The Infinite Bard continues to feature spellbinding, spectacular stories biweekly. Check out this latest, a poignant outer space adventure.
Personal Log, date Z1302>13513 (April 1, 5083): Today Exploration has reached two milestones. We’ve been traveling for fifty years which timewise marks the halfway point in our journey between galaxies. I suspect we shall continue ahead of schedule, however, because we have covered slightly over fifty percent of the distance. And the population of the ship has passed the five million mark. At the moment, seventy percent of those on board have fulfilled the education requirements to qualify as crew. As anticipated, this far exceeds the demand for Exploration’s optimum crew of five thousand—and the ship can be run with a fraction of that number of personnel. Even with not everyone pursuing certification so as to participate in ship’s government, the surplus nevertheless allows us to rotate personnel and give those who are on duty less frequent shifts.
I’m impressed that moral is remaining high, better even than my most optimistic expectations. For those crewmembers who experience moods, that is. Given the incredible diversity of all the beings on board and the length of our voyage, I anticipated more friction than has occurred. It is my belief that this success is due not only to the size of the ship, but also to the care that was taken in providing the environment—both living quarters and wilderness—to which each species is accustomed. Admittedly, I’m biased since I’m the scientist in charge of all the natural areas on the ship. It’s personally and professionally satisfying to see the pivotal role they play.
Doubtless, another major contributing factor is that people are able to pursue what career or hobbies they wish. A great deal of scientific research is going on. Artistic pursuits are flourishing as well. Carefully cultivating various resources not from the Microhabitats, we have increased the number and variety of natural areas on the ship. These new areas, however, are open for habitation by the crew, and a number have opted to live there rather than in more standard crew quarters. All this information is being transmitted back so that the Coreships under construction can make use of it.
We are currently skirting the Abyss, the singularity located between the Milky Way and our destination. We are maintaining a distance twice what is considered safe from the event horizon. Our astronomy department has requested the launch of two dozen science scouts plus uncrewed probes and I have agreed. This will facilitate study not just of the largest singularity ever discovered, but will also enhance sensor capabilities and increase the long-range data we can gather from other galaxies. The data is eagerly awaited by those back home. No doubt the Matrix and the Totality will absorb and disseminate it most quickly, but scientists galaxy wide will avail themselves of the information we transmit. The view from outside the galaxy is, I must admit, most impressive. End Log.
Sera sat back at her desk and folded her arms across her chest, mulling over whether or not to add more detail. It somehow struck her as odd to be doing a task as mundane as recording a log when she knew that tomorrow she would be witnessing a death and a birth.
Absently, she brushed back her wavy, shoulder-length hair and tucked it behind her ear as her internal debate continued. The five million now on board were a far cry from the just over five thousand the ship had departed with. Yet the growth had been expected and planned for. The birth of Jjjkk’s latest brood alone added over two hundred inhabitants. The aquatic Tikkans produced hundreds of eggs at a time which the female laid and the male then fertilized and gestated. Jjjkk Surleelt had already had one clutch of eggs hatch at the onset of the mission. Now the second of her three husbands had delivered another batch.
The number of people would increase yet again when the eldest of the Yuwellans splintered, dying in order to propagate the crystalline species. Normally an isolated race, the Yuwellans did not readily make anything about themselves known. But those few on board were gradually overcoming their aversion to mingling. They had gone so far as to invite Sera to the ceremony, along with the captain and several other members of the senior staff.
And the Core was proving to be more beneficial than anyone had dreamed—and people had built considerable dreams on the concept.
Spanning four point nine million square kilometers and loosely patterned on Earth’s North America, the pristine wilderness of the Core comprised the bulk of the volume of the ship. Most of the crew spent little time there, instead living in the remaining decks of the vessel that surrounded the Core like a shell. But the time they did spend there kept morale high. Even just knowing that what amounted to a chunk of a planet was there for them staved off the space sickness of feeling sealed in a box.
Sera had no regrets about resigning from the project to accompany the first of the three hundred Coreships being designed to explore the other galaxy.
Yes, she’d worked hard designing other cores as well and would have liked to have seen them reach completion. Each would be a unique environment. Everything ranging from other earthlike ecologies to wholly aquatic, or gaseous, or even solid rock or the vacuum of space would be represented. Most, like Exploration’s mixed crew, would house wildly diverse species, but a few of the ships would have single-race crews.
