Chapter 88: The Return of the Prodigal Sons Part 2

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 2

Beckett snored loudly on the crowded bed platform. Sharula sat up, unable to sleep from the racket Beckett was making and the cramped conditions of the bed platform. The ship’s rooms were not made for spacious accommodations, or double occupancy, so they suffered. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been as bad if Beckett hadn’t been a large Sartorian man, but he was, and even Sharula’s small size couldn’t sleep comfortably next to him in the left-over space.

She slipped out of bed with the silence of a prowling Sartorian. She drew on her bright green unitard, clipped on her utility belt and translator unit, and pulled a pair of soft footlings onto her bare feet. She crept out of the room as not to disturb the snoring Beckett, who was already disturbing all those in the adjoining compartments.

The ship was incredibly quiet. Most of the Yahnah were asleep, rearranging their sleep patterns so they would be awake when they broke into the planetary system around the star Mootathia.

Sharula went to the dome, the choicest spot in the entire ship for star gazing. The dome provided a 360 degree view of the surrounding stars, however, it would only accommodate three or four people. The dome was created to provide the navigational computer with direct visualization of the star patterns, not just the echoes received back from the sensor probes.

Sharula discovered that she was not the only who decided not to nap. Wind sat quietly in the center of the dome, his large silver eyes taking in the entire expanse of the heavens. Sharula sat behind him and put her back against his and her head against his head.

“It’s hard to believe this journey is almost over,” said Wind. “I keep thinking all of this is a dream, and I’m destined to wake up soon.”

“Why aren’t you asleep like the rest of them?” asked Sharula.

“I should ask you the same question,” said Wind. “However, you have always been different from the rest of us, so I am not surprised to find you here.”

“Why aren’t you looking at Mootathia?” she asked. Sharula was staring straight at the star which gave her home planet light. She, like all the other Yahnah, had been watching the blazing sun with great interest. Wind was not.

“Sometimes, where you have been is just as important as where you are going,” said Wind. “The future will come, unbidden, but I can control what is in my past.” He swept his arm across the great expanse. “All of those stars we have passed, all of them belong to my memory now. I may never leave Yahnae again, little Yahnah. I want to make sure I preserve every bit of this adventure into my memory.”

“Mootathia is a Klyth name,” said Sharula T’ai. She could not look back at the stars of her past the way Wind could. Her past was something she hoped to discard, not preserve. The future was all that mattered to her. “What do we call this star?”

Wind chuckled to himself. “To us, the star is call Kahnae. In the oldest of Yahnah language, kahnae means zero.”

“Zero?” exclaimed Sharula. “The star is what give Yahnae life. How can it be considered a zero?”

“Kahnae means zero, or center, or origin,” said Wind. “The star is the center of our solar system, so therefore it is given the place designation of kahnae.”

“And what does Yahnae mean? Is it something as dull as zero?”

“In the old language, new words were not created. The language was not pliable. Why do you think we are all named after things or attributes of nature? It’s a tradition which goes back to the old language, the rigid tongue. Yahnae, literally, means sixth. The rest of the planets in our solar system are similarly named-first through fifteenth, Mahnae to Rlahnae. Once we became a star-faring race, we discovered the universe was too complex to be described by our tongue, and we created a new language out of necessity. However, we are Yahnah, and we kept the spirit of the old language alive through how we name our children.”

“I did not know that,” admitted Sharula. “I named my daughter Twilight because I never heard of a Yahnah having a ‘proper’ name.”

“Only the oldest of us have had the opportunity to absorb the knowledge from one who spoke the old tongue. It is a beautiful sounding language,” said Wind, “but it is not very expressive.”

“So, the first expedition to the stars obliterated the old language. I wonder what pillar of Yahnah tradition will be blasted to bits with our return.” Sharula’s cat-like grin spread across her face. “I bet there was a woman like me driving the impetus of the new language.”

“There has never been a Yahnah woman quite like you,” said Wind.

#####

Sharula stared out of the translucent panel of the ship, looking out into the emptiness of space. She could almost feel the heat coming off Kahnae, radiating towards the planet of her origin, a planet she hoped was still in its orbit. Sharula didn’t know she had been holding her breath until she became dizzy from lack of oxygen. She exhaled, almost in unison, with the rest of the Yahnah. Everyone, with the exception of Cig was crammed into one of the viewing stations, gazing at Yahnae.

Beckett and the human men chose to watch from the smallest viewing area, but Dust and Sharula wanted to be with the others. Wind and Starshine were in the dome and had invited Sharula to join them, but she had declined. H’na went in her place which Sharula thought was more than fitting as H’na seemed to be more Yahnah than she did.

