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After gliding alongside the Orion for a few minutes of deceleration the pod made contact with the docking hatch. Located on top of the pod that meant the crew had to climb up a ladder, that was obviously not constructed for use with a clunky space suit.

Sylvie had her exterior microphone on, heard a satisfyingly short hiss when the difference in pressure between the airlocks was evened out.

“Stop right there.” A female voice commanded. Slowly Sylvie turned to her, opening her helmet. The woman had dark blond hair, pale skin and wore a uniform in khaki colors. In her hand she held a shiny black revolver. “You know that thing can punch a hole in your hull and kill you along with me?”

Reluctantly the woman lowered the gun. But there was relief in her eyes. “So it is true, you’re human.” She tucked the gun away.

Behind Sylvie the others began to emerge from the airlock. “Did you expect something else?”

“The feathered midgets. Who knows what they are up to?” Jason too opened his helmet, he felt a little claustrophobic in the suit. After Ark1 he never wanted to don one again. He noticed that the woman was pleasantly surprised to see him.

Before departing, the Admiral had briefed the entire crew of the away mission on the reservations voiced by governor Mbuntu, but he saw no lingering disdain towards his skin color, but genuine pleasant surprise. He would include a message to the governor that her concerns were unwarranted.

“I am private Danielle Clarkson. Welcome aboard the USS Orion.” The blond woman saluted before Sylvie. Saluting herself Sylvie introduced herself and the other members of her team.

After the introduction Private Clarkson led the visitors to a large room, it was empty and dusty, obviously in disuse.

“My superiors will be here shortly.” As she spoke a door on the other side of the room opened and a group of six women entered. They too looked at Jason and the other men with delighted surprise. “Welcome, I’m lieutenant Fran Scherzer.” Saluting too before Sylvie.

“Thank you. We would like to begin work immediately. Our time here is limited.”

“Of course.” The lieutenant smiled. “Private Clarkson will show the communication team the way, private Lee the medical team and I shall show you the computer deck.”

 

Behind the door an endless hallway stretched out before Jason and Julio Fernández, the technician assisting him. It had no regular walls, but clicking and clacking top to bottom computers, occasionally a magnetic tape, one spool the size of a man’s chest. “Wow.” Fernández exhaled utter disbelief. “When we were launched, this was state of the art.” Proudly lieutenant Scherzer pointed down the hall. “I think my glasses have more computing power.” Jason had to admit, more to himself than to the astonishment of their host.

“Sounds about right.” Julio concurred.

After a few meters they realised the heat in the room. Water coolant pipes ran through the complex, but with little efficiency. “Well, where should we set up the equipment?”

With a lingering gaze the Lieutenant mustered the two men before her. “We have cleared a space back here, a faulty unit had to be removed anyways.”

After a few more intersections she turned to the right and led them down an even narrower hall.

After walking past so many orderly placed, closet sized computers the missing equipment was an obvious gaping hole, somewhat painful to see, even for Jason and Julio.

 

Daria and her two assisting technicians worked on the bridge, while two other technicians set up the wireless repeaters and routers for both network and communication. They would leave the existing infrastructure alone, as a sort of backup if wireless should ever happen to fail.

After leaving the airlock they had ditched the suits, left them with two of the military personnel from Explorer inside the airlock. “May I ask you a question?” Danielle cowered next to the working team. “Of course, that’s why we’re here.” Daria smiled slightly in her direction.

“It is not work related.” The Private added. Taking a look at her work, judging that she had come far eneough to take a short break, Daria sat up.

“Shoot.”

Shyly Danielle looked over to the center of the room. A chair stood there, bolted to the ground. It was empty. “There are two hundred and fifty women aboard. But only twenty five men. Our ancestors had worked out a complicated plan to avoid inbreeding, but it has turned out to be problematic. Every generation produced more girls than boys. Some have attributed it to the feathered midgets, others say it is a natural phenomenon.” Seemingly nervous Danielle shifted around.

“There is almost a fifty-fifty gender distribution aboard the Explorer.” Again smiling, out of sympathy for the nervous woman before her, Daria put her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Perhaps we can help.”

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