Captain Takktun Kantari slid the bubble helmet over his head and locked it into place with a reassuring click before triple-checking the joint seals on each of his suit’s four legs and three arms. Several seconds later, when the pressure indicator on his HUD had turned green, he pushed off the wall and floated slowly through the inner airlock door, which closed behind him.
“I’m ready Raki, please open the outer door,” he said over comms, the calm of his voice belying the trepidation he felt. It wasn’t every day you found an alien ghost ship floating derelict on the outskirts of the system.
“Sure thing, Captain” replied Raki, his second in command. “Be careful, Takk” she added.
“Affirmative” was his only response.
Hidden pumps quickly removed the airlock’s atmosphere, replicating the vacuum on the other side of the outer door, but there was still the faintest of popping sounds as it opened. Takk couldn’t help but flinch slightly. He hoped that Raki hadn’t noticed it on the cams.
Another push from his hind legs propelled him on a stately glide out of the airlock and away from the ship. At his bidding short bursts of gas fired from the suit’s maneuvering jets, turning him so that he could inspect his ship as he drew further away from it. It looked like a collection of rectangular modules secured together by scaffolding. The ship’s silhouette was a far cry from the sleek lines and smooth curves found in the ships of more advanced races.
It’s not much by Federation standards, he thought to himself, but it’s ours.
The vessel he was floating away from represented the pinnacle of Dramari engineering. It was their first FTL-capable ship, built based on technology bartered from the Federation soon after first contact. Its name was 01-001. Model 1, Vessel 1. Soon 01-001 and others like it would carry his people among the stars, but first it needed a battery of test flights.
This was only 01-001’s second mission, a short in-system hop to visit the Mother’s Light, a comet which had famously burned across the night sky of their home world, Dramaria, nearly three hundred years ago. Brighter than any before it, the comet had been taken as a divine sign, prompting several warring empires to declare peace, later unifying into the planet’s first world government. This was the catalyst for a renaissance that had advanced Dramari science and technology in leaps and bounds until finally, twenty years ago, they had launched their first chemical rocket into orbit and found the Federation waiting for them with open arms.
Telescopic observations prior to first contact had confirmed that the Mother’s Light had not been an ice-laden comet at all, but rather a massive rocky asteroid that had passed close enough to graze the atmosphere of Dramaria, causing the light show that had lit the fire of their modern civilization. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the 01-001 had reached the Mother’s Light only to find an abandoned alien ship attached to its side.
As captain, Takk had pulled rank in order to be the first to investigate the derelict. His decision had been driven as much by a desire to keep the rest of his crew out of danger as it had been by his intense curiosity.
Another command to the maneuvering jets rotated Takk to face back toward his target. He regarded the abandoned ship carefully as he approached. It more closely resembled the somewhat primitive designs of his own people than the advanced ones of the older species. Perhaps something in between? Its lack of sophistication indicated that whichever species had built it, this ship was old. It might even pre-date the asteroid’s flyby.
However, the thing that stood out most was the damage the mystery ship had incurred. A large section of hull amidships had been torn open, seemingly by an explosion from within, judging by the way hull plates had been bent outwards. This had left a gaping wound in the ship’s side, which he chose as his entry point, thinking it likely to be easier than gaining access via a hatch or airlock.
Raki’s voice came over the comm.
“Captain, judging by the orientation of what we think are thruster nacelles, and the scans we’re getting of the interior, it seems most likely that the bridge is in the forward section, furthest away from you”.
Takk’s eyes locked on the section in question and he saw a large window port.
“Affirmative. I think I see a forward viewing window, which could indicate a bridge. My plan is to enter via the damaged section and make my way forward.”
“Roger, standing by.”
Takk reduced his momentum as he approached, puffs of gas slowing him to a sedate drift. As he crossed the threshold into the interior and entered the shadows beyond, three beams of light shot out of torches secured to each arm. He pointed the centre torch at a bare patch of decking before he touched down on it, the magnets in his suit’s feet preventing him from bouncing off. He played the other two lights back and forth over the ship’s interior, seeking clues to what had happened. Twisted metal and smashed electrical components could be seen everywhere, except for an internal doorway leading forward, where it looked as if the intruding obstructions had been cut away to regain access to whatever lay beyond.
