by Mark Bonica
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Dr. James Driscoll, a specialist in extremophiles, departs on the spaceship Demeter for an interstellar terraforming mission. The ship crashes wide of its target on the barren planet RO-5, and Driscoll is the sole survivor.
In the months that follow, Driscoll learns that he is not alone, for the goddess Demeter has a daughter, Persephone. The two are marooned on the planet they now call “Rogue,” and their spiral through time, space and Persephone’s programming leads them to the discovery of their ultimate purpose.
7: FPP Year 820, 180 days post-crash
“If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make any noise? Does it? Hmmm...?”
“I believe what you are feeling now is the combined effects of post-euphoria, excess alcohol, and isolation. Perhaps you should try to get some sleep now.”
“Sleep? Now? My fine tin-and-plastic friend, you must be kidding. We’ve just seen the fruition of the fruit of my fruity little brain.” He tapped the side of his head and stumbled to his feet. “For all the good it’s going to do me.”
He was holding the canteen around its narrow neck, the straw that attached it to his environmental suit extended and open. He raised the straw to his lips and dragged on it, then jerked his head back, his face grimacing. His whole body shivered at the horrible taste of the liquid. It had taken him a few days of engineering in the lab, but he had modified some of the anaerobic bacteria to convert sugars into alcohol.
On Earth it would have been simple. Here, without the raw materials — namely yeast cells — it was a bit more complicated. As far as he was concerned, it was the second minor miracle since his life had come to a crashing halt — he chuckled as he made this observation in an alcohol-induced haze — the first being what he was celebrating tonight.
“Dr. Driscoll, you have successfully initiated the project which you were sent here to perform, despite the fact that we landed far from any of the high-potential sites that were spotted prior to atmospheric entry, and despite the fact that much of our equipment was destroyed in the crash. In addition, if all goes well, it may be possible to harvest the wastes generated by your bacterial colonies. This would give you a new source of materials for the recycler. You should be—”
“Forget that,” Driscoll replied, stumbling across the lab and out into the secondary control cabin. He collapsed into the captain’s seat. A dribble ran from the corner of his mouth and dropped onto his chest, completely unnoticed. “So — have I started eating them yet?”
“The bio-matter that was once the bodies of the rest of the flight crew has been mixed with the other materials in the recycler. I cannot say specifically whether any portion of the food you have consumed since then has been derived from their—”
“Those about to be eaten for breakfast, we salute you!” Driscoll howled, standing up and raising his right hand to his eyebrow in mock salute, before dropping back to the seat. He laughed at his own irony. There was no one to join him.
“Computer — show me a space shot of Earth — center on Florida.”
Around him the bare gray plastic walls suddenly disappeared. In their place was the blackness of space, penetrated by the piercing stares of stars. In the midst of the holographic projection appeared the Earth. The image was so vivid he felt he could reach his hands out and hug the small planet.
Instead he threw his canteen through it. He heard the hollow thunk as it disappeared through the image, struck the wall behind it, and then bounced to the floor. It rolled to a stop somewhere thousands of kilometers of virtual space below his vision.
“Show me the Gates of Heaven, as seen from New Heights observatory. Place Klein’s Wanderer at three quarters.”
The Earth and its accompanying stars disappeared, replaced by a new star system. To the left, almost out of sight on the “horizon” were three-quarters of a yellowish moon swaddled along its middle with a red streak that looked as if someone had slipped with a tube of color and then tried halfheartedly to wipe up the mess. The center of the display focused on five brilliant stars arranged in a roughly pentagonal shape, the highest one in an eerie blue haze.
“Gates of Heaven my ass,” guffawed Driscoll. “Where’s that damn bottle?” He dumped himself out of the chair and crawled into the image. His hands groped and found nothing. He reached too far, wobbled on his knees, then fell to the floor. His fingers continued to probe for a time, then stopped.
As he lay still, he mumbled one word: “Alone.” Then he snored as his spittle formed a small pool on the plastic floor beneath his face.
The display disappeared and the cabin lights dimmed, the gray walls reflecting indirect shadows without meaning. After a time, the temperature in the cabin rose a few degrees, compensating for a lack of blankets and an excess of alcohol.
Outside the winds raged and tore at the ship. A tiny colony of bacteria ate sulfur molecules and ice; they excreted greenhouse gases that floated off into the barely existent atmosphere, thickening it drop by microscopic drop. They ate and excreted, ate and excreted; and slowly they reproduced, despite the terrifying cold of Rogue nights, the excruciating heat of Rogue days, and the seeming lack of comfort from anywhere.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Bonica