INTERSTELLER SPACE: UNKNOWN LOCATION
Ionarc, fourth Linker class cruiser of the United Martian Navy, lit the blackness of space with a trail of propulsion gases as it roared its course in great speed.
Captain Peterson sat atop the elevated command chair, which erected in the exact middle of the ship’s rounded bridge room. Bright light fell from the ceiling to add a sparkling glare to the white uniforms of naval officers that filled the room.
The silent humming of electronic circuits and monitors combined with the rapping of multiple fingers on control boards told how the ship and its crew integrated to become one. Captain Peterson was not an old man, but the wrinkle around his eyes would have convinced anyone that he was.
Fifty seven didn’t mean you were old...it just reminded you that you were past middle age. Besides that, Peterson was not the least interested in that Life-drug or elixir as some called it, that old men took these days.
A man like Peterson was always ready to face reality. That was what brought him this far. In the armed forces career practicality was the number one quality a leader needed to have. Which goes on to say that Captain Peterson did not believe in attempting the impossible, and didn’t believe in unnecessary heroics.
Why the rebels of the second Colony-wide war thirty years back lost to the united government was because they were utterly impractical. Peterson remembered one of the stupidest moves by the separatists; they had snuck in a five man team infantry through the rear craft-ports of Folcon dome, on a mission to assassinate the Prime Minister.
When Peterson heard of the move he could not believe how stupid the rebels were. Intelligent reports came in that they had trained those five men from the age of twelve fueling them with overdoses of Life-drug, which scientists claimed would give a young man the strength of two adults by the time he was all grown.
“A bullet’s a bullet, flesh is flesh, and bullet will rip flesh,” had been Peterson’s response when news of it reached his ear. Peterson being a mere petty officer at the time, and occupied with battles in the far eastern domes, had laughed and told his colleagues that the rebels were not going to get past the security doors of senate house 01.
Peterson had been right, “technically” because the rebels never used any of the doors but had stolen and crashed an aircraft into a section of the building and made in through there. Another thing Peterson had been right about was that they were all going to die, because they did “precisely.”
For those who didn’t believe in being practical, the thing had made Peterson a hero once again. His strategy had been very simple, if the Spacing Union had wasted so many years scouring the neighboring systems, painstakingly moving from planet to planet in search of a suitable habitation, all he had to do was make a blind jump to the farther uncharted star systems, touching only the first few planets in his path and moving on to the next system without wasting much time on a particular system.
All he did was come along and make some sense. How in the galaxy did the Spacing Union think it was going to find its planet following a search pattern? Peterson didn’t have to be told that such a thing could only come by mere luck. All he had to do was stretch his luck by reaching further into space. It was the most practical thing he could think of, and it paid off eventually. It took one thousand and five jumps in total, and two and the half straight years in space to locate Planet K-C56.
The mission was quite risk free; the only sacrifices Peterson and his men had offered in their effort was the idea of not indulging in the necessary one month break as other naval and MSU ships did. And also the Linker class was not a traveling ship but a war ship, and wasn’t designed to linger in space for such a long period.
He was on his way home, on his way to Mars with the most anticipated and colossal news of Humanity’s interstellar age. Now he was sure he would be promoted to Admiral of the UMN.
Captain Peterson Everson always liked a clean shave but the darkened shave marks were a telltale part of his lower face. His constantly sleepy eyes were completely contrast to the way Peterson’s mind worked.
“All systems are check sir, she’s ready for the jump home,” an officer turned to address the elevated Captain. “Home?” Peterson scowled down at the officer. His scowl quickly changed to a smile before he added: “Not for long officer Anthony, Planet K-C56 of the Zalcaran system is soon to become humanity’s new home.”
There was an abrupt chatter of satisfaction across the bridge by the officers as they enjoyed the Captain’s statement.
“Initiate jump!” Peterson ordered.
SOL SYSTEM\ PLANET MARS ORBIT
The Ionarc screamed out of hyper-space onto Martian orbit. The twenty seven kilometer-long space station, Augusta, hovered within the red planet’s orbit shimmering across the cruiser’s view-screen. “This is Augusta security grid 332 to cruiser D4-B6554,” a voice crackled over COMM. “you’re welcome home Ionarc...and cleared to go.”
“Ionarc to Augusta,” Officer Anthony spoke in response. “Clearance received, thanks for the welcome, we’re heading planet side.” The cruiser slowly drifted towards the giant red ball which was planet Mars.