“I’m in. It’s a real mess in here. Proceeding towards the bridge.”
“Roger. We’re watching the feed from your helmet cam” answered Raki.
The doorway was wide enough for him to pass through easily. Whichever species had built this ship seemed to be comparable in size to the Dramari. A short passageway lay beyond, lined with unknown compartments and hatches, all closed and secured. They were labeled in a script he didn’t recognize. At the end of the passageway was another doorway, left open. Takk shone his lights through as he approached. Several rows of screens reflected the torch beams back at him. Two oddly shaped objects, which he assumed were command chairs installed on gimbals, faced the screens and the window beyond. The strange design of the chairs, suited to bipeds rather than quadrupeds like Takk, reinforced the otherworldly origins of the vessel.
He drifted to a console, identifying what he thought looked like a data port. From a pocket on his suit, he withdrew a small device with careful reverence. It was an omni-connect, a Federation-made gadget that could interface with any known data technology produced by any known species. Powered by nanotech that his people could not yet hope to understand, it was fantastically expensive. So much so that the Dramari government had only been able to afford two of them to date. The location of the other omni-connect was classified well above his security clearance. This one had been temporarily assigned to him due to the elevated probability that he may encounter alien technologies while in command of the 01-001. Losing or damaging it would spell an instant end to his military career at best, and imprisonment for treason at worst.
The tip of the omni-connect melted as he placed it gently against the data port, becoming a viscous silver fluid that flowed into it, establishing connections with the components inside. The omni-connect somehow provided enough power to bring the vessel’s long-dead control system partially to life. Takk examined the rest of the bridge for a few minutes while he waited for Raki to update him on the result, careful to avoid disturbing anything.
“Sir, data is coming through now. The code is archaic, but it seems to be Terran. It’s hundreds of years old at least. I’ve found a bunch of unsent video messages sitting in the comms system buffer. Some of them are corrupted, but there are a few that look intact. They might give us a clue about what happened here, but they’ll need to be converted to a supported format and translated into Dramari. It’ll take some time to do them all, but the first one is ready now. Sending it to your HUD.”
“Terran? Are you sure? I wonder how they got this far out of their own neighborhood.”
“One hundred percent sure, Sir. I’m in the ship’s registry files now. It was built in the Luna shipyards over three hundred years ago. Registered name ‘Starchild’. No idea how it ended up here.”
An icon appeared on his HUD indicating that he had received a video file from the 01-001. He selected it and began playback.
A human female sat in a command chair facing the camera, the ship’s bridge in the background. Her hair was pulled back from her forehead, secured with a clasp, and she wore grey overalls adorned with patches depicting Earth and its moon, Luna. Takk recognized both celestial bodies from the xeno-society lessons that he’d received at the Academy. The lines in the skin around the female’s eyes and mouth indicated that she was a breeding-age adult, well out of adolescence. Hovering behind her shoulder was a similarly aged human male, substantially larger, also wearing grey overalls. That they were in zero-g was obvious from the way the shaggy hair on his face drifted lazily in the currents of air issuing from ventilation ducts overhead.
“Hello, my little star child, it’s your Mum and Dad here,” said the smiling woman. “How have you been? Keeping your room clean like you promised, I hope.”
Her smile faltered and disappeared.
“Sweetie, I’ve got some bad news. I know we promised that we’d be home in time for your birthday, but something’s come up. We got offered another contract hauling medical supplies out to Sirius B and it pays too well to pass up. You know how things are tight right now? Well, after this job we won’t have to worry about money for a while. We might even have enough to take you to that theme park planet you’ve been begging to go to. What’s its name? Dis-World? Distopia? Oh, I don’t remember, but you know the one. You’d like that wouldn’t you?”
The man leaned over and shoved a small box in front of the camera. It was wrapped in a porous-looking sheet material, Takk could see where the edges of the sheet were folded and secured to the sides. A flat ribbon of a different glossier material was also wrapped around it and tied with a bow on top.
