New Allies Get Busy
Something about the contest between Jamie and Pantando-Ka cemented a set of ideas in the commander’s head. From that moment on, any vestiges of master-slave or captor and captive disappeared from the relationships between the Taurians and the humans. Everything was discussed openly and honestly and the interactions stimulated the newly combined teams to more intense activity and improved creative thinking. Komando-Ka also arranged for the other two warriors in the ships’ complement to join the intense training sessions begun by Jamie and Pantando-Ka. To further improve relations, the six technicians aboard joined in with the physical training activity of the other humans. Apart from this, the whole training regimen that had been set out for the humans was revamped around the increased involvement they now had in real life activity. Many of the lessons were now integrated into the new focus on projects on Androm, research into the infertility problem and the degradation of conditions on Taurus.
Almost immediately, results started to emerge. The humans rapidly improved in their ability to communicate in all forms in the Taurian language; Brian and Amy suggested several avenues of previously unknown research into the causes of the lowering birth rates and were spending an increasing amount of time with Sandaro-Ji; Peter discovered several flaws in the design of the dams that were to be constructed to become part of the water management infrastructure on Androm and Gillian had improved the project plans for a number of construction and landscaping projects. George and Elizabeth had caused the entire energy generation and distribution strategy to be rethought. The new plans placed much more emphasis on renewable energy and conservation of natural resources than before.
Robert and Laura were deeply into the development of the strategy and plans for managing the interactions between the new inhabitants of Androm and the environment they would live in. They were like kiddies in a sweetie shop. They had always dreamt of being involved in a project of this nature, but they never expected to have a whole planet to play with. Finally, Jenny had been instrumental in the selection of Taurians for the new climatology team. It turned out that she had more knowledge and experience than most of the available candidates and, in a totally natural progression, she became the leader of the new group, which was fully busy developing the computer models for tracking, understanding and ultimately controlling the weather. An early win was recommending a restructuring of a range of mountains to improve the channeling of rainfall to a planned reservoir system for the agricultural areas of the planet.
Overall, there was something about the different ways of thinking between the two races that stimulated innovation in both. Together the teams were far more productive and creative than they could ever have been when separate. The Taurian leaders on the ship were delighted at the progress and the humans were so involved in their work that thoughts of home had become few and far between. They all kept in touch with friends and relatives but weren’t suffering from homesickness any more.
Jamie had fitted easily into the command structure. His organizational abilities soon became indispensable and his quick mind and dedication to his team were respected by the Taurians, who always asked for his opinions and invariably listened to them.
The next few weeks passed in a blur of frenetic activity, in which personal relationships took very much second place in the order of things. Jamie and Jenny had become firm friends who slept in the same bed but their romance was on hold. Most nights they were too tired to even think about it. It was much the same for the other couples. The work was absorbing but exhausting and with the physical training thrown in, everyone went to bed to get as much sleep as possible.
Then one day, about a month after the journey began, an event occurred that gave everyone a wake-up call. The day started as usual with breakfast then moved into early morning progress meetings. Suddenly alarms began to sound all over the space cruiser. Jamie was called to the bridge and the other humans were led, by Teacher, to an armored secure area.
“The ship is threatened by a rapidly approaching meteor shower followed by what might be an asteroid.” explained the robot. “If we fly into the shower we can be severely damaged and if the larger object hits us the ship will be destroyed. The commander is taking evasive action and our shields have been strengthened. We must strap ourselves .in and wait it out.”
When they reached the secure area the personal trainer robots helped their humans get into their protective couches and strapped them in before retreating to their own protective recesses in the walls of the room.
“I will relay any news that I receive,” promised Teacher. “You will now be administered a weak sedative to help you to relax.”
As he finished speaking the humans felt the jab as the drug was applied. They instantly felt tranquil and sleepy and most settled back and relaxed. Jenny resisted. She was worried about the situation of course, but she suddenly realized that she was more worried about Jamie. Not knowing where he was and whether he was protected or not was driving her crazy with concern. She just couldn’t relax until she knew he was safe.
Meanwhile Jamie had reached the bridge and was standing with Komando-Ka and the other leaders. They were calmly listening to the commander’s succinct briefing on the situation.
“So in a nutshell,” he summarized. “We cannot completely avoid the meteors, but we will avoid the larger object. Our shields are at maximum power, but it will be a bumpy ride and we must hope that there are no large objects at the edges of the shower. If anything bigger than a centimeter diameter hits us at our combined speeds, we could be in real trouble.”
