Gently the enormous body of the gas giant inched its way into view on the screen on the command centre on Destiny. The linker moon was clearly visible at this point, a red marble against the multicolored body of its parent planet.

A cinstant stream of gasses led to it from the planet below, directly on the other side, around the other end of the space elevator, the shipyard had grown like a giant tree it shaded a quarter of the surface below. Not far from that structure a lonely lonely escape pod orbited, emitting an automated emergency signal ever once in a while.

It was from the surviving crew members of Dusk Horizon, the name hastily given to the rear half of Horizon, after it broke apart.

“Contact the linkers please.” Admiral Benjamin Fuller had his eyes fixed on the structure. What are you planning with all this?

“They are already calling, sir.” With a fascinated gaze in his eyes Benjamin ordered Lieutenant Trebuchet to put the call through.

“Your survivors have been informed of their imminent departure, and are ready to go with you.” A young woman, not the one reported as the linkers spokesperson, had appeared on the screen. She was pale, had green eyes and blond hair. “We must also inform you that they will be taking on additional cargo.”

Concerned Benjamin squinted at the view screen. “What kind of cargo?”

“Several containers of hydrogen, our scans have detected your fission reactors missing, this will be aiding efforts to rebuild a second fusion reactor, as well as several people.”

Doubting he heard right about the second part of that sentence Benjamin shook his head in disbelief. “Several people? Do you mean your people?”

“Please inquire about this with your crew members as they arrive.” The line closed. Instead the normal view was returned, showing a ship disengaging from the complex.

“Sound the alarm, bring me every available person qualified to handle a gun to that docking port.”

Quickly he turned on his heel entering the ready room, he came back a moment later handing each of the officers a gun. “Keep a close eye on us, if anything suspicious happens, do not open that door, even if I am outside it. Understood?”

Leaving Lieutenant Lie Fah in charge from he left together with Csilla to head to the docking port assigned to the ship to dock with.

Although the harpies had been generous enough to leave the hman ships with a program that crawled through communication networks, disabling the DEHumans link, Benjamin was cautious. They could adapt to the program. Analyse it and return to their brethren to work on adapting to it.

Or they could choose to quietly infiltrate everyone’s brains with a chip, and then disable the program.

Throughout his career he never had to draw the gun, except on the firing range. He opposed violence, although it sometimes seemed like a quick and easy way out of things.

But if that would’ve been his way, he would’ve beaten governor Egger on at least two occasions.

Still, he felt good surrounded by men and women holding guns pointed at the airlock behind which the linker ship was docking.

Humking mechanically the door opened, revealing a small group of humans. They were clearly shocked to find the hallway outside the airlocked stuffed with armed security personnel. “That’s not the homecoming I had hoped for.” A woman with asian ancestry stepped forward with a disturbed expression.

“Please, do not be alarmed. But we have to make sure that you are in fact not linkers.” A little saddened Kanitha nodded, stepped out of the airlock. Following her were Jackson Sutherland, April Wallner, Nepumo Ricosta, Francine Harris, Maria Trinidad, and a woman Ben did not recognise from the crew files, but instead from video logs of the usual spokesperson for the DEHumans.

Immediately he and the others around him tensed up, weapons were pointed at her. “Doctor Charles I presume?”

Wearing a blank expression she stared at him with an empty gaze, almost frightened. “We are, disconnected. Where are the other parts? It’s so quiet.” Stammering she looked around in confusion. After a moment she caught herself, looked at Benjamin. “We do not have a doctoral degree, but the Charles’ were in our ancestry.”

Kanitha stepped up to Benjamin. “She has no concept of a singular person yet.” They both looked at her, Kanitha with a friendly compassionate look in her eyes, while Benjamin seemed more scientifically interested.

“We may, inadvertently, have had a negative impact on a few of the DEHumans. A seed of disengagement if you will.” Jackson Sutherland stepped also forward, however minutely, as he did not want to seem threatening.

“So, they want to leave the linker collective?”

“They were already placed in a sub collective, as our influence over them was discovered, those who had been affected were severed from the others, and sent with us.”

Still not sound on the idea of having linkers aboard his ship Benjamin rubbed his chin. “They need to be placed under surveillance, restricted in access, and the implant in their brains need deactivating. Better yet removal.”

