allringsfinal2.pngFiery streaks were drawn across the sky, visible by day and night. The distant thunder of objects breaching the soundbarrier as they entered earth’s atmosphere was omnipresent, followed by the appearance of yet another streak. “I’m going on the Explorer, Dad. Tell Mum that I am sorry.” Nye turned to an elderly man. His cheerfulness vanished from his face, slowly he stepped toward his daughter. “For what? Surviving?” He shook his head. “Don’t worry, your mother understands. We will live on through you.”

After a short embrace Nye’s father stepped back. “I guess you lived in starship city all this time, you should return there.” Nervously Nye looked at the time on her cellphone. The flight was due in three hours. “I guess I should.” After an awkward pause she hugged her father again. “I love you dad. And mum. Everyone.”

“I know kid. We love you too.”

 

Nye awoke to the sound of her alarm beeping from her nightstand. Grumbling she turned it off, got up. Wouldn’t there be a chance to meet Jacob, she would prefer to stay in bed.

“Today’s schedule?” Her voice sounded like an angry bear woken from its slumber. “Meeting with the feasibility group on project Ericsson at 10, open invitation for lunch with Jacob Charles at 12:30,”

“Confirm invitation, but request for rescheduling at 14:00!” She interrupted the computer voice, a moments pause later she was doing her morning routine, left her quarters mere twenty minutes after getting up. The hardest thing I ever had to do was giving up coffee for life, she thought while walking to the tube. Maybe Jacob has some growing in that garden?

The ride to her office offered little new, Karla came in late. Leif had sent more telemetry, but was way past Ericsson, only more of nothing, including that it would shut down communication since it was drawing on its power supply.

Although powered by a small thermonuclear device it had to conserve energy too. “What is new?” Heavy german accent woke Nye from her train of thought.

“Nothing. Why do you ask?”

Karla curled her lips, “You are dating that bioengineer, yes?”

Feeling her lips turn to smile and her cheeks warm with the heat of a blush, Nyr turned away to face the screens again. “Yes. We’re having lunch today.” I hope.

Again her mind wandered off, to the ten o’clock meeting with the feasibility group. “We have that meeting today.”

“You’re just trying to change topic! So how is it going with that plant doctor?”

Again smiling and blushing like a schoolgirl Nye sighed. “Well.” Am I a substitute for a decent soap opera? “He showed me some of their work.” Both of them smiled.

 

In the feasibility meeting for a potential landing on Ericsson, Nye was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the involved scientists thought it possible to land a small group and bring them back.

Their curiosity about the rogue planet was just as big as hers. Mostly astrophysicists, geologists and astrobiologists. If it was up to them, they would be going themselves, staying long enough for Destiny to pick them up after ten years. Studying the first truly alien world they came across was an opportunity they did not want to miss. Formed in a solar system other than the one they came from. Especially the civilisation that had perished there.

Only one medical doctor had joined the the group, and he too was convinced that a human could, if prepared amd protected properly, survive the extreme acceleration. His main concern was with germs that the visitors brought with them to the foreign environment, and how to feed the group there if the worst should happen to occur.

But the consensus of the group was clear, it was not only feasible, but also, necessary.

 

Still she had to steal herself away from the meeting, so she could make it on time to her date with Jacob.

As before they met up at the access to the tube network where they first met. Somehow Nye wasn’t looking forward to her next meeting with Doctor Donal.

It had been Jacob who set the date, Nye set the time, and thus she had prepared food in one of the mass halls in the outer sections of the ring. Close to noone lived there yet, the hall was empty.

Stools and chairs covered with sheets, rese, bling almost a scene from a horror movie, or a ghost town’s deserted diner.

Lunch came in bags that they had picked up.

“I must confess, before I’ve met you, I never had heard your name used as a first name before.” Nye lowered her fork, she was drowning in dark brown eyes. “Well,” she cleared her throat, “that’s because it usually isn’t a first name. My mother is sort of a late hippy.” As so often when she spoke with, or about Jacob, she blushed. “I was conceived on New Years Eve, my name is an acronym for that. N. Y. E., Nye.”

Neither could help but laugh, echoes of the empty hall were swallowed by the sheets on stools and tables. “Do you have any questions about my name?”

Musing for a moment Nye played with the fork. “Not realy.” She admitted finally. “But I definitely am a member of team Jacob.”

“You watched those movies?” He blurted out, glad he left out that he found them god awful. “Yes.” Nervously she picked up some food.”But then I read the books, and hated the movies.” She winked.

A moment of silence paseed between them, Nye felt awkward. “What movies did you watch?”

A broad grin appeared on Jacob’s face, exposing white teeth that made Nye feel like hers were black. “I enjoyed all the nerdy stuff that could get you horribly beaten up in South Africa. But if my information is correct, it could get you horribly beaten up anywhere else too.” Again they shared laughter.

Outside the hall sounds alerted them to someone else in the otherwise empty part of ship. Peeking over her shoulder Jacob just greeted someone with a nod, then they were alone once again. “Just a colleague, tending the plants in the hallways.” he quickly explained.

Although the outer levels of the rings were largely uninhabited, the hallways and common rooms were filled with plants, just like in all other parts of the ship, producing oxygen.

Before Jacob knew what happened, Nye had gotten up, bowed over the table and kissed him. Baffled, but glad he returned the kiss. A muffled computer voice in Nye’s pocket told them that a mere fifteen minutes had passed since their lunch break had begun. Slowly she pulled her hand from her pocket, with which she had pressed the button on her HUD glasses to tell the time.

“Fifteen minutes to go.” She breathed only centimetres from Jacob’s face.

Her intention of moving slow in this relationship was melting away rapidly.

No. There was no moving slow.

If her dream was a sign from her subconscious, as her therapist would tell her, it was a sign that there was no time to move things slow.

Life was precious.

And short.

 

With one look Karla knew how her colleague had spent her lunch break. The messed up hair and hastily rebuttoned clothes told her everything she needed to know. “Anything happened I should know about?”

Karla shook her head, suppressing a smirk. “Good, … then, …” Nye stammered looking around. “I, … uhm, I need a minute or two, … to,” her desperate search for an excuse to leave once more so she could make herself representable again was interrupted by the beeping of an incoming transmission.

A quick look at the source was cause enough for both of them to pause.

The Magellan probe.

Second farthest of the probes sent in advance to RV-p 296.

Radiation associated with antimatter detected. “Our children will run into this when they are in their forties.” If I had kids right now that is. Nye swallowed. “Contact the Admiral.” Karla suggested with an ill feeling in her stomach.

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