Peterson, in the privacy of his quarters, adjusted his cap observing himself in the mirror. He took his time to get all the honorable adornments straightened out. He knew he was going to get one more of those colors that hung on his chest in the days to come. And he knew that the MSU was going to be envious of the navy.
It wasn’t his fault that the Spacing Union always tried to do things in a tiresome systematic fashion. They had checked over a thousand worlds following their scripted Planet Seeker schedule and were not able to find a viable habitation. It was not his fault that he found one in the tiny period of two years. Captain Peterson smiled at his image in the mirror. You’ve just become humanities savior, Pete. And hell you make such a fine hero. There wouldn’t have been a better looking one.
ZYLAT, FOLCON DOME\ CAPITAL SENATE HOUSE
Senatorial Minister Bernadi Perez was seated on a single bench of the narrow anteroom, while Prime Minister Sakki stared out the window at a light dust storm. Even men like Perez who always approved the dictates of the number one leader of the Martian governing body, also held Sakki in contempt in the secrecy of his mind.
He was too weak for the position, was Perez’s opinion. But then he would prefer for someone of Sakki’s nature to be in power rather than any other of the more egotistic individuals of the Martian governing body, who would have loved to be in Sakki’s place. They knew that Sakki was not the type to exert true authority but they just kept up because of his highly flexible and un-adamant nature. And apart from that, he was the choice of the masses.
Minister Perez knew Sakki’s furtive reason for smiling only when he was faced with the general public. He knew that Sakki’s late father, Owatta Frederick, had pressured him as a younger man to quit smiling too much around his fellow leaders, for it gave away hints of weakness. Perhaps his father too must have seen the flaw in Sakki before anyone else, was Perez’s opinion.
He brushed a hand against his ponytail before he spoke: “I myself out of excitement could not get much sleep since the past three days when the news reached me.”
A dim light hung from a single tube on the ceiling of the narrow space. Sakki focused his eyes on the rocky landscape outside from the long window that almost followed the length of the room. It was possible to see the Martian landscape because the Senate house lay at the very northern edge of Folcon dome. The storm on the outside was definitely of no concern to Sakki, rather it was the ponder which State minister Perez stirred in his mind.
“It is an obvious fact which must first be dealt with,” Perez continued. “I too considered it a time of celebration...but then I gave better thought to the whole picture and realized the dangers that come with this new discovery.”
“It is a pity that I could not conceal the news, since it first came to me.” Sakki sadly said. “My mind never went in that direction, I never thought of how the infected populace will react to the development. There is no way we can abandon them on Mars...and there is no way we can take them with us to the new planet. Let us just hope that the news has not reached the public already.”
“Now you clearly see the dilemma,” Perez pointed out. “I smell another civil war, Minister Sakki, if we ourselves have preached non-discrimination of all masses living with the virus, then we are not supposed to behave on the contrary. And better would it have been if it had not recently crept into the southern and eastern states. And the number of people living with the virus across every Martian dome now makes up more than a quarter of the total global population...as you well know.”
Sakki turned to be looking at Perez. “No, Minister Perez, it can not possibly come to that...I mean—-a civil war. The Union has never known peace for a full century and I’ve been hoping that this government will be the one to successfully achieve that. And thirty years is a good sign that we will see it through.” Sakki paused, exhaled loudly before he went on:
“It is that Godforsaken virus. If the scientists had discovered earlier, that the virus becomes active in a person only eight years after infection, instead of the initially assumed twelve, then maybe Minister Schneider and Minister Nunez would not have been infected.”
“Aha, now you see the dangers as I see it.” Perez said. “We both know that Minister Schneider of Kalgara dome is grandson to a late separatist leader.” Sakki shook his head in disagreement as he expressed: “No, Minister Perez, I am just speaking under the notion that it would have been better if two of our leaders were not infected. Evacuation of the planet would have been far less complicated.”
“The son of a separatist has every tendency to one day become a separatist, in my opinion. Especially when something suddenly arises that can stir that separatist ideology.” Perez’s expression showed he was precise about his opinion.
“I know Minister Schneider more than you do, Minister Perez, and he is a good man. He is never the type to be involved in a separatist movement.”
Perez frowned raising a brow. “May I add that Psychologists have determined that judgment of a person’s character from an official relational standpoint comes out often eighty percent false? For this I will advice that we keep our fingers crossed concerning Minister Schneider’s future actions. Or do you think he would not like to set foot on this new planet like everyone else? Men change, Prime Minister...according to the situations they are faced with.”