“And we got you an extra special present!” said the male, grinning teeth visible through the waving fronds of his mustache.
“Mark!” scolded the woman. “That was meant to be a surprise!”
“What??? I didn’t tell her what it is. Act surprised when you get it, Emma” said the man, winking at the camera.
The woman sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, we’re very sorry sweetie. You know we both want to be there with you, but sometimes being an adult means doing things you don’t want to do. We’ll make it up to you when we get back, I promise. Behave well for your Grandma, you know she’ll tell me if she catches you sneaking cookies from the kitchen. We’re in hyperspace right now, so you won’t get this message until we pop out at Sirius B. We love you. Bye.”
The image was replaced with text in Takk’s HUD.
END OF MESSAGE.
That doesn’t really explain much, thought Takk. Hopefully, the other messages would provide further illumination.
Leaving the omni-connect in place to maintain Raki’s link to the ship’s operating system, Takk made his way back into the damaged mid-section.
Whatever had happened here had to have come close to destroying the ship outright. The damage to it was near catastrophic, the kind of thing that gave spacers nightmares.
His HUD pinged, indicating the arrival of the second converted video file. He grabbed onto a metal strut to arrest his motion and played it.
The woman was wearing a space suit with the name ‘Linda’ stenciled on to it, helmet on, and fully sealed. The bridge behind her was now in a state of pandemonium, bathed in the red flashing lights of emergency alarms. Unsecured objects careened around, bumping into the walls and each other. Through the helmet’s visor, her face appeared tired and dirty, smeared by dirt or soot.
“Mayday! Mayday! This is TRMV Starchild requesting emergency assistance from any Federation ships nearby. Our warp core became unstable and exploded while in hyperspace transit. We’ve been dumped out into an unknown system. The explosion has destroyed the core completely and caused severe damage to our FTL and radio comms hardware. There’s also been major damage to our life support system, as well as significant loss of atmosphere. We’re breached pretty bad. My husband Mark is working to repair internal hatches damaged by the explosion so we can restore atmosphere to the rear half of the ship, but there’s no way for us to patch the hull and re-pressurize the bridge.
“We’re restricted to sub-light fusion engines only. There seems to be a planet nearby that sensors indicate might be habitable. We might have a shot at reaching it before our life support gives out but it will be months until we can get there. I’m hoping this message will go out as soon as we can get the comms back online. Please send help! Quickly!”
END OF MESSAGE.
It dawned on Takk. This human, Linda, was talking about Dramaria. It was the only remotely habitable planet in the system, so they must have been heading there. Obviously, they had never made it.
He looked around at the destruction with fresh eyes. That was the remains of a flux condenser coil, and there he could see the shattered disk of a tachyon lens. He crouched over the remains of a data rack and could see the haphazard repairs that had been attempted to the comms system, components bridged with soldered wires and cables to try and bypass the damage. But it had all been futile, the circuit boards were nothing but scrap. That was why the messages in the comms buffer were left unsent.
The other side of the damaged room showed further signs of repair. The hatch leading to the rear of the ship had been buckled by the explosion and a patchwork of metal plates had been welded on to seal the gaps, leaving the hatch assumedly airtight but inoperable. Takk would have to go back outside and find an alternative entry into the rear of the ship.
When he emerged back into open space Takk paid more attention to the attachment of the ship to the asteroid. From what he could tell, the ship had originally been fitted with landing struts installed at the base, near the thruster nacelles. This would have allowed the Starchild to land vertically on a planetary surface, lowering itself down under the power of its fusion engines. These landing struts had been cut away, as evidenced by the tell-tale marks of a plasma cutter on the metal stumps that remained. The struts had then been shifted to the nose of the craft and affixed to load points on its chassis, with the feet of the struts pressing against the asteroid. Additional beams and thinner metal sections had been welded on to reinforce the structure, but almost all were bent or twisted in some way, and the whole structure looked like it had been compressed from its original form. The rock around the landing feet on the asteroid was also covered with a web of cracks, suggesting that it had also been subject to extreme forces.
