Aphelion Issue 228, Volume 22
May 2018
 
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Atomic Star

by David Baresch




An atomic fright, an inferno’s might, radioactive bursts race to the sky, here the fury of a nuclear star, here a world of atomic power - it blisters, it blazes, it festers bright, an orb of gold, a ball of light, burning wild, and giving fight against the ever, ever, night.

And toxins spray, they billow and twist, they reach for the stars in fountains arrayed. Particles punch, gravity’s breached, protons break free - they stream away.

And a nuclear surge hurtles forth, wave after wave of light soars, and a mass of death nears the world, filling the night with auroras’ bright - this a blizzard to torch, this a blizzard to scorch, this a blizzard to waste the lands into seas of desert sands.

But high in the skies a barrier is met, an invisible cloak deflects the threat, the onslaught hits, the storm splits, and nuclear hail spirals away, it radiates out, lost in space, and an atomic flash slowly fades.

And far below the world awakes, unaware of the raid, unaware of being saved, and unaware of a shield, an ultra-violet shield - its name the ozone layer.

But in that early dawn, how did this halo form, how did it shroud a world defying nuclear fall?

Well… there is a story, and it is just a story, and it goes something like this…


2



Long, long, ago, in the blackest voids of space, a desert world turned in storms of toxic rain - here nothing thrived, here nothing survived, no ozone layer shielded, and rolling ball of hell writhed.

Then one day, on a solar coast, a tiny object glowed, it shone angelic gold, and closed in, nearer and nearer, and reached the arid world.

And soon a machine of ocean size passed over the world’s sky, casting a shadow, vast and wide, eclipsing the morning’s rise.

The vehicle droned, its engines slowed, it flowed to a gentle halt, and like a great tectonic plate it dimmed the light below.

And within the craft a crew sailed, a crew of a thousand-and-one, curiosity prevailed, visuals were hailed, and there below the travellers saw a barren lifeless globe.

Unknown to the world this wondrous sight had come from a far-off time, this floating disc, its elegant drift, it glided upon the solar tides, it sought new life, it sought new worlds, it sought new ways untold, and it bore a name, a famed name, this the star-craft ‘Tranquility…’


3
Mission Tranquility



“The Universe, a vast ocean of discovery, these are the data files of the SC Tranquility, its mission - Project Progress - to seek out alien enhancements, to learn new and improved ways of thought, to offer peace and goodwill to all encountered, and to help life progress as it has never progressed before!”


4



“Quartz,” said the craft’s Captain, JK Tiberius, sat in the command seat of the Tranquility, “what data are you getting from that planet below?”

Quartz looked into an array of dancing lights swirling on mists above his breathing console, “The environment is hostile captain, the world lacks natural defences.”

And nearby, the team of Flyers, guiding the giant machine, listened in.

"Elaborate."

“UV, sir,” answered Data Hologram Aer, “ultra-violet light, it’s saturating the world’s terrain.”

Captain Tiberius sat up, a gleam of interest shot out of his eyes. “What’s the rating on the UV scale?”

Multi-coloured of clouds information drifted around the Heart - the flight control center - an anatomical-like veins within the hologram lit up, electric blues, greens, and reds, glowed, and Aer keyed searches and swiped at the ghostly data using silent but powerful sound waves that emanated from her being.

“Surface UV exceeds 11, sir, established.”

"11? How bad is that?"

"Fatal, sir," said Officer Quartz.

"Devoid of life then?"

"Not quite, sir," said Aer. "I'm reading life-data."

“Life-data? What kind of life lives on a nuclear wasteland?”

“A very basic form…” said Quartz gazing into the luminous mists, “…microbial life.”

“Microbes… and how can these microbes survive in that hell-fire, pray tell?”

“Life exists on this planet only within the oceans sir,” said Aer, “established.”

“Water density is acting as a barrier captain,” said Quartz.

“Established? Aer?”

“Aye-aye sir, established, the sea-based microbes are protected from 82.075% of the harmful rays.”

The Captain’s eyes flared - a challenge formed, “DH Aer,” he said, “would land-life thrive on this world if it had an atmosphere?”

The hologram glowed and brightened, “it has the potential to sir. This is a habitable zone.”

"Meaning it's not too far from its sun, yes?"

"Yes, sir."

"Quartz, can it be done?"

"Using known molecular engineering, there is a possibility."

“Numbers,” the Captain raised his voice, “DH Aer, state the possibility of successful evolution.”

The machine pulsed, “There is a 31.7% chance of success sir, established.”

"Quartz, how?"

“The molecules need to be redesigned to feed on radioactive sunlight and to exhale oxygen as waste.”

“Photosynthesis, you mean photosynthesis, yes?”

“Yes sir, the oxygen waste from the microbes would pour into the atmosphere increasing breathable levels. However, it would take eons for land-life to evolve - and the evolution of intelligent life is no more than a hope.”

"And an ozone layer?"

“A possibility Captain, an ozone barrier would reduce most of the incinerating UV that is now striking the planet’s surface.”

"Aer, check for volcanic activity."

The hologram’s ‘veins,’ electrified in all the colours of the rainbow, data fired throughout the machine, “established Captain, eruptions are pumping water vapour skywards.”

"Water vapour...?"

“Approximately 95% of the volcanic emissions on the planet below read water vapour, sir, hence the oceans.”

“Another plus,” said the Captain, “Aer, check plate tectonics, and report.”

"Plate tectonics exist, Captain."

"Are they on the move?"

"Yes sir, established, sir."

“And tectonic fault lines act as drains for heavier toxic particles, right?”

Yes Captain,” said Aer, “gravity brings the particles back down and onto the terrain. Much of the poisonous volcanic emissions cascade through the fault lines and are trapped within the planet’s crust.”

