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Day 792.
“This is Wesley Smith contacting the Horizon. We’re sending the first batches of deliveries up, they will be, by the time of your arrival, a bit ahead of Ericsson, but we figured that your so called Harpys might try to apprehend the cargo from reaching you. Besides, our storage space is limited. Over and acknowledge.”
Staring blankly at the dark display over the controls to the pod he envisioned the Horizon. Identical to the Explorer, savenfor the name, how it swooped up to the pod, hooking it up and dragging it with them. He and the others would see any of it, since the inertia would kill them, so they’d be in the stasis chambers.
“Is your implant working?” Anna entered the cockpit. The four had taken up residence in the pod a month earlier after successfully sealing it and repressurising the craft. Looking at his right hand he extended it to her, so she could check.
Relieved she lowered the tablet. “Good.” Smiling she turned away, eager to get back to her work. Most of the work concerning the pod and the delivery systems was done either by the drones or by Helga and Wesley. Going through geological surveys she directed other drones to new mining sites.
“André calling for Wes.”
“Aye?” He replied with a bored undertone in his voice. “Do you remember the shelter we diacovered two months into our stay?” Vividly Wesley recalled the shelter.
Still somewhat warm from the planets warm interior the shekter could’ve been one for eternity, but the Ericssons had lacked plantations, UV light for plantations, power generators, water refinement and so on. The pod would’ve provided all necessary technology to take up shelter there. “Yes?”
“I only had time to return to their journals now. According to those the able bodied had left about a year after their imprisonment began, in the nation’s capitol was supposed to be a shelter capable of sustaining thousands.”
Pondering how the Ericssons would react to be dug up by aliens stripping their home planet of any raw material they could find, Wesley got up. “Are you suggesting we visitvisit them?”
“It was just a thought. Send a drone to investigate.” The place that had given them yet another library, was already mapped out with a drone, and found out to be the capital, the recon device was still there further investigating. “See if you can find any more details for the location in the capital, I will consider it.” The recon drones were already spread thin across the planet. Sending one on a potentially dangerous mission was not what Wesley wanted to do.

Day 794.
Awoken by the annoying beeping of the intercom Wesley rose. “Yes?” He mumbled, ignoring Anna’s attempt to pull him back into the sheets. “Got a precise location, I could navigate the probe there.”
Rubbing his temple Wesley was not thrilled. “Fine.” Giving in to his curiosity he got out of bed. “I’ll join you when the probe is there.”

Thick snow blanketed the square, from all the signs still visible the shelter had been built underneath an old building. “The sign there translates loosely as Subway.” André explained as the probe moved across the square.
It made sense to Wesley that the Ericssons would expand on their subway system instead of digging new tunnels and chambers. “Nothing on sensors.” Anna was in charge of taking the sensor readings on her tablet, while André drove with the visual feed on his, cross checked by Helga. Wesley watched too.
“No thermal signature, nothing in visible or electrostatic.” He confirmed.
Next to the entrance André halted the probe. A few long dead and ice mummified bodies were there. One had a sign around his neck. “It says thief,” he paused, “I think. Maybe rapist.”
“Makes sense. Why sustain undesirable members?” Helga sounded calm, but distant and unusually cold. Did they straighten up, or die out? Pondering Wesley watched the probe descend upon the door. It placed a transponder just outside so it could continue transmitting to André and the others.
“Something on Audio.” Anna pressed a displayed button and let the others hear too. “The creaking doorway.” For a moment all had had hopes of finding survivors, or at least recordings of their language. After a series of doorways and two more transponders a large tunnel opened up before them.
Platform and tracks.
Dozens of bunks on the platform, none occupied. Judging by the layers of dust on them and the ground, no one had beennin the shelter for a long time.
“How far do you want to go?” getting up, Wesley stared down at André. “I’ll set it up for lone exploration and tellnit to return in a few hours.”
Agreeing with him Wesley left the room, henreturned to the cockpit, linking his tablet in with the other remote controlled drones and probes. Another batch of goods requested by the Horizon was due to be sent away in a week’s time. “I think you are rude.” Helga entered.
“Is that so?” Not even turning around to face her Wesley continued hischecks on the other drones and their progress. “Well, I think it is a waste of time and resources to fimd the tombs of the original inhabitants of Ericsson, and even if we find some living ones, what then? Offer them a ride on our space ship?” Slowly turning aroun with an overly surprised expression he went on. “Oh, I forgot, it barely fits us aliens! My bad.” Shaking his head he gazed at the tablet again.
All data checked out. Was it not for Helga standing there he would’ve turned his attention to other things that didn’t require the tablet. Still the pod was notin flying condition. “So you’re telling me you disapprove of this undertaking because of our limited resources? We still have a few years to go until the Horizon is in range, why not explore a little?”
“Suppose you and your kin have lived underground in a cramped, damp shelter for two thousand years. All of a sudden an alien shows up! Whether or not it is a robot or not doesn’t concern you. It is from out of the world you know, yet you know that the topside world is hazardous, so it must be an alien from another world, would you want to go with it?” Helga nodded. “You would wznt to feel sunlight on your skin, even if we can convey to them that we can’t give them real sunshine on the Horizon, their descendants might get some once we have arrived at our destination. And for the off chance of that ever happening, I would try to get with the aliens.”
Hoping the conversation to be over Wesley got up from his seat, he had to do some work on the propulsion. 
Before the pod had been put back on the ground as it was supposed to, a new sealed floor had been built, in the off chance of them ever departing with the pod. “I see, and if they’re all dead?”
Stopping in the door Wesley sighed. “Then they’re dead. Leave the dead alone.” Pinching his eyes he wished himself back to bed. “Look,” he breathed in stretching his back, “I went through with it. I’m disapproving, but not preventing it. Let me be a critic. Alright?” With these words he turned on his heels and went away.

