allringsfinal2.png“For now we will send automated probes to the planet, we’re certain they can be instructed to manufacture a delivery system. If we’re going to send people, and the civilian authorities urge to stress the ‘if’, we’ll make that decision when the Explorer nears range.” Admiral Anderson stood at the front of the board room, where Nye had stood before.

As he went on to tell the assembly that a ship wide announcement would be made, and transmitted to the other ships and Earth, Nye drifted off mentally. Off to Jacob, and their impending lunch, or dinner. Blushing as she recalled the embarrassing part of her message she had neglected to delete, she heard her name from the Admiral. “Pardon?”

“I asked whether you could oversee the probes operations once they reached the planet?”

Nye chased away her thoughts of Jacob. “Admiral, the term Probe control is misleading. With these distances all we can do is receive telemetry, sent long before we receive it. By the time our instructions are received by the probes, any unforeseen circumstances have already played out. ” Her hot cheeks did not get cold, as all eyes in the room were fixed on her. “But me and Karla can oversee the telemetry sent to us. We can help with the programming and backup programming.” Uncomfortably shifting from one foot to the other Nye wished to be as far from the conference room as possible.

“I see. Still, we would like you and Dr. Hansen to be in charge of the probes for that planet.” The Admiral looked to the others who gave confirming nods.

Probe control just got more interesting. Smiling both Nye and Karla accepted the new assignments.

“Doctor Monroe, a word please.” Nye was already on her way out when the Admiral asked her back in. Commander Brenda O’learey was there too. “Did you receive any telemetry concerning the Ark1 from the advance probes?” Nye thought for a moment. There had been telemetry, but they had sent it to the command centre after they figured out what it was. Since that incident a few weeks prior no further telemetry concerning the Ark1 had been received.

 

Beeping.

Annoying beeping, Nye thought. Drunken on sleep she gazed at the fake windows of her room.

Dark, to simulate night.

Stretched out on the bed, which doubled as couch, she was still watching the ship’s television network. During an episode of her favourite hospital series she had fallen asleep. In the top right corner of the screen was the current time, informing her she had slept for only twenty minutes. “Accept call.” She mumbled to her headpiece as she lifted it from her nightstand.

“Good evening, Doctor!” Jacob’s voice filled the tiny room.

“Good evening, Doctor!” Immediately she had found her smile again.

“I found your message, and was wondering whether you’d like to have dinner tonight?”

How did he find out where to call me? “Sure! I’d love that!” Close to jumping from the edge of her bed Nye grinned. “Where and when?”

“Let’s say in thirty minutes, where we met!” She clearly heard that he was grinning as well.

 

The minutes flew by in a great haste.

Before Nye knew it, she had changed clothes and stood next to the doors of the tube network. With a hiss the doors to the tube pressurised. As they slid open, Jacob stepped out.

Never before had she considered the hempen clothes looking good on anyone, but Jacob looked dashing in his dark blue ensemble. “Doctor Monroe!” He took a slight bow. “Doctor Charles.” She dropped a curtsy.

“I thought to show you something beautiful tonight, if I may.”

Blushing Nye followed his inviting hand gesture and stepped into the tube cab. He entered the destination into the display and the doors closed. With a hiss they depressurized, and the magnetically suspended cab took flight in the vacuum tube. After a few moments the doors hissed, opened, and revealed a humid hallway. Plants covered the ground, only stepping stones led away. “Water refinement, seed vaults.” He pointed at the doors that were half hidden. The ceiling was twice as high as in every other compartment of the Explorer that Nye had seen so far. After a turn the hallway broadened toward a large door.

“Unauthorized personel detected.” A screen next to the door flashed up. Would either of them be wearing their glasses they’d see the words flash in front of the doors as well. “Authorisation Jacob Charles, PHD, bioengineering. Unauthorized person has temporary permission.”

The screen turned green and then dark. Humming the doors opened, revealing something that Nye had known existed aboard the Explorer, but had never seen before. “We’re working on a fenced off public access to the gardens, but first we want to be sure that the plants have fully developed and are stable.” Nye barely heard him talk. Her eyes drank up the glorious sight she beheld. The entire inside of the ring was overgrown. An orchard of epic proportions.

 

“Engineers first wanted to build one gigantic cylinder, an O’Neil cylinder, but for obvious safety reasons that was transformed into the rings. Then it was debated how much of the rings was supposed to be gardens, and how much space should be used for quarters, offices, labs, et cetera. All the while taking the coriolis efect into account.” Jacob explained while leading Nye through the orchard. “This is the end result.” He pointed to a relatively large tree. A blanket covered the ground beneath, a basket stood on it. “A picnic?”

“A nice first date, I thought?” Jacob displayed an open innocent smile that would’ve won Nye over, had his message at the tube entrance not done so already.

Walking in the direction of the ship’s length axis was no problem, but in any other direction created the impression of slightly walking uphill.

The tree was uphill.

Above them the central tubes stretched lengthwise through the ring, inside the central column, which was lined with the lighting for the gardens. Currently only displaying a pale moonlight like illumination to simulate night. “How does irrigation work? The central column is zero gravity, so rain must be difficult to simulate?”

“It is zero G, but still we can use pressure to make rain happen. It isn’t the same as on earth, but it’s something.” Jacob sat down beside Nye. “Maybe you’d want to be here next time it rains?”

Loving the idea Nye just nodded enthusiastically.

“So, Jacob Charles PHD, tell me something about yourself.”

Snickering Jacob opened the basket and took a bottle out, two cups and poured one. “You sound like Doc Fraiser.” Seeing Nye baffled with ignorance about Doctor Fraiser he handed her one cup. “He’s my therapist.”

A wave of a familiar smell swept over her from the cup. Demonstratively she sniffed at it. “It is watered down, but otherwise genuine, no artificial tastes or sweeteners added.”

Apple juice.

Genuine apple juice.

Nye felt like a new being while taking the first sip.

“As I said, soon harvests will be big and prove stable enough for a raffle. Meanwhile the bioengineering department is rewarding it’s employees with the fruits of their labour.” Jacob said in a frie dly low tone.

The only reward I get for my labour, is more labour. Nye silently pondered sloshing a sip of apple juice around in her mouth.

“Anyway,”Jacob put the bottle back in the basket. “I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. But I did not stay there. After graduating I went and got accepted into the Explorer crew after my work in thd field of Bioengineering at the university. I lost five brothers and two sisters, ” musing he paused, “or rather I will loose them. Once disaster strikes, but I’ve broken up contact with them when the ship took flight. Now you tell me something about yourself, Nye Monroe PhD.”

Blue feelings washed over Nye, only repelled by Jacobs presence. “I’m from New York, left my family there as well. It tears me apart, and sometimes I doubt it was the right thing to do.”

Jacob laid his hand upon hers. “To quote Doc Fraiser, we all are plagued by these thoughts and doubts. And to tell you the thruth, I for one am damn glad you made that choice. Even in the event that this is our last date, I really enjoy this moment. And I feel privileged to have met you.”

Feeling heat in her cheeks, Nye sighed. “I too am glad that we met.” slowly she withdrew her hand. “I ain’t saying that this leads to nothing, but can we move slower?”

A broad smile appearedappeared on Jacob’s lips. “Please, forgive me if I seemed to rush forward! I merely wanted you to know that I am glad you’re here, and that I’m glad to have met you.” Smiling with him Nye looked up. Through the branches of the apple tree, faint lights of the garden on the other side of the ring were visible.

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