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Evening Star: Chapter Two


Note: The story herein is from the official site and should not be altered.

Old School Edit

After Kjell´s announcement, the afternoon turned into an ad-hoc, impromptu holiday, followed by an evening of sober, low-key enjoyment and festivity. Everybody drank and toasted and cheered, and said to each other “At last!” and “Finally!” and “Almost there!”…

… while thinking: But not there yet.

And trying, hard, and failing, not to think: and what if, when we arrive…?

Then kept loudly telling each other “Yay!” and “Yeah!” and “Hooray!”, as if to keep at bay some dark, murky doubts that, dormant for centuries, had just been shaken from their slumber.

Few slept well that night.

***

Next morning, the Mess Deck was ablaze with rumors and grumbles and bets on every possible outcome. A horde of groggy, grumpy crewmembers in dire need of their fix of xanthine alkaloid assaulted the Deck´s coffee dispensers, managing to drain them dry. Early birds like Ralf got their fill; cuddlers and cane-walkers like Letty and Thomas were left without, which did not improve their moods much. By the time two and a half centuries of routine got the Mnemosyne Team back on track, sitting around the oval table to get through their daily morning meeting, it was already close to midday.

The dark bags under her dark eyes made it quite clear that Noora was not among those who had slept well. She arrived to the meeting room bringing a large, steaming cup of coffee; apparently, the Heads Wardrobe´s supplies were still intact.

“So, people,” she said, her voice coarse, while taking a sip. “How are we doing this?”

“Split into three?” said Leticia. “Good luck lies in odd numbers, or so I´m told. Kurt and Karl take one clone, Thomas and me take another, young Puppy and Zhelya take the third. Sounds fair?”

They all nodded, except Noora.

“I want in,” she said. “If Danio goes with a hands-off approach, all the power to him. But his team has created lots of clones already…”

“Yeah… everybody in this room, for that matter…”

“… so it´s not like they are doing something radically new on their end. While for us here…” Noora trailed off.

“You can join us,” offered Kurt.

“Or any other couple,” said Leticia.

“I was thinking teaming up with Zhelya myself,” said Noora, “and Ralf making a threesome with Leticia and Thomas. That way we more or less keep the usual workgroups together. How does that sound?”

“I´m always glad Puppy´s with us,” Leticia said. “Plus, as I´ve said… odd numbers, good luck.”

Ralf looked at Zhelya; she nodded in agreement.

“Ok by me,” he said.

“So that´s that, then,” said Noora. “I like Danio´s thinking: we humans are one part DNA, one part context, and lots of randomness on top. Let each team design its prototype´s memory layers any way they…”

“Prototype sounds a bit… I dunno,” said Kurt.

“Protoperson?” offered Karl.

“Protohumans?” said Zhelya.

“Not proto, but humans,” said Thomas. “That´s what they are. Even AJ called them `persons´ yesterday.”

“That´s what they will be,” said Leticia. “But only if this works all right.”

“It will.”

“We don´t know for certain.”

Noora raised her hands. “Any other options?”

“Frankies?”

“Golems?”

“Proteans?”

“C´mon guys… seriously. Do I hear anything better than Protohumans? Protohumans at one… Protohumans at two…”

“Let´s just think inside the box for once and call them Mnemosyne clones,” Ralf said. “Which is what they are.”

“Well…”

“Actually…”

“Not very original, but…”

“But true enough,” said Leticia. “That´s exactly what they are.”

Noora scanned their faces, saw no opposition, banged an imaginary hammer against the oval table.

“Sold!” she said. “A bit of a mouthful, but we call them `Mnemosyne clones´ in all our reports. Now, where were we…?”

Thomas quoted: “Each team designs its own Mnemosyne clone´s memory layers…”

“Yes, thanks,” Noora said. “We take a clue from the Cloners: no communication between ourselves, to avoid groupthinking and to encourage blind testing; in short, layer them however you damn well please. Questions?”

Karl and Ralf raised their hands; Noora pointed at Karl.

“We get to choose his or her name, right?”

“Of course! We have to: naming is creating.”