Which brought Sera’s thoughts back to the Yuwellans and the upcoming ceremony. There was virtually no research available on their traditions. The species was isolationist in the extreme, the Yuwellan crewmembers intensely private despite being what their race would consider outlandishly outgoing. So Sera had no idea what would be expected of her and the others who attended the ceremony the next day. As far as she understood, the splintering was simultaneously a death and a birth. Sera and the other members of the senior staff were honored the Yuwellans had asked them to attend.
Some races rarely displayed their emotions. Would the Yuwellans, show joy at the new life? Would they mourn the loss of their leader and friend? Laughter or lamentations? Or both?
When she’d accepted the invitation, Sera had asked if that meant they were to participate. And if so, what would the need to do. The reply had been, no, it was enough for them to bear witness.
She would find what that meant out tomorrow. Sera rose and put a hand to her lips to stifle a yawn. She and most of the senior staff put in far more hours than they needed to. And while they did delegate plenty of tasks, having a thousand times the people than at the beginning of the voyage meant that there were many more tasks to delegate as well.
Of the whole senior staff, she supposed her duties had expanded the least over the decades. The Core and the Microhabitats were and always had been her one and only responsibility—professionally speaking. Those duties comprised a great deal, but were unaffected by the number of inhabitants on the ship. Unlike, for example, for her aunt who started out as captain of five thousand people and now led five million.
The Core and Microhabitats had very few rules, but those few were inviolable. And, as the regulations were absolute—and easy—there were no second chances. Period.
The regulations amounted to two things: nothing could be brought in to the Core from the rest of ship, meaning no technology aside from wrist units worn to facilitate getting in and out, and no materials aside from the clothing if the species wore clothing; and change nothing, not just ‘do no damage’ because some people might mistakenly think minor damage was acceptable. Needless to say, that could have led to the slippery slope of what constituted ‘damage’, the definition of ‘minor’, debate over what could or couldn’t be repaired, and what ‘acceptable’ repair time would be.
Far better not to break something, Sera thought, than to have to worry about how to fix it.
She had more than enough to do ensuring that the various generators that maintained the Core’s environment remained in better-than-perfect working order. And all thousand Microhabitats were her department as well. Luckily the number of staff had always been more than sufficient—even before it had exploded from three thousand to thirteen thousand. And, as with all those involved, their knowledge and experience had exceeded exemplary. Sera relished the luxury of having so much time to train so many auxiliary personnel so completely.
Some of her staff preferred working at a single Microhabitat and eventually became incredibly specialized. Others rotated among all thousand Microhabitats, or among select subgroups. As long as each Microhabitat remained equally overstaffed and in peak condition, Sera allowed the workers to regulate themselves as much as possible. If anything, she was called on to thin out gluts more often than not: too many willing to do the jobs.
And, immense trust in her staff notwithstanding, Sera continued to check on each Microhabitat herself.
Soon enough she’d have a reprieve from the hectic schedule. After the Yuwellan ritual the next morning, she and her family—not just her husband but their two children and their spouses, the seven grandchildren with three spouses among them, and twin great-grandchildren—would be taking a vacation.
Several species on board besides humans preferred temperate woodland climates. To that end, they had designed and built a copy of an Earth habitat, alike in all respects save the stipulation that it remain undisturbed in its natural state. There they’d built a city in the forest.
Sera and her family would be spending two weeks there and would, for professional intents and purposes, be considered ‘away” and completely incommunicado. Rigel Falconner would see to that. Sera did not envy anyone who tried to bypass the first officer and interrupt the long overdue time off. Rigel had made it plain that the time was inviolate. And no one on the ship crossed the human woman whose temper, although incredibly slow to explode, was even more fiery than her red hair once it did. And with Tamlin enforcing the do-not-disturb decree as well, Sera doubted they’d hear from anyone at all during the time.
As soon as she materialized in her quarters, Sera knew they were empty without having to walk through all the rooms. The thick silence meant that no company was visiting. Even though her son and daughter had long since moved out, the extended family tended to congregate in Sera’s suite.
