The Tall Sky

Christopher Schlegel
 
Issue XXV - August 23, 2004
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Chapter 1 

The sky looked tall. It usually looked tall on Home World. But today it looked especially, perhaps even, impressively tall. Not at all like the manufactured atmospheres of the Satellite Worlds; there, it seemed the sky was short. So short as to be claustrophobically closing down on your head. Indeed some of the higher mountain ranges on Sat World Six rose above the air straight into the vacuum of space. Very much like islands poking their tip tops above a sea of breathable air, teeming with life, into the much vaster sea: the lifeless darkness of interplanetary space. There was at one time considerable debate among various scientists as to whether or not this was a satisfactory situation. On one side, it was proposed, there should be as much atmosphere manufactured as possible to insure stable, safe living conditions. On the other side, it was argued the mountain peaks that rose past the atmosphere were ideal launch sites for space vehicles because the burning propellants would not contaminate the precious air. The debate may rise again with the habitation of future Satellite World, but the debate over what to do with SatSix was over. It had ultimately been closed by the laws of physics: the atmospheric crews discovered that the small planetoid was slowly leaking air off into space. Its gravity was already holding all the air that it could. Teric Jonsen had just stepped off the morning transit shuttle flight from SatOne to Home World. The other passengers, mostly businesspersons on a tight schedule, hurried down the aisle and onto the terminal walkway. Teric let these people with their stricter agendas pass before she even moved in her seat. When the last of the passengers had passed, she rose casually, retrieved her small suitcase from the fore luggage compartment and strolled into the terminal. She paused at the first of the enormous windows lining the terminal to have a look at Home World, her first in three years. The landscape spread before her was gently rolling, thoughtfully crumpled collection of rich greens, deep browns and watery purples. It resembled a comfortable, colorful blanket on a bed that had recently been slept in and not yet made up. Buildings scattered across the landscape of her home city looked like bright little children’s toys left in such a huge bed. The sky was an infinitely distant, watery, but still bright blue with a few small, majestic white billowy clouds looking like mountains of lighter than air cotton. The newly dawned Home Star shone fiercely at a horizontal angle. Its light reflected off the clean buildings back at her in blinding white, framing the edges of people-made structures; in some places bringing them forward into a hard, dramatic focus. In other places, the light created incredibly sharp bordered, long black shadows. It was suitably breathtaking. Teric was one of a handful of administrators for the Med Complexes on all the Sat Worlds. A Med Complex was the “head hospital” on a Satellite World. It was responsible for the upkeep, operation and activity of all the various medical facilities and the health of the inhabitants of the entire planetoid. Her career usually kept her from visiting Home World for months, even years, at a time. The latest developments occurring in her people’s civilization, coupled with her job requirements, had resulted in a three-year absence. She was thirty-nine years old. Her people had been space flighting for over three hundred years. She had been at her job for twenty years. Her people had been terraforming, atmosphering and habitating Satellite Worlds for two hundred years. Thus, both Teric and her fellow people have had enough time to adapt to traveling around their solar system from one world to the next. Nevertheless . . . On some of the smaller, more distant Sat Worlds the Home Star looked like a tentative outsider. It burned its fierce, white-hot yellows and reds. It made a large portion of the sky a friendly, opulent light blue. But it always seemed as if the horizons were converging on the little circle of life giving light; the edges of the sky melting away into a hard dark purple, then the inky black vacuum of space. Here, on a nearly cloudless Home World morning, a mesmerizing almost painfully bright blue completely drenched the sky. It spread over the sprawling metropolis before Teric’s dark green eyes, all the way to the horizon. The light and sky seemed to cover and caress the landscape like a protector. Or a lover. Teric unconsciously ran her free hand lightly over her small, firm stomach. As she stood before the cradle of her people’s civilization, this well traveled space flight veteran said quietly to herself, "Three years is a long time.”

Many years ago a group of people on Home World started complaining that the outward habitation of the solar system, and of course the universe at large, was wrong. The Creator of the Universe had placed them the Home World because that’s where the Creator wanted them to be. Every single accident and mishap occurring in relation to space flight, or off world exploration and habitation, was seen by this faction as due punishment from the Creator. Finally, this group came upon a solution. Once they had raised enough funds for their own atmosphere manufacturing machinery, they set off for a small planetoid at the edge of the solar system. They took no other technology as they scorned its use as much as possible. This was a justifiable move to them because the Creator had also created this “small, humble” world; and there, they would be able to reside forever, raise their children to be Home World Bounders and, most importantly, not have to live among the “arrogant, foolish atheists that the rest of civilization had become.” Since they had no desire for contact they weren’t heard from since they left close to a hundred years ago. Until just recently. Their planet was referred to by “Outsiders” (i.e. the rest of the solar system) as SatEleven. Its founders and inhabitants called it Natura, which was the name for the Creator’s Paradise in the Ancient Texts. A smaller faction within this group of Home World Bounders was bothered by the obvious contradiction of using the very technology that they were damning to do the very thing they had also damned: habitating a world other than the one on which they were born. This smaller faction refused to leave with the others and managed to obtain a small island in the Great Southern Sea of Home World on which to happily isolate themselves. They wanted absolutely no part of the “world’s wicked technological trickery” and thus, took none of it with them. They wanted to go back to the mythological Creator’s Estate of Pure Nature. A few decades later, a Vaccination Vessel stopped to try to give them the latest in medicinal advances and check on their general health. Unfortunately, it was too late. Nature, untamed by technology, had already disposed of them. It had generally been understood that people were Nature’s most physically frail entities. And therefore, most “Back to Natura” environmentalist groups and demagogues had to eventually concede that if one was truly concerned with people’s lives technological progress was to be welcomed and not damned or restricted. Still, it seemed that every thirty or forty years the debate was brought up again as if it was an “important new issue” that had recently reared its head. With every new generation there came into existence new, learning minds; some of which were preyed upon by various irrational groups and persons. It never appeared in the least to bother these people that they were damning the very technology that kept them alive. Even worse: it also did not appear to bother them that they were teaching young minds to start their existence by damning their very means of survival and any possible future. It was at this tender age that Teric’s young brother, Jehrac, had recently arrived. Apparently, he had a few teachers in his school that were currently advancing non-technology notions. Teric’s mother had communicated her worries about the situation to her several times over he last year. Teric tried to reassure her mother that it was probably just a temporary phase the boy was going through, but it seemed to have only gotten stronger with time. Their father had passed away five years ago in a tragic space flight accident. Being a scientist, he was the parent that usually dealt with this type of issue that a child might raise or have questions about. Mother had tried her best in his absence, but was unable to answer Jehrac’s concerns in a convincing fashion. She pleaded with Teric to “Have a talk with your brother before he wound up in some group of fanatics determined to kill themselves in the Southern Sea”. So, aside from being home for a week of rest and relaxation before taking off for the most important assignment of her career, aside from trying to visit as many family members and friends as possible, aside from catching up with Gorsh, aside from simply enjoying a little time to herself on Home World after being away for so long, she was to council her little brother and save him from himself. Teric stepped out of the terminal building, onto the sidewalk and into the blinding light and warm, open outside air. Again, she stopped and enjoyed a brief moment for herself. After a reverent sweeping glance she closed her eyes and filled her lungs with a deep breath. She opened her eyes, hailed an airtaxi and thought to herself, "One week is a short time." 

Chapter 2 

She had been home ten minutes. She walked in the front door of her mother’s house, set down her suitcase, embraced her mother and exchanged warm, homecoming pleasantries. Then, in the blink of an eye, her mother’s façade of happiness dropped. She told Teric that her brother was out in the backyard and would she, “Please, please, please go speak with him at once”. Knowing her mother would have nothing else to say until Teric talked with him, she went. He was sitting with his back to the house on the well kept, lush grass of the back yard a couple of feet off the stone patio. Immediately, Teric felt a warm flood of loneliness. Part of it was knowing that her little brother was lost and confused, sitting alone, staring off into the distance. Another part was the sudden realization that while she was gone he had grown considerably and she had missed it. Forever. He was no longer a short, skinny child with light blue eyes and eternally tangled blond hair. He was now a tall young man with close-cropped light brown hair. Although still lanky, she could see the beginning of what would be a powerful, muscular frame.

"Hello, Jehrac", she said quietly.

"Hello, sis," he replied without looking at her.

"Mother said you would be arriving today." His voice had, of course, deepened, she thought.

 "And here I am," she sat down beside him and ran her fingers firmly through the grass. "How have you been?"

"Depends on who you ask. I would say fine. Mother would have a different opinion." Teric tensed slightly and thought maybe it was best to jump right in to it. Her brother certainly wasn’t avoiding the topic.

She said, "Mother did ask me to talk to you."

"She wants you to talk me out of thinking about the Creator and Home World Bound ideas."

"Neither mother nor myself want you to stop thinking about anything."

Jehrac looked at his sister, "Did you ever think there was a Creator?"

"No. But, I have thought about why some people believe there is." Without trying to sound like a lecturer, she briefly told him what she had discovered in thinking about such things. Thereafter, he launched into several arguments that she had heard before that supposedly proved illogical ideas were true. After each one she patiently explained false premises they contained. Then, he hit her with a new variation she had not heard before.

"Say you’re flying through space," he began.

"Done it many times."

"And you come across an antique automobile."

"Very improbable."

"And you discover that this antique wasn’t built on Home World but was assembled by random chance of material floating around out there in deep space."

"Impossible. Automobiles are manufactured by the conscious intention of people. And you’d need an infinite series of random chances in an infinite universe, but the universe isn’t infinite."

"Right. And a person is more complicated than an antique automobile."

"That’s true."

"So, how could people be made by random chance if an automobile, which is simpler, couldn’t be? There must have been some conscious intention of a Creator that made people."

"But, people aren’t made by random chance, Jehrac. The creation and evolution of people was and is a logical chain of cause and effect events. Which, by the way, every argument for the existence of a Creator clearly violates." Jehrac had no reply for this, so they sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Teric, does the sky look big to you?" he asked suddenly. This abrupt change in the conversation brought a small warm smile to her face. Even with the weighty questions and important philosophical issues dawning in her brother’s young mind, he was still capable of simple wonder and amazement. She lifted her head slightly to take a sincere look,

"It always does on Home World. Big, tall, towering, huge . . ." "

How does it look on Sat Worlds? I mean, I’ve accessed pictures, but when you’re really there . . ."

"It looks smaller, sometimes confining. Like you could almost reach up and touch it."

"Touch the sky? That’s pretty arrogant. Maybe that’s why the Creator wants us to stay on Home World. When you’re on a Sat World with a people manufactured sky it makes you feel big. But, when you’re here the sky makes you fell small. Like the Creator wants us to feel."

So, she thought wearily, it wasn’t the innocence of youth marveling at the beauty of existence. It was merely a devious little stunt; probably picked up from one of his teachers.

"No, Jehrac," her voice turned hard for the first time. "The sky looks small on Sat Worlds because the Sat Worlds are small. If we were to manufacture an atmosphere on a world the size of Home World the sky would eventually look big there also." He looked sullenly at the ground and slumped his shoulders. She continued. "I don’t appreciate being talked to like a fool. And, it makes me sad that you would talk as if you were a fool, which you are not. You are an intelligent young man."

Their mother opened the back door and leaned out, "Who’s hungry? Mid-day meal is almost ready." At that, Jehrac got up without a word and walked into the house leaving Teric sitting alone on the lawn watching him retreat into the house.

"Gorsh," Teric thought to herself. So much contained in one single word. She was driving her mother’s seldom used aircar to see her long time friend and confidant, part time colleague and lover: Gorsh Dakjium. The last time she had seen him in person was a little over a year ago at a medical seminar on SatFour. He had delivered a lecture on the problems that would be encountered in setting up the new Med Complex on SatSix and how to counteract those problems. He had done his usual brilliant job, which resulted in him being offered the responsibility of overseeing research and treatment of the newly discovered virus that was the cause of the project. He signed on as a consultant with the option to become more directly involved if he desired in the future. The companies financing the project were pleased to have him involved in any capacity he wished. He was justifiably considered the foremost expert in his field: extraterrestrial virology. Thus, some people were surprised when they learned he spent most of his life in his private labs on Home World, rarely visiting Satellite Worlds. Most of his work consisted of viruses originating on Home World, mutated by long space flights and new planetary environments. However, the remaining minority, more exciting to him, was dealing with viruses and quasi-viruses discovered on Satellite Worlds once they had been terraformed and atmosphered. To the companies that set up surveying mining outposts and atmosphere manufacturing equipment on the harsh frontiers of space, getting future Sat World sites ready for habitation, men like Gorsh Dakjium were absolutely invaluable. He was a wealthy man. Teric had communicated with Gorsh more regularly than usual after the seminar. She wanted to know if he had seriously considered going to the construction site of the new Med Complex on SatSix; or even being stationed there for the beginning of its operation. He told her that his decision rested on the outcome of a few projects he had currently underway in his labs. As well as some personal issues. He wouldn’t offer more on the subject and Teric knew not to push it. Even though he was a very private person, she was not accustomed to him withholding information on “personal issues” from her.

Now Teric had been informed that she was first in line for the line job of Administrator on this new complex. If she wanted it. "If?! IF I want it?!" she had thought to herself. She had kept up to date on the project by getting her hands and mind on all the information about it that was available. It was exactly the sort of thing for which she had planned, studied, worked and spent her whole career. The head of a historic undertaking, a project with solar system wide implications, a mountain-sized pile of money and more important than all the rest: the challenge to do a job never before accomplished by anyone. Teric had worked at the Med Complexes on every Sat World. She ran the show on most of them. She had five different degrees in various medical fields. She was considered a specialist in three, four, or all five, depending on whom you asked. She had started in one field but simply could not confine herself. Within two months of her first job on SatOne, Home World’s largest moon, she was running two departments with the thanks and blessing of the administration as well as the director of the department she took over. Perhaps, “took over” was the wrong way to say it. Teric was not territorial or politically backstabbing about it. She was simply more competent: she made life and death medical decisions more quickly and accurately. She started helping out here and there in odd moments or when others seemed to be stumped by a particular problem. Because of her overwhelming ability and confidence it didn’t take long for everyone to automatically refer to her as the boss: even her superiors. Within six months she was running the entire complex without title. Once, in the second year of her career, a director of a Med Complex department that Teric was beginning to “invade” challenged her authority on an important issue. Teric was proved correct by the facts of the situation, but the director persisted in his complaints. It took Teric a long time to finally grasp that this man was not interested in right or wrong concerning the facts of medical science. She had never conceived that a person could be obsessed with the prestige of a job title without regard to the competence required to earn it. The director was relieved of his post and Teric assumed his responsibilities in addition to her current ones. At the start of her third year she was promoted and formally granted the title Med Complex Administrator. Only fifty people in her entire civilization currently had that job title. Now, only a few days before she was to leave for the most important, and perhaps, the longest assignment of her career she had to know: was Gorsh going to be there? 

Chapter 3

The gathered crowd was chattering, rustling and restlessly shifting in their seats. Every so often someone entered the Great Hall and everyone was instantly quiet. They would strain to see whom it was that had just entered. When they saw it was not who they were waiting for they disappointedly resumed their small talk. Most of the anxious small talk was concerned with the announcement they had come to hear. Tonight was when they would be told who was to be among the first to leave their world with their leader’s sanction. Others had already left. But, they had done so illegally by building forbidden distress call beacons. They were considered outlaws not only because they had built the beacons and used them, but worst of all they had committed the only unforgivable crime on their world: they had left it. It was the first law put into effect almost a hundred years ago when the planet was founded. Its first inhabitants were the original group of Home World Bounders. They intended to start a world that they and their descendants would be born, live and die on: forever. Because they considered roaming around the universe, leaving the world one was born on, the most immoral action, it was their first order of business to put this law into effect. This group of people came to their new world of their own free will. So, they thought that the law was more of an offering to the Creator of the Universe than a piece of legislation that would ever have to be enforced. It was a symbol of their victory and beliefs. This was the haven of Home World Bounders: Natura. To the rest of the solar system it was SatEleven. Finally, the wait was over. A tall man in a long, plain gray cloak entered. In his right hand he held a wooden staff, which he pounded on the stone floor three times. This was done to get everyone’s attention. He needn’t have bothered, for the moment he walked in every eye in the hall was fixed on him. It was, however, tradition to hail the coming of the People’s Leader in this fashion. He spoke in a thin, loud monotone.