Kanitha looked to the Charles descendant. “Admiral, they are all second or third generation. They have no names, no identities. Even worse, they were born with the implant. It is tied into their brains as if it were natural. Their implants can’t be removed.”

Still rubbing his chin Benjamin looked to Csilla for help. “So, you’re saying, they also need supervision? Find their way in life as an individual?”

Jackson nodded. He knew where this was leading without knowing any of these people around him.

They would be made responsible for the linkers.

Sitting on a comfortable cushioned seat in the ready room Benjamin yearned for the days in the recent past when this room was his office. But that would not happen again. Maybe in the last months leading up to the arrival at RV-p296.

If they would let them land.

Once word was out that they had taken linkers on bord, the entire colony might be preparing to deny them landing.

And he couldn’t blame them.

This is a feast for Egger. I can see him barging through that door already, yelling. His head dark red, the veins on his neck standing out.

With a sigh Benjamin closed his eyes, but still got up.

“Csilla?” He entered the command centre. His first officer approached him. “Sir.”

“I want you to keep communication lines to RV-p296 closed for the time being.” With a displeased expression she looked to the communication officer’s station. “It’s too late sir.”

Cussing Benjamin lowered his head. “We need a plan, sir.”

He knew that. Slowly he dragged hia feet to the door. “Get me an appointment with the governors. Face to face, no video conferences. Be there as well.”

Before he realised it, Benjamin’s pace brought him to the detention center, to the isolated cells with the twenty something linkers that had been brought aboard.

Out of instinct he sought out thenfirst linker he ever met, the Charles woman. “Greetings again, Admiral.”

He returned the greeting, looking her in the eyes. “What does it feel like, what you are feeling? Why have thenothers of your kind isolated you and sent you to us?”

Genuinely thinking for a moment she blinked a few times. “A longing for solitude. A curiosity how individualism feels like. The collective mind feared that this curiosity might disintegrate it, thus it severed all ties to affected minds. A few of us were isolated, the experience was mostly horrifying, the collective mind drew strength from that, but there was a nagging doubt. We’re it.” She feigned a smile, but Ben cpuld see that she was terrified.

“How does the experience feel now? The program coursing through the networks of this ship is disrupting you ability to link with the others.” He nodded in the direction of the other cells. Some of the inhabitants were sitting in a fetal position in a corner, next to them, in the next over cell another, in the same position. Almost as kf they could link, but Benjamin saw them holding hands, trying to feel that they aren’t alone.

“We are,” she paused, her eyelids fluttered. “I…I am, alone. Terrified. There is only one source of thought, mine own.” She took a few deep breaths. “Imagine, being surrounded by friends and family, all your life, feeling all the love and kindness that brings with it, and suddenly youre marooned. No friends, no family. Only strangers who never felt that level of intimacy, and can not provide you with a worthy substitute.”

“In essence, you’re addicted, as well as you are discomforted.”

“Yes and no.” She inched closer to the bars separating her from the Admiral. “We feel incomplete. Phantom limb like. All our lives we have been part of the collective mind. Now we are not.”

Nodding Ben began to understand. “For some plants it is possible to cut off a branch and make it develop roots on its own, although they’re not part of the tree anymore. I hope the same can be said about you.”

“Our…my thoughts exactly. Our…my father, brought knowledge of that into the collective mind from his father’s experiences, as well as genuine biology experts.” Her feigned smile shrank with eachtime she had to correct herself. “Just understand that intefrating you into our society will not be easy. For any of us. There is a lot of mistrust and surely hostility against you.” The fact that ypur implants cannot be removed isn’t working in your favor either.

Donning a more genuine smile than before the young woman nodded. “Surely we can contribute to your society in a meaningful way. We retain knowledge of our common consciousness. We still actively think, and work on problems when we sleep, unlike you.” She took a step back as Benjamins glasses vibrated, spooked by the unusual sound.

Quickly he answered the call from Csilla, telling him that the meeting with the governors was set for an hour from then.

“There is one vital thing we must do before you can begin the long journey to becoming part of our society.” He smiled a painful smile. “You must have names.”

As Benjamin had predicted, hells fury awaited, and washed over him in the conference room, in thenfor, of governor Egger. The other governors were equally displeaser with having linkers on bord, but as usual it was Egger who was furious, yelling and red like a tomato.