And she could smell only the fragrance of the rose her husband Gabriel had given her. If Gabriel himself had been present, she would have detected the scent of his cologne, mild though it was.
Sera pulled off her shoes and socks so her bare feet could sink into the plush carpet. Then, as she contemplated running a bath, a set of data files on one of the shelves caught her eye. Now instead of a dozen datacard, she noticed a thirteenth.
Puzzled, she went to see what the new one was. The data files were among her most prized possessions. Gabriel had given them to her on the eve of Exploration’s departure. They included the history of all the previous ships named Exploration, the ships’ schematics, all the ships’ logs, and biographies of all the captains.
She set the data chip on the table and activated it. Sera experienced a flush of pleasure and grinned. Gabriel had been busy. Evidently two newly commissioned ships had been given the name Exploration.
Sera frowned. One was an incredibly powerful Naurollian warship, not that there were any wars going on in the Milky Way. Still, on rare occasions, piratical raiders left others no choice but to defend themselves, so the firepower was sometimes still needed. Sera made a mental note to share the information with her Samrai CMO and the Naurollian third in command. They’d both be interested, as would the rest of the senior staff.
The second was explorer class, one of Sera’s favorite ships. The science vessels were among the fastest and most maneuverable ever built, all the better to explore the most dangerous and turbulent areas of space. As Kaelin, third in command, also acted as head of all the science departments, she would be particularly interested in that as well. One type was heavily armed as well, so as to be able to act as troubleshooters or rescue ships.
This latest one, by chance, was the unarmed version of the class ship, purely for science. The vessel was unaligned, meaning not part of any particular fleet. The Earth Science Academy owned and operated it, although the crew was not strictly humans from Earth. Sera skimmed some of the news articles and was startled to see that the explorer class Exploration had a Yuwellan third in command.
Sera blinked. How had that happened? The Yuwellans’ society was so strict about isolationism that the ones aboard Exploration—Sera’s Exploration, the Coreship—had had to stow away to escape. Had so much changed in five decades that they could now openly consort with other species? Sera certainly hoped so although she confessed, if only to herself, to intense surprise at the welcome development.
She coded the article as mail and, placing the disc in the com slot on the wall, forwarded it to Karett, Kaelin and the Yuwellans on board in case they were not already aware of the developments. Although the crystalline beings did not think of themselves as a single unit, they did share one com address.
Of all the Microhabitats on board, Sera considered the one the Yuwellans preferred to be the most inhospitable. Of course the preference on either side was purely subjective. The gemlike Yuwellans, of course, loved the gaseous environment with pressures and extreme hot and cold temperatures that emulated the atmosphere of a gas giant. The microcosm took up 5,000 cubic kilometers.
The personal teleporter on Sera’s wrist materialized her inside the hostile environment—and inside a protective electromagnetic bubble as well that regulated air pressure and content. With no gravity, Sera floated in the middle of the bubble as the bubble floated in the maelstrom of color surrounding her.
Sera couldn’t see more than a meter or two beyond her location, but transparent schematics appeared on the clear bubble and showed her the location of the Yuwellans. The beautiful jewel-like beings ranged in size from a human’s fist to fifty meters across and comprised every shade of blue imaginable. Fifty-four of them hovered nearby.
Nine more protective bubbles were interspersed among the Yuwellans. The readout provided by her teleporter told Sera that they contained the rest of the senior staff. Only Dasaaral, a shapechanger who’d taken on Yuwellan form—but orange so as not to give offense by seeming to impersonate them—could and did make herself at home in the surroundings.
At a “mere” forty-five meters across, the Yuwellan leader wasn’t the largest of his kind, but he was the eldest. The rest of the Yuwellans drifted to surround their senior member. The smallest—the youngest—floated in the closest with the larger ones forming a perimeter just shy of their guests.
At a signal Sera could neither hear nor see, but that her teleporter’s sensor tied in to the universal translator conveyed as “begin”, the Yuwellans began moving, dancing. They wove among each other in a beautiful, intricate pattern that reminded Sera of an ancient kaleidoscope she’d seen once.