"Children of the Creator. People of Natura. I humbly present our benefactor, the Creator’s representative living among us. The People’s Leader, Nehra Kittamm." Everyone was instantly on their knees, clapping and yelling greetings and blessings. Kittamm walked in quickly and straight for the front of the hall. He smiled and waved to everyone; he saw no one. He was a short, thin man with balding gray and black hair. He was wearing the Leader’s customary cloak: long, plain and gray like everyone else’s, with cuffs and neck trim of thick gold braiding to distinguish his position. He reached the long wooden table at the head of the hall and turned to face his people. He spoke in a thick rich voice that everyone present gathered preciously in their ears and minds.

"Children of the Creator. People of Natura. My people that I protect and serve for the will of One that watches over us. "The path ahead of us is long and difficult. In order to continue serving our Creator we must break the most fundamental of laws. Do not forget that our parents and grandparents, out esteemed ancestors, had to do this once in their lifetime as well. They do so, however, in order that their offspring, we, could be born to live our lives according to the Creator’s plan. But! Surely we will be forgiven for our actions, for they ultimately serve the One above us. And if we cannot be forgiven, then let it be I alone that will be held responsible, and I alone will be due the punishment." No one present was sure if one person, even if it was their Leader, could assume moral responsibility for another. But, they were scared and dying and their charismatic leader had a plan that promised them a chance at remaining alive. They cheered. Kittamm raised his hands for silence, bowed his head and closed his eyes. When they were silent again he raised his head and opened his eyes that were now wet with tears. "As you may know, I have tried to arrange for our people to be treated here. But the leaders of those who live Outside of Natura have insisted that we be taken to one of their worlds for treatment of the Sickness. They have built a special place just for us. It is on a world that they call Satellite World Six. "As you surely know, the purpose of our meeting tonight is to inform you of who will be the first chosen to go to the Outsiders world for treatment. "I have given many hours of my time in deep prayer to the Creator for guidance in choosing well the first of our people to make this important journey. My assistant, Feyhoth, will now read the list of names." Kittamm motioned to the tall man with the staff, who produced a scroll from his cloak. As Feyhoth read the names on the list in his monotone voice, Kittamm stood motionless, head bowed, eyes closed as if in deep thought. Even the occasional desperate outbursts of those called and not yet called did not cause him to move. It was supposed that the people on the list were the ones suffering the worst from the Sickness and therefore deserved first attention. Indeed, this was the case with most of the list. But, there were also a few on the list that were strong, young, healthy and as of yet completely uninfected. No matter how much anyone may have wanted to question these choices, they would never have done so. For Leader Kittamm, the Creator’s representative himself, had made the list. They didn’t know how or why certain people were chosen and others not. They didn’t want to know. They only wanted to know if they and their family members were on it. They also didn’t know what to expect of the Outsiders and their Satellite World Six if they happened to be chosen to go. They didn’t know how long they could expect to live with the Sickness all around them if they weren’t chosen. They didn’t know how long it might be until another group of fortunate people was chosen to go for treatment. Or even if another group was planned. Another thing that his people didn’t know was that Kittamm himself secretly helped and allowed the distress call beacons to be made and used. 

Chapter 4 

Teric pulled the aircar lower to the ground and parked as close as possible to the front door of Gorsh’s residence. The small, unpretentious outward appearance of the house did not reflect the owner’s wealth. The private land that surrounded and secluded it did. She climbed out of the vehicle and turned to walk towards the house. Gorsh was standing in the open doorway, arms akimbo, looking at her shoulder length dark brown hair sway back and forth with her purposeful, gliding walk; observing the way her hair softly framed her round chin, large dark green eyes and wide nose; watching the curves of her hips alternately swing forward around her small, trim waist and athletically firm stomach; admiring her with a mixture of reverence and lust. She had been intimate with a few people when she was away from him for extended periods of time. But it was always for purely physical satisfaction. Shortly after any sexual encounter she couldn’t recall or experience any significant emotional attachment. Being with Gorsh was different. With him, she felt at once a complete ease, while at the same time, full of charged tension. It was a sense of completeness along with a yearning to be closer that mere physical contact. He escorted her into his house, seated her at a table prepared with a dinner for two, kissed her hand and seated himself across from her. They ate and had an uncomplicated, easy conversation. Afterward, they took a brief walk through the newest section of his labs that sprawled extensively beneath the ground. The private workspace was accessible only through a hidden elevator in the center of the house. Along with several trusted employees and colleagues, Teric was one of very few people that had ever seen it. Gorsh loved seeing her in this setting and gave her free reign to touch, look and question as she pleased. When they arrived at the newest area, filled with equipment and experimental setups devoted to his latest research she thought she was going to see something extraordinary. He had been so atypically cryptic about his latest work. But, he answered all of her questions about it without the slightest hint of guardedness. She wondered to herself why he had been so forthcoming now but not before. It couldn’t have been for fear of communication security, for there seemed nothing resembling a secret breakthrough he wanted kept quiet. After a while he suggested a more leisurely walk through the thick and colorful vegetation that was his backyard garden. Finally, Teric decided it was time.

"Gorsh, it’s been a wonderful evening. But I’ve got to bring this up. I want to know," she said, visibly bracing with tension.

He said with and easy smile, "You want to know if I’m going to SatSix."

"Yes, of course." Gorsh stopped walking and stood looking at the distant lights of the city, "I have given it a great deal of consideration. And none at all."

Teric also stopped and looked at him. She was used to his occasionally odd manner of conversation but it didn’t help to relieve the slight anxiety she felt waiting for him to get to the point. After the small pause he continued. "As you have seen, I have a lot of research projects started in my labs that can’t be moved any time soon. I’ve had several other interesting offers that you don’t want to hear about right now. I admire you, Teric, because of all the things you could have said tonight, and before, but didn’t," she looked away at the distant lights as he turned to look at her. "You could have reminded me that this is an incredibly important project. That I should probably be present to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible; that the procedures, tests and potential vaccinations that I invented are administered properly. And that it would be the ultimate test of my skill: to find a cure for a new disease that threatens all of civilization."

She said softly, "It would all be true."

"But irrelevant to what we’re talking about that you haven’t mentioned."

She looked at him from underneath her eyelashes and inaudibly mouthed, "Yes."

"Tell me. Tell me why you want to know."

She stood up straight and raised her head to look directly in his eyes, "I want you to be with me. Not simply when we have the time. Not between meetings during conference seminars. Not for the occasional emergency medical briefing. Then having to wait days, months and years for the next convenient stolen moment. I want you to be with me. Now. Until I die. You know that SatSix could turn into a long project. Maybe a lifetime. I couldn’t leave without telling you. I want you." She took a deep breath and let it go with all the pent up tension of her body. She had come to say what she had never said to the man she loved. And she had said it.

Gorsh smiled again, "Thank you. I love you too, Teric. By the way, I have decided. I’m going to SatSix because I want to be with you also. Now. Until I die." They spent the rest of the night in the garden, under the stars, that together they would soon be traveling towards. 

Chapter 5

The last name on the list of those chosen to leave Natura and be taken by Outsiders to SatSix for treatment was Nehra Kittamm. He didn’t appear to be suffering from the Sickness yet, but he was his people’s leader. His assistant Feyhoth Jikko was also on the list. Feyhoth had just begun to show the first symptoms of the illness. They had been picked up by a specially constructed ship, which was designed to bring them aboard and keep them in a quarantined section so they couldn’t infect the crew. The ship was built under the same principles as the new Med Complex on the top of the airless mountain range on SatSix. One section for those infected, one section for those uninfected and one section for careful interaction between the two. All three were sealed from one another by the latest technology. Natura, or SatEleven, was a medium sized solitary moon of a large uninhabitable planet in the outer solar system. It was a four-month journey from SatSix. Kittamm told his people that all their needs would be taken care of, but to go on such a long journey without taking food, water and clothing was unthinkable to them. They planned and packed madly. Then they said goodbye to their family and friends they would be leaving behind. Since they had no idea what to expect of Outsiders they were bewildered at the prospect of being at their mercy. Of course, the deeper fear of dying from a strange and savage illness with no hope of recovery gave them some courage. Seeing the Outsiders for the first time in their sealed contamination suits made of a foreign material gave them quite a fright. Once on board, they were even more astonished to see, through the sealed, transparent chambers, that the Outsiders looked physically exactly like themselves. Though removed a hundred years, they all had common ancestry, so language wasn’t much of a problem. And now Kittamm and some of his people were on their historic way in the ship to Teric and Gorsh’s complex. The project was historic for those on Natura for obvious reasons. It was also historic to the rest of the solar system. It was a chance to take positive action against an illness that was starting to spread through the solar system threatening everyone. And more: It was the rejoining to civilization of a group of people thought hopelessly lost to irrationality. At least that was the way Kittamm had sold it to the diplomats of the government and companies that he had talked to and thereby convinced them to go forward with the project.

Teric had spent most of the previous three years on or flying between SatSix and SatSeven. The later was where many of the Natura refugees were turning up. They had hailed passing ships with their distress beacons and begged their way onboard. There was an unwritten rule among space travelers, commercial, government, private, business and leisure: always make an attempt to rescue people issuing a distress call. It had been decades since any serious threat to civilized conduct among society members. Even though the call came from the isolated world of SatEleven no one was really worried at first. On the contrary, they were intrigued. And there was no law outside Natura that prohibited people from traveling off world. The refugees were escaping from some new form of genetic quasi-virus epidemic. They called it the Sickness. Despite the careful attempt at on board isolation, it didn’t take long before it was discovered that they were infecting the crews of these passing ships turned rescue vehicles. It was also spreading to the inhabitants of the worlds they landed. They had asked to be taken back to civilization, treated and cured. They said they had learned the “mistakes of their ways”. Though born on Natura (SatEleven) they claimed they never did share the Home World Bound beliefs of their parents, elders and leaders. But because of these beliefs enforced as law on their planet they never had a chance to live or travel anywhere. And because of the low regard of technology that their culture held they were now suffering, dying and trying to escape from the strange new illness. The crews of the passing ships tested the escapees; but because the virus was new and different from any before, it was not detected until it was too late. An epidemic started and spread. In a short time several different companies with an interest in protecting their employees and investments throughout the solar system pooled resources and built a special Med Complex for quarantine and detoxification. The site they chose to build was the highest mountain range of SatSix; the one that was taller than the atmosphere, as it was discovered that this virus couldn’t survive a vacuum. So even if the complex was compromised there would be no immediate danger to anyone else on the planetoid. Its sole purpose, for now, was housing people infected with this new illness to be studied, treated and, if possible, healed. The companies wanted the best personnel to head the staff of the new facility. They got Teric Jonsen and Gorsh Dakjium. 

Chapter 6

The naming, actually numbering, of Satellite Worlds happened as a logical solution to a disorderly situation. A little over three hundred years ago one of the larger governments of Home World decided to build the first off-world habitation station. Home World had two moons in its orbit; one was larger than the other, both of their ancient names all but forgotten in the present day. The larger satellite had, of course, more gravity, more workable surface area and more mineral deposits. It was the obvious choice for a first attempt. The government-sponsored program had little trouble obtaining public support and funding for its plan and before long Home World people were living and working on a planet on which they weren’t born. Maintaining the station turned out to be much harder than building it. After the first year of discoveries and general excitement, the novelty wore off; the taxes required to maintain the non-profit venture did not. In the second year, funding for the station dried up; the brave, ambitious off-worlders were brought home and, like all government projects that succeed spectacularly, the whole thing was at an end. The following year an upstart, maverick company announced that it would reopen the unused moon station and operate it at a profit. And more, it would offset the government deficit incurred by buying it over time. People thought the plan foolhardy. However, it wouldn’t cost them anything more; it would, in fact, reduce their taxes. Politicians and statesmen didn’t know what to think because the entire situation was unprecedented. However, they had nothing to lose except being continually harassed by the public over the deficit. The company signed the official papers, launched their ships, reopened the station and started advertising. Almost immediately space on the station was rented and it didn’t take long for the company to turn a profit; even with the huge mortgage payments they had to assume in order to get the government to allow their ownership. Within the next few years many different types of people had made reservations far in advance. Labs were soon added to house corporate scientists that made trips to study the mineral deposits of the moon. Doctors studied the physiological and psychological effects of off-world living. Wealthy people made it a unique vacation spot. Where brains and money go successfully, everyone follows. Some of the most important visitors were the heads of other companies interested in the possibility of opening their own moon facilities. Which they soon did. Within twenty years both Home World moons were being covered with mining stations, full time residences, malls and hotels. Within fifty years everyone had their thoughts and eyes on the rest of the solar system for potential colonization. Within one hundred years several companies developed atmosphere-manufacturing equipment and the outward habitation of the solar system grew exponentially. At first the companies and people founding outposts on other planets and planetoids gave their own unique names to these worlds. Sometimes a newly inhabited world had more than one name. This caused considerable confusion. Finally, the solution was agreed upon by a conference of all companies and governments involved in off-world projects. The name “Home World” was coined. Its two moons were christened Satellite World One (the larger) and Satellite World Two (the smaller); SatOne and SatTwo informally. The rest of the worlds would be numbered according to order of habitation. The old names persisted for a while and would probably never be wholly lost. But, in all formal contract, negotiations and media reports the new and much more efficient naming grabbed hold immediately and held admirably. Almost all ships departing Home World and headed for SatThree or beyond stopped at SatOne for final checks and refueling. Thanks to ever increasing space flight propulsion technology, the trip from Home World to SatOne or Two took only a few hours, instead of a few days like in the past. The trip to SatSix was likewise shortened, however, still lasted several months. Teric and Gorsh didn’t mind at all. They had much preliminary work to do. And, they gladly welcomed the time to become reacquainted with one another mentally and physically.

Teric was sitting on the bed, thinking about her mother, when Gorsh walked in their ship quarters. He grinned and said, "Today’s the day." The ship was due to arrive at SatSix in a matter of hours. From there, the crew and cargo would be shuttled down to the newly constructed Med Complex. Teric tried to answer with a smile, but it came out half strained with the sadness of her thoughts.

"Still torturing yourself?" Gorsh tossed his computer work pad on the desk in the corner and sat down on the floor in front of her.

She reached out and caressed his neck, "I’ll be all right."

"Your brother is just temporarily confused. With age and experience he’ll turn out fine. At least he’s trying to think for himself, even if he’s thinking incorrectly right now."

"I don’t know…" she began to reply with a puzzled frown returning to her face. "Before I left I had one last talk with him. There was a strange edge to the tone of his voice. Almost as if he was humoring me by discussing the matter any further. Like he had already firmly made up his mind and was trying not to sound too condescending about knowing more than me."

"He’s a teenager."

"I know, but listen. He asked all kinds of questions about the Complex, the project, our mission. He knew more than most people do about these things. More than he probably should know, if only for security reasons."

Gorsh laughed softly at this, " Probably hacked his way into a few corporate databases and downloaded ‘classified info’."

"Why?"

"Aside from interest in his big sister’s important job, he probably wants to know about Kittamm. That guy is big news. And quite a type of folk hero to many Home World Bound factions. Like everyone else who cares either way about this issue your brother was interested in what changed his mind and made him lead his people back to rationality and civilization."

Teric sat motionless for a moment and stared at the wall. Then she said, "Anyway, I wasn’t thinking of Jehrac just now. I was thinking of my mother."

"What about her?"

"She and people like her make me frustrated and sad. They accept the enlightened knowledge of civilization on faith. They don’t understand or reason. To them it’s all just blindly believed dogma. If it vanished tomorrow they would know where it went, or why, or be able to attempt to bring it back. Which makes it worse in some ways than Jehrac’s belief in Home World Bound ideas. At least he’s trying to think."

