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The Observer by Tucker Spolter 


Krista Tay woke to a page from the v-com.  Yawning, she turned toward the screen.





 ‘Medical class will be canceled,’ she thought, folding her scrubs and white coat.  ‘We must be already out of jump and into planetary- glide.’  Krista placed her x-stethoscope on a hook by the mirror and stripped.

      At E.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, what I’d give for  one glass of unrecycled water.’ Krista dabbed blush on each cheek. ‘Maybe find a place that’s really quiet. The hum of our Grav-Wheel can be maddening. . . I’d love to explore a new environment.‘  Krista pulled open her uniform drawer.  “Damn it,” she said lifting a calico cat with bold patches of orange, black, and cream off of her navy blue over-jacket. “How the hell do you get in here?”  She set the cat on the floor.  “Two-hundred and eighty-three crew members on this ship why me?” The cat mewed.  Krista brushed cat hairs from her uniform and finished dressing. “When’s the last time you caught a rat?” she asked as she pushed the door control. There was a whoosh. The cat bolted out the door and disappeared down the corridor.  “Bye Cat. Find someone else to annoy.  I’m more of a dog person anyway.”

E.S.T. 14:48

     At the El- hub, 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 definitely the best teacher I’ve ever had, and probably the best doctor in this quadrant. Someday . . . who knows.” 

E.S.T.  14:58

     Six people were seated at the round table when Krista entered Conference Room #388.  Sean Jacobs, EREBUS’s Communications Officer, a bald, 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 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. 

     Krista sat and sighed as she looked across the round table to Juliusz Darrowski, a human stump, though a brilliant mathematician.  The EREBUS’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 saw his smile and returned it.  

     Lynnette caught the exchange. “Now there’s a man worth considering.”

     “I am considering,” Krista whispered.  

      “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 too — “

      “Aren’t I a little what?” Lynnette laughed and punched Krista playfully on her arm.

E.S.T.  15:02

     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 a full dress uniform.  He stood behind a chair.  The room went quiet. Silently 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? Someone die?”

      Lynnette put a finger across her lip. “Shsss.  Must be something really important.” She smiled and looked back to Captain Kohonen.

      “Gentlemen, Ladies, 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  E.S.T.  15:57, we will establish orbit. “ Most heads turned to the digital read on the wall. 

E.S.T.   15:09 

      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 political and economic reasons two of those systems have since 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 they christened 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 withdrew a third 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 –  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. We’re here to do that, but only as observers.” Captain Kohonen pointed across the table to Krista. “Which is the reason we have Observer b5 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?”  

      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. . . And, 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.  “Believe me, this only comes out of mothballs for special occasions.  Ob5 Krista Tay, along with her other duties, has spent most of our last two jumps on the Medical Deck under the tutelage of our chief medical officer Doctor Lynnette Caffrey.  Krista has spent a minimum of two hundred hours respectively studying and practicing:  anatomy, surgery, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, and pharmacology. Krista has been involved in hundreds of patient interviews and examinations,” Captain Kohonen looked around the table, “perhaps some of you been her patients . . . Without further ado with the powers invested in me and the advisement of Doctor Lynnette Caffery and her fellow physicians, I would like to welcome Doctor Krista Aanya Tay to the medical staff of the Star Ship Erebus. 

      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 these new responsibilities 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 celebration.” 

      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, one by one, so did the rest of the gathering.  


      Mathematician Juliusz Darrowski never moved from his chair.  “Used to be, you had to study and intern for three years to become a doctor,” 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 — “ 

       “Gentlemen, Ladies, 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 haywire. Those shuttles and their starships have arms. Maybe that explains the secrecy.  They could be plann—“

     “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 thepapers 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.

     Captain Kohonen shot a ‘look’ at Darrowski, took a sip of coffee and looked across the table. “Thank you, Dom.  Who’s next?”

      Lynnette raised her hand.

      “Acknowledged.” Captain Kohonen said.

     “Krista and I spent part of our last seven revolutions,” 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.  Most older.  We did find the original survey geo-report, and 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,” Darrowski interrupted. “Many worlds don’t have seasons.”

       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 geology is a bit odd.  It’s approximately four billion years old and still cooling.  There are a series of volcanoes, but only one is active.  Near the biggest city is a huge hot spot responsible for geysers and hot springs. There is only one large land mass, though there are multiple scattered islands of different sizes. Iuama is over eighty percent water. The ocean has a ph of 7.7. just a bit below normal. “

      Krista paused again referring to her wrist-cephal. “There is no name on record for the single continent, though I’m sure the citizens have given it one by now. The largest city is called Lakal . .  . at least it was one hundred and thirty years ago. It’s located several hundred miles above 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 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?”