He ordered the technicians to magnify the parts of the shower that were on a collision course and told them to put diameter sizes, in red, next to any particles that were bigger than half a millimeter across. In a moment the big screen displayed the requested image. It was alarming how much red there was on the screen. The leaders scrutinized the red carefully and Jamie saw that the majority of the red was just over the half a millimeter size. He suggested that the non-red diameter should be increased to three quarters of a millimeter. When this was done a considerable amount of red disappeared.
“I’m assuming that you can cope with particles that size with your shields,” he said.
“You’re correct,” replied the commander. “My original diameter allowed too much of a margin. We can probably cope easily up to one and a half millimeter diameter. Let’s see what that does to the red.”
He gave the order and the resulting image showed a cluster of red at the edges of the shower. The commander signed in resignation.
“I was hoping for a kinder distribution of large particles. With them all at the edges, we have to take more severe evasive action to avoid them and we don’t have the time to move far enough. The left side looks less ominous than the right, which is the way I’m veering already. But we’ll still take contact with more than I feel comfortable with.”
Jamie had been studying the left side redness while the commander was talking. He frowned in puzzlement.
“Can you magnify the center of the red area on the left? There’s a bit there that looks too concentrated.”
The commander gave the order and the image jumped. Collectively, the leader groaned in dismay. Right in the middle of the red concentration were three particles with diameters in excess of a centimeter.
“We definitely can’t have those hitting us, but I don’t see what I can do. I’m heading left as quickly as I can at this speed. Whatever I do we’ll go through some of the shower. Any ideas?”
The others all looked carefully at the enlarged image, then one after the other they shook their heads, until only Jamie was left. Finally he turned to Komando-Ka and grinned.
“Call me an optimist,” he said in a jocular tone that brought smiles onto the faces of the leaders. “But I think we’ve been thinking in two dimensions only – left and right. My eyes are telling me that the left side of that shower is much lower than the right in terms of the particle distribution. I’m thinking we should go left and up at the best speed you can manage.”
There was a pregnant pause, then the leaders broke into spontaneous applause as the commander quickly gave the requisite command. Monitoring the shower all the time the cruiser very slowly pulled up and leftwards. It gradually became apparent that the maneuver would take the bigger particles out of the equation but the shower would still be at the edge of the spacecraft’s course.
“Well spotted, Jamie,” acknowledged the commander. “You probably just saved us from a very unpleasant and possibly fatal experience. Now it will still be unpleasant but not fatal. I suggest we all get buckled in so that we can ride this out.”
Rapidly the technicians adjusted their chairs into recliners, moved the closer to their equipment so that they could still reach all the necessary controls and strapped themselves in. At the same time the commander led the others to a bank of recliners that still allowed a view of all the outside images needed to monitor the meteors. In moments the leaders were secure. Serenely, it appeared the ship and the meteors continued on their collision course. In just over half an hour the first impacts began. They felt, to Jamie, just like bullets hitting the fuselage of a troop transport. The technicians monotonically reeled off the measurements for each impact.
“Impact rating six, no penetration. Impact rating ten, outer skin breached, first inner skin sound, automatic repairs in progress……”
Jamie was thinking – “automatic repairs?” when all hell broke loose. One second there were intermittent impacts and the next the ship was bucking and dropping and reeling and rocking from almost incessant impacts. The technicians’ reports became increasingly frantic with more and more breaches of the outer skin and now numbers of breaches of the second and third skins as well. The mechanical repetition “Automatic repairs in progress” became less and less reassuring and was belied by the obvious signs of stress on the commander’s face. It felt as if the whole ship was vibrating and trying to tear itself apart. Jamie was imagining a severe hail storm with tennis ball sized stones, battering the ship to bits. Now the commander’s face was sweating profusely. Jamie checked the other leaders to find the same symptom of stress, fear and desperation. Clearly none of them had experienced anything like this before. Jamie recognized the signs of encroaching panic and realized he had to do something – anything – to regain calm.
He unbuckled and stood up. Then he made his way to study the image on the big screen. It was difficult to maintain balance but he concentrated fiercely on walking as normally as possible. Much to his surprise and gratification, he managed to reach the giant image without stumbling. He stood as firmly as possible and studied the image. He could feel the others watching in shock and horror but he maintained an outward show of calm and looked carefully. Finally, he saw what he’d hoped to see – the meteor shower on the screen was thinning out in front of the ship.