"Your mother may not be the most intelligent person to have lived, but she tries to do good to the best of her knowledge and abilities. She always fully supported you and your father, the scientists of the family."

"Yes, I know. I’m not trying to blame the possible downfall of civilization on her."

He smiled. "You worry too much, dearest," he embraced her and in between soft, wet kisses from her chin down her relaxing neck he added, "We’ve got more important things to do. And everything’s going to work out just fine…absolutely perfect…" 

Chapter 7

Teric had visited the new Complex on SatSix quite a few times during its construction phase. This was the first time she had seen it fully operational. Gorsh had seen video of it and knew it inside and out before he set foot in it because he had been involved and consulted in nearly every aspect of its design. This was, however, quite different; actually being in the completed structure for the first time. When they arrived they took an inspection tour. The complex was a marvel of the latest in structural, medical and quarantine technology. Even though both of them were completely familiar with it “on paper” (as engineers still liked to say) to walk through it was a rare treat in novelty. They felt somehow like young newlyweds that knew their dream house was being built, but it wasn’t entirely real to them until now. After the tour they settled into their rooms. It was understood that Teric was in charge of the entire project and Gorsh was head of the medical research teams. Therefore having private quarter next to one another was planned for maximum efficiency in communication between the two most important people on staff. To their amusement, there was also a door with a lock that separated their adjoining rooms. When they had settled in they opened this door and left it open. After breakfast the next morning they observed final testing of the equipment in all sections of the complex. They were done by dinnertime. After a quick meal in the galley they went to their first meeting with leader and representative of the infected SatEleven people. They had heard of Kittamm and he them. Neither had pictures or video of the others; only a short, formal, official bio sheet. The meeting was held in the third section of the complex; where a form of sealed interaction could occur. The ceiling, floor and three of the room’s walls were a grayish-white in which the entire complex was decorated. The fourth wall was a transparent sheet of high-density polycarbon. Teric, Gorsh and five other staff members seated themselves around what appeared to be a circular table that was cut in half by the transparent wall. On the other side of the wall the table continued its circle making the contaminated side of the room look like a mirror image. Kittamm, Feyhoth and five other members of their group soon entered into the mirror image room and sat at the table. Formal introductions were made. Immediately after which, Kittamm said, "Please allow me to thank you and your people for being so generous and benevolent. My people are suffering greatly and if you didn’t help us we would all surely perish. At first, I feared you wouldn’t help us because of our different beliefs."

Teric replied, "The communications that you sent and the fact that you allowed yourself to be brought here led me to think you had renounced your irrational beliefs. If this is true, then how are our thoughts different?"

"No, no, Administrator Jonsen. You misunderstand. Or, perhaps I did not make myself clearly understood. I refer to our beliefs in the past. The way we used to think."

This time Gorsh gave an amused grin and interjected, "Before the virus."

"Yes, Doctor Dakjium, that is true," Kittamm smiled graciously and briefly bowed his head toward Gorsh; "The Sickness has changed many things for us."

Teric made a mental note to tell Gorsh not to antagonize this man in the future and brought the conversation back to productive terms, "I assume you have settled in. I want you to look over the testing schedule and have your people organized and ready. If there is anything you require that you do not have, please, contact the appropriate member of my staff. Do you have any questions? No? Good. Thank you for your time Mr. Kittamm. We will see you tomorrow morning. You are excused."

Kittamm sat motionless for a moment looking like he was about to speak. He was very annoyed with Administrator Teric Jonsen. All his life he was used to dealing with people by mezmerizingly talking to them. Slowly, surely and carefully prying them open like shellfish to scoop out or leave implanted whatever he wanted. "This person, a female leader no less!" he thought to himself, gave him no opportunity to speak on any other subject than the task at hand. He considered, for this brief moment, to attempt to continue the conversation. Then, thought more wisely of it, merely bowed and smiled without another word, got up and left. His people followed him likewise. After they left Teric asked her key staff members if there was any other business to be discussed. Everyone clearly wanted everything to go perfectly smooth from day one. Among many small, trivial problems and questions that Teric easily and immediately solved or delegated, there was a puzzling minor oddity. Maintenance Crew Forman Mita Wilens said, "It seems as if there are some missing supplies: some clothing, food, a little water. Nothing serious, no medical equipment. It might just be a glitch in the records. Or that the wrong numbers got loaded in during supply delivery or stocktaking. Either way, I like to run a tight ship and I’ll straighten it out. Just wanted to make sure you were aware of it if you were going through the logs."

Teric replied, "Thanks, Mita. I’m sure you’ll run it down. Anybody else run across any info relevant to this issue pass it along to Mita and myself. Anything else? Good." She paused briefly as people where making their final notes, then spoke again. "Tomorrow’s the first day of testing. I know everyone may be a little nervous or anxious. But we have done our jobs effectively. So don’t stay up all damn night retesting your equipment, worry about our ability to cure these people or just being impatient to get started. Get a good night’s sleep and we’ll get the best possible start in the morning. Thank you all for your time. Have a good evening. Meeting adjourned." They all filed out with a friendly word or two to Teric and Gorsh who remained seated at the table. In a few moments they were alone. She looked through the transparent wall at the seat that Kittamm used a short time ago, "I don’t trust that one at all."

Gorsh laughed, "Being the Administrator, you should be on your guard. And he hasn’t had a chance yet to earn your trust. But, Teric! I mean, really, he’s just a harmless little man that imagines himself to be the great and noble leader of his primitive tribe. I know it was unprofessional to insult him the way I did. But you offended him even worse."

"Me? How?"

"As I said, he considers himself to be a very important person. You treated him like just one more patient in the busy schedule of a doctor’s daily rounds." Teric opened her mouth to speak, to defend herself. Gorsh held up his hands in a surrendering manner and continued, "I know, darling. That’s all he is in reality. But just like I shouldn’t have insulted him, you shouldn’t either. In any way. He is respected by his people, if not by us. And that makes him very useful to us in getting them to cooperate with us. In the long run, things will run much more smoothly and productively."

Teric considered this for a moment, "All right. That may prove to be true. But, still, after this first impression, I don’t trust him."

"Fair enough. What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing yet. But, if it becomes necessary…have you familiarized yourself with the security device?"

"Read about it in some of the confidential briefs."

"I’m the only one with access to it and I’m the only one that is supposed to know the code to activate it. But I think it would be wise if you knew these things as well."

"That could be a wise precaution. But just how much trouble can Kittamm cause? Here we are on the top of an airless mountain, miles from the nearest habitation. What’s he going to do? Where’s he going to go if he manages to escape?"

"If I knew what he was thinking, or what he might do, I wouldn’t need that thing." The thing she referred to was the complex’s master remote security device. It was designed to enforce a complete lockdown. The complex had regular safety measures built in: locks and seals on doors that connected the sections to one another and to the outside perimeter walls and ship docking ports. The device Teric had could with one brief code (known only to her) override every door, lock and seal in the place. And more than that: once activated it could divert all computer control of the complex to the device. It was the ultimate failsafe.

Gorsh said, "Teric, I’m following your thoughts on this and it makes sense. But, the original plan was for only you to have access to it."

"And hopefully even I won’t ever have to use it. If that’s what it comes to, I will be the one to assume control. I just want you to learn how to use it in case of an emergency. The thing is supposed be a backup plan after all. I’m just planning for you to be my backup."

Gorsh replied, "All right. When I have a few minutes I’ll familiarize myself with its operation. Where is it stored?"

"In my quarters, in a hidden compartment, in the wall by the door." She gave him the code to open the compartment. She also gave him the code to activate the security device and briefly told him how it worked. All of it was information that no one, except she, was supposed to know. 

Chapter 8 

For the next few days the schedule proceeded as planned. Samples of blood and tissue were taken. Batteries of tests were run on these samples. Some of the staff was doctors simply trying to alleviate the immediate aches, pains and suffering of those in who the viral infection was in advanced stages. No real progress toward a cure had been made but many possibilities had been ruled out. Teric was constantly in motion from one area to the next listening, suggesting and directing the entire staff. Gorsh ate occasionally in the galley. Otherwise he spent all of his waking hours in the main lab pouring over test results and conducting experiments on samples. They both worked harder than they had ever worked in their lives. Kittamm was, as Gorsh suggested he might be, useful in setting his people at ease when necessary; getting them organized, in place and on time when necessary. He was very helpful. Teric maintained a professional, courteous manner around him. Outwardly she even tried to warm to him as an individual. Inwardly, however, she still didn’t trust him and mentally kept her distance trying to keep her judgment objective. Something about him put her in an uneasy frame of mind. It wasn’t anything she could specifically put her finger on. His conversational tone reminded her of Jehrac’s when she last spoke to her brother. Several weeks into the project, after a long day of being probed and scanned, Kittamm’s assistant Feyhoth Jikko cracked. Yelling hysterically in his high, thin voice that he, "Couldn’t take anymore of it!" he seized a piece of medical equipment that was potentially explosive, ran to a corner of the room in which he was being tested and threatened to blow up the place. The room was one in which patients were free to walk around and the doctors were required to wear contamination suits. They were safe in these suits and could simply walk out the door to the airlock that joined the unquarrantined section. Feyhoth wouldn’t be able to get through the airlock without the code to operate it. And even if he had the code he would have died in the airlock during its vacuum decontamination process. He could, however, do a great deal of damage to the room and set back the project for an extended, unknown length of time. Teric was immediately called. She suited herself and in a few minutes was standing in the room trying unsuccessfully to reason with the man.

She spoke into the suit’s com device, "Get Kittamm in here. Now." When his leader arrived Feyhoth started crying and said, "Master! I’m so glad you are here! I just can’t take this anymore. Being endlessly poked, prodded and stuck with the Outsiders’ strange devices. None of it does any good. Look at me… look at me! I’m not getting better, I’m only getting worse! Make them cure me or make them stop, please, Master Nehra!" The virus was advancing in him at an alarming rate. He looked terrible.

Kittamm calmly starting talking to him, "They are trying their very best, my friend. You must try your very best to be patient. If you aren’t they can’t help you or any of our people. You must allow them to help you." Feyhoth looked quickly back and forth between the suited Outsiders and his leader. He started, "But…" Kittamm cut him off by holding up his hand and spoke to him in a low, soft voice that Teric and her staff members couldn’t hear. He spoke to his frightened assistant for several moments. Finally, Feyhoth became more relaxed. His rigid, tense posture was replaced with a drained stoop, arms hanging loosely at his sides as he handed the dangerous device to Kittamm. Kittamm continued to quietly comfort him while holding out behind himself the piece of equipment for Teric. From across the room Kittamm looked calm and serene throughout the ordeal. As Teric approached to get the device she saw that he was trembling slightly and sweating. From closer to them she could overhear his soft, melodious voice and Feyhoth occasionally, tonelessly interjecting, "I’m sorry Master Nehra, I’m sorry…"

Teric’s Maintenance Foreman Mita Wilens was waiting for her outside the airlock. As she climbed out of her suit Wilens inquired, "Disaster averted?"

Teric nodded affirmative and asked, "What have you got?" seeing that he held a computer work pad in his hand. The screen was activated and filled with information.

"About those missing supplies," Wilens replied and handed her the pad.

As she looked at the pad she asked, "Figure out the discrepancy yet?"

"Beyond a doubt, ma’am. I think you should see for yourself." Wilens wouldn’t say anything further and seemed to be more than a little aggravated. They walked to his office. When they got to his door he opened it and Teric got quick a shock: her brother was sitting in a chair facing Wilens’ desk.

"Jehrac?!" she exclaimed, temporarily dumbfounded.

"Hello, sis," he replied quietly.

Wilens entered the office and sat behind his desk addressing Teric, "Apparently, he stowed away on the same ship that brought you here. Been here hiding out all the time, stealing food, clean clothes a few odds and ends. Actually, quite a clever and resourceful young man. Unfortunately, engaged in totally unacceptable activities. So what do you want to do with your little brother, Admin Jonsen?"

Teric quickly came to her senses when she realized that Wilens had asked her a question. "Mita, could you let me have a few moments alone with him in here?" "No problem, boss. I’ve got a few things to check over anyway," he replied as he got up and left. She composed herself, sat down calmly, faced her brother and quietly asked, "What the hell are doing here?"

He answered at once, "I came to meet Nehra Kittamm." Thereafter followed a discussion, during which Teric realized that Jehrac did have a valid point; even if he did attempt to accomplish it in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. He would, of course, have to leave as soon as possible. But the next supply ship wasn’t due for several days and she thought it wouldn’t do much harm to have him stay until then. There was probably no sense in calling up a ship just to transport him before the next planned arrival. Jehrac’s motivation was one that many people across the solar system shared. Regardless of which side of the Home World Bound issue they stood, everyone was interested in the Natura story. Especially Nehra Kittamm and how he had been able to change his own mind and his people’s about leaving their world and establish contact with Outsiders. Not to mention that he had convinced some very important and powerful Outsiders to go to a great deal of trouble, effort and expenditure. She decided that Jehrac could stay in her largely unused room for the next couple of days. She slept in Gorsh’s room anyway and they could keep an eye on him while keeping out of the way of complex operations. She might not have considered her brother’s proposition at all. But as she listened to him plead his case to be able to talk to the man, she was surprised to find herself thinking that perhaps she could trust Kittamm a little after all. Having just witnessed him single-handedly disarming a dangerous situation was part of her reconsideration. Perhaps the fact that she had seen him trembling with fear, but still finishing the job was what clinched her decision. Maybe, she thought, Kittamm could help Jehrac come to a rational conclusion about the issues that were troubling him. After all, had not Kittamm himself, the Leader of Natura, foregone his beliefs in order to help his people by leaving their world and seeking advanced technology? She agreed to let her brother meet and talk to Kittamm. Once that was decided, Jehrac gladly agreed to whatever other arrangements and conditions she placed on his brief stay. 

Chapter 9 

Kittamm sat alone in the conference room with the transparent wall. Teric had told him that her brother was visiting the complex and wished to speak with him. Then, she asked if he would do so. He graciously accepted. While he waited for Jehrac to arrive, he was alone with his thoughts. His assistant Feyhoth had done a wonderful job with their staged crisis scene. And Teric had done exactly what he thought she would in such an event: call him to help calm Feyhoth and divert a potential disaster. It was done merely to try to gain some of the administor’s confidence. Now she wanted him to talk with her own young brother. He had hoped for something to come of his efforts but this was beyond all his expectations. He wondered if and how he would be able to use the boy. Once he talked to him he would have a clearer idea. So far he had been successful in concealing his motives from the Outsiders. At least none of them seemed outwardly suspicious. In retrospect, it had been surprisingly easy thus far to deceive a great many Outsiders. They trusted easily and assumed benevolence almost unconditionally. Obviously, their decadent beliefs and lifestyles formed the primary cause of their weaknesses. Since he had very little experience with any technology, much less the highly advanced equipment and devices in the complex, he had no idea how much longer his most precious secret would be kept. It was a secret that he alone possessed; not even his closet aides and assistants had been aware of it. He didn’t completely understand it himself. Years ago, on Natura, before he had risen to power, people started becoming ill and showing the first symptoms of what would come to be known as the Sickness. He thought it odd that no one noticed that the only people ill at first were those that had direct contact with him: his family, friends, teachers. But the older people had forgotten and the younger people were never taught much about diseases, like viruses, that it required advanced technology to deal with. And because they had a primitive existence people were frequently sick with something. It wasn’t until a year later that it was proposed that some serious epidemic might be taking place when more and more people got violently, horribly ill and never recovered. At first a younger Nehra conducted some private experiments. He would go out of his way to visit villages that hadn’t yet been infected. Then he would wait and watch as the Sickness soon spread everywhere he went. His people had a limited knowledge of medical science but he read and learned everything he could. Finally, he began to understand what was happening: he was, somehow, a carrier of the Sickness, perhaps the only one. Regardless of its origin, he could spread it but was probably immune to it. He didn’t know the specific medical details of the disease but he did know that he was at least partly responsible for his people’s epidemic. He told no one but considered going off alone into the wilderness. He considered killing himself as he constantly felt an enormous, thick hot ocean of guilt drowning him. One day he approached a public meeting the Leader and Elders were holding. He started by telling them that he had learned what he could about the Sickness. Then, he told them that he had eventually lost his entire family, most of his friends and teachers to the Sickness. Before he could tell them that he was a carrier, and therefore highly responsible, they stopped him in mid-speech and talked privately amongst themselves. When they were done conferring they told him they were sorry for his loses. They appreciated his efforts in learning about the Sickness and they wanted him to head a new committee for the purpose of looking into what could be done about the epidemic. Nehra Kittamm stood at the crossroads of his life. The first path led to finishing his speech, getting out the complete truth about his condition and possibly being thrown out of society or even killed as punishment. The second path led to concealing forever his condition, social acceptance and pity along with an important and powerful position in his people’s government. He chose the second path. He became a public symbol of his people’s suffering, loss and misery. In the years that followed he rose steadily to power. Eventually, he had a few of his people secretly build the distress call beacons and encouraged them to escape. Sitting in the Med Complex on an Outsiders world was to him a monument to his endless planning and efforts over many years. The door on the other side of the wall opened and brought him back to the present. Jehrac Jonsen walked in. Nehra Kittamm rose, smiled and said, "How do you do, son. I am very pleased to meet you." 