“Governor, I not only understand your outrage, I had shared the same mistrust towards the linkers as you.” Ben tried a little diplomacy, “When they arrived I had them shackled and led to detention cells. They are, however, not linked. The program we have in place thanks to our Harpy allies,” he nodded towards Commander Ony, who was still aboard to learn about the elusive silicone aliens from their database, in light of the current development he had her inckuded in the meeting. “prevents them from doing so. I see no chance of them overcoming this obstacle, otherwise Harpy networkers would’ve done the same.”

He prepared for another rage filled series of claims and assumptions not based in reality from Governor Egger, but found him silent. Perhaps he was gathering strength.

“In a certain sense, these people are children, discovering life as an individual for the first time. We have an opportunity here. To test our humanity, it is our duty to give them the chance to live life as nature has intended for them.”

“They threw their natural development out the window the moment they linked!” Governor Egger jumped up, apparently he had needed the moment to rest. For a split second Ben wondered if the governor would have a heart attack one of these days.

“They chose not. It was their fathers and mothers. By the same logic you are applying, you could say we have jo business to live on RV-p296, as we should’ve followed our natural way and die with earth. But we never left earth, we were born on the way to our new refuge.” Shaking his head Benjamin sighed, rested his hands on the table. “Governors, Commander, Prince Hassan. We can’t close our eyes to the problem we inadvertently created. The linkers very existence, our cause. Those linkers wanting to leave their collective mind, also our cause. We a re obliged to help them.” With another sigh he took seat again. “Of course, I understand your concerns, and I assure you that every precaution will be taken to contain the threat. Their access will be limited, they will not have permission to set foot on the colony, unless the implants are one hundred percent inactive.”

Governor Egger gasped for air, by the way his veins stuck out Benjamin knew he was about to launch another shout, when Governor Jones from beta interrupted his colleague. “I want to meet them, or one of them. I was givennto understand the spokesperson for the linkers is among those who we have in detention?” Confirming both the information and t0his request with a nod and few words Benjamin got up. Csilla left and returned moments later, with the descendant of the Charles’.

“I am Anne Charles.” She greeted the room, a feignnsmile on her lips. She felt uncomfortable, clearly, but still tried to fit in.

“Are you truly committed to becoming an individual?” Jones played with his glasses on the table. “Affirmative.” She replied, insecurely she looked tonthenside where Csilla pursed her lips.

“Yes, I am. All of us are committed. Your stranded crew members showed us life as an individual, I want to experience it as well. The others too.”

Csilla nodded, in the hopes to bring Anne to a stop.

Gradually the air in the conference room had thickened, almost becoming tangible. After hours of talking to Anne and evaluating the idea of reintegration the meeting was adjourned. Except Governor Egger, all present were for the integration of the former linkers.

Pinching his nose Benjamin was relieved after they all had left. If that was not going to end in a disaster, he would be very surprised. Not because the linkers would do something sinister.

But because the governor would do something stupid.

“Sir?” Csilla entered the room. “Anne is back with the others.” Thanking her he got up.

“Why am I filled with doubt?”

Not quite catching on Csilla came closer, gently the door closed behind her. “I had the opportunity to talk with her, sir. She seems to be truly interested in becoming an individual. To be honest, I think this will be a tremendous victory. It could very well be a prime example for reintegration of former linkers.”

Benjamin shook his head as he turned to the door. “Not her and the linkers are the cause for my doubts,” he pointed to the door, “it’s Egger. He isn’t alone in his convictions. I fear most people are filled with hostility towards the linkers, and it is us I have doubts in. Xenophobia is deeply anchored in our genes, we fear what we do not understand. We attack what we fear. Just look at our history. Immigrants, and minorities were always met with suspicion and hostility.” He wandered around the conference table to the back of the room. A door there opened upon his approach, leading into a small room, it was a small storage space for presentation and seminar material. One of the Admirals had a small server put up in there as well, to play through scenarios with programmers without affecting the mainframes. “We like to think of ourselves as these enlightened beings that have overcome their primal xenophobic instincts. Races and cultures of human people that were at each others throats for countless millennia are living peacefully side by side on this ship. We have made peace with the Harpies, we are avoiding contact with the natives on our new homeplanet to allow them to thrive without interference, we now even successfully encountered a truly alien race and reached a peaceful understanding with them. But when it comes to the linkers we fail.” He lowered himself to lean on the table. “Because it is too close to home, not as in spacial, but emotional. They look like us, talk like us, they are us, in every biological way. We could be them. We could become them, and that frightens people, and especially Governor Egger. And out of that fear we disregard our humanity, we revert to Xenophobic tendencies, and attack. When all the linkers want is to live as they please. Now some of them desire to live like us. And I fear that they won’t be able to, because our society doesn’t want to integrate them. That is what makes me doubt in the success of this enterprise.”