Sharula stood out from the sea of blue crowding the room. She had refused to convert to her ‘natural’ form, despite the persistence of her mother and several of the other elder Yahnah. She had rebraided her hair and restored the ornamentation. She wore a pair of matte black slicks on her legs and a bright orange tunic style top. Her utility belt cut across the middle of the shirt, accenting, rather than detracting, from the outfit. She had tied fluorescent pink strips around her left leg, but the right leg remained simply black. Uther had pronounced her a beautiful eyesore, but she and the human had never agreed on what constituted a pleasing color scheme.

Sharula was up against the cold viewing window, with her serene looking parents flanking her. Their blueness complemented her darkness, and they watched in anticipation for Yahnae to come into view.

“What if it’s still cloaked?” asked Mist. “How disappointing that would be.”

“Have faith,” said Night gently. “They know we are coming. Sharula’s friends should already be there.”

“There it is!” exclaimed a voice from the back.

Yahnae seemed to shimmer like a star in the viewing window. The planet was a cacophony of colors-a blue-green base with streaks of brown, yellow, and pink running through it. It was a warm, inviting planet.

She felt a wetness on her hand. She looked up and saw tears falling freely from Night’s silver eyes. He looked at his daughter and smiled broadly. “I have not seen that sight since we left here with the Ilotions. I did not think I would ever see it again.”

“It’s about time you got here,” boomed a voice over the public address system. Sharula turned her gaze from Yahnae to the holographic platform in the center of the room. She pushed her way to the sending platform and climbed up on it.

Mendota’s holographic image shimmered on the receiving platform. Sharula knew the imaging processor wasn’t of the highest quality, but she thought that Mendota had aged greatly since she had last seen him. He looked thinner and plainer than ever before.

“About fucking time!” laughed Mendota, the twinkle reappearing in his eyes. “I was beginning to think the navigational robot screwed up the transmission transfer.”

“It’s a bit crowded in here,” she said, waving her hand at the throng surrounding her. Mendota had no idea where the message was being transmitted from-he could only see what was on the sending platform. “All the Yahnah wanted to see the first images of Yahnae.”

“It’s nice to see you aren’t blue like the rest of them, T’ai. These are a nice people, but the blue thing is beginning to wear on my nerves.”

“They are probably thinking about dying the lot of you,” laughed Sharula. “Your pale skin is very disquieting to their tastes.”

“I’ve already given coordinates to Cig,” he said. “The Yahnah have maintained a landing platform for the ship on the planet’s surface. Of course, it hasn’t been used in a couple of millennia, so be prepared for a rough landing.”

“We’re landing? I thought we would have to put the ship in orbit and shuttle everyone down.”

“Apparently the Yahnah started cleaning up this old platform once the original group left, anticipating their return. Quality workmanship,” said Mendota appreciatively. “However, the structure is still very old, and I don’t know what kind of mechanics your people were in their heyday. Even with the best of everything, this platform is still ancient. I wouldn’t trust it any further than you would trust Keestra.”

Sharula scratched at her ear, wondering if she had truly heard a sad hitch in his voice when he said his sister’s name. “What are you advising, Mendota?” she asked.

“Personally, Sharula, I’d lock everyone down like a tunnel run. If the platform collapses, you’re going to need all the protection available to keep the casualty count down. Tunnel run lock-down is the best you can do.”

“How soon?” she asked. Her face drew into a frown, not liking the implications of Mendota’s friendly warning.

“Cig estimates landing in about two long cycles. He’s already jettisoned the excess fuel pods, so the ship is committed to landing on the surface, one way or another. I’d start locking them down now. See you when you get to the surface. Ending transmission.” Mendota’s image faded away, leaving Sharula alone in a sea of blue.

“Computer,” commanded Sharula. “I need to do a general address to the entire ship, navigation dome included.”

“System is ready,” stated the computer. “Speak when you are ready.”

“Attention, please,” said Sharula. “I realize what I’m about to ask of you will be difficult and disappointing, but I assure you that this is for the safety of all of us aboard. In two long cycles, we will be landing on the planet’s surface. I repeat-we will be landing on the planet’s surface, not establishing orbit and then shuttling down. As you know, it has been a very long time since the Yahnah have used their landing platforms, but they have maintained one for our use. In the interest of safety, however, I must ask that everyone go back to their cubicles and prepare as though we are making a jump tunnel run. We don’t have time to discuss or debate this. Please go directly to your cubicles and prepare for a tunnel run lock-down.”