Chapter 10 

The next morning Gorsh returned to his quarters, after breakfast, to spend a few minutes learning about the security device before starting another day of work. He walked through the open adjoining door to Teric’s quarters, which was now being used by her brother. He looked at the bed and saw that Jehrac was fast asleep. He keyed in the code to open the compartment, took out the device, punched in the code to activate it and walked back into his quarters to sit at his desk. Ten minutes later he had learned the device’s function commands, turned it off, returned it to its compartment and left for his lab. A long, tense five minutes after Gorsh had left, Jehrac got out of bed quietly and carefully observed that he was truly alone. He had feigned sleep and seen everything Gorsh had done. He went to the hidden compartment, opened it, took out the strange looking device, punched in the activation code and spent the next thirty minutes carefully learning all about it. An hour later, Jehrac had found an unoccupied airlock and a contamination suit. He climbed into the suit and went through the airlock into the testing room to which it led. It was also currently unoccupied. He walked over to the door that led to the quarters of the infected people of Natura, put his hand on the lock release and paused. "This is it," he thought, "No looking back now." He unlocked the door, opened it and stepped through the doorway to the shrieking of alarm sirens and flashing lights. He walked down the hallway looking in each room as he passed. Most of the people were sitting or standing frozen in place terrified to move because of the alarms and the presence of an Outsider in his strange mechanical suit. Eventually he found what he was looking for: Kittamm’s room. As he walked in Kittamm rose from his seat. Jehrac handed him the security device.

The alarms were designed to go off if anyone but an infected person entered the quarantined section, suited or not. When it was necessary to go into this section the appropriate staff was to be notified and the computer alarms temporarily deactivated. Jehrac knew the alarms would be triggered but didn’t know how to stop it. He figured that he would get to Kittamm before anyone could stop him. Once he did the alarms wouldn’t matter anyway. He was right. As soon as the alarms went off Teric was running to her quarters to get the security device. On her way she yelled orders in her con unit and to stunned staff members she passed in the hallways. When she got to her quarters and saw that the device was missing she instantly thought Gorsh had it and was grateful that she had told him about it. Seconds later Gorsh rushed in the door and saw Teric looking at the open, empty hidden compartment. Teric saw that he didn’t have it after all and felt a dizzying, black yawning abyss opening in her stomach, "You don’t have it."

 He looked stunned and answered, "No, I was on my way to get it and when I saw you standing here I…" He didn’t get a chance to finish because the voice of the computer interrupted him, "Security status override enabled. Section lockdown activated."

Together they ran through the hallways and arrived at the central control room. "Complete computer control diverted to alternate security device," the computer’s voice informed the control room at large. One of the staff seated at a console was furiously typing commands into her computer keyboard, "I can’t get anywhere. That damn thing works perfectly." Teric started to ask if anyone knew exactly what was going on when the main view screen showed Kittamm from the waist up. He was holding the security device in one hand; his other hand was resting lightly on Jehrac’s shoulder. Teric’s nightmare was complete. The control room erupted into questions about how Kittamm got the security device, what he was doing with it and why their administrator’s stowaway brother was in the infected section, when Kittamm started to speak.

"A very clever and useful device was just brought to me by this equally clever and useful young man," he patted Jehrac’s shoulder several times in a possessive manner. "If I understand correctly, Administrator Jonsen should be in her control room right now, watching and listening to me, helplessly frustrated because I have now have total control of her complex right here in my hand," he raised the device for display. "I hope that is so. If it is not, we shall know soon enough. However, if it is then, please, listen carefully. I have some requests to make of you, Miss Jonsen. But first… Young Mr. Jonsen? Would you care to join me and carry out our righteous mission to serve the wishes of the Creator?" Jehrac was already wide-eyed with wonder and turning red from embarrassment at being referred to in such glowing words from his hero. This last bit, an invitation to join and fight at Kittamm’s side, was too much for him to resist. Slowly, he began to take off the helmet of his contamination suit.

Teric started yelling uselessly at the viewscreen, "Jehrac, no! What the hell are you doing?! You’ll be infected!" She pushed aside the closest staff member seated at a workstation and began keying in commands. She yelled over her shoulder, "Get everyone in suits and tear down the damn walls if you have to. Get that device back, get Jehrac out of there, sedate Kittamm and isolate him." Several people ran out of the room to try to carry out her orders. Unnoticed, Gorsh remained staring at the viewscreen for a few moments lost in thought. Finally after a few moments he rushed out the door. Jehrac was now taking off the rest of the suit and Kittamm started to speak, "Miss Jonsen, you are now probably trying to override this device, even though you know it to be a futile effort. Your determination is admirable. Let us put it to a more productive task. In exchange for the continued existence of your staff, which I now control," again he held up the security device, "I wish to visit your Home World." Teric and the remaining control room staff instantly stopped moving, talking and working. They all looked in amazement at the madman, revealed, on the viewscreen. 

Chapter 11 

Kittamm reasoned that as long as he had Jehrac, his sister wouldn’t try anything too rash. Perhaps if she didn’t have to consider her young brother she would simply destroy the complex and stop him right then and there. He also knew that if he killed the staff by getting Jehrac to alter the environmental controls with the device he would never be able to convince any Outsiders to bring a ship to rescue him. His plan was simple and straightforward: get Teric to signal a transport ship, tell them everyone was cured and as proof of their “miraculous victory over the deadly illness”, fly him and his group to their Home World as public spokespersons. The young boy had been easy to convince that Home World Bound ideas were sound. Jehrac had gone most of the conceptual distance himself and only needed the gentle assuring reinforcement of an adult he revered to finalize his conviction. When Jehrac had mentioned the security device to him in their meeting he had been careful not to outwardly show any sign of surprise. But he had to admit to himself he had been shocked, if only for a moment. Kittamm himself had never had any strong, well-formed convictions; he merely hated everyone and everything because of his strange condition. Here, however, was a young boy who had the strong engine of a conviction in addition to an overwhelming hatred with which to fuel it. Kittamm had built a lifetime’s work out of manipulating people. He observed that other people seemed to think and feel strongly about things and figured out how to turn their desires toward his own purposes. Because he had no idea how to form or hold a principled conviction he admired the boy. Because he didn’t understand how a consciousness could grasp a principle so firmly he actually feared the boy. Furthermore, he was surprised that Jehrac was so easily convinced that his plan to infect the unsuspecting Outsiders on their own Home World was the proper and just course of action.

Teric and her staff held an emergency meeting. She was currently speaking to her Chief Engineer, "Track down every inch of shielding. Get all the mobile force field units. We need to stop the security device transmitting signal from reaching the control room units," she handed a computer pad to the engineer. "Here are the frequency stats that it operates on. Scroll down to down to view any other info you might need on it. Just find a way to make it useless." The engineer grabbed the pad and was up and running out the door. The rest of the staff was pouring over technical information on the complex to come up with a plan. Most of them were already in contamination suits. Someone was supposed to be on the way with suits for the rest of them. In the middle of a sentence Teric looked around the room and asked, "Where is Doctor Dakjium? Has anyone seen him lately?" Negative replies echoed around the room. Finally everyone was suited up and continued to work on some way of regaining control of the complex. Some of the staff was leaving the room to carry out their orders elsewhere. A few remained seated with their pads, consulting and arguing with each other on various aspects of plans to escape their dire situation. Everyone stopped momentarily when Gorsh, still unsuited, ran into the room. Teric was at first relieved to see him, "Where the hell have you been?" Then she noticed he was unsuited, "And why don’t you have a suit on yet?!"

He grinned and panted slightly from being short of breath, "Been…in the lab. Don’t need… suit… look…" he threw a pad on the table in front of Teric and sat down in the first available chair. As her staff members gathered around her to read the contents of the computer pad screen Gorsh pulled a small medical tube and a hypospray gun out of his lab coat pockets. Having regained his breath he grinned and asked, "Who’s first?" He had discovered Kittamm’s precious secret: he was a carrier of the disease. And more, through samples of Kittamm’s blood and tissue, he had figured out how to make an antidote and vaccination. Watching Kittamm on the viewscreen and hearing Teric yell that Jehrac would be infected started him on a line of thought he hadn’t considered before. Kittamm had even gloated that he would "carry out" his "righteous mission". He had gone to his lab and alone rechecked several tests’ results. In a short time he had the answer in his mind and was speedily racing around the lab grabbing sample containers, knocking over equipment to get what he wanted and bringing his mental solution into a concrete form. What Kittamm had not fully understood and used to destroy, Gorsh had finally understood and now used to defeat him. Once everyone present was injected with the cure Teric made plans for the rest of the staff to be inoculated. She picked up Gorsh’s pad again and pointed to a few figures on the screen.

She turned to him and asked, "Is this stat within tolerable error limits?" He looked at, momentarily puzzled.

Slowly he began to grin, "Of course. And, yes, that’s an excellent idea." She turned to her staff and said, "This is what we’re going to do." 

Chapter 12 

Teric walked into the central control room and faced the view screen monitor on the wall. In a few minutes Kittamm had promised to be back online to see if she was ready to carry out his demands. She had sent Mita Wilens and a few of his maintenance crew members outside to complex. They put on space suits, cut a hole in the perimeter wall and were on their way around to the outside wall of the infected section. They carried with them a computer pad with the entire schematic layout of the complex to find an environmental conduit near that wall. Once located they would cut a hole in the wall, set up an air pump connected to tanks full of Gorsh’s cure in gas form and pump the infected section full of it. So far all attempts to override the security device had failed. At the designated time Kittamm appeared on the viewscreen, "Have you prepared a statement for me, Miss Jonsen?" He was relishing every syllable.

Teric held up a computer pad and replied, "I have recorded a message on this unit with the appropriate codes that will convince a transport ship to allow you to board."

"And if they ask to speak directly with you?"

"Part of the message is a statement that says we are too busy working on our inoculation and vaccination plans to waste further time with communication. The statement also claims that I have spoken with important government and company officials that want you and your people on Home World without delay. I am uploading the information now. You will be able to retrieve it when you release the computer communications controls and then send it whenever you wish. From the time you send the message it will take about an hour for the ship to arrive, dock and be ready for boarding."

"Excellent," Kittamm smiled. "And now, I wish to bid you farewell, Miss Jonsen. It has been a pleasure meeting you. I shall never forget how helpful you have been."

Before he cut the communication she hastened to ask, "Mr. Kittamm, may I please speak with my brother?"

He assumed a somber, serious countenance, "I am sorry, Miss Jonsen. But that isn’t possible. Is there anything else? No? Good. Thank you for your time."

Clearly he was enjoying this chance to throw her own words and manner back in her face. She forced back a grimace and the harsh words that sprang to her mind. She tried to entreat, "Please… Mr. Kittamm. I just want to tell him he doesn’t have to go and…"

He cut her off, "Oh! But your dear brother does want to go. Very much so. Perhaps as much as I do. Goodbye."

The viewscreen went dead. She and her staff had saved the complex and cured the disease. But now, without control of the station, it looked as if she might lose her brother. She stood straight, tall and proud in the middle of the complex central control room filled with her staff and kept the tears forming in her eyes from rolling down her cheeks.  

After she had reigned in her emotions she went to check on the progress of her Maintenance Foreman. Wilens and his crew were taking off their space suits and answering as many questions as they could. Teric gathered that everything went according to plan. According to Gorsh’s calculations the virus would be dead in two to three hours after the inoculations had started. The infected people would start to show visible signs of returning health immediately. Within the proscribed hour, the ship had docked and was boarding its Natura passengers. After another hour it was ready to depart. Teric and her staff were still trying unsuccessfully to regain control of the complex functions in order to notify the ship and, or the local authorities of the situation and take Kittamm into custody. Kittamm at that moment was starting to notice that some of his people were acting strangely. A few of them had been bedridden and hours from death. They had to be taken onboard on stretchers hidden in and under various containers. Now they were wide-awake, talking easily and excitedly and asking where they were going. Others, who had previously walked in a slow and tortured manner, were now standing and walking erect and confidently. Something, he thought, is very wrong. He had taken the precaution of bringing on board with him a piece of equipment that he understood to be used to test for evidence of the virus in an infected person’s blood. He had Jehrac, who understood how to operate the machine, test several of his people. They tested registered negative for the virus. He had Jehrac start to test everyone. The ship’s engines were firing; they were taking off. As the ship was slowly rising off the mountaintop, away from the lonely Med Complex structures, Jehrac was obtaining negative test results. Kittamm’s anger was also rising steadily. Once everyone had been tested and Kittamm realized that his formerly infected followers had somehow been cured and were in good health he walked slowly to his quarters. He ignored all of the people that asked him eager questions and pulled at his cloak rejoicing in their miraculous good fortune. They were no longer of use to him. Outwardly, he was grim but calm. Inside his head was a turbulent, seething mass of concealed rage and hatred. When he arrived at his ship quarters he closed and locked he door. In the corner were several carrying cases that he had had one of his assistants bring on board from the complex. They were crammed full of the potentially explosive medical devices with Feyhoth had previously threatened to destroy on of the testing rooms. He carefully set them all out on the floor, laboriously activated them one after the other and unceremoniously set off the first of them. They were the first and last pieces of advanced technology Nehra Kittamm ever learned to operate. Far below, in the Med Complex, Teric watched the ship explode through an outside viewing window. As she thought of her brother all the tears that she had bravely restrained in the control room returned. They gathered around her eyelashes and reflected the harsh, bright multi-colored explosion at which she couldn’t stop looking. After enough of her tears had gathered in her eyes they started to roll down her cheeks. They rolled. Then they streamed. Then they flowed. 