Another ping from his HUD told Takk that the third video was ready. He saw an airlock at the rear of the ship and floated over to it, snagging a set of ladder rungs welded to the hull next to it. When he was secured by a couple of his magnetized feet and two of his hands, he initiated playback.
Linda was back in her overalls, no longer wearing the space suit. She still looked tired and hadn’t completely wiped the soot off her face. It had worked its way into the wrinkles of her skin, leaving black lines on her forehead and at the corners of her eyes. Instead of the bridge, she was sitting in a room with walls covered in Terran vegetation, each vertical garden lit by strip lights, only half of which seemed to be working.
“We’ve managed to seal the back half of the ship and restore pressure. Luckily the hydroponics unit was never exposed to vacuum, so the plants are still alive… for now, at least. Life support is still a problem though. The system isn’t compensating properly for the damage. Carbon monoxide is rising slowly, and the scrubbers aren’t coping. We’re ok for now but it’s doubtful that the system will be able to support us for the months it will take us to get to the planet. Two people is too much for it to handle in its current state. Mark is running the numbers and seeing if he can come up with a solution, but in the meantime, we’re sleeping with the plants. I don’t know whether it’s all in my head, but the air in here feels fresher.
“Our problems don’t stop there though. This region of space seems to have a higher-than-average density of micrometeoroids. It’s not bad enough to cause any immediate alarm, but with the state of the hull and our dodgy life support being what it is, its worrying. We can’t afford to take a hit, there’s no redundancy left. Luckily we found some shelter from a large asteroid that we’re hiding behind. It looks like it’s come from out-system, probably from the Oort cloud surrounding this star, and it’s heading inwards on a trajectory that will take it close our destination. It should shield the ship from anything in front of us as long as we stay close.”
There was a moment of silence as Linda pondered what to say next.
“We tried to fix the comms system but it’s trashed, so these messages won’t be broadcast unless we get some help. But at least they’ll be a record of what happened to us if help never comes.”
She smiled weakly.
“Who knows, if this planet turns out to be habitable and we’re the first to discover it, then maybe these messages will be part of a museum tour once it’s colonized. We’ll be famous. Anyway, that’s all for now. Whoever’s watching this, tell Emma we love her. Bye.”
END OF MESSAGE.
That explains how they met up with the asteroid, thought Takk. A creeping sense of dread was stirring in the back of his mind. The asteroid had made it to the vicinity of Damaria, but it seemed Linda and Mark hadn’t. He feared what grisly scene he might find deeper within the ship.
He turned his attention back to the airlock and examined it carefully. Standard practice amongst Federation members was to have a manual override outside of any airlock. This allowed re-entry in instances where a ship had lost power and an EVA was required to make repairs. Takk quickly found the override lever and pushed it. It was stiff, the result of centuries of disuse. He adjusted his position, bracing two of his feet against the ladder rungs, and used his entire body to apply as much force as possible. The lever flexed alarmingly, and he thought the brittle metal was about to snap, when suddenly it turned, and the airlock door sprang open. Only the magnets attached to Takk’s feet stopped him from being thrown into space as the door swung outwards.
“Careful there, Captain,” said Raki in his ear, as she watched his struggles through the scopes. “Wouldn’t want you spinning off into oblivion and leaving me in charge.”
Takk just replied with a grunt. Some commanders might find Raki’s teasing mildly offensive, but he’d served with her long enough that their mutual respect washed away any hint of insubordination.
He clambered inside the airlock and pulled the door closed behind him. Another lever, this one thankfully easier to move, opened the inner door and gave him access inside the ship. There was no atmosphere left, just as he’d suspected. It would have slowly leaked away over many years, no matter how well the hull was sealed. After what had happened to this particular ship, ‘well sealed’ was not a description that could ever be applied to it again.