“Maybe it is,” said Thomas. “But since we will grow free-willed entities… shouldn´t we let them choose their own names?”

“No,” said Noora. “We´ve been over this: the first thing we want popping into their probably confused minds is something they can hold on to; a lighthouse in the storm, something that tells them who they are. And that´s exactly what a name is.”

“Besides,” said Kurt, “none of us here got to choose our own names, now did we?”

“And, most important,” said Karl, “it gives us a unique piece of information to test; if when they wake up they don´t know the name we´ve given them, then we´ve obviously done something wrong.”

Leticia was about to say something, probably siding with Thomas, but Noora cut her off. “Sold. Give them a name. Yours to choose, but do make sure it´s imprinted in every layer.”

“Anything we want?”

“Just keep away from Adam, Eve, and anything that may sound like we took it from a holy book´s first page. Oh, and no Rosa, either.”

The team looked at her.

“Captain Kjell had a kitten once, back on Terra,” Noora said. “Rosa was its name.”

Giggles, winks and whispers.

“Pray tell, dear,” said Leticia, “how would you know such a thing?”

Noora smiled and said nothing; she nodded at Ralf.

“Do we know if we get a boy or a girl?” he asked. “And how do we choose who gets each clone, anyway?”

“Glad you asked!” Noora said, and put three drinking straws over the table, already cut to different lengths.

“Wow,” said Leticia. “You are really going old school, dear.”

Noora turned her back on them, shuffled, then faced the Mnemosyne Team. “We are creating humans from scratch,” she said, offering the three straws neatly tucked in her hand. “What could possibly be oldschooler than that?”

***

Kurt and Karl draw the first one: they got shortest.

“Male,” Noora told them. “Danio said shortest will be male.”

They both seemed delighted. “We´ll call him Faye,” said Kurt.

“Wow,” said Leticia. “You have already thought that up?”

“Long night, last night,” said Karl. “None of us could sleep.”

“Heh,” sighed Leticia. “Yeah, in that you´re totally right. What would you have called her if she was a she?”

“Laura,” said Kurt. “That´s right,” Karl said.

“Not bad,” said Leticia. She reached and took the second straw: longest one.

“It´s a boy too,” said Noora. “Which means,” she handed Zhelya the middle straw, “that we get the girl, girl.”

“Yay!” said Zhelya. “Never one to play with dolls, me, but I think I´ll enjoy playing with this one.”

“They are not dolls,” grumbled Leticia, menacing Zhelya with her long straw.

“Figure of speech,” said Zhelya.

“Yeah, I figured,” said Letty, “but still: they are not.”

“Girls,” Noora said, “c´mon.”

Ralf and Kurt raised hands.

“Yeah, Ralf?”

“What´s next? To our labs and commence layering?”

“Great minds think alike,” said Kurt. “Was going to ask that.”

“Actually,” said Noora, “now that our teams are set, there is another Department we need to coordinate with before we ask Danio to start baking.”

“Amanda Byrnes and her Med crew?”

“Nope,” said Noora. “Well, yes; we´ll have to talk to them too, eventually, to make sure our kids are all right, but right now…”

“Hope you are not thinking about Tomison and his psygang,” snorted Leticia.

“Hell no!” said Kurt. “I want them as far as possible from Faye.”

“Guys, please?” said Noora. “Let me finish a sentence, just once?”

Leticia waved her hand as if saying: “sure, dear, go right ahead.”

“Taak,” Noora said.

“You mean Chief Taak?”

“As in, Security Chief Taak?”

“Yeah,” said Noora. “One and only Sec Chief in town.”

“Why?”

“What da heck for?”

“Do we need a lawyer?”

“Do we need an alibi?”

“It´s not us, guys,” said Thomas. “It´s them.”

“Them who, Tommy dear?”

“The psychos,” said Thomas.

“Didn´t you hear?” said Kurt. “Noora has just told us that we are not meeting Tomison´s mindmongers, not yet.”

“Not those Psychos,” Thomas said. “The other psychos.”

All save Noora looked at him as if he had turned mad.

He said: “Am I right, boss?”

“Thomas´ right,” said Noora. “It´s about the psychotic axe-murdering serial killers we are about to set loose on Taak´s ship.”