Chapter 13

Teric and Gorsh settled permanently on SatTwo. They were married in a small, dignified ceremony. The union of two such prominent individuals recently involved in saving civilization caused a media frenzy. Much to the public’s dismay, the wedding was carried out in extreme privacy, limited to a few close family members and friends. Within a month Teric was pregnant with their child. They had a short, heated discussion during which she informed Gorsh their child would be named Jehrac. Not only in memory of her brother, she said, but in the hope that at least in namesake his murdered potential would be realized. Gorsh knew that this wouldn’t help heal her mental wounds but it was an argument he couldn’t win. Teric knew she would never be able to forget her brother. But, she also knew that she wanted to look forward, not backward. She finally understood that she was not moving forward but, instead, only immortalizing her grief. And in the person of her own first child. Another short, this time, not heated discussion followed. They somberly agreed to a different name for their child. Gorsh had his labs flown up to their new residence. Teric took over the Med Complex on SatTwo. Neither of them visited Home World. A year after their child was born, Teric’s mother died. Teric returned to Home World one final time. After the funeral she stood outside looking at the sky; Home World’s tall sky. She felt very small indeed, looking at that impressively tall sky she had not seen for so long. She realized that she loved the shorter looking sky on SatTwo; so short as to be touchable by standing up straight and reaching out your arms. 

cially, perhaps even, impressively tall. Not at all like the manufactured atmospheres of the Satellite Worlds; there, it seemed the sky was short. So short as to be claustrophobically closing down on your head. Indeed some of the higher mountain ranges on Sat World Six rose above the air straight into the vacuum of space. Very much like islands poking their tip tops above a sea of breathable air, teeming with life, into the much vaster sea: the lifeless darkness of interplanetary space. There was at one time considerable debate among various scientists as to whether or not this was a satisfactory situation. On one side, it was proposed, there should be as much atmosphere manufactured as possible to insure stable, safe living conditions. On the other side, it was argued the mountain peaks that rose past the atmosphere were ideal launch sites for space vehicles because the burning propellants would not contaminate the precious air. The debate may rise again with the habitation of future Satellite World, but the debate over what to do with SatSix was over. It had ultimately been closed by the laws of physics: the atmospheric crews discovered that the small planetoid was slowly leaking air off into space. Its gravity was already holding all the air that it could. Teric Jonsen had just stepped off the morning transit shuttle flight from SatOne to Home World. The other passengers, mostly businesspersons on a tight schedule, hurried down the aisle and onto the terminal walkway. Teric let these people with their stricter agendas pass before she even moved in her seat. When the last of the passengers had passed, she rose casually, retrieved her small suitcase from the fore luggage compartment and strolled into the terminal. She paused at the first of the enormous windows lining the terminal to have a look at Home World, her first in three years. The landscape spread before her was gently rolling, thoughtfully crumpled collection of rich greens, deep browns and watery purples. It resembled a comfortable, colorful blanket on a bed that had recently been slept in and not yet made up. Buildings scattered across the landscape of her home city looked like bright little children’s toys left in such a huge bed. The sky was an infinitely distant, watery, but still bright blue with a few small, majestic white billowy clouds looking like mountains of lighter than air cotton. The newly dawned Home Star shone fiercely at a horizontal angle. Its light reflected off the clean buildings back at her in blinding white, framing the edges of people-made structures; in some places bringing them forward into a hard, dramatic focus. In other places, the light created incredibly sharp bordered, long black shadows. It was suitably breathtaking. Teric was one of a handful of administrators for the Med Complexes on all the Sat Worlds. A Med Complex was the “head hospital” on a Satellite World. It was responsible for the upkeep, operation and activity of all the various medical facilities and the health of the inhabitants of the entire planetoid. Her career usually kept her from visiting Home World for months, even years, at a time. The latest developments occurring in her people’s civilization, coupled with her job requirements, had resulted in a three-year absence. She was thirty-nine years old. Her people had been space flighting for over three hundred years. She had been at her job for twenty years. Her people had been terraforming, atmosphering and habitating Satellite Worlds for two hundred years. Thus, both Teric and her fellow people have had enough time to adapt to traveling around their solar system from one world to the next. Nevertheless . . . On some of the smaller, more distant Sat Worlds the Home Star looked like a tentative outsider. It burned its fierce, white-hot yellows and reds. It made a large portion of the sky a friendly, opulent light blue. But it always seemed as if the horizons were converging on the little circle of life giving light; the edges of the sky melting away into a hard dark purple, then the inky black vacuum of space. Here, on a nearly cloudless Home World morning, a mesmerizing almost painfully bright blue completely drenched the sky. It spread over the sprawling metropolis before Teric’s dark green eyes, all the way to the horizon. The light and sky seemed to cover and caress the landscape like a protector. Or a lover. Teric unconsciously ran her free hand lightly over her small, firm stomach. As she stood before the cradle of her people’s civilization, this well traveled space flight veteran said quietly to herself, "Three years is a long time.”

Many years ago a group of people on Home World started complaining that the outward habitation of the solar system, and of course the universe at large, was wrong. The Creator of the Universe had placed them the Home World because that’s where the Creator wanted them to be. Every single accident and mishap occurring in relation to space flight, or off world exploration and habitation, was seen by this faction as due punishment from the Creator. Finally, this group came upon a solution. Once they had raised enough funds for their own atmosphere manufacturing machinery, they set off for a small planetoid at the edge of the solar system. They took no other technology as they scorned its use as much as possible. This was a justifiable move to them because the Creator had also created this “small, humble” world; and there, they would be able to reside forever, raise their children to be Home World Bounders and, most importantly, not have to live among the “arrogant, foolish atheists that the rest of civilization had become.” Since they had no desire for contact they weren’t heard from since they left close to a hundred years ago. Until just recently. Their planet was referred to by “Outsiders” (i.e. the rest of the solar system) as SatEleven. Its founders and inhabitants called it Natura, which was the name for the Creator’s Paradise in the Ancient Texts. A smaller faction within this group of Home World Bounders was bothered by the obvious contradiction of using the very technology that they were damning to do the very thing they had also damned: habitating a world other than the one on which they were born. This smaller faction refused to leave with the others and managed to obtain a small island in the Great Southern Sea of Home World on which to happily isolate themselves. They wanted absolutely no part of the “world’s wicked technological trickery” and thus, took none of it with them. They wanted to go back to the mythological Creator’s Estate of Pure Nature. A few decades later, a Vaccination Vessel stopped to try to give them the latest in medicinal advances and check on their general health. Unfortunately, it was too late. Nature, untamed by technology, had already disposed of them. It had generally been understood that people were Nature’s most physically frail entities. And therefore, most “Back to Natura” environmentalist groups and demagogues had to eventually concede that if one was truly concerned with people’s lives technological progress was to be welcomed and not damned or restricted. Still, it seemed that every thirty or forty years the debate was brought up again as if it was an “important new issue” that had recently reared its head. With every new generation there came into existence new, learning minds; some of which were preyed upon by various irrational groups and persons. It never appeared in the least to bother these people that they were damning the very technology that kept them alive. Even worse: it also did not appear to bother them that they were teaching young minds to start their existence by damning their very means of survival and any possible future. It was at this tender age that Teric’s young brother, Jehrac, had recently arrived. Apparently, he had a few teachers in his school that were currently advancing non-technology notions. Teric’s mother had communicated her worries about the situation to her several times over he last year. Teric tried to reassure her mother that it was probably just a temporary phase the boy was going through, but it seemed to have only gotten stronger with time. Their father had passed away five years ago in a tragic space flight accident. Being a scientist, he was the parent that usually dealt with this type of issue that a child might raise or have questions about. Mother had tried her best in his absence, but was unable to answer Jehrac’s concerns in a convincing fashion. She pleaded with Teric to “Have a talk with your brother before he wound up in some group of fanatics determined to kill themselves in the Southern Sea”. So, aside from being home for a week of rest and relaxation before taking off for the most important assignment of her career, aside from trying to visit as many family members and friends as possible, aside from catching up with Gorsh, aside from simply enjoying a little time to herself on Home World after being away for so long, she was to council her little brother and save him from himself. Teric stepped out of the terminal building, onto the sidewalk and into the blinding light and warm, open outside air. Again, she stopped and enjoyed a brief moment for herself. After a reverent sweeping glance she closed her eyes and filled her lungs with a deep breath. She opened her eyes, hailed an airtaxi and thought to herself, "One week is a short time." 

Chapter 2 

She had been home ten minutes. She walked in the front door of her mother’s house, set down her suitcase, embraced her mother and exchanged warm, homecoming pleasantries. Then, in the blink of an eye, her mother’s façade of happiness dropped. She told Teric that her brother was out in the backyard and would she, “Please, please, please go speak with him at once”. Knowing her mother would have nothing else to say until Teric talked with him, she went. He was sitting with his back to the house on the well kept, lush grass of the back yard a couple of feet off the stone patio. Immediately, Teric felt a warm flood of loneliness. Part of it was knowing that her little brother was lost and confused, sitting alone, staring off into the distance. Another part was the sudden realization that while she was gone he had grown considerably and she had missed it. Forever. He was no longer a short, skinny child with light blue eyes and eternally tangled blond hair. He was now a tall young man with close-cropped light brown hair. Although still lanky, she could see the beginning of what would be a powerful, muscular frame.

"Hello, Jehrac", she said quietly.

"Hello, sis," he replied without looking at her.

"Mother said you would be arriving today." His voice had, of course, deepened, she thought.

 "And here I am," she sat down beside him and ran her fingers firmly through the grass. "How have you been?"

"Depends on who you ask. I would say fine. Mother would have a different opinion." Teric tensed slightly and thought maybe it was best to jump right in to it. Her brother certainly wasn’t avoiding the topic.

She said, "Mother did ask me to talk to you."

"She wants you to talk me out of thinking about the Creator and Home World Bound ideas."

"Neither mother nor myself want you to stop thinking about anything."

Jehrac looked at his sister, "Did you ever think there was a Creator?"

"No. But, I have thought about why some people believe there is." Without trying to sound like a lecturer, she briefly told him what she had discovered in thinking about such things. Thereafter, he launched into several arguments that she had heard before that supposedly proved illogical ideas were true. After each one she patiently explained false premises they contained. Then, he hit her with a new variation she had not heard before.

"Say you’re flying through space," he began.

"Done it many times."

"And you come across an antique automobile."

"Very improbable."

"And you discover that this antique wasn’t built on Home World but was assembled by random chance of material floating around out there in deep space."

"Impossible. Automobiles are manufactured by the conscious intention of people. And you’d need an infinite series of random chances in an infinite universe, but the universe isn’t infinite."

"Right. And a person is more complicated than an antique automobile."

"That’s true."

"So, how could people be made by random chance if an automobile, which is simpler, couldn’t be? There must have been some conscious intention of a Creator that made people."

"But, people aren’t made by random chance, Jehrac. The creation and evolution of people was and is a logical chain of cause and effect events. Which, by the way, every argument for the existence of a Creator clearly violates." Jehrac had no reply for this, so they sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Teric, does the sky look big to you?" he asked suddenly. This abrupt change in the conversation brought a small warm smile to her face. Even with the weighty questions and important philosophical issues dawning in her brother’s young mind, he was still capable of simple wonder and amazement. She lifted her head slightly to take a sincere look,

"It always does on Home World. Big, tall, towering, huge . . ." "

How does it look on Sat Worlds? I mean, I’ve accessed pictures, but when you’re really there . . ."

"It looks smaller, sometimes confining. Like you could almost reach up and touch it."

"Touch the sky? That’s pretty arrogant. Maybe that’s why the Creator wants us to stay on Home World. When you’re on a Sat World with a people manufactured sky it makes you feel big. But, when you’re here the sky makes you fell small. Like the Creator wants us to feel."

So, she thought wearily, it wasn’t the innocence of youth marveling at the beauty of existence. It was merely a devious little stunt; probably picked up from one of his teachers.

"No, Jehrac," her voice turned hard for the first time. "The sky looks small on Sat Worlds because the Sat Worlds are small. If we were to manufacture an atmosphere on a world the size of Home World the sky would eventually look big there also." He looked sullenly at the ground and slumped his shoulders. She continued. "I don’t appreciate being talked to like a fool. And, it makes me sad that you would talk as if you were a fool, which you are not. You are an intelligent young man."

Their mother opened the back door and leaned out, "Who’s hungry? Mid-day meal is almost ready." At that, Jehrac got up without a word and walked into the house leaving Teric sitting alone on the lawn watching him retreat into the house.

"Gorsh," Teric thought to herself. So much contained in one single word. She was driving her mother’s seldom used aircar to see her long time friend and confidant, part time colleague and lover: Gorsh Dakjium. The last time she had seen him in person was a little over a year ago at a medical seminar on SatFour. He had delivered a lecture on the problems that would be encountered in setting up the new Med Complex on SatSix and how to counteract those problems. He had done his usual brilliant job, which resulted in him being offered the responsibility of overseeing research and treatment of the newly discovered virus that was the cause of the project. He signed on as a consultant with the option to become more directly involved if he desired in the future. The companies financing the project were pleased to have him involved in any capacity he wished. He was justifiably considered the foremost expert in his field: extraterrestrial virology. Thus, some people were surprised when they learned he spent most of his life in his private labs on Home World, rarely visiting Satellite Worlds. Most of his work consisted of viruses originating on Home World, mutated by long space flights and new planetary environments. However, the remaining minority, more exciting to him, was dealing with viruses and quasi-viruses discovered on Satellite Worlds once they had been terraformed and atmosphered. To the companies that set up surveying mining outposts and atmosphere manufacturing equipment on the harsh frontiers of space, getting future Sat World sites ready for habitation, men like Gorsh Dakjium were absolutely invaluable. He was a wealthy man. Teric had communicated with Gorsh more regularly than usual after the seminar. She wanted to know if he had seriously considered going to the construction site of the new Med Complex on SatSix; or even being stationed there for the beginning of its operation. He told her that his decision rested on the outcome of a few projects he had currently underway in his labs. As well as some personal issues. He wouldn’t offer more on the subject and Teric knew not to push it. Even though he was a very private person, she was not accustomed to him withholding information on “personal issues” from her.

Now Teric had been informed that she was first in line for the line job of Administrator on this new complex. If she wanted it. "If?! IF I want it?!" she had thought to herself. She had kept up to date on the project by getting her hands and mind on all the information about it that was available. It was exactly the sort of thing for which she had planned, studied, worked and spent her whole career. The head of a historic undertaking, a project with solar system wide implications, a mountain-sized pile of money and more important than all the rest: the challenge to do a job never before accomplished by anyone. Teric had worked at the Med Complexes on every Sat World. She ran the show on most of them. She had five different degrees in various medical fields. She was considered a specialist in three, four, or all five, depending on whom you asked. She had started in one field but simply could not confine herself. Within two months of her first job on SatOne, Home World’s largest moon, she was running two departments with the thanks and blessing of the administration as well as the director of the department she took over. Perhaps, “took over” was the wrong way to say it. Teric was not territorial or politically backstabbing about it. She was simply more competent: she made life and death medical decisions more quickly and accurately. She started helping out here and there in odd moments or when others seemed to be stumped by a particular problem. Because of her overwhelming ability and confidence it didn’t take long for everyone to automatically refer to her as the boss: even her superiors. Within six months she was running the entire complex without title. Once, in the second year of her career, a director of a Med Complex department that Teric was beginning to “invade” challenged her authority on an important issue. Teric was proved correct by the facts of the situation, but the director persisted in his complaints. It took Teric a long time to finally grasp that this man was not interested in right or wrong concerning the facts of medical science. She had never conceived that a person could be obsessed with the prestige of a job title without regard to the competence required to earn it. The director was relieved of his post and Teric assumed his responsibilities in addition to her current ones. At the start of her third year she was promoted and formally granted the title Med Complex Administrator. Only fifty people in her entire civilization currently had that job title. Now, only a few days before she was to leave for the most important, and perhaps, the longest assignment of her career she had to know: was Gorsh going to be there? 

Chapter 3

The gathered crowd was chattering, rustling and restlessly shifting in their seats. Every so often someone entered the Great Hall and everyone was instantly quiet. They would strain to see whom it was that had just entered. When they saw it was not who they were waiting for they disappointedly resumed their small talk. Most of the anxious small talk was concerned with the announcement they had come to hear. Tonight was when they would be told who was to be among the first to leave their world with their leader’s sanction. Others had already left. But, they had done so illegally by building forbidden distress call beacons. They were considered outlaws not only because they had built the beacons and used them, but worst of all they had committed the only unforgivable crime on their world: they had left it. It was the first law put into effect almost a hundred years ago when the planet was founded. Its first inhabitants were the original group of Home World Bounders. They intended to start a world that they and their descendants would be born, live and die on: forever. Because they considered roaming around the universe, leaving the world one was born on, the most immoral action, it was their first order of business to put this law into effect. This group of people came to their new world of their own free will. So, they thought that the law was more of an offering to the Creator of the Universe than a piece of legislation that would ever have to be enforced. It was a symbol of their victory and beliefs. This was the haven of Home World Bounders: Natura. To the rest of the solar system it was SatEleven. Finally, the wait was over. A tall man in a long, plain gray cloak entered. In his right hand he held a wooden staff, which he pounded on the stone floor three times. This was done to get everyone’s attention. He needn’t have bothered, for the moment he walked in every eye in the hall was fixed on him. It was, however, tradition to hail the coming of the People’s Leader in this fashion. He spoke in a thin, loud monotone.