“Thus making a good possibility of a breathable atmosphere…”

“That’s the difference between this planet and the red planet, sir,” said Quartz.

“You mean the last planet we passed?”

“Yes sir,” said Aer, “the fourth planet from this sun has no tectonic plates. Underground pressures erupt from one massive volcano, so poisonous gases do not drain away.”

“Exactly,” said Quartz, “on the sister planet deadly gases fill the atmosphere leaving a fog of hostile air.”

The Captain paused and thought, “What would be the next step to give this planet a nudge and a chance of becoming a home to land-life?”

“A molecular engineer would need to go down and into the ocean to collect and alter microbes, sir.”

"Hmmm...and the surface is a deathbed."

"Sir."

“The Brigante - molecular transference - would it be possible to throw a Line and sail molecules up from the seas and onto the Tranquillity?”

“Minus zero,” said DH Aer, “the microbes minute size, the density of the water, the disruptive effects of radiation, these would seriously hamper any such attempt.”

“Right… right… and… Quartz, who is the chief molecular engineer on-board?”

“That would be CME Cy Ano, Captain.”

“Chief Molecular Engineer Ano… hmm… Quartz… is it worth risking losing officers just to kick-start life down there?”

“Captain, intelligent life produces genius, genius has the potential to improve the lives of all, and genius has been known to come from the most unlikely parts of our worlds.”

“Yes… you are right Quartz… I once remember studying about a brilliant 12-year-old African slave boy who discovered how to pollinate vanilla orchids.”

“Yes indeed sir,” said Aer, “Edmond Albius, on the island of Reunion.”

“He was uneducated as such,” said Quartz, “but he succeeded where the highly educated minds of the day had failed, genius from an uneducated 12-year old slave boy.”

The Captain nodded. “And the universe needs to keep producing genius.”

“Yes sir,” said Quartz, “and to keep learning and progressing.”

“To risk the lives of a few crewmembers may have far greater benefits for the future than we can ever imagine,” mused the Captain.

“Yes,” said Quartz, “throughout our histories the few have given their lives for the many.”

“Winston Churchill,” said Aer, ‘Never… was so much owed by so many to so few,’.”

“Well, Tranquillity, we have a choice,” said the Captain, “do we fly on and let this planet crumble or do we risk the few for a potential greater good?”

“Captain,” said Quartz, “should CME Cy Ano agree to work on this mission then I am prepared to accompany her onto the planet’s surface.”

The Captain turned aside, his eyes cast downwards, “Thank you…” he weighed up the decision that he was about to make, to send two of his officers onto a world awash with radiation, and if things go wrong…

“Go and talk to her Quartz, make sure that she understands the gravity of such a mission and her right to decline.”

"Yes sir."


5



In her cabin, Cy Ano gathered her tools in nervous silence, her thoughts had fallen to the greatest of depths and weighed heavily on her, she had made a covenant, she would go onto the planet below, she would attempt to give land-life a chance, but had she agreed to put an end to her own life?

‘I’m a lab technician…’ she pondered, ‘this mission… the radiation… the dangers… will the morning come… tomorrow… and to know that there is no tomorrow… what does that feel like?’

Synapses flashed, the darkest of memories flared, the most unwanted of stream of images sparked through Cy Ano’s neurons – a friend - her smile - a friend who chose no tomorrow – Sakura – one who decided to leave – Sakura – one who took a leap of horror.

In the edgy loneliness of a walled cabin, Cy Ano remembered - Sakura...

“…Final ascent,” the elevator announced, “Floor-36 - Sky Floor, enjoy the views.”

The doors slid wide, Sakura stepped out, this her exit, here, a long empty corridor lay before her, few had business at these heights.

Her eyes bulged, they darted from left and right, “Where…?” she whispered, “The emergency exit…? Where…? There!”

She walked slowly forward, CCTV followed, and black, pointed, high-heeled shoes clattered noisily.

The escape door, she stood before it – gray, wide, metallic – she paused, looked down, second thoughts perhaps.

Her pale slim fingers, nails painted deep red, stroked the long silver dust covered release bar with … ‘Should she…?’ she pushed.

Sakura forced the rod downwards, locks sprang free, iron bolts hammered, buttresses struck, metallic screams raced out, she winced.

Echoes resounded, Sakura froze, echoes faded, echoes died, and quiet returned.

‘Had anyone heard – listen - no, no one had heard.’

She exhaled, shouldered into the flimsy metal – resistance, air-pressure – she pushed harder, the sheet of aluminium bowed and popped open – stale air rushed.

Sakura coughed, spluttered, reached for her mouth, here a threshold unused.

Cautiously, she palmed the door, it grated, opened wide, and an alien dimension met her eyes.

The stairwell - sparse, hard, barren – here, the roar of silence hissed, here a vacuum of nothingness pressed, here concrete reared most ugly, ‘Crash!!!’

High-pitched sound waves pierced through Sakura’s skull, she cowered, covered her ears, wave after wave screeched and thudded into the naked walls.

‘It’s just the door, Sakura,’ said an inner voice, ‘a panel of aluminium slamming shut, that’s all, it is nothing, walk on.’

She took the first rung, her pencil skirt restricted, a heel gave way, she fell, clawed, hit the handrail, pain shot through her forearm, tears filled her eyes.

“Why does nothing ever go right for me,” she asked herself, “why…?”

She forced the stiletto back into the shoe, clambered onto her feet, tested the heel, and stepped onwards - struggle, life a struggle to the very end.

The final stair, here stood the last physical barrier, a black wooden door, shadowed, unwelcoming, a coffin lid in another life perhaps, she pushed the rotting timber.