Sharula stepped down from the platform and moved towards the exit, swept up in the tide of Yahnah also leaving the room. There were many things she disliked about her people, but she had to admit they knew when not to question authority.

Beckett caught up with her in the corridor. He slipped his arm through the crook of her arm and walked quickly with her through the passageway. “What was that all about?” he asked. Beckett, however, frequently questioned authority, as was the Sartorian way.

“Got a message from Mendota,” said Sharula. “He’s on the planet, and I’m assuming the others are as well. He says the Yahnah have maintained a landing platform. He thinks it is well constructed, but because of its age, he’s not sure how well it’s going to do when actually stressed. He suggested we all strap down to diminish the casualty count.”

“Used the word casualty, did he?”

“He did.”

“Shit,” muttered Beckett. “And we’re relying on the mechanical man to set this tub down. Any pilots among your people?”

“Glow knows the most about spacecraft. He’s been piloting ships since you were on the Third Colony. He’d know if there are any other good pilots.”

“You get strapped down,” Beckett instructed. “I’m going to find Starshine or Wind and have them help me track down Glow. If we’re going in for a rough landing, I want a real person in the cockpit instead of Cig, the Mechanical Nightmare.” He kissed the top of her head and ran back down the corridor.

Sharula turned and took a few steps in his direction. Beckett, anticipating her moves, turned around while still running and glowered at her. “I can handle this myself, Sharula. You just get yourself strapped down, and I’ll make sure we land safely.”

#####

“I know where we are going,” said Glow, his long blue fingers moving swiftly over the controls. “The landing platform is close to a large clearing, unless the Yahnah have taken up residence in that part since we’ve been gone. If the platform crumbles, we should be able to roll it onto the field without too much damage.”

“And if there is a settlement there?” asked Beckett.

“Then,” laughed Glow tightly, “we are, as your friend Sergei likes to say, fucked.”

“Are you sure there’s no way to disconnect him?” asked Beckett, pointing to Cig.

“Sorry,” said Glow. “He’s locked into the computer system. We disconnect him, we’ll shut down power to everything in this ship, and we’ll fall like a flaming stone from the sky. Best I can do is override him on the steering control. He’ll still control speed, pitch, velocity, but I will be able to guide it.”

“Are you sure you can handle this by yourself/” asked Beckett.

“I have always dreamed of piloting the Yahnah home,” said Glow. “I don’t want to share my dream with anyone else. Besides, this is a good ship. I won’t need anyone else.”

“Visual,” said Cig, starting the braking sequence.

Glow studied the landing site with great interest. “Computer, expand the visual field. I want to see what’s on all sides of the platform.”

The computer began to project magnified images of the areas surrounding the platform. “This is good,” said Glow. “No settlements of any kind. If the platform collapses, we’ll only have to deal with the ground.”

“Uh-oh,” said Glow, a moment later. “I think we’re going to have a little problem.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Beckett.

Glow pointed to one of the computer images. “The platform floor has a buckle to it. Probably visible only from above. We’re heavy on that side with the Mimas. The extra weight, plus the buckling could mean a complete collapse of the platform.”

“What if I got the Mimas out?” asked Beckett. “Open the port doors, and I’ll pilot the Mimas out of the hold and put it down in one of the clearings.”

“No atmosphere,” said Cig. “No power. The entire hold has been bypassed for the landing.”

“Can we make another approach and give it time to power up?” he asked.

Glow shook his head. “We don’t have enough fuel for another landing attempt. Cig jettisoned all the excess fuel pods instead of reserving one or two for just such an occasion as this.”

“How long to open the port doors?” asked Beckett.

“A few seconds,” said Glow. “Powering the doors is easy. Creating an atmosphere is what takes time.”

“Power up the doors,” said Beckett. “Do a remote start on the Mimas.”

“Can do,” said Glow. “Still not going to be able to get you an atmosphere.”

“I don’t need one,” said Beckett. “I’ll put on an environmental suit and pilot the Mimas out.”

“You’ve only got a limited supply of oxygen in the tank,” said Glow. “Even with a small ship like the Mimas, it’s going to take too much time to generate an atmosphere.”

“I’ll purge to native atmosphere once I descend to altitude,” said Beckett.

“One of my friends can transform into a Rolfi. He would consume much less oxygen than you,” said Glow.

“But can he pilot the Mimas?” asked Beckett.

“No,” Glow admitted.

“Then it’s a moot point,” said Beckett, leaving the cockpit.

“Cig, you heard the man,” sighed Glow. “Start the remote primary power-up of the Mimas and bring the power back on the doors.”

“Already done,” said the laconic Cig.


Submitted: September 14, 2021

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