      “Something similar happened on Delta33.  Sagra Kalam may 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, “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 never heard of Tineke, have you?” She turned to Captain Kohonen . . .   “don’t even know why we bother having these discussions when Mister Darrowski always has all the answers.”

      Captain Kohonen stared across the table, “Darrowski, will you give it a rest? . .  . ” Please continue, Krista.” Captain Kohonen glanced at the digital.  

 E.S.T.  15:38

“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 . . . since the first colonist arrived, there is no record of anyone leaving Iuama.  No one.”

      “Maybe. . . no is allowed to leave?” Darrowiski said quietly.

      “Actually, that makes sense,” Krista said.  “But why? 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.  A world of T-shirts and sandals. “ Ziggant looked across the table at Krista.  “How is the water? . . . The air?”

      “Both were 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 number of colonists.  I have the manifest.”  He opened a portfolio marked IUAMA and fingered down a column.  “The colonizing ship was called World Seeker. Originally carrying six hundred and eighteen colonists. Though, 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 sighed and looked to his left  ”Sadly,  Mister Darrowski, this is your bailiwick.  You’re the math genius. What’s your population guestimate?”

      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 seems to apply in his 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 of — “


      “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—”

       “Enough. Thank you, Darrowski,” Captain Kohonen pointed to the digital. 

E.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 doctor Krista Tay.”

      Lynnette Caffrey nudged Krista with her elbow and whispered, “Told you. Your first down-world.” 

     Captain Kohonen turned to Dominic Ziggant. “Dom, you have a choice. I need you or someone from your team to provide security.”

     Ziggant stole 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. Down-world team, please make immediate preparations. I don’t know what kind of welcome we’ll receive from the people of Iuama, but we should be prepared for contingencies.  Hopefully, they are going to be glad to reinitiate contact.  Down-world team and ships officers return at 16:20, the rest please return to your duties and prepare for Iuama orbit.  

     Captain Kohonen turned to Communications Officer Jacobs, “Sean, begin to initiate contact with Iuama.” Captain Kohonen looked around the table. “Thank you for your time and expertise. Dismissed.”


      Newly commissioned Krista Tay was the second person to exit the conference room. She bolted down the corridor to the El-hub and rode the yellow lift to her tier.  ‘Not much time to toss everything together.’  Krista opened her closet, reached high, grabbed the handle of her down-world grip bag, and screamed as the calico cat leaped through the zippered opening to her cot, jumped to the floor, and sat by the door on its haunches. “Cat. How the hell do you get in here?  And why me?”  Krista pushed the door control. It opened with a whoosh.  The cat scurried down the corridor.  ‘No time for this,’ Krista thought.  ‘I’ve waited too long.’  She pulled down the zipper all the way open and fished through the down-world grip. ‘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 jackets. 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 the grip.  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 Erenus departed for Iuama.  Krista wiped a tear from her cheek.

     At  E.S.T.  16:21  Everyone except the communications officer Jacobs was back at the conference table. 

      “Gentlemen, Ladies we are still waiting to make contact,” Captain Kohonen opened. “I won’t send the down-world team with no warning and no idea of what they’re getting into. . . It would be better to get an invitation.”

      Captain Kohonen turned to Franchon Almirol his second in command. “You’ve been 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 spokesperson Sagra Kalam? Was he responsible for cutting off contact with the rest of us? Was he ordered too?” Franchon looked around the table and 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.  “Justin case . . .  if a situation arises you or any member of the team believes deserves attention, relay your concerns immediately to the ship.”  

     “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 my ship’s officers. What have you found?”

      Reluctantly Jacobs began. “Sir, it’s strange. We’ve made contact . . .”


      “The contact has identified himself as Sagra Kalam.”

     “Sagra Kalam? Sagra Kalam must 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. “

      “Sir, 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 further contact.’ ”

      Captain Kohonen looked around the table and was meet with 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 Erebus. Is that correct?”

      “It is.” 

      “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 EREBUS and the World's Oversight Council, I would like to begin by —“ 

     “Captain Kohonen . . .” A series of coughs and wheezes halted communication for a second time. 

      Everyone in the conference room exchanged looks of confusion.

     “Excuse me . . . I’m . . .  Everyone on Iuama is . . . Captain Kohonen . . . we are dying.” 

     A series of gasps came from the conference table.  

     “Sir, 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 filled with quiet comments and 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 EREBUS crew members covered their nose or mouth.

      There were cracks of static, then silence. 