The door freed, wind snatched, the obstacle flew wide, it smashed into the outside wall, rattling and pounding as an onslaught of elements lashed.

Skylight rushed in, blinded, a gale tunnelled, her windpipe blocked, outside a crow flared, screaming and twitching, talons spread, claws pushed, and the hunter of corpses shrieked into the air – welcome to the roof of the city.

Fear, cold, Sakura held her hands to her neck for warmth, hunched her shoulders and battled on, this the riverbanks of her Rubicon.

And now there was just one more barrier to go, an organic one, could she go through with this, could she stop the voices and torments that grow in volume every tomorrow?

Memories of Sakura stormed like lightning through the skies of Cy Ano’s cranium, she envisioned last steps of one that she loved, and feared the coming hours when she too would feel death’s breath.

She left her cabin and neared the point of departure, the Dock. ‘A life of air-conditioned laboratories,’ she thought, ‘staring into petri dishes… but this assignment… a Rubicon.’

CME Cy Ano wished that today was tomorrow.


6



“Jet,” the Captain hailed the Chief Mechanic.

"Jet here, sir."

“Prepare the Brigante for two, Dr Quartz and CME Cy Ano are going down to that planet, they’re on their way to you now.”

“Is that wise Captain?” Jet queried, “That world is awash with radiation, it could disrupt the Brigante’s coordinates, there’s a possibility that we might not be able to sail the officers back up to the craft.”

“Both have been briefed, they are aware of the dangers, they have accepted the mission, do what you can - oh, and bring them back safely - that’s an order.”

The Chief Mechanic shook his head and sighed, “Aye, aye, captain, I’ll meet them at the Dock.”

Quartz and Cy Ano entered the Mapping Room, here their molecular structures were scanned, numbered, re-scanned, and triple scanned for molecular reconstruction accuracy, the officers were going to sail, their bodily cells would separate then stream at near speeds of light, on the planet below the cells would be re-mapped and reassemble into their original state.

“Quartz,” said First Medical Doctor Genna, “you’re taking a god dammed risk sailing down and into that hotpot of radiation.”

“We’re following orders Doctor,” said Quartz.

“Orders...” said Genna, “orders to fry in hell?”

“Dr Genna,” the First Science Officer ignored, “do you have are the anti-suits and medication prepared?”

“Yes, yes, everything’s ready, for what good it’ll do you,” and he fired a beam into the two crew members’ eyes, “that’ll stop radiation entering into the body too deeply, and the antis... they’ll give you about 90% protection, radioactive particles are tiny, they pass through most things, so get down there and get back up again ASAP, doctor’s orders.”

“Chief Mechanic,” said Quartz, “we’ll need to land as near to the ocean as possible, we need to get straight under the water to avoid high toxic doses.”

“I’ll do what I can,” said CM Jet, “but the extreme atomic levels might disrupt instruments… let’s hope...”

The two crew members entered into two tall slim tubes, Jet gave an order, voice recognition activated.

A heavy droning filled the Dock, two beams of deep blue light encompassed the officers, a pale inner-mist swirled, and seconds later, as if by magic, both of the SC Tranquillity scientists had cast off and disappeared.

On the planet below, two flashes of blue light flared, mapping processed, and the crew members’ cells reassembled into their biological forms.

The anti-suits burst into life, red lights flashed, alarms sounded, “Danger, danger, fatal levels of radiation,” warnings voiced, “evacuate this area immediately.”

Quartz depressed a button on his suit’s collar, “Jet, Jet, we’ve materialised in a deep crater, it’s swamped with nuclear particles, sail us out of here and onto the shore ASAP, over.”

"Repeat, repeat," said Jet.

“Jet, what’s going on,” Captain Tiberius hailed from the Heart.

“It’s the radiation sir, it’s interfering with the instruments.”

“Captain,” said First Hologram Aer, “I have contact, speakers on, sir.”

“Quartz, this is Tiberius, what’s going on down there, over?”

“We’re … deep crater sir, … need … sail out … area and quickly, o...”

“Comms are poor Quartz, Jet will get you out of there, hang on, out.”

“Jet,” shouted the Captain, “get the Brigante focused and sail them out of that pit and on to the ocean’s edge.”

“I’ll do what I can sir, it’s the high radioac...”

"Do it and do it now! Out."

"Aye aye, Captain," Jet sighed.


7



An alien crater on a cursed planet - shadowed, silent, ominous, here killing particles fall, stack, burn, here cliff faces tower, encircle, imprison, here a den of certain death.

Through their visors the stranded crew members glanced at each other, a seemingly crystal clear atmosphere surrounded them, an atmosphere that held a massive question mark.

“I have lock-on,” Jet transmitted.

“Go Jet go,” yelled the Captain, and a Capture Line delved into the crater.

“We see it,” cried Quartz and orange lights cascading from the stars darted and flickered around the cavernous depth, “guide it Jet, guide it.”

The lights drew together into two streams and fell on the crew members, “Locked!” shouted Jet.

"Go!" shouted the captain.

And the two crew members began to fade from sight, the Brigante was readying to set sail again, but radioactive particles had other ideas, they swarmed and smashed into the Line, atoms ricocheted, the Line dispersed and the ray of hope faded.

“Cast off aborted,” machine-life calmly announced.

Quartz and Cy Ano’s molecules were reset, alarms and red lights warned again, and the two astronauts found themselves standing in the same deep crater.

“Jet, what happened?” shouted the Captain.

“Radioactive interference sir…”

“Captain,” said Aer, “Dr Quartz’s location is near to the ocean, someone needs to go down there, haul them out of that hole, and get them underwater.”

“Conditions are too volatile FH.”