“What!?”

“No way…!”

“Does he really think we could…!?”

“Can we be sure?” Noora said. “As in, one hundred percent?”

“Aw, c´mon…”

“It´s not like…”

“More to the point,” Noora said, “can you convince Taak of that?”

A collective sigh filled the Mnemosyne meeting room.

“Yeah…”

“Cold day in Hell…”

“… in mid-summer…”

“… at midday, no clouds…”

“All right,” said Thomas, “let´s come full circle to your first question, Noora: how do we do this?”

Noora checked her notes. “Long straw,” she said, “have their meeting at three. They´ll go to your lab.”

“Who?”

“Decroux and Souza.”

“Yaco and Zedkay…” said Thomas, glancing at Ralf.

“Yep,” said Noora. “Taak said Zedkay requested to be assigned with Doctor Hounds, by name.”

Was Noora smirking?

“Why would she do that, Noora, dear?”

“Wouldn´t know. Taak said Zedkay mentioned something about us needing some code-redding on how to keep our hands steady. Does it make any sense to you?”

Yeah, she was smirking.

“It was nice working with you, Doctor Hounds the Fifth,” chuckled Thomas, patting Ralf on the shoulder. “See you in clone number Six.”

Ralf buried his face in his hands. “Aw, crap…” he said.

Praetorians Edit

The MnemoLab II-B was small and cramped even by Star standards: a stainless steel counter that served as multi-purpose table and desk; a maze of screens and workstations; a couple of plants, sitting on shelves against the metallic walls. As current junior team member it was Ralf´s duty to water them from time to time, but he had never bothered to find out which type of plants they were: green, and leafy, and never flowered.

Leticia and Thomas sat on their favorite stools, which didn´t require them much effort to get up from; Thomas kept both hands on the pommel of his shillelagh more for style than for balance. Ralf, as usual when young, preferred to lean against the stainless steel counter.

Leticia waved their long straw at the two Security officers. “So…” she said, “let´s talk about our psycho killer, shall we?”

Zedkay, standing straight with her hands behind her back, didn´t move a muscle; she had perfected the art of muting her body language, which made her every silence a menace.

Yaco´s smile was wide enough for them both. “Just basic precautions, Doctor Lopez,” he said. “You know us Secs: never sorry, always safe.” He had sprawled his long, wiry body on one of the stools and, with an elbow over the steel counter, seemed as if he was enjoying a drink in his favorite beach club.

“Yes, we know you Secs,” said Leticia. “And we know that unless an infraction has been committed, then what we do is none of your business.”

“Actually,” Yaco said, “if you really, really wanted to get into the fine print…”

“… which I have,” said Letty. “And even the nano-print is clear: Security has no right to act preemptively.”

“Unless there´s clear intention to transgress,” said Zedkay.

Leticia pointed around their cramped lab. “Feel free to look around,” she said. “Let us know if you find traces of mutiny hiding somewhere.”

Zedkay looked at one of the screens, right by Ralf. “What´s that?” she said.

Cautiously, Ralf said: “That’s the project we are currently discussing; the Mnemosyne clone.”

“Is that clone´s name in the Northern Star´s passenger list?”

“Of course not…” said Ralf.

“Then, according to onboard regulations,” Zedkay said, “that clone could be labeled as a stowaway.”

“What!?” said Leticia. “Are you out of your mind!?”

“Doctor Lopez: are you, or are you not, trying to provide transportation to someone who is not in the crewmembers´ list?”

“For the Star´s sake!” yelled Letty. “Of course he is not on the list! We haven´t even grown him yet!”

Thomas put a hand over Leticia´s shoulder. “Letty…”

“Don´t you Letty me, Thomas!” she said. “And don´t you even dare to suggest this makes sense!”

Yaco whispered something to Zedkay. She snorted, but said nothing more.

“Okay,” Yaco said. “Wrong foot.”

“Wrong!? How about ludicrous!?”

“Please, Doctor Lopez,” said Yaco, raising his hands. “It´s not like Lieutenant Decroux or me have any saying in this, okay? We are just the messengers here. So, please, just hear me out?”

