Cecric awoke and felt good. She stretched, rolled over, and was content.
Though there was much for her to do before waking the others, her sleep had been long and there was no reason to deny herself a quiet and relaxed awakening from a deep space sleep of eons. She let a few minutes pass, stretched luxuriously, reached for the door handle of her sleeping cubicle and pulled herself out of bed. She was out the door quickly and gliding with a smile on her way to the control room.
A quick glance around the control room assured her nothing had changed as she slept. The spaceship was exactly where it was supposed to be. Final course adjustments had obviously been perfect. Cecric stretched her head high and breathed deep as she started up the instrument panels. Her expert touch quickly turned on computer displays for each spaceship in the fleet. She was glad to see that they were all still there after one hundred and eighteen years of sleep. The computers indicated that everyone aboard each ship was alive and well in the suspended animation of deep-space sleep; super sub-hibernation.
A blinking red light on each ship caught her attention and she bent forward for closer inspection. A little concentration bubble glistened in the corner of her mouth as she tried to figure out what the red lights meant. The hand of her left arm turned on the main computer, her right started the wake-up cycle for everyone on her ship, everyone on the other ships remained asleep, for now.
The blinking red lights on each ship made her neck and shoulders tense; the lights were something new and were not planned. She unconsciously stretched her neck, rolled her head high, and took another deep breath. Feeling some relief from the exercise, she reached under the control panels and activated the main computers on every ship. This was a deviation from plan that would wake everyone a full week ahead of schedule but solutions were part of the job assigned to the first person awake. Her decision turned out to be both smart and crucial.
Cecric raised her head and took another deep breath. One flip of her powerful tail sent her gliding along the passageway to the fleet monitoring station. She hurried to figure out the meaning of the blinking red light on each ship monitor. Cecric switched the computers on and waited with slight impatience through their startup cycle.
Though her first concern was visual inspection of the ships, she resisted this and followed standard startup routines with the entire system and its links to the main control room. Her top priority was to figure out the red light on each ship monitor. She lifted her head for another breath from the passageway air channel and dove through the fleet monitoring room door with a satisfying twist and headed straight to the sensor terminal.
Cecric switched the computers on and waited again with slight impatience through their start-up cycle. Though her first concern remained visual inspection of the ships she resisted this and once again followed normal start-up routines for the entire sensor system and its links to the main control room.
Seemingly sudden computer system life blinked into being. It lit up the computer monitors and they demanded her full attention.
Her first view on the screen was of the last galaxy the Delfinian fleet had passed. Delfinian ships are gravity powered and they had used a bit of the galaxy's gravity to sling them to faster forward progress. Cecric was briefly interested and somewhat relieved to see that the timespace bubble they had traveled so far to reach contained Galaxy types similar to home. Yes, earlier explorers had said so, still, it was nice to wake up to and see a normal view.
Although the clock showed only three hours, it seemed like an eternity had passed before the sensor light turned green and a buzzer signaled that all data was in a real time flow. Verification of data used to calibrate sensors required another fifteen minutes.
Cecric felt herself shaking with anticipation when all the preparation work was finally complete. She stretched, again and took a another deep breath before turning her attention to examination of the ships.
The first thing she saw was that balloon fragments were still draped over some ships. These fragments sparked vivid memories of escape from the consuming force that had attacked and destroyed Delfinia, her beautiful world.
Delfinian scientists had worked around the clock attempting to find a weak point in the force that rapidly overwhelmed every defensive measure. Many of them believed their enemy was composed of some dark matter variant. Some thought it might be a type of energy associated with other dimensions. Those who thought of other dimensions figured it had invaded the small and visible atomic portion of their cosmos from somewhere else. It was a gigantic planetary scale physical form completely unaffected by their weapons. Delfinian science was a superb and marvelous jewel with vast laboratories and brilliant scientists, yet it had been swept aside like dust in the wind.
All would have been lost but for the already constructed fleet and the ongoing plan for colonization outside their own timespace bubble. This too would have been lost without intervention by the mysterious singing light that had shown them how to construct the monstrous balloons it used to shield their escaping fleet through the smothering cloud of darkness. Delfinians knew no more about the warm singing light that escorted them through their peril than they knew about the dark and cold evil that destroyed Delfinia and everyone but the colonists who escaped on the fleet.
Cecric finished her examination of the first ship and found nothing that would account for the blinking red warning lights. She suddenly realized she had not eaten and was ravenously hungry. A quick breath followed by a powerful stroke with the strong third hand on her paddling tail sent her gliding to the food dispenser. Head and shoulders above water, she reached through a small hatch and retrieved a wrapped portion of her favorite vegetable dish. She ate hungrily, her upper body supported above water by occasional lazy sweeps of her third hand at the end of her paddling tail. Her third hand was more than twice the size of both right and left hands combined. She could also stand on it.
Cecric returned to the tedious job of inspection after her brief meal. She had just moved her view screen to the third ship when a nagging thought in the back of her mind told her there was something different about the second ship. She turned the view screen back to the second ship and searched for what she hoped was more than imagination. The ship was large and as she scanned it from end to end, her thoughts once again drifted to the dark force that had destroyed her people and her world.