“Well… permission to be of assistance in the Dock sir.”

“Granted,” said the captain, “see what you can do.”

The Heart had fallen silent, Tranquillity’s engines throbbed, the Flyers, the crew, and the commanding officer were all deep in thought, their focus their two comrades, their friends.

“Hold the craft steady and in a geostationary orbit, right above the two crewmembers,” ordered the Captain.

“Aye aye, sir.”

Digital timepieces flipped slowly, long minutes passed, “Jet,” the Captain hailed the Chief Mechanic, “sail them up to the Tranquillity as soon as you get lock-on, our mission here is aborted, forget about the ocean, we don’t have the technology to undertake this kind of hope yet, sail them straight back here.”

“Aye, aye, Captain, we’re working on it.”

“Captain,” said Flyer Smith, “a blue response is pulsing on Aer’s console.”

“Check it out please Flyer.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” and Smith peered into the data, “sir, the Tranquillity has lost weight.”

“Lost weight? Details Smith.”

“Readings say 35.75 tonnes disappeared 11 minutes ago.”

“Disappeared? Flyer Akerus, take full steer control, Smith, find out what’s going on, and hail Aer, we need her back up here.”


8



The stranded crew members sat on sand covered rocks waiting, hoping, Cy Ano gazed at the bright circle of skylight far above, how small she felt, and the Tranquillity was up there too, somewhere, would Jet be able to get a Line down to them, and if not... come tomorrow, what…?

…Sakura gazed up from the rooftop, ‘the sky, so vast, how small I am, how unimportant I am, to others I am nothing.’

She walked slowly on that shivering, sodden, asphalt roof, a puddle, she stepped aside - her Jimmy Choo’s unsoiled.

The inner-voices increased their volume, they rankled, urged, protested, how to silence those tormenting voices?

The precipice – here she rested her palms, the stone damp, she leaned forward, looked down – dizzying - could she go through with this?

Far, far, below vehicles glided over strips of tarmac - tarred canals flowing through a valley of towers.

Crowds made their ways to-and-fro, carefully avoiding contact with one another, they pounded the solid concrete slabs, ‘so many,’ she thought, ‘why had life made so many?’

She sat on the capstone, with care she swung her legs over the edge, her feet dangled in empty space.

Gasping, she gripped onto the lip of the slimy bevelled-edge capstone behind her - a shock of icy wind blasted, her hair whipped, it slapped angrily across her face , the city heights, this, no place for a child of the world.

Fear and radiation crippled Cy Ano’s thoughts, ‘to burn without fire, to wither, to turn to dust, this, no place for a child of the world.

And in that blizzard of distress did Sakura take a last look out at that great thronging metropolis, her home, a glory, ‘which light is home?’

“Family, home,” the CME silently whispered, “which star is home?”


*****



“What are you thinking?” Quartz broke Cy Ano’s trance.

“Oh, er.. home, sir.”

"Me too."

“Perhaps that’s what we all think of in moments like this.”

“Yes, maybe.”

“Home,” Cy Ano said, “the farm, the horses, the quad-bikes, the delivery drones – family - what are they doing now, what are they thinking now?”

Quartz smiled, “agriculture, the countryside, did you study there?”

“Oh, no, no, sir, I studied in the city, there wasn’t any schooling in the farmlands, I started out in anatomy and went on to microbiology.”

"And how was it?"

“It was tough but fun too and I made some good friends in the dorm.”

"Your own room?"

“No, ah… I roomed with another girl… Japanese… a friend sir… er, Sakura.”

“Many fallings out?”

“No, not really, she was always pleasant, she loved gaining knowledge and helping others, she taught me some Japanese phrases and I learnt a few karate moves from her too, she was great to be with, we became close during that time.”

“Oh, and do you still keep in touch?”

“No… I… she… she fell from a building...”

"No!"

“… just 25-years old sir, such a short and wasted life.”

“I’m sorry to… er, an accident?”

Cy Ano looked down and shook her head, “No… er… do you know what sakura means sir?”

"No, I..."

"It means cherry blossom."

"A beautiful name."

"Yes, and perhaps foreboding too."

"Foreboding?"

“Yes sir, in springtime, in Japan, the winds are fierce, the blossom blooms, its colour stuns, but within a few days it is ripped from the trees and falls like snow, it hits the ground, carpets the streets, and there it withers and dies.”

“Foreboding, Sakura, yes I… er… life ephemeral, as Japanese poetry says.”

“I’m sorry sir, erm… this isn’t an appropriate time too...”

“No, no, not at all, not…”

“Oh, err, and… er, how about you sir? Where did you study?”

Quartz smiled hoping to lighten their predicament, “Well this place here reminds me of my desert life. I trained in the desert before, have you ever done that kind of training?”

“No sir, I’ve only been to the northern continents, the global weather changes in the 60s drove us all to the far north and south… so, what’s desert life like?”

“Well it’s a constant sweat in the day and temperatures plummet at night, a coating of sand is always on your tongue, and it slides down your throat.”

"Yuck!"

“The grains find their way into your ears, your nose, your boots, everywhere, there’s no escape from it.”

“I don’t fancy that, sir.”

“Yes,” smiled Quartz, “it’s not the most pleasant of places.”

“What did you do there?”

“Mostly extreme terrain training and guard duty.”

“Guard duty, ahh, I’ve done that before and hated it, what’s it like in the desert?”

“Well, we would lie-low, belly down, scanning the terrain, and mostly things were incredibly still, quiet, and sleepy, the occasional breeze would lift the top layer of sand and sends pale waves flowing across the terrain.”

“Well that sounds romantic.”

“Not when it stings your eyes, and when you move you find that the sand is entombing you, you have to haul yourself out of it.”