Not exactly making progress, but listing all the materials he needed to make the engines work once more, including shielding and buffers, as he and Helga figured their best bet was to detonate small nukes behind the pod to get it to an acceptable speed for pickup by the Horizon, Wesley received Andrés call of the probe’s return to the site he last had witnessed.
“No bodies, but a few scribblings. Life underground was harsh, no doubt, but the evolution of their language was not touched by it. It got simpler.” They themselves have evolved too I guess. Lyching minerals from the bloody rocks now. Or they have died out. “What do these scribblings say?” Still a little curious Wesley put down his tools. “Mostly religious texts, letters to loved ones, a few bits and pieces read like excerpts of a dairy. Nothing younger than about fifteen hundred years though. They either died out then, although we miss the bones, or moved further down, following the heat of the planet’s interior.”
“Wrap it up for now,” staring at his engines he sighed, silently cursing Helga, “have it deploy another transmitter as far from the first one as possible and send it out on auto exploration.”

Day 1132.
Shudders went through the pod, the entire structure was shrieking, creaking and moaning. After thirty seconds the rumbke subsided and it got quiet again.
Four people cried out in joy and three of them patted Wesleys shoulder. “So we have engines back!” His face displayed a smug smile, “But we have still work ahead of us, there is still the shielding, a few small scale nukes for our purposes already stand by.” He looked at his wife Anna, using their communication with Horizon they had managed to get wed, the ceremony took hours due to response times.
“We have located enough of the raw materials need for the deflector, but rerouting enough probes there takes time.” Although information in this little group was always shared immediately, they repeated this. Mostly for the camera that transmitted to Horizon. “We are confident to make the rendezvous on time.” Helga added.
“Also, I must add, that the original Ericssons, of this nation at least, have all perished. The probe exploring the vast underground network in the capital has found several burial sites, later on pathways to deeper lying locations, closer to the heat of the planets hot interior, but discovered only dead bodies there too.” André felt relieved to have unravelled the mystery of the large sheter. After a year working on it felt bitter sweet. At least he had some scribbled pages to work with.
“We close our report after this the first successful engine test, this is day 1132 on Ericsson.” Wesley saluted. “Hope that time flies. Over.”