There had been many who worried that delfinian explorations outside their own timespace might bring unwanted notice from somewhere in the unknown. Others said proof of additional timespace bubbles was unclear at best. Regrettably, seemingly unfounded worries turned out to be correct. No sane mind could have imagined that creation contained a selfish power roused to jealous wrath by the innocent scientific progress that had freed Delfinians to travel between separate creations organized into what appeared to be finite timespace bubbles. This was all too new for a settled view.
Delfinians had been excited to a monumental task by the discovery of a beautiful water planet in what quite a few scientists said was a neighboring timespace continuum. They had built a tremendous space fleet and were ready to send a colony to the water planet just as they were attacked. Cecric relived the numbing loss and pain of desperation before the singing golden light had appeared to guard their escape. Her sadness was heavy with wondering about what happened to all the millions who were excited about the colony and ended up left behind to die. How could it be that she was one who lived? The thought weighed both heavily and strange on her mind. The question of why such horrors had descended on her world almost made her miss what she was looking for a second time. But she didn’t. This time she saw it.
There! A small round disk attached to the side of the ship. Once she had seen one, it was easy to spot them on most of the other ships. She left the monitoring room and swam along the passageway to the maintenance room at the nearest landing bay. Once there, she opened a case and removed a small mobile robot. Then she sent the little robot through a double door air-lock inspection port to explore the surface of her own ship.
Cecric was beginning to feel a little tired. She smiled at the idea of being tired so soon after waking from one hundred and eighteen years of deep space hibernation. Still, it would be another twenty-four hours before the others awoke and she had been working continuously. Weariness and returning hunger both hit her at the same time. She decided another light snack and a nap would be a good idea while the maintenance robot prowled the outer surface of the ship. She ate one small vegetable cake, drifted to her bunk, and immediately fell asleep.
After a brief nap, Cecric retraced her earlier route and went to find the maintenance survey robot. It had retrieved a disc like she had seen on the other ships and automatically returned through the double sealed doors. Cecric picked up the disc, pulled out the robot’s data record, pushed off the wall with her large, five-fingered tail hand and gracefully arced out the door into the passageway to the monitoring center at about the speed of a fast human runner. The robot data pack plugged quickly into the computer and showed the entire outer skin of the ship was perfect. After completion of the routine survey results, Cecric turned her attention to closer scrutiny of the disc that had been attached to her ship.
Preliminary analysis and data recovery indicated the disc had been on the ship for nearly eighteen months. It was attached with an unfamiliar resin. The device had discerned the presence of life aboard the ship but most of the measurements made little sense. It had apparently been unable to measure hibernating Delfinians. The alien sensor had reactivated itself and broadcast her life-force data when Cecric awoke. She had not been impressed with the alien technology until she saw her own figures: temperature, pulse, approximate body mass, time of awakening. Crude measurements of the ship computer and sensor systems followed her personal data. Transmissions had continued until the maintenance robot had found it, decided it was a foreign object and disabled it.
Cecric’s mind was racing. “Who had placed the sensor transmitters on the ships? Had the dark cloud of evil that attacked their planet tracked them here? If so, why were they still alive?” She pushed off from the computer workstation, took a breath and hurriedly swam to the main control room, where all systems had warmed to full power.
Their destination planet was shimmering beautifully on the main forward view screen, though to the unaided eye its sun was just one star among billions of others. The only instrument signaling for attention was an electromagnetic wave scanner. Cecric turned its raw data into computer factored frequency streams that she then reconstructed into actual sound. Virtually all frequencies were carrying the same signal, a short digital recording of her own heartbeat followed by a short vocal message she could not understand. Then a different heartbeat followed by the same vocal statement and back to her heart beat. The cycle was repeated over and over. Cecric marveled at the simplicity of the message that communicated so much.
Whoever was attempting to communicate with her knew her heartbeat and was sending back a recording of their own. The brief vocalization was most likely a simple greeting sent with no expectations.
Unknown aliens had not sent intercepting warships, and they were on the destination planet. They were either confident of their defenses or felt no need for them. Obviously they meant no harm or they would have struck while the delfinians slept. She shuddered to think what might have happened if the automatic defense systems had started up while the aliens were attaching their sensors to the delfinian ships. Which side had been lucky? She grimaced, probably both. These aliens, whoever they turned out to be, were clearly too confident and too peaceful to be anything less than extremely dangerous if confronted with a threat.
Cecric thought a moment about how she should respond and then looked up at the screen in front of her with what she hoped was a friendly smile, took her own picture, and sent it to the aliens. She then scanned through photo archives and sent an image of a Delfinian family playing together. Her next transmission was vocal. She said hello, counted to 100, then by hundreds to one thousand, finally she recited the Delfinian alphabet.
Knowing different decisions regarding contact with an alien race could be made after others were awake, she decided to leave the aliens for later, though she did decide it would be prudent to initiate a few defensive steps. She quickly split the fleet into thirds and put some distance between each smaller group; the last step in her evolving plan was to run a check of automatic defense systems and their supporting subsystems. This would take quite a while so something to eat, a real meal, and a moment for quiet reflection about what had just happened seemed like a good idea. Cecric knew from experience that her mind would work best if she left it alone for a little while and let it do its job.