“I guess it’s almost without life there, yes?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question, I was once on guard duty, alone, watching over a stretch of desert, it was hot and draining so I squirmed deeper and deeper into the cooler ground, breezes blew, top-sand streamed, and, almost hidden, I peered out at the lifeless desert, then, a flicker of movement grabbed my attention.

A desert bug, coal black and glistening in the sunlight, stumbled by, I watched it clamber over small ridges of sand that were sizable mounds for the insect, as it traversed, its smooth black body titled this way and that, and like a jeep struggling over dunes, but then…” Quartz paused.

"But then sir...?"

“But then,” he said, “a sudden eruption of sand.”

“An eruption… what happened?”

“Yes, that is, err, was, the question, the eruption was small, about half-a-meter in height, I looked on, the dust slowly settled, and the bug had disappeared.”

“Was it a gunshot, sir?”

“No, it wasn’t a bullet, it was something else - something was there, something invisible.”

"Invisible?"

“Well, almost, so I fixed my gaze on to that mysterious vanishing point, about an hour of stillness passed and I continued to observe.”

“That’s the scientist in you sir.”

“Hmm…well… I watched, I waited, and then finally a fly landed about a meter away from the point of detonation.

The insect explored, it turned from left to right, stopped, rubbed its two front legs together, seemingly it searched.”

“Food perhaps?”

“Most likely, then the insect neared the vanishing point, I kept my eyes wide, curiosity blazed, the fly edged nearer and nearer when, splash, a spray of sand shot into the air, a trapdoor spider leapt out from its underground lair, within a blur of time it had grabbed the unsuspecting insect – vice-like.

"The fly bulged – stunned, it arched, its reactions slowed, and within a second it had been dragged under the ground and into the horror of the spider’s den.”

“Wow, if I’m reborn again as a desert creature I want to be a trapdoor spider.”

“Reborn again?” Quartz gave a wry smile, “That’s just a few decades away, but in the desert, and as a trapdoor spider, perhaps not.”

"Why not?"

“Well, my story isn’t finished. Breezes blew, the terrain smoothed, drifting sands caked onto my sweat soaked skin, and the weight of drowsiness provoked, but I resisted.

"Another hour of nothingness passed when a buzzing sound broke the quiet, I looked up, a wasp, it hovered near to the trapdoor’s lair, I awaited the next shock of nature.”

“Well, it certainly seemed to be a good day for the trapdoor.”

“Not quite, an amazing and unexpected scene was about to unfold before me, the wasp hovered above the vanishing point but there was no flash of sand, the trapdoor lay dormant, ‘Why didn’t it attack?’ I asked myself.

"Then the wasp landed right on top of the lair, but nothing happened, the spider’s lack of action intensified my interest.

"The wasp took to the air again and using its legs it began pulling at the trapdoor, the spider resisted, but the wasp was the stronger, soon the trapdoor had been dragged out and onto the desert floor, it kicked wildly, sand flew, the wasp buzzed loudly and finally toppled the spider onto its back.

"With great swiftness the winged insect landed on the spider’s belly, held it down, and injected its sting deep into the trapdoor’s soft undercarriage.

"The spider hammered its legs into the sides of the assailant, but to no avail, the wasp stabbed with ferocity, venomous bursts flooded into its victim.

"The spider’s struggle slowed, and soon all movement froze, but the creature was not dead, merely paralysed.

"Then, to my shock, once the wasp had gained control, it proceeded to lay grubs onto the still breathing arachnid, and on that dry desert plane I witnessed a horror of nature.”

“What? Grubs? Why sir?”

“Soon the grubs would hatch, they would feed on spider meat for several days, and the trapdoor was still alive, the meat fresh, the wasp had given its offspring the best nutritional start to life, eating a live spider.”

“Oh, that’s disgusting.”

“It is a system of nature, would you still opt for the life of…”

A sound, something moved, impossible, something struck, impossible, Cy Ano screamed.


9



“Jet,” Captain Tiberius hailed the Chief Mechanic, “update, report.”

“The sun’s particles are playing havoc with the Brigante, Captain. We might have more success when the sun goes down.”

“Jet, we need to pull them out of there ASAP. Do not think about waiting for night to come.”

“Of course not sir.”

“Next update in 12-minutes and every 12-mimutes after that.”

"Sir."

“Captain,” said Flyer Smith, “data update.”

"Report, Flyer."

“The loss of weight is equivalent to that of an ark sir.”

“An ark… a shuttle craft… what the…? Smith, get down to the Quay and check it out.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“And if you see Aer tell her get to back to her station, she’s needed on the data.”

"Sir."

More lights flashed from the hologram’s console indicating activity on the planet’s surface.

“What the hell is going on down there?” Captain Tiberius questioned to no one.

All the Brigante’s attempts to secure a Line to the science officers were failing, a sense of helplessness permeated the throughout the Tranquillity, were two valuable crew members about to be lost?


10



“Snake!” Cy Ano screamed.

“No, a rope?” Quartz looked up, bright sunlight blinded his vision.

“Grab it,” shouted a voice speaking in perfect late 21st century English, “climb up!”

A bemused Quartz and Cy Ano looked at each other, “Stay here, I’ll check it out,” said Quartz.

“This isn’t the 2020s, sir, I’ll go first,” and Cy Ano grabbed the rope her hope and strength renewed.

“I see, ladies first - the 2020s.”


*****



“Aer,” the Captain bellowed over the star-craft’s speakers, “get back to the Heart now, your console is glowing with activity from that planet below, we need the data read, get up here now!”

The commanding officer paused and took a breath, “Flyer Akerus, set the flight path to automatic and see if you can you make anything of the data.”