Turning more resolute and gesturing with an arm which he waved in disapproval, Minister Perez added: “As for those scientists, they always want to sound smart all the time. Even when answers clearly elude them. Just wait a couple of months and they will change nearly all the facts they have gathered concerning the S virus. The virus is highly unpredictable...so was I assured by my personal physician...on a blunt standpoint. We can not risk anyone living with it—-Statesmen or not, to come anywhere near the new planet.”
Listen to yourself Bernadi Perez, Sakki thought. You do not in anyway sound like one who is ready to find a peaceful solution to this problem which you have pointed out. Sakki noticed that Perez was waiting a response after his last statement. “That is exactly what we shall plan to achieve of course...” he sent an intense glare at Minister Perez making sure his eyes met with his. “But in the most courteous manner possible.”
Sakki resumed looking out the window before he added: “I know it will be quite difficult, but I am sure there is a way out.” Minister Perez looked to speak in response when a sudden continuous beep halted him.
Sakki raised his left arm pulling down the sleeve to reveal his wrist COMM. Blue dots of light that patterned around the communications device flashed in accordance with the sound. “Yes!” he spoke into it after a click that halted the beeping.
A muffled female voice replied: “Sir, Prime Minister, sorry to interrupt but more statesmen have just arrived and await your presence in senate hall.”
“Very well, I will be there shortly.”
Perez rose as Sakki began to tell him: “Minister Perez, I imagine we will have to leave this most important discussion for a later time.
“Of course—-of course, Prime Minister; lead the way.” Perez gestured an arm at the anteroom’s single entrance. Both men smoothed their shirts to rid unapparent dishevelment, (a thing that was more of a prevalent habit with most statesmen) before they moved toward the door.
On nearing the door which would have opened to non other but the Prime Minister, it slid aside at a simple wave of his hands. Their outing revealed a brighter lit and larger room. To their left was a man busy at a computer console in a broad framed cubicle. Apart from that, the room was seemingly empty save for a door at the end and another to their right.
The forward door which they approached was large and led to the main senate hall. Sakki knew that a great responsibility had just arisen, that required a lot of wisdom on his part. He simply hoped he would be able to speak the right words and make the right decisions, without stirring a separatist insurrection.
FOLCON DOME, MAIN WESTERN SPACEPORT
The damn planet might as well have been named after me if the navy was not regarded as one body, Captain Peterson thought, standing in the airlock-chamber tube which whirred mildly ascending into the upper sections of the spaceport. The Ionarc had been rerouted on making its way to Fulmar, the small naval compound. The cruiser instead rested on one of Folcon dome’s large docking-bays; a thing that went on to further Peterson’s excitement.
Standing beside him was Commander Lee Chin Lin, a man he would have loved everyone else in the world to behave like.
Commander Lee was second in command of the cruiser Ionarc, and was so loyal to Peterson that he often imitated gestures, quotes, and sometimes attitudes of his. “What do you think Commander Lee,” Peterson said. “I can bet the Prime Minister himself is waiting to receive us on the platform.”
Lee replied: “Undoubtedly Captain, the accomplishment is surely one that carries weight enough to demand Prime Minister Sakki’s welcoming presence.”
“So I thought, Commander.” The floor they stood on quivered lightly to confirm the tube’s abrupt stoppage. The door slid slowly apart with a hiss to reveal the large receiving platform of docking bay 09 of Folcon dome main spaceport. Both men stepped out. The platform was a large enclosure having a high ceiling.
A clang confirmed the arrival of another tube after that which was exited by the naval officers continued in ascension. That would be the tube that carried the Ionarc’s science team leads, Peterson knew. Where’s my welcome party, he thought, looking around the wide platform. Even though he tried to hide it, the sudden surprised scowl that shot across his face was obvious. All he could see was bay maintenance personnel and engineers busy at service stations bulging out of the end-wall.
Their white naval uniforms caught the attention of some of the workers but apart from that, most did not as much as notice their entrance. Peterson was astonished. I just saved humanity!, he screamed at them in his mind. At least if this were Fulmar in ordinary conditions there would have been two rows of naval officers waiting to salute him on entry. Not to talk of when he had just managed to save the world.