Leticia mumbled: “We don´t have time for this crap,” but Thomas said: “Of course, Yaco. Please.”

“Okay, here is the issue,” Yaco said. “Chief Taak could, if he wanted to, press the stowaway issue. But of course he won´t, because there won´t be any need for it, right?”

“Of course not,” said Thomas.

“So,” said Yaco, “Let´s put it this way, then. Save for a few restricted areas, you guys can go to wherever you damn well please, right? This is a free ship, after all.”

“Aha…”

“Well then, it will be exactly the same for… what´s his name, by the way?”

“Never mind,” Leticia said.

“Come on, Doctor Lopez…” smiled Yaco. “Please?”

“Haven´t decided yet,” she said. “Maybe Frank.”

“Are we…?” asked Ralf.

“No, Puppy,” said Leticia. “But let´s say we call him Frank, since Lieutenant Souza here seems to need a name for him.”

“Fine by me,” said Yaco. “Ok… Frank will have the same access as you; able to go wherever he pleases, just like you…”

“… but…?”

“… but it will so happen that, wherever he goes, he´ll have an angel on his shoulder.”

“You want to put a tracking chip on him?”

Zedkay snorted. She said: “He means he´ll be three steps behind your clone, always, and shadow him at all times…”

“You cannot be serious.”

“… until the psychiatrist in charge declares your clone suited for unsupervised interaction.”

Leticia´s eyes could not have been any wider. “I cannot believe I´m hearing this. Has some dark matter seeped into your brains?”

“Doctor Lopez… try to remember,” said Yaco. “How many psychotests did you have to endure back on Earth, before you were let onboard the Star? I don´t know about you, but I lost count: drawings and word association and a couple of brainscans, and then Rorschach ink blobs and session after session after damn unending session…”

“Yeah…” sighed Ralf.

“I remember well,” said Thomas. “I just kept seeing nothing but butterflies in those ink blobs, and for some reason Tomison found it moderately funny.”

“You can´t honestly tell me you´ve forgotten all about that, Doctor Lopez,” Yaco said. “Back at the island? When we were being screened to be let onboard the Star?”

Leticia grudgingly agreed: “Brainscans were a pain in the ass, yeah.”

“Well…” said Yaco, “Chief Taak requests the same for the new passengers, nothing more. Exactly what every human onboard had to go through.”

Leticia hissed: “Are you saying Gavin will not be human?”

“Who´s Gavin?”

“I mean Frank.”

“You tell me, Doctor Lopez,” Yaco said. “Will he?”

“Of course he will!”

“Excellent!” said Yaco. “So Gavin, I mean Frank, will just have to go through what we all went through. That´s all Chief Taak requests.”

Leticia shook her head and looked downwards, as if she couldn´t believe this conversation was actually happening.

Thomas said: “Ok… Sounds fair enough.”

“Only exception being,” Ralf said, “that before the Psychos let him free, you will stick with our clone at all times. Correct?”

“That´s right,” said Yaco.

“And prevent him from murdering anybody…” grumbled Leticia, “lest he starts a body part collection in some fridge.”

Yaco smiled and shrugged, as if saying “gotta do what I gotta do.”

“And you´ll leave him alone when his Psycho says so?” said Ralf.

“The instant he says so,” smiled Yaco. “Not a second later. Hey, just to sweeten the deal, I´ll throw in all the training your boy can put up with. If he wants to, of course.”

“You mean at the gym?”

“Yeah,” said Yaco. “I mean the physical routine everybody should follow after being cloned. You know… the one carefully designed and specifically tailored by Doctor Byrnes herself, to increase the agility, resistance and muscle mass of your newly cloned body?”

Ralf looked to the floor. “You mean, the training regime I should be following right now?”

“Yeah,” said Yaco, with a crooked grin. “That´s the one I´m talking about.”

“Heh,” Ralf said. “Now that you mention it, it does ring a bell…”

“Well… if your boy wants to, I´ll help him keep all those bells ringing. I mean, best way to stick by his side, right? Needless to say, you are welcome to join us, Doctor Hounds; I´m even willing to keep Doctor Byrnes out of the loop if you skip a few repetitions, or slow down the treadmill a bit.”

