I’m sure the rest will be
answered to your satisfaction.”
“Oh, do that,” Krista folded her arms across her chest. “Oh, please, do that.”
Tyree moved closer to the window. “We have asked all of citizens to remain out of sight.
We do not know the visual capacity of your starship. The glass you see is one of the many ways
we utilize Tineke. It’s incredibly malleable and easy to use for myriad of different --”
In the back of her mind, Krista remembered the first time she saw Sagra. “THAT GOD
AWFUL HEAD!” Krista cringed. “That mushroom shaped monstrosity that appeared on our video
screen? Sagra’s head? The hand? The pustules?”
Tyree’s looked to the floor as she nodded. “That is one of its uses. We make masks for
one of our holidays. The more grotesque the better. It’s been a tradition for some—“
“What is wrong with you people?”
“The simplest answer to that question is we. . . we are not dying.”
“When you feel stronger I will bring you before the council. There is much to --”
“I’m strong enough now.” Krista started toward the door. Stumbled.
“The walk is short,” Tyree offered her arm. “Come with me. We know you deserve an
Krista shook off Tyree’s hand. “What did you people stick into me?”
Moments later they entered a large, circular chamber. Krista stared up at the ceiling. It
was composed of one single sheet of Tineke glass that draped down the walls and disappeared
into a foundation of vegetation, infinity pools, and fountains. The soothing sound of running
water coupled with the hushed conversations of a large crowd in the multi-tiered chamber.
“Would you please join us?” A familiar baritone voice called from a circular table in the
middle of the room. There was no cough. No wheeze. Chairs of different sizes and designs
encircled the table. Two chairs were unoccupied.
‘A circular table promotes equality, just like the Argo,’ Krista thought as she approached
Sagra Kalam. Though twenty meters away there was no sign of disease or infection. He was as
handsome as his son Hanar on his right. Distinguished. In his late thirties. . . Krista's eyes darted
from father to son and back again. Then to Tyree by her side. 'More lies,' she thought. There
couldn't be ten years difference between all of them.
Sagra raised his arm and motioned to Krista. His hand was large with thick fingers. The gray
hue was gone and there was no sign of pustules. “Please be seated.”
“I'll stand,” Krista said with an edge of defiance.
“As you will.” Sagra sat. Tyree joined him on his left. “I know you have. . . We have to explain
some of our –“
“Lies. You have to explain your lies. And why you created an elaborate, well-rehearsed
charade to drive people away from this beautiful world. Why? Did you want this idyllic place to yourselves? You could limit immigration. There is no infection. You could —“
“Oh, but you are wrong Krista Tay. We are infected. Seriously infected. And now you are
too. You became infected when you stepped out of your shuttle and took your first breath of
Iuama air. . .”
Sighs and murmurs of affirmation came quietly from around the glass dome.
“May I ask your age?”
“What has my age got to do with anything?”
“Krista. . . I know I don’t deserve it, but, please humor me.”
“Twenty-eight. A wonderful age and you will enjoy being twenty-eight for quite a
Krista gave Sagra a look of confusion.
Sagra gestured around the chamber. “Krista, I know you’ve only been here a short time,
and, as of yet, you only had a glimpse of our world. But, you are a trained observer. An
academy graduate. An Ob5. Have you notice anything about our society just in this room?”
Krista took a long slow look around the table and at the people gathered in tiers beneath
the walls of glass. ‘How stupid,’ she thought. She looked from Sagra to Tyree and then to
Hanar. “There are no old people. Or at least there are no old people here.”
A hum of acknowledgement came from around the chamber.
Tyree, Sagra, and Hanar nodded as one. “There are no old people anywhere on Iuama.”
Hanar said. “In the one hundred and fifty-seven years since we arrived, only thirty-two people
have died. Eight in drowning or climbing accidents. A few from the bite from a Cumblee. A bee-
like insect that likes to be left alone. We lost several by heart attacks. One simply disappeared.
The rest by cancer and other diseases.
Krista stepped forward. “Is this a new lie, Sagra?”
“Have you heard of Thomas Mathus?” Sagra sighed.
“I’m not sure.” Krista wobbled. Immediately someone appeared behind her with a chair.
“Please sit down, Krista, there is a lot to digest.”
Krista sank into the soft folds of the chair. ‘This has to be made of Tineke,’ she thought.
From nowhere appeared a glass of water. She eyed Sagra and the glass of water.
“No drugs,” Sagra assured her and shot a mean glare at his son Hanar. “There was no
need for drugs in the first place.”
Hanar looked at Krista sheepishly. “My father is right. But, when you turned and
pointed to the shuttle. . . I didn’t know if you were alone or armed. I didn’t know if you were
about to attack us.” Hanar stood and bowed his head. Krista Tay, I apologize and I will try to
make up for my behavior in the future.” Hanar did not lift his head.
Krista stared in confusion and finally she realized . . . “Hanar, your apology is accepted.”
Hanar lifted his head slowly, smiled, and returned to his seat.