“Aye aye sir.”

Akerus stared into the mists of information, “I can make out two life forms on the planet’s surface sir, and that’s it.”

“Thank you Flyer, stay with Aer’s console until she returns.”

Cy Ano clambered up, shadow gave way to intense light, someone gripped her arm and hauled her onto the land.

Moments later Quartz appeared from the edge of the precipice, his vision adjusted to the solar rays and there he saw two shadowy figures, Cy Ano and Aer - behind them stood an ark.

“Established!” said Aer, and she momentarily faded and flickered as vast amounts of radiation smashed into her light particles, “quickly, into the ark, gamma-ray amour is activated, 81.7% protection.”

The two crew members ran, jumped into the craft, closed their eyes, breathed sighs of relief, and sheltered and rested.

Aer shimmered, brightened, and darkened, clearly damaged by radioactive exposure, “I’ll geeeet you back to the star craaaaft,” she said awkwardly.

“No,” said Cy Ano, “get me to that ocean’s side.”

“Data indicates thaaaat the Captain has abandooooned thiiis mission, plus you’ve allll-reee-dee been heavily exposed…”

“No, right now I have the chance to assist and create a new world, to help new life evolve, that is far too great an opportunity to turn down.”

“Goddess Cy Ano,” smiled Quartz.

“Sirrrr,” said Aer, “you are the commanding officer here, Iiiiii advise that we follow the Captain’s instructions and leeeeave this planet immediately, what are your orders siiir?”

Quartz looked down, thought for a second, and looked up again. “Let’s fight the deluge on beaches good hologram.”

“Aye… aye-aye sir.”

“And maintain comms silence, I don’t want us to be sailed out of here in the middle of potentially giving life to a planet.”

“Sir, established.”


*****



“Jet,” the Captain hailed the first mechanic, “anything in the way of communications with the officers?”

“Ay Captain, well kind of…”

“Kind of…? Explain mechanic, what are you saying?”

“There was a burst of static and a rattle of voices but nothing that the computers could make out.”

“Understood, keep trying.”

“Captain,” said Flyer Akerus.

“What is it?”

“Err, the life forms, Science Officer Quartz and Cy Ano, they’ve, um, moved.”

“Moved! How moved? Details Flyer.”

“They are 5km from their previous location.”

“5km? Are the readings accurate, interference?”

"I..."

Flyer Smith burst into the Heart, “Sir, one of the arks left the Quayside some 45-minutes ago.”

The Captain’s anger intensified, “what is going on here, and did you tell Aer to return to her watch?”

"No, I..."

“No! Well go and get her and bring her up here right now, I want her on that console!”

“Aye-aye sir,” and Smith hurried away.


*****



Quartz and Cy Ano raced towards the silver gleaming ocean that dazzled in a rain of starlight, they dived into the powerful oncoming rollers that crashed onto a seemingly endless shore, soon they were under the water and out of reach of most of the deadly protons, their suit alarms silenced, and they gazed at the alien under-world.

“Two life forms are in the sea Captain,” said Flyer Akerus.

“How did they do…?”

“Permission to take samples, Dr Quartz.”

“Granted, Chief Molecular Engineer.”

The search began, Cy filled lithium ion powered detector tubes with seawater, ‘red,’ the device indicated negative, and Quartz took the opportunity to go for a swim.

He drifted through the unsoiled waters as if in flight, ‘An entire ocean to one’s self,’ he thought, ‘why was that so thrilling, why could such remoteness, aloneness, and desolation be so exhilarating? Why do I feel so free, why do I feel that I never want to leave these wastelands?’

“Sir,” said Akerus, “there’s some kind of object beside the sea.”

Aer’s console crackled, “FH Aer to Tranquillity, arrrre you getting this, over?”

The Captain dashed to the console, “Aer, is that you?”

"Sir."

“Get back to your watch now, we need to track the officers below and help bring them back quickly and safely, and where have you been?”

The interference continued, “Thiiiis… FH Aer, hail… frrrrom… surface.”

“What? FH Aer are you telling me that you are on the planet’s surface, did you take an ark without authorisation?”

“Estaaaablished… Following orderrrrs, bringing them back safely.”

Tiberius let out a long sigh, paused, “First Hologram… do what you can… and get them back up here ASAP - then we will have words.” the Captain turned to the internal hailer, “FM Jet.”

“Here sir.”

“Dr Quartz, CME Cy Ano, and DH Aer will return to Tranquillity by ark.”

“By ark? DH Aer?”

“That’s what I said, locate that ark and be on stand-by, they might need assist.”

“Aye-aye Captain.”

Within the ocean a bright green light pulsed from the base of one of the test tubes, “Dr Quartz!” Both observed the pulsing glow from the seemingly empty vessel, “Magnify to visual,” said Quartz, tiny grains appeared, they grew to the size of marbles. The science officers looked on intensely.

“These molecules would be irradiated on the land,” said Cy.

“Can they be modified?”

“Their structure is simple sir, a basic form of life, modification shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Let’s get into the ark, you can work on them there. Aer, we’re coming up.”

The molecules were sealed in the container and the two Tranquillity crew members stepped onto land, but Aer was nowhere to be seen, puzzlement crossed their faces.

“Look sir!”

It looked like a fishing-net, it lay about 10-metres from the ark, red and green lights shimmered across the netting, a tennis-ball sized silver orb lay in the middle.

“It’s the remains of Aer,” said Quartz, “the radiation has torn her apart, you go into the ark and get working, I’ll gather her up.”

It was an awkward moment, how does one react when a machine, a friend, a saviour, dies?

