by Mark Bonica
|Table of Contents|
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.
11: FPP Year 821
“So what’s it show?”
“Hey, take it easy, wild man. Give me a minute to do the analysis.”
“Come on, you overrated video game, what’s taking you so long?”
She lifted her eyes away from the dual optics she had been peering through and pretended to glare at him. “Keep your pants on, or I’ll depressurize this room so I can have some peace and quiet.”
“What’s this? Mutiny? Who’s the captain here?”
“Oh, you are. You most certainly are,” she replied wryly, looking back into the optics again.
“I thought so. Now hurry up.”
“Excellent. So what are the results?”
“The core sample you provided me with shows that the microbes have been actively processing the elements in the rock. It’s a slow process, but it seems to be working.”
“Yes!” A triumphant fist in the air.
“At this rate, it should take about a thousand years to have enough SF6 in the atmosphere to result in a significant stabilization of atmospheric temperatures.”
“Hey, that’s not too bad. And they said it just couldn’t be done. This calls for a toast.”
“Oh, must we? Remember the last time you celebrated? I was cleaning the stink out of the air filters for weeks.”
“But boy was it fun. The dancing girls, the old friends.”
“I remember the dancing girls. I hate running that program. It’s offensive to my feminine sensibilities. As for the old friends, I’m pretty sure it was just we two here, unless you are counting the microbes in the lab.”
“You’re just jealous. You just wish you could move like them.”
“Jealous? Me? You forget, they are spawned from my memory. Anything they can do, I can do better.”
“I’d like to see that.”
“Not on your life.”
“You mean you would violate the first directive in order to avoid dancing for me?”
“If your life were at stake, and the only way that I could save you was dancing, you mean would I?”
“You’d better kiss your sweet butt goodbye, captain.”
They laughed together.
“So tell me,” she said, standing up, stretching her arms towards the ceiling, “do you have a girl back on Earth, or somewhere?”
“A woman, you mean?”
“If it’s you we’re talking about, I’m sure my phrasing is more than apt, regardless of legal-age issues.”
He reclined in the other chair. “Yeah, I did, sort of. Wasn’t anything serious. She’s probably already forgotten about me.”
“I am going to get that drink,” he said, standing up and walking to his cabin. He came back with a bottle and poured a hefty belt into a beaker and began to sip. “She was okay, though. I think if maybe we had had more time, something could have come of it.”
“What was her name?”
“June. She was a researcher like me. Worked in a different section, but basically the same stuff — hardened microbes, etc.”
“Do you miss her?”
He turned away, chuckled, then said, “Yeah, you know it’s funny you bring it up. I was just thinking about her this morning on the way back with the core sample. Then that rogue twister popped up behind me and I was running all hell to get back. Hey — you know, that’s what we should name this dump — instead of RO-5. That’s so clinical, so — astrophysics-like. This place needs a real name — something that captures its rotten, untrustworthy soul. Rogue sounds good.”
“Yeah, not bad. It rings of its violence and unpredictability. I thought you were maybe a goner this morning.”
“To not being a goner this morning,” he said, and lifted the beaker and took a long swig.
“Don’t drink too much of that crud, Jim. You won’t be able to finish telling me about that young lady you were dating back on Earth.”
He rested the beaker on his right leg, fingers wrapped securely around it. “So, do I miss her? Yeah, I suppose I do. But there are so many things I miss, it’s hard to quantify them all and decide where they all fit in the big scheme of things. I suppose I miss touching her, holding her, that sort of thing. And of course the sex. That too. But mostly, I think I just miss waking up with her next to me. You know?”
“No, I don’t. But I know that’s something you mortals seem to crave.”
“Yeah, whatever. I suppose we would have stayed together. Then we would have done like everyone else: decide we’re in love, get married, pop out a couple of kids, then wake up one day and realize that we don’t love each other anymore and get a divorce and go our separate ways. It’s the way things go.”
“What?” he asked, sitting up, holding his drink a bit more stiffly.
“Nothing. No, don’t take it the wrong way, it’s just that you humans haven’t figured it out and it is so obvious.” She laughed again.
“What about love? What would you know about that?”
“More than you do, evidently, even if I have never suffered from that emotion myself. Let me tell you a secret that is eminently obvious, something I have gleaned from watching humans interact over the last half century.” She leaned forward, and despite himself, he did as well.
“Love is something you make. In the beginning it’s easy because your biology makes all kinds of excuses for you to do nice, thoughtful things for each other. But once that passes, you all think that you have suddenly fallen out of love. But love between humans requires constant action — it’s not a static force — you constantly have to nurture it. And if you do, it will always be there. If you don’t, it disappears.”
Jim relaxed back in the chair again. “I thought you were going to say something profound for a minute. That’s a bunch of psychobabble caca. Where’d you come up with all that?”
“I’ve been doing some reading. I’m well versed in human psychology, among other things. That, and I have had the opportunity to go on fifty years of long missions with mixed-sex crews, and I’ve seen the cycle more times than I’d like to admit. And I can always see it coming, yet they act as if they had no idea. But they do it to themselves. They choose not to be in love anymore by their own actions.”
“Psychobabble,” Jim sneered, taking another hit.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Bonica