A short trip brought her to puttering around the ship kitchen preparing a more elaborate meal than the quick nutrient cakes that had sustained her up to now. She found her favorite delicacies from Delfinia and prepared a delicious stew made of leaves from a giant red tuber, tangy spices from tropical waters, jellied protein-rich stems of low-growing fern kelp, the leaves also provided medicines. All topped the tasty mushroom fruits that grew without light near deep volcanic hot-water vents.
The simple everyday routine of cooking an ordinary meal was relaxing. Her hands were busy with the preparations and her thoughts were involved with measurement, temperature, and time. The actual cooking did not take very long and she decided to enjoy her meal in the main dining room even though she was still alone.
Holding her tray above water with both hands, Cecric used her third paddling hand to propel herself forward and maintain vertical balance. After setting her food on the table, she used the same hand to hold on to an underwater ring so she could float comfortably at the table in one place. Holding her first good meal in one hundred and eighteen years was so delightful she smiled happily and felt herself doing it.
She was alone in a large dining hall of empty tables and pictured how it would soon be full of Delfinians enjoying their first meal after a long sleep. All the anchor rings around each table would be grasped as she was doing and the room filled with the low hum of delfinian table conversation. Everyone would be happy that the suspended hibernation had worked. Everyone would sill be freshly shocked and saddened by the memory of their planet’s destruction.
Cecric’s graceful hands tipped the last of her thick stew onto a tortilla-like flour cake that she rolled up. She took a bite. Her eyes glazed slightly as she stared straight ahead, mechanically chewing without tasting what to a human would have tasted similar to cooked raisins and plantain in a thick tofu sauce seasoned to a blend of Caribbean and Mediterranean recipes. It was in the midst of her favorite meal that her quiet thoughts she had purposefully left to percolate subconsciously burst to full attention.
Cecric realized a grave mistake! She had neglected to run the course inspection monitor further back than the first round of data used for recalibration of the sensors. Discovery of the alien discs attached to the ships had sidetracked her, she had not checked if the dark force was following them.
She hastily placed the little that remained of her meal on her plate and put it in an empty dining room tray. She then gave a mighty diving push with her third hand. Her heart was pounding as she raced to the monitoring room.
Traveling full speed at the monitoring room door, she reached forward with her arms, arched her body, and turned through the door without losing speed. Crossing to the monitoring computer station in a split second she stopped instantly by curling her tail under and forward, like a sitting Human. She worked at a frantic pace and set the computer routine to examine the full course behind them. Cecric then turned on the monitor sensors and kicked herself backwards toward the door. She approached the door with her back down and her face up. Another smooth kick and a rolling corkscrew turn sent her through the door and zooming along the passageway to the main control room. A quick glance at the life-support system revealed that all Delfinians on her spaceship would be waking soon. She was relieved that she would not be alone much longer, even so, much remained for her to do.
The main worry plaguing Cecric was fueled by her lack of knowledge. She knew self-blame would boggle her mind, making clear thinking more difficult. She tried keeping focused on immediate positive steps that were actually possible.
Though she did not know if the cold dark cloud of doom that had destroyed Delfinia was hunting them even now, she knew her own kind had entered deep space hibernation aware of what had happened and what might happen again. Innocent lives on their destination planet had become a new and unanticipated concern. Delfinians might be leading a destructive nightmare directly toward an unknown and intelligent life form. She decided to warn the aliens. If the malicious, planet-smothering force was in pursuit, the Delfinians still had time to alter course and lead the awful power away from other unsuspecting beings who had done nothing to attract destruction; a decision of this magnitude would be up to everyone on the ship and perhaps the entire fleet so Cecric did not dwell much on it, yet.
A quick search of the image archives brought up a visual sequence of the dark clouds enveloping Delfinia. She sent that and a stellar map showing their route across the local timespace continuum. The route map made her smile and the smile made her feel better; she was sending a cosmic joke to unknown aliens. The more she looked at the route map, the funnier it was to her. She tried to imagine the reaction of an alien life form seeing a route map with its starting point as infinity.
Even Delfinians who had spent several years attempting to understand these ideas couldn't visualize more than one timespace. Most gave up discussing multiple big bangs and simply drew an analogy to the bubbles in foam created by ocean surf. The idea that all the stars and galaxies they could see fit in one bubble of a storm-tossed ocean provided poetic vision to an incomprehensible vastness without beginning or end.
The latest joke was that their huge jump in Delfinian cosmological science revealed they knew far less than they thought they did. Their assumption before this discovery had been one infinitely large timespace that began with one big bang and made the cosmos. Cecric surprised herself by laughing out loud at the seemingly bizarre idea of increased knowledge leading to an impression of even greater ignorance.
The sinister side of their new science was the dark cloud of doom that apparently sought out discoverers who traveled to a new cosmos. Cecric sent a recording of the mysterious singing golden light that protected them through and beyond the darkest heart of the cloud around their planet, then she raced to see the results back in the monitoring station. Self doubt plagued her courage — she was almost too afraid to look.
continue to Chapter 9