As Krista took a sip of water, Sagra continued. “Thomas Malthus authored a theory that if
human populations run rampant; disease, famine, war, and calamity will be the result. When
we first arrived on this beautiful world we were invigorated. For the first twenty-five years, we were
oblivious. Everything seemed perfect. Wonderful weather. Clean water. Fertile soil. Ample
sources of food especially in our rivers and oceans. Our only problem was sex.”
There were no titters or laughter from the assembled, only nods and whispers of
“There was something about Iuama from day one. We still don’t know if it’s the water, the
balmy air, or the incredible starry nights. But suddenly everyone’s libido went into high gear.
In one year our population grew to over a thousand. Within several years it doubled again
and then again. We were just beginning to--"
“Sagra,” Krista interrupted and swept her arm around the crowded chamber. “Iuama is a
large planet. There is plenty of room for a large population.”
Sagra turned to Tyree. “I am having difficulty explaining. Would you mind?”
“Krista, would you agree that most women would like to have children?” Tyree asked.
“I would." Krista said.
“It took us a while to notice, but as our first generation of children grew into their teens –
our older population was not aging in the normal sense. . . “ Tyree paused to collect her
thoughts. “Fifteen years into our arrival our first generation reached puberty and did what comes
naturally, they discovered sex. Unbridled sex with over-zealous, teenage hormones is not a good
mix. Initially, Iuama was a liberal society. We had an entire world to populate. All newborns were
welcome whether from a marital relationship or a casual encounter. Then, we realized the original colonist, like my father. . .” Tyree tilted her head toward Sagra. “My father who was thirty-five
when he arrived on Iauam was not aging. His hair was not graying. No wrinkles, and when the men and women of the first generation should have been past their reproductive prime. They were not.
The opposite in fact. All the men and women who initially colonized Iuama were still having children. And their children and their children’s children were having children -- lots of them. And to our dismay, when the younger generation reached their thirteenth or fourteen year, they seemed to stop aging. At least in the normal sense.” Tyree turned and looked past her father to Hanar. “My brother can best explain the consequences.”
Hanar’s raven black hair fell behind him as he stood and spoke softly. “Finally we did the
math. The population of Iuama started with six hundred and nine people. Fifty-eight women
were already pregnant and gave birth shortly after arrival. Soon there were children everywhere.
At that rate of birth and the basic absences of death – Iuama would have a population of ten
million people in eighty years and over one hundred million thirty years later and a billion
people shorty after that. When we realized what was happening the Council of Equals passed a law limiting the number of children anyone could have. Regrettably, when you pass laws that regulate the behavior of people in their bedrooms, those laws are ignored. Our law was ignored by just about everyone.” Hanar tried to hide a sigh of frustration and shrugged. “So we did the next best thing. We added a birth control compound to our water supply. Encouraged abortions. Birth control devices are free and available everywhere. Each action helped curtail our population explosion. But it was our concerted policy of education that worked best.” Hanar turned to his father.
“You see, Krista, long life coupled with exaggerated libidos, and shortly you would have overpopulation. Overpopulation has been the bane of human kind is the curse, Krista.” Sagra's
baritone grew in timber. “A curse that if it wasn’t halted would have resulted in famine, war,
murder, and disease. Long life is the serpent in our Eden. But then . . . is it still Eden without
Murmurs of affirmation came from every corner of the chamber.
“Krista, what is any society without the voices and laughter of children? No cartwheels
or summersaults? No shouts of glee and discovery? And to add to our dilemma your starship has arrived." Sarga took in a deep breath. "May I offer a hypothetical?”
“How many crew members are on the Argo?”
“That’s classified information, Sagra.”
“Sorry. Of course it is. May I ask how many people would have come to Iuama on the
original down-world team? . . . Do they still call them down-world teams?”
“They do. There would have been four or five.”
“Fine. Then here’s the hypothetical. Suppose we did not create what you called a ruse to
discourage you from landing on Iuama. Suppose. . . We did nothing.”
"Suppose we welcomed your down-world team with welcome arms? Suppose. . .
Sagra waited a long time before continuing. He watched patiently giving Krista time to reflect.
“Your down-world team would have arrived and been infected as soon as they opened the
shuttle door. But. . . When they returned to your ship -- after two or three jumps everyone on the
Argo would have aged normally. Everyone, except the four or five members of your down-world
team. And unless you’re serving with a crew of imbeciles -- someone would have had to notice
that none of the down-world team was aging. By the time the Argo arrived at its next port-of-
call, the gossip would be rampant – and within days, spreading from world to world at the
speed of light. Iuama the “Fountain of Youth” would be the cry. And why not? And who
wouldn’t want to come to a world that promised balmy weather? Clean air? Pure water? And
most enticing, a world where you only age one year for every thirty or sixty. And your sex-drive
and performance may last well into your sixth hundredth year. Of course, by then, human
nature being what it is and rumors being allowed to magnify, Iuama would have been christened
“The World of Eternal Life. Or the World of Endless Sex. ”
Sagra cleared his throat, took a sip of water, and pointed to the sky through the glass
dome. “Krista, how long do you think it would be before our skies would be inundated with
colonizing starships? And wouldn't the crews abandon their ships to join prospective
colonists? How long before our land, our beaches would be overrun by multitudes of eager
colonists who want to live in a paradise that offers long life, incredible weather, and a three or
four-hundred-year sex life? Perhaps longer. And maybe a six hundred-year life span?”