      People in the room 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, does sound terrible. What we really need is 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 meantime, 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 difficulty breathing.  It’s incessant.  Difficult to inhale. I was suffocating and had to break contact. It’s difficult to—” Sagra gulped in air.  When he spoke again, “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.  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 Erebus is a sophisticated starship. Over the last hundred and thirty years there have been 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. Many of our infected citizens have chosen a quicker course to end their misery. 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.”

       A lingering sob came from the speakers. The eyes of many in the conference room members watered over. 

     “Ma’am, Captain . . . 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 they even made their first jump.  Long before they arrived at one of the Outskirt 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 them.”

      “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 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 present? ”

      Captain Kohonen looked at Jacobs.  “He is.”

      “I am going to activate the video on my side. I would suggest those with weak stomachs look away. ”

     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. “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 EREBUS, I believe it’s time we met face to . . . And, 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 Elastica.”  

     Gasps of disbelief and cries of anguish filled the conference room.

      “Dear God!” A woman gagged. 


       “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.

       The Vid-screen shrunk slowly 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 Erebus, 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 this monstrosity. 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, 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 it all . . .”

      “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. 

      “There has to be something we can do? ” Krista looked at 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 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. Very painful. ” 

      People within earshot moved closer to the trio.  Krista was forced closer to Dominic as she began.  “With blood samples, we might be able to— “ 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 Iuama. We have an array of vaccines.  State-of-the-art surgical procedures and equipment.  We could start with— “

     “Krista, did you see that man? Until I know more 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.  This ship is leaving Iuama with my entire crew on board. ”  Captain Kohonen held eye contact with Krista.  “That said, I’m in full agreement with you. “ Captain Kohonen tapped 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.  “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 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 the 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 this.  Dismissed. ”


      Within a quarter of a turn, the shuttle bay of the EREBUS 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 know   out how to use it to their best advantage? ”

      “I’ve included a manual for everything.  They can read. ”  Lynnette replied. 

     “You’ve always advocated the importance of hands-on experience,” Krista said.  “The human touch. ”

      “What are you thinking? ”

      “Just that the people of Iuama are more than a hundred and fifty years behind the times in technology – especially medical technology.  We’re giving them new machines and medicines that demand a 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?”  

      “Krista, you have to trust human ingenuity.”  

       Dominic Ziggant joined the two women at the shuttle on-ramp. His arms were loaded with boxes. Slung over one shoulder was a familiar bag.  He handed it to Krista.  “You wanted this. ”

       Krista smiled, “It’s my . . . Well, it was my down-world grip. If I’m not going to get to use it this time, ” 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. . . Hey, 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 the launch controls on Santa’s Sleigh to remote autopilot.  

      Dominic, Lynette and Krista were the last to leave the Erebus’ shuttle bay.  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 including 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.” 

 E.S.T.  23:17 

      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.

      “None, Sir.”

      “What is wrong with that man?  We’re trying to help.”

      “So far, he’s been reluctant to accept our help, 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 EREBUS will leave orbit 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’s 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 you have reached a decision about most of our requests.” 

       “As an officer of the World’s 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 home.” 

      “Think well, Captain.  Consider the following.  Suppose there was a starship in an emergency situation or a conglomerate 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 corporate starship might land during our dark cycle, load its 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.  Not knowing the cause of the outbreak wouldn’t the Captain of the starship head to the nearest inhabited planet for medical assistance?  Wouldn’t you do that?  Think hard, Captain Kohonen. Think hard.”

      “I will Mister Sagra.”  

      “I don’t mean to be abrupt, but depart soon.  Now that there will be a functioning space shuttle coming to Iuama ─ Captain, I have some highly infected—desperate – people here who would like nothing better than to commander that shuttle and force their way onto your starship.” 

     Both men shared a moment of silence as each contemplated the gravity of the other’s comment. 

      “Mister Sagra, I’m sorry we didn’t meet under happier circumstances.”

      “Me too.” Sagra wheezed.  “Thank you for the gift of your shuttle and now goodbye.” A crack static and silence.   

      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-area 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 keeping Krista?”

      “Give her time,” Lynnette said, sipping gingerly from her glass. “She’s been on a roller coaster.  Becoming a doctor, then an opportunity for 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—“






      Captain Kohonen’s voice boomed over the rec-area 14 speakers.  

E.S.T.  23:55

      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.

      “We did.”

      “Maybe she’s in the— “Dominic started.


      “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.  You’re saying this was all her idea?”  Captain looked from Dominic to Lynnette and back again then slammed his fist on the table.  “Oh, of course, it was.  Damn it. 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 on where Krista is, she might not hear or be able to respond to the com-command.”