Within a short time Cy reported success, “Doctor,” she said, “these cells now have the ability to feed on sunlight, that energy should help them to multiply, and their waste will be oxygen.”

“Good,” said Quartz, “photosynthesis, and after a very long period of time a breathable atmosphere may well exist.”

“Yes sir, and an ozone layer could form and protect the planet against most of the sun’s harmful rays.”

“The planet has tectonic plates,” said Quartz, “most of the poisonous volcanic gases will drain through the fault lines and bury themselves far below.”

“There is hope for this planet sir.”

"Hope, yes."

Quartz and Cy Ano left the ark, together they carried the container, in it was their covenant to this world, they scattered the molecules, smiled, and saw that it was good - a new world born from man and woman.


*****



Fuzzy visuals from the ark beamed into the Tranquillity’s Heart, “Quartz!” shouted a jubilant captain, “you’re alive! And Molecular Engineer Cy Ano…?”

“Fine and well sir, we’re in an ark, Aer rescued us from that pit.”

“FH Aer!!! When we’re through I want to have a word with that hologram.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible sir.”

“Wha…? You mean… she didn’t make it?”

“She didn’t make it sir.”

The Captain fell silent, after a long pause Quartz spoke, “Sir, with your permission we’ll return to the star craft using the ark, the craft and ourselves will need to be quarantined… Sir?”

“Err yes… yes Quartz… err make your way up. Ah… Flyer Akerus take FH Aer’s watch for now.”

"Sir."


*****



Quartz and Cy took a last look at the dusty world, they wondered how the same scene would look in a million, or 10-million years’, time – time - its vastness, it gave pause, such a blip in history is a single life.

“Back to duties officer,” said Quartz, Cy Ano nodded.

The First Science Officer engaged the ark’s power packs, alarms and warnings voiced, “Fatal error! Fatal error!”

“Tranquillity,” hailed Quartz, “the ark… multiple failures… radioactive particles… return… hampered.”

“Flyer Akerus,” said the Captain, “put that ark through to Mechanics.”

“Quartz, Jet here,” said the Chief Mechanic, “we’re with you, keep us updated, but comms are poor.”

The ark slowly rose to a height of 20-metres, there it violently titled, “Ark, G-15-4, go to manual with emergency back-up tracking,” Quartz ordered.

“Complied,” said the machine, “voice recognition equals First Science Officer Quartz, complied.”

Using the joy-stick Quartz levelled the craft, initiated boost, the craft rocketed skywards, G-forces locked the two crew members into their seats.

“Fatal error, fatal error, westward turn and descent to activate in 12-seconds… 11…”

“Jet,” Quartz groaned, “are you getting this?” and with effort he grabbed at a bag and awkwardly attached it onto his anti-suit.

“9… 8… 7…”

No reply came from the Chief Mechanic.

Algorithmic fears rampaged throughout Cy Ano’s being, “Time to go,” it was Sakura’s voice, “time is up!”

“6…”

Cy Ano grabbed at the armrests.

When is the right moment to go, when is the right moment to jump, and how is that timing reached?

“5…”

The ark shook with violence.

Muscles tensed, arms straightened, Sakura leant forward, and a body leapt into open space.

“4…”

“Cy Ano, we’ve lost control, I’m going to eject us, we’re on the edge of space, no parachutes at this height, do you understand, comply?”

Free-fall – the adrenalin, a heart almost exploding, a body unshackled, the rush, spinning, flailing, screaming past a blur of tower windows, this, the final journey.

The ark lurched portside, Cy Ano grimaced and gripped like she had never gripped before.

Was there still hope, perhaps she would survive, some have fallen from planes and walked away, miracles happen, was this a day of miracles?

“3…”

“Officer, do you comply?”

Sweat poured, weight rapidly shed.

“CME Cy Ano, do you comply?”

Did she pray?

“CME Comply!”

Did she think of loved ones?

“Comply… Doctor.”

“Brace! Brace! Brace!”

“2…”

“Fatal error! Fatal error!”

“1!”

The craft veered wildly and darted downwards, G-forces stretched and crushed.

“We’ll go now, the higher the better.”

“Fatal error! Fatal error!”

“Jet, Mechanics, we are ejecting, repeat we are ejecting in 3…”

“Brace! Brace! Brace!”

“2…”

“Fatal error! Fatal error!”

“1!”

They jettisoned.

The final thoughts… were there regrets, who did she damn, who did she forgive, and was there still hope?

The upper atmosphere, thin, dark, and cold, minus-60 - Cy Ano gazed at the planet’s curvature, a mass of land spread out far, far, below.

Falling, the speed, so high, it was both stunning and terrifying, the anti-suits had silenced, here a stratum without noise.

The last meters of life neared - death by height.

“Nice one Quartz, got ya.”

Balls of orange light encompassed the two falling beings, a massive bruising jolt halted their rapid descent, and seconds later the two crew members were reassembled and stood in the Brigante of the Star-Craft Tranquillity, alarms rang out, “Hazard! Hazard!!”

Jets of foam shot onto the two crew members and ballooned into airtight polythene balls, Quartz and Cy Ano, stepped forward within the contamination orbs and shuffled to quarantine, there their suits were removed, chemically cleaned, and jettisoned.

Monitoring began, after several days Dr Genna and his AI team gave the two the all clear, however the long term effects of their exploits would remain unknown.

Alone, in her cabin, Cy Ano recalled her near-death experience, she thought of her friend, Sakura, they now had a shared experience, but for very different reasons, and with very different outcomes.

And with Sakura it would always be, ‘why?’ a smart lady, a promising future, ‘why?’ The spring comes, the sakura stuns, a few days pass and the beauty falls, withers, and turns to dust.