Krista shuffled uneasily in her chair taking a look at Tyree, Hanar, and Sagra. Behind her,
from every direction, she could feel the anxiety of the crowd.
“Krista, can you imagine what these millions of people -- and there would be millions
and millions -- would bring with them?”
Krista shook her head.
“Neither can we. But we can imagine.” Sagra stood and smiled gently at Krista, “And here’s
the easy part for me and what I believe will be the most difficult for you. MD- Ob5, Krista Tay you are not our prisoner. You are free to go. Your shuttle is a short walk. Hanar and Tyree have agreed to
accompany you. I suggest you take your time. Use it to explore our city. When you arrive at
your shuttle you will have to make a decision. If you elect to return to the Argo I will make
visual contact with Captain Kohonen alone. I will not wear a Tineke mask. I will confirm that
you are not infected with any disease. I will tell him that when you arrive on board you will need
a private consultation to explain a very complicated situation. I will tell him the truth. If Captain
Kohonen elects to share our ‘truth’ with other members of his crew do not be surprised if your
some of your crew decides to mutiny and abandon the Argo for the promises Iuama offers.”
Sagra stepped away from his chair. “Krista, please note, though your Captain is an
honorable man he is duty-bound to the World's Oversight Council. If he elects to keep our
dilemma a secret. . . still, after you have made a jump or two everyone on board will have
aged. Everyone, except you. Someone will remember that you visited Iuama.”
A general murmur of agreement came from the other members of the Council of Equals.
“I’d venture that in a very short time more than a thousand starships loaded with colonists
fighting for passage would launch and head straight for Iuama and all it promises. In a
generation, Iuama would be overpopulated. And still, more and more starships would come. I
leave it to you, Krista Tay”
Sagra looked around the table and nodded. The other eleven members rose quietly. Krista
followed their example. One by one each council member stood in front of Krista, bowed their
head, and said, “I leave it to you, Krista Tay.”
Sagra was the last to take his place in front of Krista. He took both of Krista’s hands in
his and said, “Enjoy your walk, Krista Tay.”
Krista walked slowly through the warren of small streets, alleys, and intricate stairways
of the city of Lakal. Hanar and Tyree trailed respectfully behind until Krista paused on a narrow
bridge spanning the Nuaka River. “The water is so clear,” Krista said.
“Clear and potable,” Hanar said proudly. “Look carefully and you can see the Anunu. One
of our most common species of fish.”
“In the ocean, they’re much bigger and more varied,” Tyree said. “There is much to see, I
mean observe – here on Iuama,” she added hurriedly.
They walked together along the bank of the Nuaka through parks, past fountains, and a
“A place for gathering. Competition and music,” Hangar offered without being asked.
The homes and buildings made of Tineke glass created a kaleidoscope of reflecting
colors and rainbow arches. ‘A symphony for the eye.’ Krista thought. ‘But there were no
children. No squeals of laughter. No shrieks of delight. Can I really change anything here?
Should anything be changed? What am I trying to change?’
When the trio arrived at the Argo shuttle Krista turned. “I have to think.”
Hanar and Tyree nodded with understanding. Krista entered the shuttle and sealed the
door. With the exception of a large medical scanners and a 3d replicator, much of the medical
supplies were gone. ‘Santa’s Sleigh,’ she remembered fondly making her way to the control panel.
Through the portal she could see Hanar and Tyree had been joined by three other people. The group was engaged in an animated conversation.
Krista paced for a bit and then hesitated for a long time before she pressed the audio
communication button. Dramatically she started with a series of coughs, “Captain Kohonen this
is Krista. Conditions here are worse than I –“
“Krista, what have you done?” Lynnette's shrill voice echoed through the shuttle. “Honey, what
have you done?”
‘Good question, ‘ Krista thought. “Lynnette, Captain Kohonen, I made a choice. I really
believed I might make a difference here. I still do. I would turn on the video connect. . .” Krista
wheezed. “But, I want you to remember me as I was not what I’ve become in such a short
time. The rash is worse than you can imagine. Please listen to Mister Sagra – forget about this
world and ask the rest of the crew too. I’m going to do everything I can and if by some miracle or
stroke of luck things change on Iuama you’ll be the first contact. I promise.”
Krista coughed and wheezed for effect. “Lynnette please say goodbye to everyone,
especially Dominic Ziggant. Tell him I was. . . well . . . considering.”
Krista sucked in a big gulp of air. “Goodbye Captain Kohonen it was an honor serving with
you and the rest of the crew. Captain, down here the people are looking to the sky. Holding
their breath. Hoping you will do what is best for all humanity. Hoping you will heed the
warning. They wait – I wait too. We wait for the streak of light that says you’ve engaged the
fusion engines. Safe journey my friends I will remember you always.”
Krista pressed the disconnect button and looked to the shuttle door. ‘I am an observer,' she thought. ‘I have an entire world to explore and a shuttle that can help me do it. I know I can make a difference.’ Krista walked toward the shuttle door. Then stopped abruptly. 'Something is wrong.'