On the other side of the airlock was a small staging room, a space for the crew to put on or remove their suits and collect equipment and cargo for transfer outside. There were two lockers on the wall. The first was labeled with the word he now recognized as ‘Linda’. He opened it and found the space suit he had seen her wearing in the videos, as well as some handheld tools and EVA safety tethers. Everything looked very well worn. The second locker bore a different Terran script, which he assumed to be ‘Mark’. This locker contained tools and safety tethers, but no space suit. Takk pondered on what that meant.
The fourth message landed in his HUD inbox and he initiated playback.
This time it was Mark instead of Linda. He was in his space suit, only his head and shoulders visible to the camera. His bushy beard had been tamed by several elastic bands so that it wouldn’t float around inside his helmet and obscure his vision. Behind him, a starfield rotated slowly. There was no sign of the ship.
“Hello, star child. It’s Daddy here. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I bet Grandma baked you a big cake.”
He didn’t speak for several moments. Liquid started seeping from the corner of his eyes.
“I’m sorry again, sweetie. Damn, I never wanted to make such a habit of saying that to you. Daddy has to go away and, as much as it pains me to say it, I’m not coming back. Mummy and Daddy have a problem… well, we have lots of problems, but this one is the most important. Our ship can’t keep both of us safe. The life support system isn’t strong enough. I’ve tried everything I can think of and I can’t find any way around it. Except for one. I want you to know that you and your mum are the most important things in the universe to me, and I’m so glad you’re safe, but now I need to make sure that Mummy is safe too. She’s sleeping right now, and she doesn’t know I’m going away yet, but when you see her next time she’s going to be very sad. So I need you to be extra strong for her and give her a big hug from me. Ok? Now let me sing happy birthday to my baby girl one last time. I’m sorry you’ll have to grow up without me.”
Takk had never heard Terran singing before. The volume of Mark’s voice increased, and the words became more drawn out and melodic.
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Emma. Happy birthday to you. Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!”
A final silence.
“I love you star child. Goodbye.”
END OF MESSAGE
Takk stared at the empty locker. There was no suit because Mark had spaced himself, making the ultimate sacrifice so that his wife could live. Takk marveled at the depth and power of human love.
“Raki, there’s a body drifting out there somewhere. Calculate a probability cone starting where the asteroid would have been approximately three hundred years ago and designate it as a priority search zone. It will be a huge area so we may have to call in some Federation assistance.”
“Understood, informing Central Command now,” said Raki, her voice somber.
Shutting the locker and leaving the staging room behind, Takk moved into the next section, only to be taken aback by what he saw. A jumbled mass of storage crates was piled against the rearward wall. They all bore the spiral helix insignia symbolizing medicine within the Federation. It looked as if they had been floating loose while the ship had undergone acceleration, instead of being stowed in secure storage racks. Inspecting the deck with his lights, Takk could see the bolt holes where such racks would have been installed. Suddenly he connected the dots. The additional reinforcement of the structure on the craft’s nose must be disassembled storage racking. He also noticed that all non-critical support beams of the ship superstructure in this section had been cut out, presumably also to reinforce the structure.
An icon representing message number five appeared in his HUD. He watched it.
Linda was in the hydroponics lab. The membranes around her eyes were red and puffy.
“Life support has stabilized under the reduced load.”
Her chest convulsed and she took a sharp breath. She took a moment to calm herself and continued speaking.
“I’ve got good news, better news, and bad news. Well… new bad news. The good news is that the planet is inhabited. On the scopes, I can see clear signs of a pre-industrial civilization. Agricultural fields, and some large-scale structures, even looks like there’s at least one significant conflict going on based on some of the burn-off that I’m seeing.
“The better news is that the planet is being observed by a Federation pre-contact probe in a high orbit. My radio is shot so I can’t signal it, and it’s unlikely to see me since it’s focused on the planet, but if I can rendezvous with it then I can hardwire in and get out a call for help.
“Now the bad news. I’ve been refining the trajectory of this asteroid I’ve hitched a ride with. It definitely came from out-system, but here’s the kicker, it’s going to collide with the planet. I’m talking a dead on, bye-bye-dinosaur, type of collision that will wipe out all life down there, including that new bunch of aliens who are about to have a really bad year.