Where is my triumphant entry, where is the military, where are the statesmen, where are my honorable handshakes. Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? Peterson felt embarrassed by the statement which he made in the tube some moments ago. One out of three exit-tram doors glared before the approaching men whose boot-steps echoed in the hollow of the interior. The science team-leads made up of three men, followed behind Peterson and Lee at this point.
The Martian spaceports were constructed at the outer edges of the dome habitats but were attached to the domes themselves by tram-tunnels. The cruiser had descended into the lower parts of the huge rounded section of the spoon-shaped spaceport, and the tram-tunnel which the Ionarc’s crew approached led directly to the inner airlock substations of Folcon dome. Still receiving no attention of the workers busy around them, the door hissed open for the Ionarc’s crew to empty into it. The thick odor of hydraulics streamed into Peterson’s nose the moment he was in. multiple light tubes hanging at the high corners followed the extensive length of the tunnel.
Tram vehicles were designed for five passengers, and was perfectly suitable to take them all. Peterson and Lee in front, and the science team taking the back, they all clambered. “Not as much a welcome as we anticipated was it?” Peterson told Lee in a low tone making sure he alone heard him. “I would assume that the discovery may yet be viewed by the government as a claim,” Lee replied. “Until we are able to make proper evidential confirmation.” They strapped themselves in place with the restraints before Lee pushed the “Go” button for the vehicle to speedily squeal away.
Captain Peterson frowned in thoughtfulness. He looked to speak the words to Commander Lee but realized he had to speak loudly against the screeching rails of the tram: Hmm, why would a Planet-Seeker ship pass incorrect information concerning such a grand matter? The united government has always been very pessimistic. They must seem to find the discovery hard to believe.
Looking out the transparent window that ran the entire length of the tunnel, Peterson noticed that a sandstorm brewed on the outside. The squealing of the tram soon reduced to a fading whine as it neared the exit hatch. Hatch groaned open to swallow the tram and its crew releasing them onto the security platform of sub-station 09.
There were the usual security arc-ways and personnel on this side. Peterson almost smiled when he looked beyond the arc-way lasers to have view of a group of military men and two government officials that seemed to await their arrival.
The security lasers buzzed scanning the group of men as they walked through in a straight file. They had barely reached the waiting men when the older looking of the two government officials stretched out a hand. “Captain Peterson Everson,” he said, before Peterson got himself to receive the handshake. With what seemed like a frown, Peterson allowed his eyes inspect the five United Martian Army soldiers who stiffly stood behind, before he leveled his gaze at the man and replied: “Yes.”
“Jacob Barley, chairman of Folcon senatorial delegation,” the man informed. “The Prime Minister demands your immediate appearance at the senate house.” He looked across Peterson’s shoulder and added: “And also a Dr Sydney—-and assistants.”
“That would be me,” the most bearded of the three scientists said with a nod. “Us,” he shrugged in addition.
“Very well then, we should waste no further time.” Mr. Jacob and his colleague quickly turned: “The convoy awaits,” he said. The grim faced military men moving more like robots, quickly split a space between themselves for them to pass. The soldiers followed behind the group of men as soon as the last scientist went past them.
All parked at the edge of the main-road, the convoy was not a long one. Three groundcars and a military zerodrift tank that spurted air at the extreme rear. Not as long a convoy as Peterson imagined. “Gentle men, if you may,” Jacob gestured an arm at the second groundcar whose door slid open to receive the men. “Except for you Captain Peterson,” he informed as Peterson made to head into the vehicle. Commander Lee and the scientists continued into it in a file. “The fleet Admiral awaits you,” Jacob said, pointing at the first groundcar.
The two government officials immediately headed to the third vehicle as Peterson proceeded toward the first. Peterson snapped up a salute standing next to the groundcar’s door which slowly slid open to reveal Fleet Admiral Tobias Oliveira seated in the all white interior. “Step in, Captain,” he beckoned Peterson with a peripheral glance.
“Yes sir,” he obeyed. For the first time Peterson noted how long a time he was gone from Mars, for he thought he saw some extra age lines across Fleet Admiral Tobias’s face. The door slid shut as soon as Peterson was in, and all the bustling night time noises of the metropolis seemed to seize instantly. The single driver who was in front stepped on it and they were on the move. The partitioning board rose to seclude the driver from them, concealing both view and sound.