      “The shuttle was almost filled to capacity, Captain.” Lynnette offered quietly. “The launch was on automatic. It would be difficult to reach the control panel from the shuttle access door.”

      “All right, all right.” Captain Kohonen turned to his Communications Officer.  “Keep trying to reach her, 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 shuttle —“

       “I beg to differ, Captain.”  Lynnette sat down slowly.  “Krista doesn’t do things for ulterior motives. 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 wonder if we should try.”

      “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 and smiled. “Do I detect dissension in my ranks?” Captain Kohonen sighed and headed for the door. “I’m going for some coffee. Bredolin coffee.”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Anyone else? . . . 

 E.S.T.  23:59

       As soon as the shuttle cleared the EREBUS 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 communication.”

      ‘Sorry Jacobs, I doubt a mouse could get to the control room right now,’ 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 Erebus 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 of pastels 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.’

     “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 reverse course. Please, Krista, we don’t need a dead hero.  Doctor, we need you here.” 

      Krista looked over her shoulder and shouted.  “Damn it, Captain, I’m not trying to be a hero. I made a choice. I . . . my life has to have import. This is my chance. I believe I can make a difference.  Maybe. . .just maybe I can provide it.”

      “Krista, it’s not too late.” Captain Kohonen repeated “I have a shuttle pilot here with me who can talk you through-- “ 

       Krista ignored the rest of the message. “Why am I shouting? He can’t hear me.”  She 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.  The shuttle circled over a river. 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 two clamps, turned the wheel lock, and pushed.  There was a low hiss as the shuttle ramp extended and came to rest on the ground.

      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.’

       “Krista Tay,  I am Hanar, oldest of Sagra Kalam.” Hanar extended his 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 that 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 stepped back on the shuttle ramp and sweep her arm to the open door.  “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 true.  What the hell─“ Krista barely felt the injection as she fell into Hanar’s open arms.


      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 to draw their attention. 

      “We call them gazbags.” Came a female voice from behind her. “They are very smart. Sometimes they deliver messages.” A vaguely familiar redheaded woman crossed to her side.  “Our city is lovely, yes?”  

      Krista fought to clear the cobwebs in her mind. 

     “I am Tyree, second daughter of Sagra Kalam.  We met— “  

      “I remember, “ Krista said with a sharp edge to her voice.  “Your part of the group that drugged me.”

      Tyree smiled with embarrassment, “I’m sure you have lots of questions.”

     “I do.“  Krista stared rudely at the woman.  Up and down.  “You are 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 injection.” 

     “Hanar, my older though, not necessarily wiser brother.”

     Krista pointed to the city below. Where is everybody? How did you build a city of glass?  Why all the chicanery?  The lies upon lies. What is wrong with you people? What are you all trying to — “

      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.  “Please, do that.”

       Tyree moved closer to the window.  “We have asked our citizens to remain out of sight.  We did 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 a myriad of different —”

      In the back of her mind, Krista remembered the first time she saw Sagra and blurted “THAT GOD-AWFUL HEAD!” Krista cringed.  “That mushroom-shaped thing that appeared on our video screen?  Sagra’s head?  His hand?  The pustules?”

      Tyree 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—“

      “I repeat. What is wrong with you people?”

      “Ah, the simplest answer to that question is 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 explanation.”

       Krista shook away Tyree’s offer. “What the hell did your brother stick in me?”




     Tyree ushered Krista through a series of corridors until they entered a large, circular chamber.  A dozen men and women in dark gray uniforms, yellow flat caps and matching yellow wrist bands came to attention as the two women passed between them. 

       Krista stared at the ceiling. ‘Incredible,’ she thought.  It was composed of one single sheet of Tineke glass that draped down the walls and disappeared into a foundation of vegetation, infinity pools, that fed a series of descending 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. Only two chairs were unoccupied.  One next to the speaker and one directly opposite. 

      ‘A circular table promotes equality, just like the Erebus,’ Krista thought as she approached who she thought was Sagra Kalam the V. Even twenty yards away Krista could see there were no signs of disease or infection.  He was as handsome as his son. Distinguished. In his late thirties. Sagra raised an 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 prefer to stand,” Krista said with more than an edge of defiance.

      “As you will.” Sagra sat. Tyree joined him on his left. Hanar was already seated on his right. “I know you have . . .  I know we must explain some of our — “

      “You lied to us. You created an elaborate, well-rehearsed scenario, to drive my people away from this beautiful world. Why? We were not invaders. We would respect your laws and any conditions you demanded.  Why the lies?  The chicanery?”  Krista looked quickly around the chamber. “Theirs is no evidence of disease or infection. You could have—“  

      “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 while.”