“So, this leaves me with two choices really. Option number one: I pop out from behind this asteroid, burn like hell, and try to rendezvous with the probe before the asteroid hits. There should be enough time for a ship to come to rescue me if they don’t dilly-dally, but the planet would be toast. Then there’s option number two. The asteroid and I are still a long way away from the planet. All it would take is a little nudge to push it off-course slightly, causing it to miss the planet. Unfortunately, because of how damn big this thing is, that ‘little nudge’ would take literally all the fuel I have left, leaving nothing for me to decelerate and rendezvous with the probe. Even then, I’m not completely sure it will work. Option two also has the itty-bitty drawback of condemning me to a slow cold death in space. That’s if I can even find a way to push the asteroid with the Starchild without the ship breaking apart under the stress. The longer it takes me find a solution to that, the less likely the burn is to be successful. There are just so many variables, I would be cutting it really close.
“What do I do? Do I try to get home to see my daughter again, condemning millions of innocent sapients, not to mention all the other lifeforms on that planet, to a fiery death, and then live with that weight every day for the rest of my life? Or do I try to save them with a longshot that a) might not work, and b) will definitely kill me, leaving my own daughter an orphan? Talk about hard choices. I wish Mark was here. He always had a way of putting things in perspective. Guess I’ve got some thinking to do.”
END OF MESSAGE.
Now Takk understood. Linda had made the harder choice. The asteroid had never hit Dramaria, so she must have diverted it, her long-shot successful. She had sacrificed her own life and a chance at seeing her daughter grow up. All for an alien people that she’d never met, in fact never even seen. They owed her everything.
Takk felt a new sense of duty come to rest upon his shoulders. He passed through the hollowed-out cargo section and into the hydroponics unit. The plants were long dead. Their brittle leaves fragmented into clouds of dust as he brushed past them to reach the far end of the room.
Then he saw her.
Her lower body was in a sleeping bag, strapped to the wall as spacers often did when in zero-g. Time and vacuum had mummified her, leaving the skin pulled tight over her skull as the tissues underneath had dried and shrunk. Her brown hair was unrestrained. It extended out from her head like a halo, completely still due to the lack of airflow.
To her breast, she clutched a box, held fast over centuries by stick-like arms that crossed over her chest. Takk recognized it from the first video. Emma’s gift.
Takk was broken out of his reverie by a ping. The final message arriving from the 01-001. He played it.
This time Linda was back in her space suit, the helmet beside her on the floor. She was sitting in the hydroponics unit, artificial gravity keeping her in place. This meant that the ship was under thrust, a guess confirmed by the noise of the engines that could be heard in the background. She must have started the burn, the Starchild slowly pushing the asteroid slowly away from the Dramari people and into their history books.
“It’s working,” said Linda, a sad smile on her face. “The fusion engines are running. They won’t stop until they run out of fuel or there’s a malfunction. Either way, I won’t be around to see it. I’ve decided to pilfer some parts from the life support system to build a cooler for the fuel injection assembly. That should keep the engines going a little bit longer. Disabling life support doesn’t really matter anymore, I’m dead anyway. I’d rather have a quick death than a slow one. The sad thing is I’ll never know if any of this worked, but I needed to maximize the chances. I need to make sure this wasn’t all for nothing.”
She paused, then wiped her face and tried to tidy her hair.
“This next part is for Emma. Honey, I’m sorry that I’m not coming home to you. You’re not going to understand this until you’re older, but sometimes in life, you have to make tough choices. Too often doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. I know you’ll be mad at your dad and me for the choices we made, mad at us for leaving you. I hope that one day, after you’ve grown up and had a life of your own, you’ll understand the reasons for my choice and that you’ll be brave enough to make your own hard choices when you have to. I also hope you’ll never need to. Please don’t hate me. You’ll always be my daughter. And I’ll always be your mother. I love you.
Takk’s shuttle landed softly on the pad. As the shuttle’s turbines spun down, their whining gradually abating, he picked up the satchel containing his belongings and clambered out. He was met by a strange sight. Emerald green grass, strangely different yet similar to the purple analog found on Dramaria, covered low-rolling hills stretching into the distance.
