SYSTEM STAR CYCLE: SUPPLEMENTAL
PLANETARY DATE: SUPPLEMENTAL
LAUNCH TIME: TEE-MINUS 02:04:04
There was a crowd milling around the entrance to the embarkation point’s airlock for the probeship Saarien. It was a farewell ceremony for the crew.
The Spacecorps officers stood trim and fit in standard duty uniform dress: a close-fitting, full-length two-tone garment. Each one of the personnel’s uniforms consisted of black trousers, matching utility belt and ankle boots, and black tunics with a color-coded horizontal chest stripe for the appropriate branch.
Piping of the branch color threaded through the black shoulder covering, rank insignia worn on the left collar; a chevron-fashioned intraship communicator pin occupied the right. With all the various personnel lined up to see the crew off, it looked as if the astronauts were passing through a rainbow of reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, golds, browns, and purples.
Each member of the Saarien team was photogenic and full of confidence, everyone’s image of spacefarers. Clasping forearms as they strolled down the featureless corridor, the eighteen astronauts’ hefted tote bags filled with their personal effects and went through the vestibule and into the lock. Beyond, they were shuttled from the interplanetary Orbiter 1 to the outer dock where the moored Saarien inside the lacy mooring filigree of the orbital station.
The bridge deck’s starboard airlock door slid slowly open with a distinct reassuring hiss. As one, the survey team stepped outside the probeship reception airlock into Deck 1’s assembly point. Each drew in a lungful of stale, yet pleasantly cooled air. Moving as one, the colonist ventured from the starboard vestibule down a short corridor and into the bridge’s Operations Wardroom; it bore the same clinical, featureless color scheme as the Orbiter 1: Aidennia.
Even compared to the spacestation’s mission operations room, the bridge’s wardroom was a spacious two-tier sixteen-retemed high, by seventy-three-retemed long, by forty-four-retemed wide dome. Its gray-white curving walls were alighted with colorful data holo-displays.
Dozens of three-dimensional maps, charts, and graphs tracked the streams of information that moved in and out of Saarien from every point in the sector and many places beyond. The clean lines of its architecture could not conceal the fact that it bristled with the most advanced technology Spacecorps had to offer.
Saarien was equipped with a mission-ready bridge and shipwide systems control. Instrument and computer stations ranked for science officers, propulsion systems engineers, emergency manual override, and environmental systems. There were swivel chairs for every workstation around the bridge operation pit’s perimeter and the quarterdeck.
On the main floor of the bridge were contained the typical complement of control stations, with the addition of a small main floor area at the bridge’s aft with an integral master situation monitor and conference table with surrounding overhead monitors and computing hardware that would allow the crew to study and plan strategies and tactics during reduced action periods. Engineering and science stations had been included and had dedicated data network lines to the main computer and critical systems, both were vital to the operation of the probeship should a battle ensue.
In the bridge’s forward section was another opened isolation hatch, it framed the interior of the command section where the flight control (conn) and flight operations (ops) consoles with their contoured flight chairs were set immediately in front of the bridge’s main viewscreen.
Commander Capel Perezsire had seen the bridge before, but even now, he could not restrain letting out a long, slow breath of appreciation. He supposed he would get used to it, too; but he hoped he would never lose the proud lift of his heart that he had felt when he had first stepped onto the bridge so many months ago during its final shakedown; the same rush he was experiencing now as he moved into the nerve center with the others.
Captain Cellini, a male Dorian descended from Aidennian stock, allowed himself to feel a measure of satisfaction in his ship and his crew as he spotted the approaching science team, absently smoothing his dark mustache with thumb and forefinger. With a few confident strides, he exited the command section and entered the bridge’s main area.
He had belief that all aboard would perform admirably under his command; he was the type of person who rubbed his hands together when he was about to dive into something — a debate, a good meal, a prickly scientific hypothesis. He did everything with a certain gusto. With his free hand, he held a data imager — a wafer-thin hand-held pad that had a flat view screen with blue-lettered captions scrolling.
Glancing at it, he resumed his review of personnel profiles — most of the information he knew from memory — having reviewed the inventory of the personnel under his charge since the moment they assembled. All of them Non-Echelon breeding stock, most of them were adults, with a complement of offspring — the majority post-pubescent/pre-ka-telan.
