Andrea – in search of space, picks up where Making Merry left off.
Fresh from her work on Project Prodigialis, Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson takes command of the Terra II project.
The largest in-system luxury cruise liner had been refitted and recommissioned in the Royal Space Regiment fleet as HMDSV Colin Pillinger. Its mission? To identify, locate and survey a habitable but uninhabited planet which can be populated over time to take pressure off Earth and its resources.
Andrea – in search of space. Chapter fifteen, part three.
Having little else to do, Tarquin shadowed Ishmael for a few weeks. During that time, he mastered the dark arts of allocation of ship’s resources, including personnel, as well as many of the managerial or command functions of his boss’s job. When the day came for the second, more detailed survey of what was quickly becoming known as Earth-2, Ishmael was sufficiently confident in Tarquin’s new-found abilities to leave him in command of C-pill whilst he went off in the Sir Prijs to oversee the surveys. That Andrea had also been doing almost as much shadowing of him as Tarquin had, and had gained an equivalent, possibly superior, understanding of the captain’s role, left Ishmael confident that, between them, the ship might just survive. That said, he did have some back-up measures in place including the ability to MTS back at a moment’s notice.
The day of departure finally arrived. All the equipment needed for an extended survey of the planet had been tested, calibrated and placed on board the cruiser. The scientists and their teams were in position and the Sir Prijs herself was ready to go. Ishmael Al-Kawazi was the nominated commanding officer for the project; Captain Pippington, as master, reported to him – the same relationship Ishmael enjoyed with Andrea.
Having cleared the mothership, the cruiser entered MTS; the displays shimmered and showed a different, though now familiar, star-field.
Sub-Lieutenant Olsson took the Sir Prijs into a surveying orbit designed to ensure that every square metre of the planet’s surface would be visible to the craft’s instruments over a period of days.
Whilst the initial surveying task was being completed – most of it unattended and under computer control – the science teams started to inspect and analyse the results as they came in. The data drawn from the planet was also MTS-beamed to the labs on C-pill so the back-up teams could perform parallel analyses.
As soon as the Sir Prijs returned to the mothership after completing the surveys, Andrea declared a five-day pause to allow the away team to regain strength after the long hours they had worked. Doctors Turner and Green had also counselled their commander that the teams’ minds and bodies needed a few days’ complete rest to recover from the effects of repeated MTS and CAG journeys.
Six days later, all the ship’s senior staff, including the away-team leaders, gathered in the conference room to review the results of the surveys. Jinnis Keet had been invited to attend as an observer.
Following Andrea’s opening remarks, J’Lana Lustra spoke. “My planetary cartographers have put together a three-d holo image of the planet.” She pressed the button on a clicker in her hand, causing a holographic image of a globe about one metre in diameter to hover above the centre of the table.
“That looks like Earth,” Tarquin said, “like home.”
“Doesn’t it, though?” J’Lana agreed, “but it isn’t Earth. Let me zoom in… here.” The image flattened and zoomed in to the Thames estuary. Gasps of surprise came from those who hadn’t previously seen the planet in detail. “London is not there. None of the buildings, none of the bridges. But look at this.” She zoomed in closer. This brought out even more expressions of surprise.
“What am I looking at?” Andrea asked, voicing the question on everyone’s mind.
“This, Admiral, is ruins. Ancient ruins.”
“I can see that. It looks like the ruins of ancient Egypt, Rome or Greece breaking through the tops of the trees. The last remnants of a civilisation that died out—”
“At least two thousand years ago. Yes. That will explain the extent of forestation and the surprisingly healthy eco-systems, the large numbers of animals in areas where they had been almost wiped out. We are looking at our future, the destiny of our planet – maybe two- to three-thousand years into the future.”
“But what happened to all the humans?” Dr Green asked.
“We don’t know that yet, Doctor. Perhaps when we go down to the surface, we may find something, but we don’t currently have the people or the equipment.”
“You’re right, Commander,” Andrea said, “We came with exobotanists, exobiologists, astrophysicists, stellar and terrestrial cartographers and more; but these disciplines won’t help us here. Nothing ‘exo’ is of value.”
“Then what skill-sets do we need? Who can dig out what has happened here?”
“Good choice of words,” J’Lana said, “we need archaeologists and palaeontologists – we need people to dig down and uncover an ancient past.”
Tarquin chirped in, standing, “We need Indiana Jones.”
“Sorry – fictional guy from old films. Dug up relics from civilisations that had been dead for thousands of years. Exciting stuff. Terrified of snakes but great with his whip and had a particular set of skills. Oh, no – that was somebody else.” He looked around and correctly read the expressions on every face. “I know,” he said, “shut up, Tarquin.” He made a zipping motion across his lips with his index finger and resumed his seat.
Ishmael decided it was his turn to speak. “Okay,” he said, “I need a list of all the people on board who have any training or experience in archaeology or palaeontology. There are more than five hundred people here, mostly university educated. I can’t believe that there isn’t at least one person capable of leading a team, even a team of enthusiastic amateurs. Gloriana, how’s the atmosphere?”
“Perfectly breathable, Sir.”
“Great. Let’s get to it. Get the lists to me as soon as you can. Then we’ll gather whoever we have in here and do some brainstorming. All agreed?” No-one argued. “Admiral?”
“Agreed, Commodore. Looks like it’s time for another chapter in this quest.”