Being summoned by the Prime minister, and sharing the same vehicle with the highest commanding officer of the naval force better showed that his accomplishment was recognized. Peterson finally started realizing that the government might be wanting to keep a low profile concerning the new discovery. He started realizing that the public may not even know about it yet. No wonder the workers at the airlock sub-station acted with indifference. But then again, what was he thinking? It was the most sensible thing to be done by any government.
Fleet Admiral Tobias was one respected not just by Peterson but by everyone, mostly members of the entire Martian armed forces, and former separatists, who were the ones that had experienced his masterful genius in strategic aerial combat. Master of the skies is what they had branded him after the minor separatist insurrection about a decade ago in the southern regions. In the second colony war that ended thirty years back when Tobias was still a Captain and not the one in command of the navy, the rebel forces had actually excelled in the Martian sky and had won most of the battles during the first phases of the war. And victories in aerial battles almost meant that a side had won a war—-whatever side it was, mainly because aircrafts were the major instruments that protected against dome breaches.
One of the major reasons the united government had won the second colony war was because a young Captain Tobias eventually led a remarkable and coordinated attack on the major separatist dome of Shughast, and had won. That, combined with the concluding gathered efforts of the army and the Dome Guard Corps. It was the battle of Shughast that made him into the hero he was today.
Admiral Tobias was an important man to the UMG. There was even talk by naval officers these days that it was men like Tobias that kept rebels at rest and in hiding among normal citizens. Tobias was a reputable man and Peterson had always aspired to be like him, but with Peterson’s current achievement, he reasoned it would probably be Tobias who would be envious of him.
“A year and five months Captain,” Tobias said, still not caring to look at Peterson. “For one year and five months the force could not make contact with you. Nor the Spacing Union...or any other Planet Seeker ships. And when you finally contact the force, you report that the Ionarc was on its way home, only for us to loose contact with you for another ten months.” He finally glanced at Peterson. “Do you mind explaining that, Captain Peterson?”
Goddamnit, is this how I am congratulated on a job well done? “Sir, the main objective of the—-
“Risking a linker class in space for that long was clearly dangerous, and was not the wisest thing to do. You endangered not just the ship but also its entire crew.”
Peterson tried very hard to keep his face as expressionless as possible.
“Did you not realize that troop six-four of the Ionarc have families back here on Mars?” there was silence.
“I believe my decisions were absolutely wrong sir,” Peterson shot. “You can be sure they were,” Tobias said. “But on the other hand, Captain. If wrong decisions in the long term translate to desired results...” He glanced at Peterson again. “It is only then that such decisions can then be deemed as right.” Facing forward again, Tobias released the words un-excitedly: “congratulations Captain, the navy is mostly proud of you to have accomplished such an enormous task. Should I also add that you’ve just become a hero among heroes, to go down humanity’s reputable history.”
“It is quite an honor, sir,” Peterson stiffly replied.
“That aside, I just received reports of what remains of troop six-four. What exactly did you encounter on this planet K-C56?” The question clearly caused Peterson to shudder. His mind swirled racing back through tracks of memory.
Even though K-C56 was a lavish world where humans could indulge in the luxury a breathable open environment, many still were the things which Peterson and his crew experienced in their short stay.
It had only been their fifth day on K-C56. All the excitement—all the joy, had suddenly ended in terror. Peterson remembered rushing into the bridge. Officer Anthony spoke over the COMM with one of the scientific-data collecting teams. The radio crackled with static: “This is Tango two to control you’re not...believe this...currently looking at a...”
“Tango two—-Control to Tango two, can you read me?”
“Its currently approaching us right now...I read you control. You’re breaking up a bit but I can...you.”
“Listen Tango two, what ever it is that approaches you may be hostile.”
“Hey, ah ah, there’s not just one of them...just as curious as we are.”
“I repeat, whatever approaches you may be hostile, we already lost contact with Tango one and Tango four due to a similar encounter.”
“You’re breaking control...you.”
“Control to Tango two, you’re advised to retreat or stand your guard.”
The next thing that came over the COMM was screams of pain and abrupt rifle shots. Officer Anthony continued: “Control to Tango two—-come in Tango two. Control to Tango two, can you read me?” The COMM went flat and not as much as static could be heard. Anderson turned his face to Captain Peterson. “We’ve lost them too.”
“Okay that does it, we’re going out after them,” Peterson said, raging out of the bridge. “Wait a minute,” Gibson, the radar operator said. “We’ve got multiple incoming, sir, whatever’s out there has also come for us.” Peterson paused with a deeply startled look on his face.” From where exactly?”