*****



“Time to celebrate!” said Captain KJ Tiberius, stood on a rostrum in the Tranquillity’s great hall, Quartz and Cy Ano were positioned nearby and hundreds off-duty service crew cheered emphatically.

“But first, business, updates from sensors dropped onto the planet tell us that CME Cy Ano’s bacteria is alive and well…”

More cheers sounded, the Captain carried on regardless.

“…The molecules are taking in sunlight and exhaling oxygen, ladies and gentlemen we have photosynthesis!” another roar of celebration.

“In communications with the Astral Exploration Union (AEU), I suggested we that name the microbe, ‘The Goddess Molecule,’ but that was rejected for some reason.”

A murmur of laughter went around the hall.

“Oh really?” the Captain looked up, “and there was I thinking how creative I was being.”

The laughter increased.

“Well… the, perhaps, better news, is that the AEU has decided that the cell will be named, cyanobacteria.”

A long rapturous applause went up, the Captain clapped and gestured to Cy Ano, she stepped forward, bowed, straightened, and smiled.

“But, unfortunately,” said the Captain, “there is a downside to this success story, and that is of the loss of First Hologram Aer.

"Now… Aer… well, she decided to do things her own way, and without my permission, she ferried down to a planet awash with radioactive particles to recuse two of the Tranquillity’s team, regardless of her own safety, an incredible act of valour.”

Sombre applause.

“But for Aer it was a flight too far. We all know Aer as a hologram, but I prefer to think of her as an enhanced human, she had all of our attributes and more, and she gave her all to help save Science Officers Quartz and Cy Ano. I would have to say that Aer was human plus.”

Whooping, whistling, and cheering bellowed out from the crowd.

Tiberius looked up in surprise, these were cries of joy while he felt certain that his speech was one of dignified respect, this was not the reaction that he had expected, he gazed out the excited crowd, Quartz tapped him on his arm.

The Captain turned, the two science officers wore big grins, bewilderment encompassed Tiberius, then his two faithful companions stood back to reveal Aer.

“Aer,” said a shocked Captain, “it’s you?”

“Not quiet sir, I am 67.93% Aer.”

“What…?”

“Sir,” said Quartz, “I retrieved the netting and data orb from the deceased Aer and attached it to my anti during our escape from the planet, Cy Ano and myself set out to revive the lady who had saved our lives.”

“Yes,” said Aer, “I was badly damaged, I have lost a lot, but thanks to the science officers I am here and ready for duty, established.”

“First Hologram Aer, welcome back on board!”

Roars and cheers, and Aer glowed in brilliant streams of colour which radiated out from her sculptured curves.

“I am not all there yet, Captain,” said Aer, “but I’ll input digital captures of my previous self to try to be the FH Aer that you once knew.”

“Well… Aer,” said the Captain, “you certainly look all there to me!”

Laughter. Applause.

“And when you are ‘all there’ we need to have a word about disobedience...”

The crowd silenced.

“...and the success that risk taking can sometimes… sometimes… bring! And, to everyone here, I want to say, what a cruel joke this is to play on your captain.”

Laughter rang out.

“OK,” said the Captain, “it’s time to party, time to celebrate the Tranquillity’s achievements, let’s up music, ‘Beat Master,’ kick it off with ‘Best Partner,’ by Jasmine, that sounds appropriate, get that powerful Japanese lady’s voice rocking the Tranquillity!”

And the celebrations began…

“This is the Heart, Captain, flight course sir?”

“Err… flight course, err, yes, err, take us… erm… out there!”


Epilogue



Millions of years passed, and desert campfires burned on young world, a tribe sat around a mangled shape, chanting, the object of their attention was neither wood nor stone and the ancients marvelled at the mystery.

The artefact bore a name, ‘Ark G-15-4,’ the wise studied, imagined, and proffered answers, they declared the Ark to be sacred and so they taught.

The Ark had been placed by a far mightier power, it was a message from beyond this world, it was a sign from an almighty architect, follow the architect.

And this relic shaped the world, thousands upon thousands came to pray, they raised their arms skywards, unaware of the radiation that poured down from a blazing atomic star, and unaware of a halo, an ozone layer, that gave protection.

“The Universe, a vast ocean of uncharted discovery, these are the data files of the SC Tranquillity, the mission - Project Progress - to seek out alien enhancements, to learn new and improved ways of thought, to offer peace and goodwill to all encountered, and to help life progress as it has never progressed before!”


THE END


2017 David Baresch

Bio: Why Sci-Fi, why science? Well, I am one of the very few, and lucky, to have experienced a close encounter, and from that moment on I knew that extra-intelligence existed – and changes occurred. “I don’t remember you being that tall,” old acquaintances would say, and I became easily restless, bored, and frustrated at the slow pace of the world around me. I began to think in possibilities, I lost faith in answers, I began to approach everything with doubt. And I ask myself, ‘are these natural changes or did something else happen as a dark beam sped and passed through my being?’ Since that mysterious event I have followed alien sightings with interest. My disappointment is that I have never come across an encounter that is similar to my own, am I alone? I see Sci-Fi as either visions of a possible future, or writers influencing the future, or the future sending information back through time (this is a theory being considered from scientific observations of the ‘spooky’ atomic world). I see science as, ‘a constant endeavour to improve’. I see this as a worthy mantra for life, ‘a constant endeavour to improve!’ ‘Atomic Star’ is intended as Sci-Fi plus education. I would like to thank all who have shown interest, I hope there is something in the story for you, and I hope you will all, ‘Reach for the Stars!’

D. Baresch Author of ‘Tides of March’ (Amazon.com) Giving experience of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown). Writer of articles for ‘The Weekly Telegraph’ & ‘New Humanist’.

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