"Children of the Creator. People of Natura. I humbly present our benefactor, the Creator’s representative living among us. The People’s Leader, Nehra Kittamm." Everyone was instantly on their knees, clapping and yelling greetings and blessings. Kittamm walked in quickly and straight for the front of the hall. He smiled and waved to everyone; he saw no one. He was a short, thin man with balding gray and black hair. He was wearing the Leader’s customary cloak: long, plain and gray like everyone else’s, with cuffs and neck trim of thick gold braiding to distinguish his position. He reached the long wooden table at the head of the hall and turned to face his people. He spoke in a thick rich voice that everyone present gathered preciously in their ears and minds.

"Children of the Creator. People of Natura. My people that I protect and serve for the will of One that watches over us. "The path ahead of us is long and difficult. In order to continue serving our Creator we must break the most fundamental of laws. Do not forget that our parents and grandparents, out esteemed ancestors, had to do this once in their lifetime as well. They do so, however, in order that their offspring, we, could be born to live our lives according to the Creator’s plan. But! Surely we will be forgiven for our actions, for they ultimately serve the One above us. And if we cannot be forgiven, then let it be I alone that will be held responsible, and I alone will be due the punishment." No one present was sure if one person, even if it was their Leader, could assume moral responsibility for another. But, they were scared and dying and their charismatic leader had a plan that promised them a chance at remaining alive. They cheered. Kittamm raised his hands for silence, bowed his head and closed his eyes. When they were silent again he raised his head and opened his eyes that were now wet with tears. "As you may know, I have tried to arrange for our people to be treated here. But the leaders of those who live Outside of Natura have insisted that we be taken to one of their worlds for treatment of the Sickness. They have built a special place just for us. It is on a world that they call Satellite World Six. "As you surely know, the purpose of our meeting tonight is to inform you of who will be the first chosen to go to the Outsiders world for treatment. "I have given many hours of my time in deep prayer to the Creator for guidance in choosing well the first of our people to make this important journey. My assistant, Feyhoth, will now read the list of names." Kittamm motioned to the tall man with the staff, who produced a scroll from his cloak. As Feyhoth read the names on the list in his monotone voice, Kittamm stood motionless, head bowed, eyes closed as if in deep thought. Even the occasional desperate outbursts of those called and not yet called did not cause him to move. It was supposed that the people on the list were the ones suffering the worst from the Sickness and therefore deserved first attention. Indeed, this was the case with most of the list. But, there were also a few on the list that were strong, young, healthy and as of yet completely uninfected. No matter how much anyone may have wanted to question these choices, they would never have done so. For Leader Kittamm, the Creator’s representative himself, had made the list. They didn’t know how or why certain people were chosen and others not. They didn’t want to know. They only wanted to know if they and their family members were on it. They also didn’t know what to expect of the Outsiders and their Satellite World Six if they happened to be chosen to go. They didn’t know how long they could expect to live with the Sickness all around them if they weren’t chosen. They didn’t know how long it might be until another group of fortunate people was chosen to go for treatment. Or even if another group was planned. Another thing that his people didn’t know was that Kittamm himself secretly helped and allowed the distress call beacons to be made and used. 

Chapter 4 

Teric pulled the aircar lower to the ground and parked as close as possible to the front door of Gorsh’s residence. The small, unpretentious outward appearance of the house did not reflect the owner’s wealth. The private land that surrounded and secluded it did. She climbed out of the vehicle and turned to walk towards the house. Gorsh was standing in the open doorway, arms akimbo, looking at her shoulder length dark brown hair sway back and forth with her purposeful, gliding walk; observing the way her hair softly framed her round chin, large dark green eyes and wide nose; watching the curves of her hips alternately swing forward around her small, trim waist and athletically firm stomach; admiring her with a mixture of reverence and lust. She had been intimate with a few people when she was away from him for extended periods of time. But it was always for purely physical satisfaction. Shortly after any sexual encounter she couldn’t recall or experience any significant emotional attachment. Being with Gorsh was different. With him, she felt at once a complete ease, while at the same time, full of charged tension. It was a sense of completeness along with a yearning to be closer that mere physical contact. He escorted her into his house, seated her at a table prepared with a dinner for two, kissed her hand and seated himself across from her. They ate and had an uncomplicated, easy conversation. Afterward, they took a brief walk through the newest section of his labs that sprawled extensively beneath the ground. The private workspace was accessible only through a hidden elevator in the center of the house. Along with several trusted employees and colleagues, Teric was one of very few people that had ever seen it. Gorsh loved seeing her in this setting and gave her free reign to touch, look and question as she pleased. When they arrived at the newest area, filled with equipment and experimental setups devoted to his latest research she thought she was going to see something extraordinary. He had been so atypically cryptic about his latest work. But, he answered all of her questions about it without the slightest hint of guardedness. She wondered to herself why he had been so forthcoming now but not before. It couldn’t have been for fear of communication security, for there seemed nothing resembling a secret breakthrough he wanted kept quiet. After a while he suggested a more leisurely walk through the thick and colorful vegetation that was his backyard garden. Finally, Teric decided it was time.

"Gorsh, it’s been a wonderful evening. But I’ve got to bring this up. I want to know," she said, visibly bracing with tension.

He said with and easy smile, "You want to know if I’m going to SatSix."

"Yes, of course." Gorsh stopped walking and stood looking at the distant lights of the city, "I have given it a great deal of consideration. And none at all."

Teric also stopped and looked at him. She was used to his occasionally odd manner of conversation but it didn’t help to relieve the slight anxiety she felt waiting for him to get to the point. After the small pause he continued. "As you have seen, I have a lot of research projects started in my labs that can’t be moved any time soon. I’ve had several other interesting offers that you don’t want to hear about right now. I admire you, Teric, because of all the things you could have said tonight, and before, but didn’t," she looked away at the distant lights as he turned to look at her. "You could have reminded me that this is an incredibly important project. That I should probably be present to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible; that the procedures, tests and potential vaccinations that I invented are administered properly. And that it would be the ultimate test of my skill: to find a cure for a new disease that threatens all of civilization."

She said softly, "It would all be true."

"But irrelevant to what we’re talking about that you haven’t mentioned."

She looked at him from underneath her eyelashes and inaudibly mouthed, "Yes."

"Tell me. Tell me why you want to know."

She stood up straight and raised her head to look directly in his eyes, "I want you to be with me. Not simply when we have the time. Not between meetings during conference seminars. Not for the occasional emergency medical briefing. Then having to wait days, months and years for the next convenient stolen moment. I want you to be with me. Now. Until I die. You know that SatSix could turn into a long project. Maybe a lifetime. I couldn’t leave without telling you. I want you." She took a deep breath and let it go with all the pent up tension of her body. She had come to say what she had never said to the man she loved. And she had said it.

Gorsh smiled again, "Thank you. I love you too, Teric. By the way, I have decided. I’m going to SatSix because I want to be with you also. Now. Until I die." They spent the rest of the night in the garden, under the stars, that together they would soon be traveling towards. 

Chapter 5

The last name on the list of those chosen to leave Natura and be taken by Outsiders to SatSix for treatment was Nehra Kittamm. He didn’t appear to be suffering from the Sickness yet, but he was his people’s leader. His assistant Feyhoth Jikko was also on the list. Feyhoth had just begun to show the first symptoms of the illness. They had been picked up by a specially constructed ship, which was designed to bring them aboard and keep them in a quarantined section so they couldn’t infect the crew. The ship was built under the same principles as the new Med Complex on the top of the airless mountain range on SatSix. One section for those infected, one section for those uninfected and one section for careful interaction between the two. All three were sealed from one another by the latest technology. Natura, or SatEleven, was a medium sized solitary moon of a large uninhabitable planet in the outer solar system. It was a four-month journey from SatSix. Kittamm told his people that all their needs would be taken care of, but to go on such a long journey without taking food, water and clothing was unthinkable to them. They planned and packed madly. Then they said goodbye to their family and friends they would be leaving behind. Since they had no idea what to expect of Outsiders they were bewildered at the prospect of being at their mercy. Of course, the deeper fear of dying from a strange and savage illness with no hope of recovery gave them some courage. Seeing the Outsiders for the first time in their sealed contamination suits made of a foreign material gave them quite a fright. Once on board, they were even more astonished to see, through the sealed, transparent chambers, that the Outsiders looked physically exactly like themselves. Though removed a hundred years, they all had common ancestry, so language wasn’t much of a problem. And now Kittamm and some of his people were on their historic way in the ship to Teric and Gorsh’s complex. The project was historic for those on Natura for obvious reasons. It was also historic to the rest of the solar system. It was a chance to take positive action against an illness that was starting to spread through the solar system threatening everyone. And more: It was the rejoining to civilization of a group of people thought hopelessly lost to irrationality. At least that was the way Kittamm had sold it to the diplomats of the government and companies that he had talked to and thereby convinced them to go forward with the project.

Teric had spent most of the previous three years on or flying between SatSix and SatSeven. The later was where many of the Natura refugees were turning up. They had hailed passing ships with their distress beacons and begged their way onboard. There was an unwritten rule among space travelers, commercial, government, private, business and leisure: always make an attempt to rescue people issuing a distress call. It had been decades since any serious threat to civilized conduct among society members. Even though the call came from the isolated world of SatEleven no one was really worried at first. On the contrary, they were intrigued. And there was no law outside Natura that prohibited people from traveling off world. The refugees were escaping from some new form of genetic quasi-virus epidemic. They called it the Sickness. Despite the careful attempt at on board isolation, it didn’t take long before it was discovered that they were infecting the crews of these passing ships turned rescue vehicles. It was also spreading to the inhabitants of the worlds they landed. They had asked to be taken back to civilization, treated and cured. They said they had learned the “mistakes of their ways”. Though born on Natura (SatEleven) they claimed they never did share the Home World Bound beliefs of their parents, elders and leaders. But because of these beliefs enforced as law on their planet they never had a chance to live or travel anywhere. And because of the low regard of technology that their culture held they were now suffering, dying and trying to escape from the strange new illness. The crews of the passing ships tested the escapees; but because the virus was new and different from any before, it was not detected until it was too late. An epidemic started and spread. In a short time several different companies with an interest in protecting their employees and investments throughout the solar system pooled resources and built a special Med Complex for quarantine and detoxification. The site they chose to build was the highest mountain range of SatSix; the one that was taller than the atmosphere, as it was discovered that this virus couldn’t survive a vacuum. So even if the complex was compromised there would be no immediate danger to anyone else on the planetoid. Its sole purpose, for now, was housing people infected with this new illness to be studied, treated and, if possible, healed. The companies wanted the best personnel to head the staff of the new facility. They got Teric Jonsen and Gorsh Dakjium. 

Chapter 6

The naming, actually numbering, of Satellite Worlds happened as a logical solution to a disorderly situation. A little over three hundred years ago one of the larger governments of Home World decided to build the first off-world habitation station. Home World had two moons in its orbit; one was larger than the other, both of their ancient names all but forgotten in the present day. The larger satellite had, of course, more gravity, more workable surface area and more mineral deposits. It was the obvious choice for a first attempt. The government-sponsored program had little trouble obtaining public support and funding for its plan and before long Home World people were living and working on a planet on which they weren’t born. Maintaining the station turned out to be much harder than building it. After the first year of discoveries and general excitement, the novelty wore off; the taxes required to maintain the non-profit venture did not. In the second year, funding for the station dried up; the brave, ambitious off-worlders were brought home and, like all government projects that succeed spectacularly, the whole thing was at an end. The following year an upstart, maverick company announced that it would reopen the unused moon station and operate it at a profit. And more, it would offset the government deficit incurred by buying it over time. People thought the plan foolhardy. However, it wouldn’t cost them anything more; it would, in fact, reduce their taxes. Politicians and statesmen didn’t know what to think because the entire situation was unprecedented. However, they had nothing to lose except being continually harassed by the public over the deficit. The company signed the official papers, launched their ships, reopened the station and started advertising. Almost immediately space on the station was rented and it didn’t take long for the company to turn a profit; even with the huge mortgage payments they had to assume in order to get the government to allow their ownership. Within the next few years many different types of people had made reservations far in advance. Labs were soon added to house corporate scientists that made trips to study the mineral deposits of the moon. Doctors studied the physiological and psychological effects of off-world living. Wealthy people made it a unique vacation spot. Where brains and money go successfully, everyone follows. Some of the most important visitors were the heads of other companies interested in the possibility of opening their own moon facilities. Which they soon did. Within twenty years both Home World moons were being covered with mining stations, full time residences, malls and hotels. Within fifty years everyone had their thoughts and eyes on the rest of the solar system for potential colonization. Within one hundred years several companies developed atmosphere-manufacturing equipment and the outward habitation of the solar system grew exponentially. At first the companies and people founding outposts on other planets and planetoids gave their own unique names to these worlds. Sometimes a newly inhabited world had more than one name. This caused considerable confusion. Finally, the solution was agreed upon by a conference of all companies and governments involved in off-world projects. The name “Home World” was coined. Its two moons were christened Satellite World One (the larger) and Satellite World Two (the smaller); SatOne and SatTwo informally. The rest of the worlds would be numbered according to order of habitation. The old names persisted for a while and would probably never be wholly lost. But, in all formal contract, negotiations and media reports the new and much more efficient naming grabbed hold immediately and held admirably. Almost all ships departing Home World and headed for SatThree or beyond stopped at SatOne for final checks and refueling. Thanks to ever increasing space flight propulsion technology, the trip from Home World to SatOne or Two took only a few hours, instead of a few days like in the past. The trip to SatSix was likewise shortened, however, still lasted several months. Teric and Gorsh didn’t mind at all. They had much preliminary work to do. And, they gladly welcomed the time to become reacquainted with one another mentally and physically.

Teric was sitting on the bed, thinking about her mother, when Gorsh walked in their ship quarters. He grinned and said, "Today’s the day." The ship was due to arrive at SatSix in a matter of hours. From there, the crew and cargo would be shuttled down to the newly constructed Med Complex. Teric tried to answer with a smile, but it came out half strained with the sadness of her thoughts.

"Still torturing yourself?" Gorsh tossed his computer work pad on the desk in the corner and sat down on the floor in front of her.

She reached out and caressed his neck, "I’ll be all right."

"Your brother is just temporarily confused. With age and experience he’ll turn out fine. At least he’s trying to think for himself, even if he’s thinking incorrectly right now."

"I don’t know…" she began to reply with a puzzled frown returning to her face. "Before I left I had one last talk with him. There was a strange edge to the tone of his voice. Almost as if he was humoring me by discussing the matter any further. Like he had already firmly made up his mind and was trying not to sound too condescending about knowing more than me."

"He’s a teenager."

"I know, but listen. He asked all kinds of questions about the Complex, the project, our mission. He knew more than most people do about these things. More than he probably should know, if only for security reasons."

Gorsh laughed softly at this, " Probably hacked his way into a few corporate databases and downloaded ‘classified info’."

"Why?"

"Aside from interest in his big sister’s important job, he probably wants to know about Kittamm. That guy is big news. And quite a type of folk hero to many Home World Bound factions. Like everyone else who cares either way about this issue your brother was interested in what changed his mind and made him lead his people back to rationality and civilization."

Teric sat motionless for a moment and stared at the wall. Then she said, "Anyway, I wasn’t thinking of Jehrac just now. I was thinking of my mother."

"What about her?"

"She and people like her make me frustrated and sad. They accept the enlightened knowledge of civilization on faith. They don’t understand or reason. To them it’s all just blindly believed dogma. If it vanished tomorrow they would know where it went, or why, or be able to attempt to bring it back. Which makes it worse in some ways than Jehrac’s belief in Home World Bound ideas. At least he’s trying to think."