“Could you teach him some of your moves?” asked Thomas.

“To your boy? Yeah, sure!” said Yaco. “If you grow me a fighter, I can teach him to fight. I haven´t had a new student in almost two centuries, come to think of that, and Taak will sure love to have another punching ba… I mean, sparring partner, so why the hell no?”

Thomas and Ralf looked at Leticia. She gave in with a grunt.

Yaco smiled and rubbed his palms. “Excellent!” he said. “That´s settled, then. If there´s nothing else…”

“What is she gonna do?” asked Leticia, looking at Zedkay. “You follow and train our boy. What does she do?”

Zedkay glanced at one of the upper corners of the lab, where two walls and the ceiling met and where, known but unseen, the Sec cameras saw everything. She said: “I watch.”

Leticia scowled at her.

Zedkay said: “Do not worry. I´ll share with you your clone´s video feeds. It should be useful for your research, no?”

The two women stared at each other.

“Lieutenant,” said Yaco. “I believe Chief Taak was expecting us?”

“Please,” said Thomas, “do tell him the Mnemosyne team will comply with every Security policy. Oh, and of course, thank you for your training offer.”

“I will tell him,” smiled Yaco, “and it will be my pleasure. Shall we, Lieutenant?”

He held the lab´s door open for Zedkay. Right when she was about to leave she turned around, looked at Leticia as if she was performing target acquisition, and said: “See you.”

She exited the lab. Yaco gave Leticia an apologetic glance, shrugged, and quickly followed Zedkay out.

Midwives Edit

Leticia watched the door close after Yaco and Zedkay left their small lab, and waited for their muffled footsteps to vanish as they walked away.

“Damn that little French poodle,” she said. “Hope Danio botches her next clone.” Leaning on her quad cane, she shifted her weight over the stool.

“C´mon,” said Ralf. “It wasn´t that bad.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Considering that Zedkay has for now let you keep all your organs and members, I guess you could see it that way, yeah…”

“Hey, I did tell you,” said Ralf. “It´s my legendary, ruggedly handsome charm.”

Leticia hissed, but produced a wretched smirk.

“Okay,” said Thomas, “back to work.” Their long straw had found its way to his hands; he raised it high. “It´s a boy! So…”

“So!” said Leticia.

“So…” said Ralf. “Twelve layers?”

“Yes,” said Leticia. “That´s the optimal in our models, and I don´t want to test anything radical.”

“Do we mix…?”

They looked at each other.

“I´d say we stick to same gender for all layers,” say Thomas. “Less variables to track and worry about.”

“I agree,” said Ralf. “Plus, there´s no way we can bypass the Psychos; I don´t wanna give Tomison somebody with both an Oedipus and an Electra complex, without even having a mom or dad. Or our boy having flashbacks of his menarche or PMS; life will be confusing enough for him as it is.”

“All for, then,” said Leticia. “Twelve layered memories, and filtered to be all male. Do we go straight, or random, or…?”

“Straight, I guess…” said Thomas.

They looked at Ralf.

“Random,” he said.

“Ok,” she said, “twelve male memories, random orientation. Now, for the difficult part… doors: in or out?”

Thomas scratched his head with the long straw. “I´d rather be optimistic… don´t you?”

“I don´t know,” said Leticia. “It´s a very long shot.”

“C´mon, Letty… for once in your many lifetimes, can´t you just be…”

“I am what I am,” she said. “A scientist. We all are. We only factor hard facts when estimating the odds. And Tommy, dear… we don´t even know for sure if we´ll find life on Rhyldan.”

“The probes showed…”

“And even if there is,” Leticia raised her left fingers and counted: “Screwed up atmosphere. Or some super germ, some micro life form against which we may have no defenses. Or excessive radiation, or screwed up magnetic fields, or only the Dark knows what, and whatever is waiting on the other side of darkspace is no go for us. Or the complete opposite: it´s an Eden, but chock full of sons. Either case, we pack our things and leave, we hit the darkspace road again and then it´s… what? Another three centuries until Kykliff? And if Kykliff is not green either, then another couple hundred years until Radsch or Derdyef?”