“They’re all over the base of the ship; I think they’re looking for a way in. Wait a minute.” He rapped quick fingers on the control board before him for a holographic simulation of the ship’s interior to spring up from the projector surface. “Oh my God, like I thought. How in the galaxy can they do that?”
Peterson placed a stern gaze on the shimmering blue display, as did every other officer in the bridge. Peterson observed the small dark figures that were making into the ship.
“All entrance ramps are literally flinging open on their own for them to enter,” Gibson shockingly said. “As if they had some kind of overriding device.” He turned to the Captain. “We’re breached sir.”
Peterson’s surprised gaze remained on the holo display. The figures were streaming into the ship’s different decks in a peculiarly organised fashion.
Peterson whirled, moved over and flicked on the ship’s central COMM. “This is the Captain to all decks—-code red—-we have a breach. I want all hands battle ready on the double. Get yourselves armed soldiers, and defend this ship!”
Multiple feet sounded around him when Peterson entered into the armory. One of the officers pushed a button and the bulkheads of the small room began shifting alternately in separate columns exposing weapons. The clattering continued until pistols and rifles had popped up from nearly every single corner making the room alive with arms.
The men were arming themselves and charging out of the armory. Peterson grabbed a BS75 precision rifle, hurried out himself.
In a little while, flanked by two officers and one that took point who held a motion tracker, Peterson was treading along the wide corridors of section B2 of deck three. “We’re getting closer,” the officer with the motion tracker had said. He suddenly slammed himself against the edge of a bulkhead causing Peterson and the rest to also stop.
“They’ll be through that door any second,” the officer said in a desperate tone, sweating trickling down his face. The four men loudly cocked their weapons awaiting the hostiles. The moment the door opened...bright purple flashes of what seemed like bolts of energy—-
“Captain!” Admiral Tobias called before Peterson snapped back into the present. “Oh, what we encountered?”
“Yes...was there life on K-C56?” there was keenness in Tobias’s voice. Peterson exhaled before he answered: “Yes...there was life in many forms. From trees to insects and wild creatures. All in the open, sir.”
“Hmm...it is quite a finding. And there was no intelligent life?”
“Intelligent life...no, no—-no there was no intelligent life,” Peterson shook head in saying.
“Then what was it that took the lives of up to a third of troop six-four?”
“There were these wild creatures, almost four feet high, moved on all fours. Sharp teeth, razor claws, took us by surprise.”
“How was this possible?” Tobias asked. “Was the entire crew deployed on surface?”
“No sir, but I split a third of the troop into six groups that were supposed to aid the science team in gathering sample material for scientific study, and for protection against the unknown. But as it happened, the men were not able to achieve the aspect of protection.”
“You split a third of the troop into six groups? Just what the hell kind of material gathering required you assigning up to nine officers to what—-how many scientists a group?”
“That would be two, sir. Three officers to two scientists, sir. The rest of the men only went in as reinforcement.”
“And they were all killed by these four foot beasts? Even the reinforcements?”
“Precisely sir,” Peterson firmly answered.
“Hmm.” There was silence again. Tobias seemed to be studying Peterson’s face. “How much spread across the planet were these creatures?” the Admiral asked in addition. Peterson, who still seemed to express nothing, answered more like a robot: “Considering the particular region where we landed the ship, there were lots of them, swarms of them. It was actually due to these creatures that we shortened our stay on planet K-C56. But even so I believe Admiral, sir, as well as I know you do, that these creatures will not pose much of a problem when the force returns to K-C56 better prepared.”
“Surely, Captain,” Tobias sighed. “Such a remarkable finding cannot be hindered by mere wildlife. And nevertheless, as is the old saying, nothing good comes easy. The men of troop six-four who were lost died for a grand purpose and are bound to also go down record history. I have already arranged for a proper and deserving funeral. Their families will be informed by tomorrow, and of course the cause of death will by no means be related to the new planet. The government desires for the finding to remain classified...for the moment.
“Also, if you were going to ask, the ship’s crew has already been informed on this.” Nothing else was said by both men after that, so that the goundcar’s silently droning air-conditioning could be heard. Admiral Tobias spoke after a while: “I have just one more thing to ask, Captain Peterson.”
“On this new planet...one can actually inhale air in open environment?”
A small grin finally stole across Peterson’s mouth. “Precisely, sir.”