The noise caught Takk by surprise. He turned to see a human wearing a diplomatic uniform standing beside the now powered-down shuttle.
“Greetings Captain Kantari. I am John Karlsson, Senior Xeno-Attaché for the Terran Republic. Welcome to Earth.”
Takk approached and extended a hand in greeting, as he’d been taught by his own diplomacy training. John shook it firmly but gently. The human’s skin was warm and dry, much to Takk’s surprise.
“Thank you for accommodating our request so quickly,” said Takk, the translator around his neck emitting the equivalent phrase in Terran.
“No, thank you” replied John. “We owe you a great debt for discovering the fate of our missing citizens, no matter how much time has passed. Apologies for the inconvenience, I know Earth’s gravity is hard on your people, but she is too frail to make the trip into orbit. She is over three hundred years old after all. Shall I show you to her?”
“Yes, please,” said Takk.
John conducted him towards an official-looking building standing a short distance away from the landing pad. Once inside he was led to a meeting room. It was ornate and luxurious, primarily used for important official state business. The doors opened and Takk saw her for the first time.
She was ancient, pushing the limits of what human life extension technology was capable of. Her wizened form sat in a hoverchair, a more advanced successor to the wheelchairs of old, and was half buried in blankets. But her eyes were still bright. They met his as he stepped into the room.
“Hello Captain,” she said, her voice coarse with age. “I’m told that you have a message for me. I must say, I am honored to receive such an esteemed visitor, although I have no idea what this is all about.”
Takk walked slowly into the room, intimidated by the living piece of history in front of him. This woman had been alive since before unification. He sat down in the chair opposite her.
“I have several messages for you, in fact, Ms. Emma.”
He placed a data chip on the table between them. Senior Attaché Karlsson stepped forward with a datapad and placed the chip into a slot on its side, then placed it on the table before Emma.
Watching Emma’s face as she listened to the final words of her parents, Takk was struck by the emotion he saw there. Too often the facial expressions of other species were incomprehensible to him, but in Emma’s, he saw a lifetime of sadness and pain, tempered by an obvious love for the parents that she had not seen since she was a little girl, and had never forgotten.
When Emma had finished, she dried her eyes with a handkerchief offered to her by John.
“Thank you for bringing this to me. There is no way I can repay you for the closure this gives me.”
Takk quickly left his chair and knelt on the floor, bowing his head in deference.
“It is we who cannot repay you, Ms. Emma. Your mother saved our world. Everything we are now, everything we will become, is because of her. All the good we do from here, we do in her name. We are preparing your mother’s body for transport back to Earth, as well as all the belongings we’ve been able to collect from the Starchild. If you wish we can return the ship itself back to you as well, but that will take some time. We are also searching for your father’s body, and the Terran government has offered to assist.”
“Thank you,” said Emma. She shook her head. “I don’t want the Starchild back. Please leave it where it is.”
A glimpse of his satchel from the corner of his eye reminded Takk of his other delivery. He extracted the box inside, with more care than he had ever shown the omni-connect, and offered it to Emma.
“The original packaging crumbled as soon as it was disturbed, but the contents were unharmed by the passing of time,” he said softly.
Emma opened the lid of the box and lifted out the object inside. It was a star, made of an exceedingly beautiful, highly translucent, crystal that slowly boiled with a thousand colors. They ran and flowed around each other, never mixing. The star became energized by the light falling upon it and the colors quickened. At its center was the form of a baby, curled into the fetal position.
Emma smiled. In her face, Takk could see the similarities. The infant in the star had been modeled on her, custom-made by order of her parents on some far-off exotic world. She was their real Starchild.
There was something that Takk felt he needed to say.
“I am sorry for the invasion of privacy, but I have watched her final message many times. I hope that you do not hate her for the choice she made.”
Emma looked up at him.
“I don’t hate her. I could never hate her, I loved her. She was my mother” replied Emma.
Relief washed over him.
“She saved my people. Without her, we would not exist. Now she is our mother too.”
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Source: Auto Draft