“And what´s your plan, Letty? You want us to create yet another antisocial egghead who can spend all those centuries locked up inside this space-flying coffin?”

“Those are the odds…”

“Letty…” said Ralf. She looked at him; he said: “that´s not what we came here for. That´s not why we locked ourselves up in this… this space-flying tomb.” He pointed to the walls around them as if he was serving lifetime. “This is just a cocoon; a cocoon for us. But for them it would be a prison. Someday we´ll have to leave, Letty. Let´s build somebody for that day; somebody who can fly free and away from here.”

“And not just somebody”, said Thomas. “But the first; the first of a kind. It will not be just us and these new three; we´ll grow scores of them; they will be legion.”

“Rhyldan will be theirs, Letty,” insisted Ralf. “Our duty will be complete as soon as we set foot there and build the colony. That´s all we have to do. After that, we could just as well retire as the old geezers we are: just step aside and enjoy the show. It will be their job to build a new dawn for mankind; for us, Rhyldan will be our evening, our dusk.”

“May it be an evening star shines bright upon you…” Thomas hummed, like a prayer. “We walk a lonely road, oh how far we are from Home…”

“Yes! Exactly!” said Ralf. “We left Home behind and far, far away. We´ve traversed centuries surrounded by nothing but darkness, and that´s what we are: pale, agoraphobic nerds locked up in our flying coffin… that´s who we are, we were cherry-picked that way, and don´t get me wrong, Letty: very few could have endured this, yet we did. But night is just about to be overcome. The sun will rise, Letty! And it will shine on wide plains and tall mountains and endless seas, and that´s what they will call home! Let´s grow somebody who is up to the task, Letty; let´s grow somebody who will be the first of his kind, ready to explore the unknown, and then let´s grow thousands like him, all of them ready to enjoy the sunlight.”

Thomas nodded gravely.

Leticia stared at Ralf, then at Thomas.

“You sure?” she said. “If we cook the offspring of David Livingstone and Davy Crockett, and then we cannot go down to enjoy the oh-so-nice sunlight…”

“… then we will see,” said Thomas.

Ralf nodded eagerly.

Thomas smiled: “Come on, Letty,” he said. “You cannot fool us, after all this time. We came onboard, and we´ve made it this far; and that´s because deep inside, under our pale indoors geekness and fact-based empiricism, there´s a pathologically optimistic gambler who cannot stop betting on the long shot. Am I right?”

Letty couldn´t help chuckling.

The guys high-fived.

“We´ve got this,” said Ralf.

“Two against one is not exactly fair…” said Thomas.

“… but hey,” said Ralf, “the future of mankind is at stake!”

Leticia sighed. “All right, all right. I surrender! Very well. David Crockett-Stone it is. As I told Noora, there´s good luck in odd numbers; easier to break a tie. All male memories, random, as much outdoors experience as our algos can sift from our database. Anything else?”

“Well…” said Thomas, “perhaps we should also filter for honour, or loyalty, or somesuch?”

“That should please Taak and his Security boys,” said Ralf, pointing with his thumb towards one of the lab´s upper corners. “Better loyal comrade than loose cannonball.”

“I can live with that,” said Leticia. “I like loyalty in a man.”

“He should have a knack for weapons…” said Ralf.

“Sounds cool…” said Thomas.

“… and some martial arts background.”

“That should come in handy, yes… and Yaco did say he was willing to train him…”

“You boys wouldn´t be trying to compensate your nerdy pencil-necked manliness by growing a super-toy-soldier child, now would you?”

Ralf laughed. “We would be his parents, come to think of it… Bringing him to this whole brave new world and all…”

“Yeah,” said Leticia. “Just remember that the Cloners get to decide the size of our boy´s penis. Just so you know.”

“Well… you do have a point,” Ralf said. “Our boy´s parents would actually be Danio and his Cloners, right? We´d be more like his teachers…”

“Yep,” said Thomas, “that would be right.”

“Wrong,” said Leticia.

“Letty, dear,” Thomas said, “he will not be…”

“The cloners will just do nature´s work and mix up his DNA.” Leticia said. “It will be us who name him and nurture him. If he is somebody´s son, he is ours.”