Ah, he thought winsomely, that time in life in which an individual has arrived just past puberty and just before the state in an individual’s development when he or she is physically/emotionally/spiritually capable of sexual pre-determination awareness. He stifled a chuckle behind another thought, Ah; the hormone rush will be unbearable once we get to Mira IV! Thank the Oversoul I am Echelon and stationed here onboard Saarien and not planetside!
Cellini, arms now behind his back, stared levelly at the tableau, and then his gaze flickered to his second-in-command. The captain smiled faintly as one of the scientists caught the attention of his first officer. He recognized the young male from the roster; he was memorable because his pre-mission scans were very inconclusive to his predicted ka-tela orientation. Ah, the politics of Space exploration, Cellini mused.
E. Robert Dunn has a new queer sci-fi book out, Echelon’s End book one: Last Generation.
The year is 6752, A.T. and Earth is but a memory to its space faring descendents. The urbane beings of The System embark on a test-colonization mission to a far off solar group called Mira. The AST [Aidennia-System Transport] Saarien’s flight path is ended abruptly and the colonizing supership explodes under a hail from Tauron Starhounds; a century of peace with the Tauron Empire is fractured. Six Aidennian survivors jettison in a terra-forming conestoga Pioneer Pod.
Now, a young male echelon couple and their fellow crewmembers must deal with a reality in which their peaceful existence is shattered by war and prejudice. The only solace appears in the form of an unknown, arid planet in a ternary star group.
Upon the Pioneer Pod Four’s descent into the planet’s atmosphere, a defense planetary shield is activated and causes the Pod 4 to crash land in an ancient, dried-up seabed. This sets the Aidennians on a jarring adventure where survival is a game of chance with the life forces of the Universe.
Warnings: There are adult (sexual) references and interaction in several of the books.
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SYSTEM STAR CYCLE: 6752.0719 A.T.
PLANETARY DATE: 171/195
LAUNCH TIME: TEE-MINUS 02:32:30
A tranquil sphere hung in Space under a white cloud.
“I don’t know why,” Medical Commander Dara Lidasiress muttered to herself out loud, “but I have a bad feeling about all of this.”
From a vantage point some four hundred kiloretems above, Dara was watching it beyond the thick syntheglass of an observation viewport; the sight was dizzying, fascinating. The cloud‑shrouded planet Aidennia. It seemed to lie almost in the trajectory of the Orbiter 1: Aidennia Station. The light of a strong, middle‑aged sun cataloged as Pintarus 19 fell on the cloud.
“Count now stands at minus zero two nodes and thirty-two, and counting,” the station controller announced over the station PA. “All networks are green and go.”
Dara smiled nervously, distracting herself by the vista beyond and beneath her view. “Calm yourself,” she said aloud. “Feeling anxious is normal and natural. It is part of the system that evolved to keep us safe and well.” She took a deep breath. Being the only one in the observation lounge, she felt somewhat silly being self-conscious about her anxiousness. “Come on. Give it a chance.”
There was still plenty of time before she would be called. Dara shifted her attention and the room seemed to slip away, walls became gossamer and ethereal.
She was suddenly thinking of other times, and other places…
The public address net hummed again, then the controller was back with another update. “Minus zero two nodes and fifteen and counting. Technicians, complete final checkouts.”
Dara’s attention refocused as her peripheral view caught a glimpse of her reflection coming off the window. A tall, powerful slender, fine-boned figure, with high cheekbones and penetrating chocolate eyes that gave a look of great delicacy founded in extraordinary resiliency framed by a neatly cropped mane told that she was no shallow youth, but a fully mature adult.
Saying good‑bye had not been easy, especially to her elder sibling, Aspera. A sadness that had kept a small place in her heart now pulsed as Dara viewed Aidennia below.
“Medical Commander,” an unexpected, disembodied page intoned over the still airwaves.
“There’s a planet to orbit call coming through for you.”
“Fine. I will take it here.”
The stylized blue-and-white ovals of the Spacecorps logo flashed holographically off a communication set. A dark-haired female holograph, an avatar of the real person making the summons, coalesced into view. The similarities between the two females were undeniable. Broad smiling features caused Dara’s voice to fill with emotion, her features melting into sudden recognition.