“Look everyone,” he called out. “We’re nearly through.”
The others gazed in hope and then acceptance. Almost immediately the vibrating and bucking and rocking and rolling stopped and the ship sailed smoothly on its way. The relief on the bridge was palpable. Immediately, the commander sent out the “all clear” signal and asked for a damage report. A moment later the nearest technician gave the report.
“Outer skin breached three hundred and twelve times, all breaches repaired. First inner skin breached one hundred and seventy four times, all breaches repaired. Second inner skin breached fifty three times, forty nine repaired. Four larger breaches still under repair. All in the bow storage areas, two may require manual intervention.”
Komando-Ka immediately sent two technicians with two mechanic robots to the bow and then he turned to Jamie.
“Thank you, Jamie, for your timely intervention. I have to admit that we are not used to getting into trouble of that sort. I’m afraid none of us stood up to it very well. When you got up. I couldn’t believe it, but it calmed me immediately. The way you strolled to the screen as if nothing was wrong made me believe just that. I think the others will agree that your example probably saved us from making fools of ourselves.”
The nods all round gave truth to this statement. Jamie grinned.
“Where there’s no sense, there’s no feeling!” he quipped engagingly.
The laughter broke the remaining tension and the leaders visibly relaxed.
“Seriously, the situation you just experienced happens to all military types sooner or later. Nine out of ten have a very similar reaction to yours. Some break but most don’t. They grin and bear, it then it’s easier next time. But you never get used to it. If you do you will probably die. That feeling keeps you cautious and careful and helps you to stick to your processes, which you guys did admirably during this crisis. So don’t sell yourselves short.”
He paused for a moment then grinned again.
“And, if it makes you feel better, I was scared to death.”
The Taurians looked flummoxed for a moment then burst into laughter. They surrounded Jamie, slapping him on the back and shaking his hand and clearly fully accepting him as a colleague. Komando-Ka was last and, after his congratulation, he looked at Jamie, understandingly.
“I’m sure you’d like to go and check on your people,” he said. “I think you know your way by now. Teacher says they are shaken but well.”
“Thank you, commander,” Jamie replied, bowing respectfully and departing rapidly.
He ran the whole way and got to the part of the ship where all the human facilities were. Just before the living quarters, a previously unnoticed door opened as he reached it. Teacher emerged followed by the nine humans, who were tailed by their personal trainers. Number One and Number Two were both with Jenny. All but the robots looked wobbly on their feet and were white faced with the strain they’d been under. Jenny saw Jamie and rushed to him, throwing herself into his arms.
“Oh, Jamie. I was so worried. I didn’t know what was happening to you. I was so frightened.”
“We all were,” he whispered, soothingly, caressing her hair. “We were in great danger, but we got through it. The commander knows what he’s doing and the Taurian technology is amazing. Because of the commanders flying skills, we only got into the very edge of the shower. And it was the least dangerous edge at that.
He felt Jenny relax a bit against his chest, but she still held him tightly. He looked at the others.
“One thing that I thought about while all that was happening, was that we’ve all been working so hard that we’ve been downplaying our personal relationships. I think that’s a mistake. I’m scared to think how much I would have missed if I’d been killed or Jenny had. I’d like to suggest that we keep on working hard but we do it in our work capacity and in our personal capacity at the same time.”
All agreed, with a growing awareness of Jamie’s insight. And then all had the same thought and made for their private quarters.
Jenny and Jamie talked more in that day and evening than they’d ever done, at one time, before. They ordered in for supper and talked some more. At one point, Jenny looked Jamie in the eye and admitted something.
“All through that experience, when I didn’t know what was happening to you, I was frantic with worry. It made me realize how much you have come to mean to me. All through, I couldn’t imagine life without you. You’re my best friend but now I realize how much I love you.”
Jamie held eye contact and reached over and held her hands also.
“I’ve been in love with you for some time. I think you know that. But I wanted you to be sure and I wanted you to reach that certainty without any pressure from me. Now that you are sure, will you marry me?”
Her eyes widened in surprise, then crinkled with amusement, then closed as she laughed with pure joy. He held her hands firmly.
“Yes, yes, I’ll marry you as soon as possible.”
That night they made love for the first time.