       Krista gave Sagra a look of confusion. 

      Sagra gestured around the chamber. “Krista, I know you’ve only been here a short time, and, yet, you’ve only had a brief glimpse of our world. But you are a trained observer. An academy graduates.  An Ob5.  Have you noticed anything about our society just in this room alone?”

     Krista took a longer, 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 none seem to be here.”

     A hum of acknowledgment 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 a few people have died.  Eight in drowning or climbing accidents. One from the bite from a Cumblee.  It’s a bee-like insect that is better left alone. And we’ve lost several to heart attacks, Cancer, and other natural causes.  A few folks have simply disappeared. 

      Krista stepped forward. “Is this a new lie, Sagra?”

     “Have you heard of Thomas Malthus?” Sagra sighed.  

      “I’m not sure.” Krista wobbled. Immediately someone appeared behind her with a chair.

      “Please sit down, Krista. You’ve been through a lot and there is much 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 Hanar. “There was no need for drugs in the first place.” 

     Hanar stood and 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 will 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 two decades, 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 agreement. 

     “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.”

     “Sagra,” Krista interrupted and waved her arm around the crowded chamber. “Iuama is a large planet. There is plenty of room for a large population.”

     “A large planet, yes. But mostly water.” 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 agree.”

     “It took us a while to notice, but as our first generation, which included my brother and I,  grew into our teens – our parents were 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, we discovered sex. Unbridled sex, with over-zealous, teenage hormones is not a good mix. Initially, Iuama was a liberal society. There was a new world to populate. All children were welcomed 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 should have been well past his reproductive prime.  He was not. All the men and women who initially colonized Iuama were still sexually active. 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, someone   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 could possibly have a population of ten million people in eighty years and over one hundred million thirty years later.  And a billion soon after that. When the Council of Equals realized what was happening they passed a law limiting the number of children. Regrettably, when you pass laws that regulate the behavior of people in their bedrooms, those laws are ignored.” Hanar 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 nearly everywhere. Each action helped curtail our population explosion. . . Somewhat.”  Hanar turned to his father.

      “You see, long life, exaggerated libidos, and overpopulation 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 Iuama still Eden without children?”

     Murmurs of affirmation and sighs of disappointment 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 that dilemma may I offer a hypothetical?”

      “All right.”

      “It wasn’t the original colonist or their progeny that was our only concern. How many crew members are on the Erebus?”

      “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. . .  Suppose we did nothing.”

      “Did nothing?”

       Sagra waited a long time before continuing.  He watched patiently, giving Krista time to reflect. 

      “Suppose the Erebus down-world team landed on Iuama.  Like you, the team would have been infected as soon as they opened their shuttle door. When they returned to your ship ─ after two or three jumps everyone on the EREBUS 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.  A very bright and observant crew member might notice that every member of the Iuama down-world team seemed to have become quite . . . promiscuous. By the time the Erebus arrived at its next port-of-call, gossip would be rampant – and within a few days, spreading from world to world on every outbound star ship.  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 forty.  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 ‘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?  How many starship crews would 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. 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 I.” Sagra stood and smiled gently at Krista, “And here’s the easiest 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 decide.  If you elect to return to the Erebus 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 explain 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 members of your crew mutiny and abandon the Erebus for the promises our world 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.  And even if he elects to keep our dilemma a secret. . . still, after your starship has made a jump or two everyone on board will have aged. Everyone, except you. You will become a curiosity.  Some of your friends or colleagues will remember that only 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, crammed with eager colonists, would launch and head straight for Iuama and all it promises. In a generation, Iuama would be overpopulated. And still, more starships would come and all the troubles they carry would follow.  I leave it to you, Krista Tay.”  Sagra stood, Krista followed his example.  

     Sagra looked around the table and nodded. The other eleven members rose quietly and one by one stood in front of Krista, bowed their heads, 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 idly 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 walk together along the bank of the Nuaka through parks, past fountains, and a large arena.  “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?’

     When the trio arrived at the Erebus shuttle Krista turned.  “I have to think.”

     Hanar and Tyree nodded with understanding.  Krista entered the shuttle and sealed the door behind her.  A few of the larger items rescue items were already removed.  ‘Santa’s Sleigh,’ she remembered making her way to the control panel.

      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 believe I might make a difference here. I still do. I would turn on the video connect. . .” Krista wheezed dramatically. “I want you to remember me as I was not what I’ve become in such a short time.  It’s worse than you can imagine. Please listen to Mister Sagra ─ forget about this world.  And ask the rest of the crew to forget 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. . . Down here, Captain, 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 home my friends I will remember you always.” 

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