Day 1452.
Rumbles woke Wesley from his slumber. In the months after the first engine test there had been several more, once the pod even left the surface for a few seconds, to see if it would hold together.
But there was no test scheduled for that day, especially not while he was in bed. The shrieking, creaking and moaning walls were a lot different than in any test before. Next to him Anna also woke. “What,?”
Wesley stormed out the room I his underwear, reaching the cockpit he found it empty, moments later his comrades appeared in the scene too. Meanwhile the shaking had subsided. “Sitrep!” He called his crew into aaction. Immediately Helga went to check the ship. Displays and interactive ppanelsin the cockpit were functional again. “Structural integrity is at 100%. No damage to the ship, nor to the platform.”
“It was an earthquake, or ericssonquake. The epicentre was close.” Anna stared at her screen, pressing a few buttons her expression changed. “I’m afraid it is our fault. The epicentre was in the mines below us, a shaft had collapsed, tore several others down too due to the change in weight.”
Originally they all were under the impression that the probes and drones were intelligent enough to avoid such failure. “If my data is correct, it was a shaft dug by the Ericssons that had given out under the stress first.”
“Relay station is unharmed, most drones were on the upper parts of the mines anyway for the nightly recharge.” André was not a specialist, but had learned where to find productive things to do when there wasn’t exploration or translation on his to do list.
“Alright,” Wesley studied his own readings, “some of our stashes were obstructed. We need to get those free, or put a lot of work into making up for them.” He pointed at one specific portion of the map shong the damage to the mine shafts. “Aren’t those our nukes?” Immediately Helga had identified the spot.
“They are.” Sounding a lot grimmer than intended Wesley got up from his seat. “As soon as the nearest probes are donedone recharging, send them there. All other stashes are of lesser priority.” Anna followed him to the airlock, where he got into his suit. One of his gazes followed. Why he couldn’t stay, why she wanted him to and how much, him insisting that he had to, the entire conversation was over without one word uttered.
Supressing her tears, at least until he had left the airlock, she helped him int his suit. “Bring ’em back.”

Rocks of all sizes had tumbled down from the ceiling and the walls, the upper shafts were relatively debris free. Even before their arrival on Ericsson, the probes that had been advanced, had worked on enforcing the structure there. Several different shafts converged on the main entrance, even without additional digging the area was deemed unstable.
Now he felt unsafe, all the time he had lived there he hadn’t, but wandering through the mine nowm after the quake, sent shock waves through his belly.
A tall pile of rubble was closing off access to the dead end in which the nukes were stored for use in the pod.
“How is my backup doing?”
“Still on recharge,” Andrés voice was distorted, but he could be identified, “however, I think we should build new nukes.”
Shying away from the rubble in front of him Wesley took a breath, he hoped he miss heard. “Hey boss, your wife’s readings show that the chamber is unstable, it might tumble down, you and and the nukes with it.”
Staring at the rubble Wesley heard only interference, hia breath and hisnown heartbeat. “Lindstroem! Run a simulation on the situation, if that room falls down, and the nukes become unstable. What happens then?”
“We’d see a quake of proportions severe enough to get us all killed. Or at least so severe that the pod is too damaged to fly out. And I’m not even mentioning radiation here.”
Surprised, although not thoroughly pleased, Wesley turned around to Anna. It was the non verbal discussion all over again. She just couldn’t have stayed behind.
“We’ll instruct the drones to fill the levels below to support the chamber.” She finally spoke again, again into the radio as well.

Day 1820.
Without any noise the screen went blank again, showing only the reflection of the person in front of it. Only dim lights illuminated the room, most systems were in preflight standby. In only twelve hours thenpod would shaken once again, immense thrust would heave the tons of metal, people, ore and research into space, where the bombs woul be detonated to push them even faster on a course and trajectory parallel to Horizon.
And Anna? Slowly she turned from the display. “There ought to be no difficulty. Just use the stasis chamber as you always would.” Horizon’s chief doctor Johannes Schaeffer had smiled into the camera of his display. Finally close enough for two way communication that didn’t take ages, she was relieved she had not to wait for hours for a reply, hours that would’ve felt like days and weeks without sleep or any rest.

After the tremors had subsided gravity was clearly amiss, Anna felt immediately as if the inside of her stomach wanted to visit the outside world. Concentrating hard she took a few deep breaths, while floating away from her seat. “Sensors are already detecting the Horizon.” Calm as a morning breeze, Wesley’s voice had a soothing effect on her, and her upset stomach. “In case they can’t retrieve us, I have set an auto wakeup in ten days, we then can return to Ericsson, until Destiny comes by.” He too left his seat, behind him his display turned dark, the console powered down into standby. As most other systems did too. “But that won’t happen.” He smiled, hoping to sound optimistic.

Helga and André climbed into their respective stasis chambers, both in relative silence, just wishing good night and good luck to everyone.
“When you’re putting me in, don’t mind the readings on the panel.” She wiped away tears from her eyes. “Doc Schaeffer said it’ll be alright.” Leaving him puzzled she kissed him gently on the lips before closing the chamber door. Fading color, light and sound drove Anna’s eyes to close, but she clearly caught the surprise on Wesley’s face outside the chamber, staring at the screen. “Attention: Pregnancy detected.”

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