Then the Yuwellans began singing—that was how Sera interpreted the ultrasonic vibrations she could not hear but, again thanks to the translator, could feel even in her protective shell. As the music harmonized then crescendoed into a single note, she realized the delicate balance they were trying to achieve.
They were seeking the frequency that would shatter crystal of their particular composition. Yet they had to shield themselves from it so that only the dying leader was the one to shatter.
Sera wondered if such a ritual accompanied every Yuwellan death/birth. The youngest tended to be more outgoing than their elders. She’d have to ask one of them. It dawned on her she didn’t have information on their lifespan. They could live a thousand years, or a million for all she knew.
Fracture lines appeared in the leader, following the planes of the crystalline structure. Sera knew that at that moment he was deceased. She sensed it telepathically, although humans were by no means the most adept psionic beings, and the Yuwellans were normally reticent. Then the remains broke apart in a slow‑motion explosion that all the other Yuwellans contained.
Some of the fragments, although beautiful and still gemlike, were ignored or brushed out of the way by the electromagnetism the Yuwellans controlled so easily with their song.
But others glowed with internal luminance and Sera knew that they were the Yuwellan equivalent of infants. These were shepherded with the greatest care. Were they already self aware? Or were they more like seeds which still needed to germinate and grow? Yet more questions to add to her list, Sera thought.
Their current location in the Microhabitat was one of the calmest, totally lacking eddies or wind currents that could gust beyond hurricane strength. Sera deduced that the sheltered area would serve as a nursery.
Some of the youngsters, ranging from a decameter to a meter or two across, came to converse with the non-Yuwellans who’d attended.
“We thank you for coming,” said one who was aquamarine in color and of median size among the small group.
“It was a great honor,” Sera replied. The rest of the Yuwellan were drifting off, aside from a dozen who were tending the newborns. Sera heard the rest of the senior staff echo her sentiments.
Holding off on her inquiries until a more appropriate time, Sera settle for asking, “Please pardon the question, but is it proper to offer condolences? Or congratulations?”
“It is a time of sadness and joy,” said a different Yuwellan, this one a full two meters in diameter and a pale purplish blue.
“Then please convey our sympathy and our best wishes to all your people.”
“We will do that. Thank you again.” Yet a third Yuwellan replied, this one much brighter purplish blue, and a meter across. Sera recognized various individuals by size and color. They apparently didn’t have names, as each appearance was unique and each electromagnetic “voice” distinct.
The ceremony concluded, Sera and the others took their leave and exited the Microhabitat. Sera exchanged a few brief words with Kaelin and Rigel to ensure nothing needed her attention before she began her time off.
Rigel assured her in no uncertain terms that everything was under control.
Now officially off duty, Sera returned to her quarters. Gabriel sat in a chair, book in hand. He set the book aside and she sank onto his lap. “I saw the updates. Thank you, Gabriel.”
“You’re welcome. What did you think of the Yuwellan…” he paused, searching for words. “What do they call it?”
“Their word for ‘birth’ denotes this specific occurrence of death/birth. It was enlightening and lovely experience.” She described the events to him in detail.
He watched her closely as she spoke and a contemplative look came over his face. Furrows, ever so faint, formed on his forehead as his brows drew slightly together. Sera knew that look. He was debating whether or not to ask her something.
Finally, he said, “I have been thinking lately. How would you feel about having more children?”
Sera felt her eyebrows arch high in surprise. She hadn’t given the matter any thought, but had no objection either. They were both young, still shy of three centuries of age.
She took his face in her hands and kissed him long and hard. “So how long have you been thinking about this?”
He contemplated a moment, then admitted, “Since just now.” Still holding her, he rose to his feet with the grace of a cat. “What do you think of the idea?”
“Well, it’ll take some doing,” she pretended to hedge. “Exactly when can we start?”
“The others are in the city already. I told them we’d join them after you were done this morning.”
“So they’re not expecting us as any specific time.”
“They are not.” Gabriel kissed her nose, then her forehead, then her eyes, and cheeks, and chin.
“Then they won’t be looking for us.” Sera barely got out the words
“Not for some time.”
“Then there’s no rush.”
This excerpt appears in A Little Piece of Home, an intergalactic adventure. Join Sera and the rest of the crew of Exploration as they plan, then embark on their voyage to a different galaxy.