“Aspera!” Dara gasped, excitedly.
“I know your life is anything but normal right now, but I just had to say one last farewell.”
Feelings of euphoria swept repeatedly over Dara as she spoke without turning her eyes from the miniaturized figure on the holo-emitter. “I welcome any communication from you.”
“How are you doing?”
The female holograph laughed warmly, flashing a set of perfectly formed white teeth. The sound fell on ears that were eager to hear such a resonance.
“You would not be you without being that.” Aspera smiled. “You have much responsibility on your shoulders being peret of the vanguard for generations of clans to come. The first settlers on a new world where unlimited food and water will be the birthright for all…”
“You’re quoting incentive simulations.”
“Well, it is true. Regardless of the stature you have been elevated to by Spacecorps,” her smile broadened more. “You will always be my little sister.”
“A title I will always be proud to have…”
Dara was cut off as another controller announcement echoed throughout the towering launch apparatus.
“This is Spacecorps Launch Control,” he said. “Complete close-out preparations. Check command-apse switch configurations. Complete inertial measurement unit preflight alignments. Transition onboard computers to launch configuration. Start fuel cell thermal conditioning. Close vent valves. Transition backup flight system to launch configuration.’
“Sounds busy up there,” Aspera mused, undeterred.
Dara nodded. “Never-ending.”
“Are you alone?”
“Where are the others?”
“Capel’s attending a mission commanders final briefing. The children are completing their concluding physicals with the other Pod crews, so I am just…”
“Seeking some solace before the launch.”
“You know me too well.”
Aspera hesitated, wanting to be near her sister, to soothe, to remind, to strengthen familial bonds. Another female would, perhaps, have flushed a little, she did not. Her face grew urgent. Meeting her younger sibling’s eyes, she said, steadily, “Then I best let you get to it.” She paused, more from emotion than for dramatic effect; she fought back sudden tears. Finally, she added, “Always know you are loved.”
There was another hesitation. A non-verbal exchange. The secret language between siblings.
“Are you more at peace with your decision?” Aspera asked.
“About the children?”
Aspera simply nodded.
“Capel and I have lived a good part of our lives,” Dara waxed. “The children are just starting out. If someone should be apart of this colonization effort, it should be Capel and me…”
“Do you remember when you were discussing your plans for the space flight? You could not decide whether you had the right to bring Moela, Retho, and Lunon along.”
“Yes. I remember.”
“Do you regret your decision?”
“You want the truth?”
“Well, not knowing how long we can last out there…” Dara stifled a sob. “They deserve something more than that.”
“Having them with you …Is that what you want?”
“Yes.” Dara regained her composure, adding, “I suppose so.”
“They are degreed and qualified.”
The two siblings gazed at each other. Dara closed her eyes to show how she felt. Their bodies yearned across the void to reach each other, but they remained motionless. Aspera clenched her teeth.
“Until we meet again.”
Dara drew in her breath. Her voice was cracked with emotion as she replied, “Until then.”
Aspera sighed as she and her smile disappeared.
Born in the Midwest, raised in the Northeast, E. Robert Dunn began writing at the age of 14 and continued through his higher education in the Southeast where he currently resides. In addition to penning the science fiction series “Echelon’s End”, E. Robert has also written two off-Broadway plays, “LipSync” and “A Dragged Out Haunting”, and solo-penned the short-play entitled “VOiCES”. Additional works include, “The World We Live In”, The Life Of Another”, and “Are You Happy?”.
Robert was a contributing writer to the online STAR TREK: Odyssey’s Season One Finale webisode [featured in STARLOG Magazine, January 2008, “Beyond Hidden Frontiers”, p.89]. E. Robert has become a regular at SuperCon events on panels and participating in book signings/readings.
Besides being a produced playwright and published author, E. Robert has had articles printed in local newspapers as well as medical newsletters. He has also graced many a stage by his given name: Eston Dunn. He is the founder of the nonprofit organization artsUnited, Inc. A recent project is founding another non-profit online webcasting charity to educate while entertain through programs that unite those that are separated by the walls of stereotyping, prejudice, and bigotry (www.watchoutweb.org).
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