"Your mother may not be the most intelligent person to have lived, but she tries to do good to the best of her knowledge and abilities. She always fully supported you and your father, the scientists of the family."

"Yes, I know. I’m not trying to blame the possible downfall of civilization on her."

He smiled. "You worry too much, dearest," he embraced her and in between soft, wet kisses from her chin down her relaxing neck he added, "We’ve got more important things to do. And everything’s going to work out just fine…absolutely perfect…" 

Chapter 7

Teric had visited the new Complex on SatSix quite a few times during its construction phase. This was the first time she had seen it fully operational. Gorsh had seen video of it and knew it inside and out before he set foot in it because he had been involved and consulted in nearly every aspect of its design. This was, however, quite different; actually being in the completed structure for the first time. When they arrived they took an inspection tour. The complex was a marvel of the latest in structural, medical and quarantine technology. Even though both of them were completely familiar with it “on paper” (as engineers still liked to say) to walk through it was a rare treat in novelty. They felt somehow like young newlyweds that knew their dream house was being built, but it wasn’t entirely real to them until now. After the tour they settled into their rooms. It was understood that Teric was in charge of the entire project and Gorsh was head of the medical research teams. Therefore having private quarter next to one another was planned for maximum efficiency in communication between the two most important people on staff. To their amusement, there was also a door with a lock that separated their adjoining rooms. When they had settled in they opened this door and left it open. After breakfast the next morning they observed final testing of the equipment in all sections of the complex. They were done by dinnertime. After a quick meal in the galley they went to their first meeting with leader and representative of the infected SatEleven people. They had heard of Kittamm and he them. Neither had pictures or video of the others; only a short, formal, official bio sheet. The meeting was held in the third section of the complex; where a form of sealed interaction could occur. The ceiling, floor and three of the room’s walls were a grayish-white in which the entire complex was decorated. The fourth wall was a transparent sheet of high-density polycarbon. Teric, Gorsh and five other staff members seated themselves around what appeared to be a circular table that was cut in half by the transparent wall. On the other side of the wall the table continued its circle making the contaminated side of the room look like a mirror image. Kittamm, Feyhoth and five other members of their group soon entered into the mirror image room and sat at the table. Formal introductions were made. Immediately after which, Kittamm said, "Please allow me to thank you and your people for being so generous and benevolent. My people are suffering greatly and if you didn’t help us we would all surely perish. At first, I feared you wouldn’t help us because of our different beliefs."

Teric replied, "The communications that you sent and the fact that you allowed yourself to be brought here led me to think you had renounced your irrational beliefs. If this is true, then how are our thoughts different?"

"No, no, Administrator Jonsen. You misunderstand. Or, perhaps I did not make myself clearly understood. I refer to our beliefs in the past. The way we used to think."

This time Gorsh gave an amused grin and interjected, "Before the virus."

"Yes, Doctor Dakjium, that is true," Kittamm smiled graciously and briefly bowed his head toward Gorsh; "The Sickness has changed many things for us."

Teric made a mental note to tell Gorsh not to antagonize this man in the future and brought the conversation back to productive terms, "I assume you have settled in. I want you to look over the testing schedule and have your people organized and ready. If there is anything you require that you do not have, please, contact the appropriate member of my staff. Do you have any questions? No? Good. Thank you for your time Mr. Kittamm. We will see you tomorrow morning. You are excused."

Kittamm sat motionless for a moment looking like he was about to speak. He was very annoyed with Administrator Teric Jonsen. All his life he was used to dealing with people by mezmerizingly talking to them. Slowly, surely and carefully prying them open like shellfish to scoop out or leave implanted whatever he wanted. "This person, a female leader no less!" he thought to himself, gave him no opportunity to speak on any other subject than the task at hand. He considered, for this brief moment, to attempt to continue the conversation. Then, thought more wisely of it, merely bowed and smiled without another word, got up and left. His people followed him likewise. After they left Teric asked her key staff members if there was any other business to be discussed. Everyone clearly wanted everything to go perfectly smooth from day one. Among many small, trivial problems and questions that Teric easily and immediately solved or delegated, there was a puzzling minor oddity. Maintenance Crew Forman Mita Wilens said, "It seems as if there are some missing supplies: some clothing, food, a little water. Nothing serious, no medical equipment. It might just be a glitch in the records. Or that the wrong numbers got loaded in during supply delivery or stocktaking. Either way, I like to run a tight ship and I’ll straighten it out. Just wanted to make sure you were aware of it if you were going through the logs."

Teric replied, "Thanks, Mita. I’m sure you’ll run it down. Anybody else run across any info relevant to this issue pass it along to Mita and myself. Anything else? Good." She paused briefly as people where making their final notes, then spoke again. "Tomorrow’s the first day of testing. I know everyone may be a little nervous or anxious. But we have done our jobs effectively. So don’t stay up all damn night retesting your equipment, worry about our ability to cure these people or just being impatient to get started. Get a good night’s sleep and we’ll get the best possible start in the morning. Thank you all for your time. Have a good evening. Meeting adjourned." They all filed out with a friendly word or two to Teric and Gorsh who remained seated at the table. In a few moments they were alone. She looked through the transparent wall at the seat that Kittamm used a short time ago, "I don’t trust that one at all."

Gorsh laughed, "Being the Administrator, you should be on your guard. And he hasn’t had a chance yet to earn your trust. But, Teric! I mean, really, he’s just a harmless little man that imagines himself to be the great and noble leader of his primitive tribe. I know it was unprofessional to insult him the way I did. But you offended him even worse."

"Me? How?"

"As I said, he considers himself to be a very important person. You treated him like just one more patient in the busy schedule of a doctor’s daily rounds." Teric opened her mouth to speak, to defend herself. Gorsh held up his hands in a surrendering manner and continued, "I know, darling. That’s all he is in reality. But just like I shouldn’t have insulted him, you shouldn’t either. In any way. He is respected by his people, if not by us. And that makes him very useful to us in getting them to cooperate with us. In the long run, things will run much more smoothly and productively."

Teric considered this for a moment, "All right. That may prove to be true. But, still, after this first impression, I don’t trust him."

"Fair enough. What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing yet. But, if it becomes necessary…have you familiarized yourself with the security device?"

"Read about it in some of the confidential briefs."

"I’m the only one with access to it and I’m the only one that is supposed to know the code to activate it. But I think it would be wise if you knew these things as well."

"That could be a wise precaution. But just how much trouble can Kittamm cause? Here we are on the top of an airless mountain, miles from the nearest habitation. What’s he going to do? Where’s he going to go if he manages to escape?"

"If I knew what he was thinking, or what he might do, I wouldn’t need that thing." The thing she referred to was the complex’s master remote security device. It was designed to enforce a complete lockdown. The complex had regular safety measures built in: locks and seals on doors that connected the sections to one another and to the outside perimeter walls and ship docking ports. The device Teric had could with one brief code (known only to her) override every door, lock and seal in the place. And more than that: once activated it could divert all computer control of the complex to the device. It was the ultimate failsafe.

Gorsh said, "Teric, I’m following your thoughts on this and it makes sense. But, the original plan was for only you to have access to it."

"And hopefully even I won’t ever have to use it. If that’s what it comes to, I will be the one to assume control. I just want you to learn how to use it in case of an emergency. The thing is supposed be a backup plan after all. I’m just planning for you to be my backup."

Gorsh replied, "All right. When I have a few minutes I’ll familiarize myself with its operation. Where is it stored?"

"In my quarters, in a hidden compartment, in the wall by the door." She gave him the code to open the compartment. She also gave him the code to activate the security device and briefly told him how it worked. All of it was information that no one, except she, was supposed to know. 

Chapter 8 

For the next few days the schedule proceeded as planned. Samples of blood and tissue were taken. Batteries of tests were run on these samples. Some of the staff was doctors simply trying to alleviate the immediate aches, pains and suffering of those in who the viral infection was in advanced stages. No real progress toward a cure had been made but many possibilities had been ruled out. Teric was constantly in motion from one area to the next listening, suggesting and directing the entire staff. Gorsh ate occasionally in the galley. Otherwise he spent all of his waking hours in the main lab pouring over test results and conducting experiments on samples. They both worked harder than they had ever worked in their lives. Kittamm was, as Gorsh suggested he might be, useful in setting his people at ease when necessary; getting them organized, in place and on time when necessary. He was very helpful. Teric maintained a professional, courteous manner around him. Outwardly she even tried to warm to him as an individual. Inwardly, however, she still didn’t trust him and mentally kept her distance trying to keep her judgment objective. Something about him put her in an uneasy frame of mind. It wasn’t anything she could specifically put her finger on. His conversational tone reminded her of Jehrac’s when she last spoke to her brother. Several weeks into the project, after a long day of being probed and scanned, Kittamm’s assistant Feyhoth Jikko cracked. Yelling hysterically in his high, thin voice that he, "Couldn’t take anymore of it!" he seized a piece of medical equipment that was potentially explosive, ran to a corner of the room in which he was being tested and threatened to blow up the place. The room was one in which patients were free to walk around and the doctors were required to wear contamination suits. They were safe in these suits and could simply walk out the door to the airlock that joined the unquarrantined section. Feyhoth wouldn’t be able to get through the airlock without the code to operate it. And even if he had the code he would have died in the airlock during its vacuum decontamination process. He could, however, do a great deal of damage to the room and set back the project for an extended, unknown length of time. Teric was immediately called. She suited herself and in a few minutes was standing in the room trying unsuccessfully to reason with the man.

She spoke into the suit’s com device, "Get Kittamm in here. Now." When his leader arrived Feyhoth started crying and said, "Master! I’m so glad you are here! I just can’t take this anymore. Being endlessly poked, prodded and stuck with the Outsiders’ strange devices. None of it does any good. Look at me… look at me! I’m not getting better, I’m only getting worse! Make them cure me or make them stop, please, Master Nehra!" The virus was advancing in him at an alarming rate. He looked terrible.

Kittamm calmly starting talking to him, "They are trying their very best, my friend. You must try your very best to be patient. If you aren’t they can’t help you or any of our people. You must allow them to help you." Feyhoth looked quickly back and forth between the suited Outsiders and his leader. He started, "But…" Kittamm cut him off by holding up his hand and spoke to him in a low, soft voice that Teric and her staff members couldn’t hear. He spoke to his frightened assistant for several moments. Finally, Feyhoth became more relaxed. His rigid, tense posture was replaced with a drained stoop, arms hanging loosely at his sides as he handed the dangerous device to Kittamm. Kittamm continued to quietly comfort him while holding out behind himself the piece of equipment for Teric. From across the room Kittamm looked calm and serene throughout the ordeal. As Teric approached to get the device she saw that he was trembling slightly and sweating. From closer to them she could overhear his soft, melodious voice and Feyhoth occasionally, tonelessly interjecting, "I’m sorry Master Nehra, I’m sorry…"

Teric’s Maintenance Foreman Mita Wilens was waiting for her outside the airlock. As she climbed out of her suit Wilens inquired, "Disaster averted?"

Teric nodded affirmative and asked, "What have you got?" seeing that he held a computer work pad in his hand. The screen was activated and filled with information.

"About those missing supplies," Wilens replied and handed her the pad.

As she looked at the pad she asked, "Figure out the discrepancy yet?"

"Beyond a doubt, ma’am. I think you should see for yourself." Wilens wouldn’t say anything further and seemed to be more than a little aggravated. They walked to his office. When they got to his door he opened it and Teric got quick a shock: her brother was sitting in a chair facing Wilens’ desk.

"Jehrac?!" she exclaimed, temporarily dumbfounded.

"Hello, sis," he replied quietly.

Wilens entered the office and sat behind his desk addressing Teric, "Apparently, he stowed away on the same ship that brought you here. Been here hiding out all the time, stealing food, clean clothes a few odds and ends. Actually, quite a clever and resourceful young man. Unfortunately, engaged in totally unacceptable activities. So what do you want to do with your little brother, Admin Jonsen?"

Teric quickly came to her senses when she realized that Wilens had asked her a question. "Mita, could you let me have a few moments alone with him in here?" "No problem, boss. I’ve got a few things to check over anyway," he replied as he got up and left. She composed herself, sat down calmly, faced her brother and quietly asked, "What the hell are doing here?"

He answered at once, "I came to meet Nehra Kittamm." Thereafter followed a discussion, during which Teric realized that Jehrac did have a valid point; even if he did attempt to accomplish it in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. He would, of course, have to leave as soon as possible. But the next supply ship wasn’t due for several days and she thought it wouldn’t do much harm to have him stay until then. There was probably no sense in calling up a ship just to transport him before the next planned arrival. Jehrac’s motivation was one that many people across the solar system shared. Regardless of which side of the Home World Bound issue they stood, everyone was interested in the Natura story. Especially Nehra Kittamm and how he had been able to change his own mind and his people’s about leaving their world and establish contact with Outsiders. Not to mention that he had convinced some very important and powerful Outsiders to go to a great deal of trouble, effort and expenditure. She decided that Jehrac could stay in her largely unused room for the next couple of days. She slept in Gorsh’s room anyway and they could keep an eye on him while keeping out of the way of complex operations. She might not have considered her brother’s proposition at all. But as she listened to him plead his case to be able to talk to the man, she was surprised to find herself thinking that perhaps she could trust Kittamm a little after all. Having just witnessed him single-handedly disarming a dangerous situation was part of her reconsideration. Perhaps the fact that she had seen him trembling with fear, but still finishing the job was what clinched her decision. Maybe, she thought, Kittamm could help Jehrac come to a rational conclusion about the issues that were troubling him. After all, had not Kittamm himself, the Leader of Natura, foregone his beliefs in order to help his people by leaving their world and seeking advanced technology? She agreed to let her brother meet and talk to Kittamm. Once that was decided, Jehrac gladly agreed to whatever other arrangements and conditions she placed on his brief stay. 

Chapter 9 

Kittamm sat alone in the conference room with the transparent wall. Teric had told him that her brother was visiting the complex and wished to speak with him. Then, she asked if he would do so. He graciously accepted. While he waited for Jehrac to arrive, he was alone with his thoughts. His assistant Feyhoth had done a wonderful job with their staged crisis scene. And Teric had done exactly what he thought she would in such an event: call him to help calm Feyhoth and divert a potential disaster. It was done merely to try to gain some of the administor’s confidence. Now she wanted him to talk with her own young brother. He had hoped for something to come of his efforts but this was beyond all his expectations. He wondered if and how he would be able to use the boy. Once he talked to him he would have a clearer idea. So far he had been successful in concealing his motives from the Outsiders. At least none of them seemed outwardly suspicious. In retrospect, it had been surprisingly easy thus far to deceive a great many Outsiders. They trusted easily and assumed benevolence almost unconditionally. Obviously, their decadent beliefs and lifestyles formed the primary cause of their weaknesses. Since he had very little experience with any technology, much less the highly advanced equipment and devices in the complex, he had no idea how much longer his most precious secret would be kept. It was a secret that he alone possessed; not even his closet aides and assistants had been aware of it. He didn’t completely understand it himself. Years ago, on Natura, before he had risen to power, people started becoming ill and showing the first symptoms of what would come to be known as the Sickness. He thought it odd that no one noticed that the only people ill at first were those that had direct contact with him: his family, friends, teachers. But the older people had forgotten and the younger people were never taught much about diseases, like viruses, that it required advanced technology to deal with. And because they had a primitive existence people were frequently sick with something. It wasn’t until a year later that it was proposed that some serious epidemic might be taking place when more and more people got violently, horribly ill and never recovered. At first a younger Nehra conducted some private experiments. He would go out of his way to visit villages that hadn’t yet been infected. Then he would wait and watch as the Sickness soon spread everywhere he went. His people had a limited knowledge of medical science but he read and learned everything he could. Finally, he began to understand what was happening: he was, somehow, a carrier of the Sickness, perhaps the only one. Regardless of its origin, he could spread it but was probably immune to it. He didn’t know the specific medical details of the disease but he did know that he was at least partly responsible for his people’s epidemic. He told no one but considered going off alone into the wilderness. He considered killing himself as he constantly felt an enormous, thick hot ocean of guilt drowning him. One day he approached a public meeting the Leader and Elders were holding. He started by telling them that he had learned what he could about the Sickness. Then, he told them that he had eventually lost his entire family, most of his friends and teachers to the Sickness. Before he could tell them that he was a carrier, and therefore highly responsible, they stopped him in mid-speech and talked privately amongst themselves. When they were done conferring they told him they were sorry for his loses. They appreciated his efforts in learning about the Sickness and they wanted him to head a new committee for the purpose of looking into what could be done about the epidemic. Nehra Kittamm stood at the crossroads of his life. The first path led to finishing his speech, getting out the complete truth about his condition and possibly being thrown out of society or even killed as punishment. The second path led to concealing forever his condition, social acceptance and pity along with an important and powerful position in his people’s government. He chose the second path. He became a public symbol of his people’s suffering, loss and misery. In the years that followed he rose steadily to power. Eventually, he had a few of his people secretly build the distress call beacons and encouraged them to escape. Sitting in the Med Complex on an Outsiders world was to him a monument to his endless planning and efforts over many years. The door on the other side of the wall opened and brought him back to the present. Jehrac Jonsen walked in. Nehra Kittamm rose, smiled and said, "How do you do, son. I am very pleased to meet you." 