Ralf and Thomas exchanged a quick glance, tacitly agreeing to move forward.

***

It took them the rest of the afternoon to choose and debate and agree on every other parameter.

> Primary filters: male, random, ample wilderness survival experience. Strong sense of loyalty.

> Secondary filters: weapons training, combat training, pathfinding.

> Tertiary: first aid, lab training.

“May come in handy,” Ralf said about the latter. “I mean, everybody will have to do a lot of research when we land…”

“If we land,” Leticia said.

“… and if we don´t, he won´t be completely useless up here; we could always use some help.”

The algorithms started sorting through the Mnemosyne database.

“So,” said Ralf.

Thomas said: “So…”

“So!” said Leticia. “While we let the algos sort and sift… green for me, Puppy, please?”

Ralf smiled. “Sure thing,” he said.

***

Ralf brought the tray to their small lab and laid the steaming cups over the stainless steel counter.

“Just got a message from Noora,” said Leticia.

“Who just got told by the Captain,” said Thomas. “Our ETA is rock-solid, and so is the green light for our pet project.”

Ralf nodded. “Eighty-nine days to go…”

They raised their cups for a toast.

“Please, Rhyldan, please: please be there…”

“… please, Rhyldan, please: please be inhabitable …”

“… and please, Rhyldan, please: please no signs of native sentience.”

They toasted.

They took a sip of their brews.

“Although one should always consider…” said Leticia.

“Yeah…” said Thomas. “Careful with what you wish for.”

“Things are about to change, in any case,” said Ralf. “Even if we have to pack and leave.”

“We still have to name him,” said Leticia.

“I thought we had agreed on Doctor Livingstone?”

“You cannot name him `Doctor´!”

“Why the hell not? It´s the most common first name onboard!”

“Letty…” asked Ralf, “when we were talking to Yaco… why did you call him Gavin?”

“I didn´t,” she said. “I called him Frank, just to throw a name in the conversation.”

Something in his peripheral vision caught Ralf´s attention: Thomas was gently waving the long straw. As Ralf looked at him, Thomas slowly shook his head.

“All right,” Ralf told Leticia, “never mind, then.”

Her hands squeezed her cane´s handle. “Actually…” she said. “We had… Before Launch, I mean, with Tommy; we had…”

She looked at Thomas. He tenderly grabbed her hand; she laid her head against his shoulder.

One of their screens flared and chimed softly. Ralf gladly took the chance to turn his back and give his friends a bit of quasi-privacy.

“Just so you know,” he said, looking at the rows and rows of numbers, “I think Gavin is a beautiful name.” He then began to double-check every parameter, slowly and methodically.

There was no sound in the room for a long while, save for the faint mechanical breathing of the air filters, the friction of Ralf´s fingertips against the screen as he scrolled the figures up and down, and the occasional muffled footsteps outside their lab as somebody walked down the corridor.

“It´s done,” he said. He turned around. “Filtered, sifted, sorted.”

Thomas and Letty nodded in agreement. Her hand was still in his.

They finished their cups of now cold coffee and tea.

“Very well,” she said. “We´re done here. Let´s go pay a visit to the Necros, tell them they can put our boy into the oven.” She grabbed her quad cane; Ralf helped her to her feet.

“I don´t think calling them Necros is entirely fair, now,” he said. “They are not bringing anybody back from the dead this time, are they?”

“It´s true… but if we start calling them `Lifegivers´ or `Creators´ or somesuch, I´m afraid it would be a bit too much for their crooked egos to handle.”

“Gynecologists?” offered Ralf.

Leticia shuddered. “The image of Danio Jenkins in such role is not one I´d like to keep in my head for long, Puppy dear.”

“White Storks?” said Thomas.

“Midwives?” said Ralf.

Thomas and Leticia laughed.

“Yeah!”

“That sounds about right, Puppy,” said Leticia. She grabbed Thomas´ arm. “Very well, my dears… Let´s go pay a visit to the merry midwives of Rhyldan.”



Next: Chapter#3, Gavin Feeds

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