From the comms room, Holsten watched the last shuttle depart for the moon base, carrying its oblivious human cargo.
Guyen’s plan was simple. An active crew of fifty had been woken up and briefed on what was expected—or perhaps demanded—of them. The base was ready for them, everything constructed by the automatics during the Gilgamesh’s last long sleep, and tested fit for habitation. It would be the crew’s job to keep it running and operational, so as to turn it into a new home for the human race.
They would have another two hundred in suspension— ready to call on when they needed them—to replace losses or more hopefully to expand their active population when the base was ready for them. They would have children. Their children would inherit what they had built.
At some time in the future, generations later, it was anticipated that the Gilgamesh would return from its long voyage to the next terraforming project, hopefully carrying a cargo of pirated Old Empire technology that would, as Guyen said, make everyone’s lives that much easier.
Or enable him to mount an attack on the Kern’s satellite and claim her planet, Holsten thought, and surely he wasn’t alone in thinking that, though nobody was voicing it.
If the Gilgamesh did not return—if, say, the next system had a more aggressive guardian than Kern, or some other mishap should befall the ark ship—then the moon colony would just have to …
“Manage” was the word that Guyen had used. Nobody was going behind that. Nobody wanted to think about the limited
range of fates possible for such a speck of human dust in the vast face of the cosmos.
The newly appointed leader of the colonists was not another Scoles, certainly. That intrepid woman listened to her orders with grim acceptance. Looking into her face, Holsten told himself that he could see a terrible, bleak despair hiding in her eyes. What was she being handed, after all? At the worst a death sentence, at the best a life sentence. An undeserved penal term that her children would inherit straight from the womb.
He started when someone clapped him on the shoulder: Lain. The two of them—along with Karst and his team—had only recently got out of quarantine. The only good out of the whole of Scoles’s doomed excursion planetside was that there didn’t seem to be any bacteria or viruses down there that posed an immediate danger to human health. And why would there be? As Lain had pointed out, there hadn’t seemed to be anything human-like down there to incubate them.
“Time for bed,” the engineer told him. “Last shuttle’s away, so we’re ready to depart. You’ll want to be in suspension before we stop rotation. Until we get our acceleration up, gravity’s going to be all over the place.”
“What about you?”
“I’m chief engineer. I get to work through it, old man.” “Catching up on me.”
As she helped him out of the chair, he felt his ribs complain. He had been told the suspension chamber would see him heal up nicely while he slept, and he fervently hoped it was true.
“Cheer up,” Lain told him. “There’ll be a whole treasure trove of ancient nonsense for you, when you wake up. You’ll be like a kid with new toys.”
“Not if Guyen has anything to say about it,” Holsten
grumbled. He spared a last look at the viewscreens, at the cold, pale orb of the prison moon—the colony moon, he corrected himself. His unworthy thought was, Rather you than me.
Leaning on Lain a little, he walked carefully off down the corridor, heading for the Key Crew sleep room