Chapter 10 

The next morning Gorsh returned to his quarters, after breakfast, to spend a few minutes learning about the security device before starting another day of work. He walked through the open adjoining door to Teric’s quarters, which was now being used by her brother. He looked at the bed and saw that Jehrac was fast asleep. He keyed in the code to open the compartment, took out the device, punched in the code to activate it and walked back into his quarters to sit at his desk. Ten minutes later he had learned the device’s function commands, turned it off, returned it to its compartment and left for his lab. A long, tense five minutes after Gorsh had left, Jehrac got out of bed quietly and carefully observed that he was truly alone. He had feigned sleep and seen everything Gorsh had done. He went to the hidden compartment, opened it, took out the strange looking device, punched in the activation code and spent the next thirty minutes carefully learning all about it. An hour later, Jehrac had found an unoccupied airlock and a contamination suit. He climbed into the suit and went through the airlock into the testing room to which it led. It was also currently unoccupied. He walked over to the door that led to the quarters of the infected people of Natura, put his hand on the lock release and paused. "This is it," he thought, "No looking back now." He unlocked the door, opened it and stepped through the doorway to the shrieking of alarm sirens and flashing lights. He walked down the hallway looking in each room as he passed. Most of the people were sitting or standing frozen in place terrified to move because of the alarms and the presence of an Outsider in his strange mechanical suit. Eventually he found what he was looking for: Kittamm’s room. As he walked in Kittamm rose from his seat. Jehrac handed him the security device.

The alarms were designed to go off if anyone but an infected person entered the quarantined section, suited or not. When it was necessary to go into this section the appropriate staff was to be notified and the computer alarms temporarily deactivated. Jehrac knew the alarms would be triggered but didn’t know how to stop it. He figured that he would get to Kittamm before anyone could stop him. Once he did the alarms wouldn’t matter anyway. He was right. As soon as the alarms went off Teric was running to her quarters to get the security device. On her way she yelled orders in her con unit and to stunned staff members she passed in the hallways. When she got to her quarters and saw that the device was missing she instantly thought Gorsh had it and was grateful that she had told him about it. Seconds later Gorsh rushed in the door and saw Teric looking at the open, empty hidden compartment. Teric saw that he didn’t have it after all and felt a dizzying, black yawning abyss opening in her stomach, "You don’t have it."

 He looked stunned and answered, "No, I was on my way to get it and when I saw you standing here I…" He didn’t get a chance to finish because the voice of the computer interrupted him, "Security status override enabled. Section lockdown activated."

Together they ran through the hallways and arrived at the central control room. "Complete computer control diverted to alternate security device," the computer’s voice informed the control room at large. One of the staff seated at a console was furiously typing commands into her computer keyboard, "I can’t get anywhere. That damn thing works perfectly." Teric started to ask if anyone knew exactly what was going on when the main view screen showed Kittamm from the waist up. He was holding the security device in one hand; his other hand was resting lightly on Jehrac’s shoulder. Teric’s nightmare was complete. The control room erupted into questions about how Kittamm got the security device, what he was doing with it and why their administrator’s stowaway brother was in the infected section, when Kittamm started to speak.

"A very clever and useful device was just brought to me by this equally clever and useful young man," he patted Jehrac’s shoulder several times in a possessive manner. "If I understand correctly, Administrator Jonsen should be in her control room right now, watching and listening to me, helplessly frustrated because I have now have total control of her complex right here in my hand," he raised the device for display. "I hope that is so. If it is not, we shall know soon enough. However, if it is then, please, listen carefully. I have some requests to make of you, Miss Jonsen. But first… Young Mr. Jonsen? Would you care to join me and carry out our righteous mission to serve the wishes of the Creator?" Jehrac was already wide-eyed with wonder and turning red from embarrassment at being referred to in such glowing words from his hero. This last bit, an invitation to join and fight at Kittamm’s side, was too much for him to resist. Slowly, he began to take off the helmet of his contamination suit.

Teric started yelling uselessly at the viewscreen, "Jehrac, no! What the hell are you doing?! You’ll be infected!" She pushed aside the closest staff member seated at a workstation and began keying in commands. She yelled over her shoulder, "Get everyone in suits and tear down the damn walls if you have to. Get that device back, get Jehrac out of there, sedate Kittamm and isolate him." Several people ran out of the room to try to carry out her orders. Unnoticed, Gorsh remained staring at the viewscreen for a few moments lost in thought. Finally after a few moments he rushed out the door. Jehrac was now taking off the rest of the suit and Kittamm started to speak, "Miss Jonsen, you are now probably trying to override this device, even though you know it to be a futile effort. Your determination is admirable. Let us put it to a more productive task. In exchange for the continued existence of your staff, which I now control," again he held up the security device, "I wish to visit your Home World." Teric and the remaining control room staff instantly stopped moving, talking and working. They all looked in amazement at the madman, revealed, on the viewscreen. 

Chapter 11 

Kittamm reasoned that as long as he had Jehrac, his sister wouldn’t try anything too rash. Perhaps if she didn’t have to consider her young brother she would simply destroy the complex and stop him right then and there. He also knew that if he killed the staff by getting Jehrac to alter the environmental controls with the device he would never be able to convince any Outsiders to bring a ship to rescue him. His plan was simple and straightforward: get Teric to signal a transport ship, tell them everyone was cured and as proof of their “miraculous victory over the deadly illness”, fly him and his group to their Home World as public spokespersons. The young boy had been easy to convince that Home World Bound ideas were sound. Jehrac had gone most of the conceptual distance himself and only needed the gentle assuring reinforcement of an adult he revered to finalize his conviction. When Jehrac had mentioned the security device to him in their meeting he had been careful not to outwardly show any sign of surprise. But he had to admit to himself he had been shocked, if only for a moment. Kittamm himself had never had any strong, well-formed convictions; he merely hated everyone and everything because of his strange condition. Here, however, was a young boy who had the strong engine of a conviction in addition to an overwhelming hatred with which to fuel it. Kittamm had built a lifetime’s work out of manipulating people. He observed that other people seemed to think and feel strongly about things and figured out how to turn their desires toward his own purposes. Because he had no idea how to form or hold a principled conviction he admired the boy. Because he didn’t understand how a consciousness could grasp a principle so firmly he actually feared the boy. Furthermore, he was surprised that Jehrac was so easily convinced that his plan to infect the unsuspecting Outsiders on their own Home World was the proper and just course of action.

Teric and her staff held an emergency meeting. She was currently speaking to her Chief Engineer, "Track down every inch of shielding. Get all the mobile force field units. We need to stop the security device transmitting signal from reaching the control room units," she handed a computer pad to the engineer. "Here are the frequency stats that it operates on. Scroll down to down to view any other info you might need on it. Just find a way to make it useless." The engineer grabbed the pad and was up and running out the door. The rest of the staff was pouring over technical information on the complex to come up with a plan. Most of them were already in contamination suits. Someone was supposed to be on the way with suits for the rest of them. In the middle of a sentence Teric looked around the room and asked, "Where is Doctor Dakjium? Has anyone seen him lately?" Negative replies echoed around the room. Finally everyone was suited up and continued to work on some way of regaining control of the complex. Some of the staff was leaving the room to carry out their orders elsewhere. A few remained seated with their pads, consulting and arguing with each other on various aspects of plans to escape their dire situation. Everyone stopped momentarily when Gorsh, still unsuited, ran into the room. Teric was at first relieved to see him, "Where the hell have you been?" Then she noticed he was unsuited, "And why don’t you have a suit on yet?!"

He grinned and panted slightly from being short of breath, "Been…in the lab. Don’t need… suit… look…" he threw a pad on the table in front of Teric and sat down in the first available chair. As her staff members gathered around her to read the contents of the computer pad screen Gorsh pulled a small medical tube and a hypospray gun out of his lab coat pockets. Having regained his breath he grinned and asked, "Who’s first?" He had discovered Kittamm’s precious secret: he was a carrier of the disease. And more, through samples of Kittamm’s blood and tissue, he had figured out how to make an antidote and vaccination. Watching Kittamm on the viewscreen and hearing Teric yell that Jehrac would be infected started him on a line of thought he hadn’t considered before. Kittamm had even gloated that he would "carry out" his "righteous mission". He had gone to his lab and alone rechecked several tests’ results. In a short time he had the answer in his mind and was speedily racing around the lab grabbing sample containers, knocking over equipment to get what he wanted and bringing his mental solution into a concrete form. What Kittamm had not fully understood and used to destroy, Gorsh had finally understood and now used to defeat him. Once everyone present was injected with the cure Teric made plans for the rest of the staff to be inoculated. She picked up Gorsh’s pad again and pointed to a few figures on the screen.

She turned to him and asked, "Is this stat within tolerable error limits?" He looked at, momentarily puzzled.

Slowly he began to grin, "Of course. And, yes, that’s an excellent idea." She turned to her staff and said, "This is what we’re going to do." 

Chapter 12 

Teric walked into the central control room and faced the view screen monitor on the wall. In a few minutes Kittamm had promised to be back online to see if she was ready to carry out his demands. She had sent Mita Wilens and a few of his maintenance crew members outside to complex. They put on space suits, cut a hole in the perimeter wall and were on their way around to the outside wall of the infected section. They carried with them a computer pad with the entire schematic layout of the complex to find an environmental conduit near that wall. Once located they would cut a hole in the wall, set up an air pump connected to tanks full of Gorsh’s cure in gas form and pump the infected section full of it. So far all attempts to override the security device had failed. At the designated time Kittamm appeared on the viewscreen, "Have you prepared a statement for me, Miss Jonsen?" He was relishing every syllable.

Teric held up a computer pad and replied, "I have recorded a message on this unit with the appropriate codes that will convince a transport ship to allow you to board."

"And if they ask to speak directly with you?"

"Part of the message is a statement that says we are too busy working on our inoculation and vaccination plans to waste further time with communication. The statement also claims that I have spoken with important government and company officials that want you and your people on Home World without delay. I am uploading the information now. You will be able to retrieve it when you release the computer communications controls and then send it whenever you wish. From the time you send the message it will take about an hour for the ship to arrive, dock and be ready for boarding."

"Excellent," Kittamm smiled. "And now, I wish to bid you farewell, Miss Jonsen. It has been a pleasure meeting you. I shall never forget how helpful you have been."

Before he cut the communication she hastened to ask, "Mr. Kittamm, may I please speak with my brother?"

He assumed a somber, serious countenance, "I am sorry, Miss Jonsen. But that isn’t possible. Is there anything else? No? Good. Thank you for your time."

Clearly he was enjoying this chance to throw her own words and manner back in her face. She forced back a grimace and the harsh words that sprang to her mind. She tried to entreat, "Please… Mr. Kittamm. I just want to tell him he doesn’t have to go and…"

He cut her off, "Oh! But your dear brother does want to go. Very much so. Perhaps as much as I do. Goodbye."

The viewscreen went dead. She and her staff had saved the complex and cured the disease. But now, without control of the station, it looked as if she might lose her brother. She stood straight, tall and proud in the middle of the complex central control room filled with her staff and kept the tears forming in her eyes from rolling down her cheeks.  

After she had reigned in her emotions she went to check on the progress of her Maintenance Foreman. Wilens and his crew were taking off their space suits and answering as many questions as they could. Teric gathered that everything went according to plan. According to Gorsh’s calculations the virus would be dead in two to three hours after the inoculations had started. The infected people would start to show visible signs of returning health immediately. Within the proscribed hour, the ship had docked and was boarding its Natura passengers. After another hour it was ready to depart. Teric and her staff were still trying unsuccessfully to regain control of the complex functions in order to notify the ship and, or the local authorities of the situation and take Kittamm into custody. Kittamm at that moment was starting to notice that some of his people were acting strangely. A few of them had been bedridden and hours from death. They had to be taken onboard on stretchers hidden in and under various containers. Now they were wide-awake, talking easily and excitedly and asking where they were going. Others, who had previously walked in a slow and tortured manner, were now standing and walking erect and confidently. Something, he thought, is very wrong. He had taken the precaution of bringing on board with him a piece of equipment that he understood to be used to test for evidence of the virus in an infected person’s blood. He had Jehrac, who understood how to operate the machine, test several of his people. They tested registered negative for the virus. He had Jehrac start to test everyone. The ship’s engines were firing; they were taking off. As the ship was slowly rising off the mountaintop, away from the lonely Med Complex structures, Jehrac was obtaining negative test results. Kittamm’s anger was also rising steadily. Once everyone had been tested and Kittamm realized that his formerly infected followers had somehow been cured and were in good health he walked slowly to his quarters. He ignored all of the people that asked him eager questions and pulled at his cloak rejoicing in their miraculous good fortune. They were no longer of use to him. Outwardly, he was grim but calm. Inside his head was a turbulent, seething mass of concealed rage and hatred. When he arrived at his ship quarters he closed and locked he door. In the corner were several carrying cases that he had had one of his assistants bring on board from the complex. They were crammed full of the potentially explosive medical devices with Feyhoth had previously threatened to destroy on of the testing rooms. He carefully set them all out on the floor, laboriously activated them one after the other and unceremoniously set off the first of them. They were the first and last pieces of advanced technology Nehra Kittamm ever learned to operate. Far below, in the Med Complex, Teric watched the ship explode through an outside viewing window. As she thought of her brother all the tears that she had bravely restrained in the control room returned. They gathered around her eyelashes and reflected the harsh, bright multi-colored explosion at which she couldn’t stop looking. After enough of her tears had gathered in her eyes they started to roll down her cheeks. They rolled. Then they streamed. Then they flowed. 

Chapter 13

Teric and Gorsh settled permanently on SatTwo. They were married in a small, dignified ceremony. The union of two such prominent individuals recently involved in saving civilization caused a media frenzy. Much to the public’s dismay, the wedding was carried out in extreme privacy, limited to a few close family members and friends. Within a month Teric was pregnant with their child. They had a short, heated discussion during which she informed Gorsh their child would be named Jehrac. Not only in memory of her brother, she said, but in the hope that at least in namesake his murdered potential would be realized. Gorsh knew that this wouldn’t help heal her mental wounds but it was an argument he couldn’t win. Teric knew she would never be able to forget her brother. But, she also knew that she wanted to look forward, not backward. She finally understood that she was not moving forward but, instead, only immortalizing her grief. And in the person of her own first child. Another short, this time, not heated discussion followed. They somberly agreed to a different name for their child. Gorsh had his labs flown up to their new residence. Teric took over the Med Complex on SatTwo. Neither of them visited Home World. A year after their child was born, Teric’s mother died. Teric returned to Home World one final time. After the funeral she stood outside looking at the sky; Home World’s tall sky. She felt very small indeed, looking at that impressively tall sky she had not seen for so long. She realized that she loved the shorter looking sky on SatTwo; so short as to be touchable by standing up straight and reaching out your arms. 

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