Csilla looked at the Admiral, and then began to clap. “You should’ve said that during the meeting. Maybe shame Governor Egger into agreeing.” She sat on the table with one butcheek, facing the Admiral on the ither side. “But we can’t change human nature. If wr couldn’t bring ourselves to it in all these decades, we won’t in the remaining years. All we can do, is set a prime example. Help make the fear of the linkers fade away into obscurity.” She smiled.

Making a disgruntled sound Benjamin pushed off from the table and continued his walk. “People like Egger aren’t so easily swayed, sadly.”

Dismissing her he left too. His mind was uneasy, and he needed some time to think.

Like his predecessor he found solace in the garden, scheduled for a rainy afternoon, the paths and paved ways were clear of any activity that might distract him.

Of course, his analogy with the rooting branches had some downsides, he concluded. If the group of linkers he had on bord were to root as individuals, that was fine. But what if they were to root as a new collective mind?

He shook his head sitting under a pear tree. That would make no sense. They would’ve overpowered Destiny, turned off the communication network, thus disabling the counter program, and taken over. Concluding that the linkers were not a communist regime that got rid of any fre thinkers by eliminating them, or keeping them from leaving the collective mind, he looked up to the spine.

Still rain poured down.

The buzzong noise of his vibrating glasses disturbed the relative silence of just water pouring on the leaves around him. “Yes, Csilla?” Without looking he knew who called. Somehow George had always known not to call him when he was in the subalpha garden, and their children knew as well.

“We pulled the plug on Egger, but he had this public service announcement running a few minutes ago.”

Feeling his intestines tie into a tight knot Benjamin prepared himself in a second.

“Dear fellow Destinians, as you might be aware, there has been a terrible incident with the ship Horizon, after their rear section got abandoned, a band of struggling aurvivors was left stranded on the linker moon. Those brave souls were followed to Destiny by a pack of the linkers, who seek to undermine our society, and sow the seed of linkship among us, or at the very least steal our DNA by prostituting themselves. I oppose movements aboard this vessel to integrate these creatures into our society, attempts to enable their wretched plans. I call forward those of you who support this opposition of madness, we must impeach those in power who want to deliver us into the hands of the linker threat.”

Sitting in his office, obviously quite mad that all communication from and acdess to his offices had been shut down, Governor Egger was drumming his fingers on the desk. Out side the room he was in was the office of his secretary, four men with guns stood there. Outside that another dozen were standing guard. He had gathered them in advance, but now they were sitting ducks as he was.

Unbeknownst to him a group of several hundred people had gathered outside the isolated offices, in support of him, who were boxed in by groups of people in opposition to the Governor.

Surrounded by his own armed guards, more than the governor could amass in the alpha ring police force, Benjamin paved a way through these bulks of people.

Backed by the other two Governors he had a warranty for Egger.

Disturbed by the noise outside Egger looked up from hia desk. Prior he had given the men outside the order to shoot intruders, now he had doubts whether he should have done that. To his relief the men outside did not follow his command, after a few angry shouts they surrendered.

Only minutes later thendoor to his office was opened. Twenty guard streamed into the door, making it seem much smaller in a moment.

Then the Admiral followed. Stoic, as so often. “Governor Egger, I hereby place you under arrest for citing an uprising, and calling for civil disobedience and unrest. Possibly resulting in a conflict, as the armed guards in your offices prove.” He displayed a warranty on his tablet that he threw on the desk.

“You do know that this sort of conduct makes me and my claims seem much more legitimate in the eyes of the public?”

Ben raised but one eyebrow. “That is why we have a group of reporters here, following our every move, broadcasting live.” One of the armed guards tipped his helmet. A camera was mounted on it, henhad missed that before.

“Those people were born into a life they did not chose. They however chose to live our way of life, and instead of giving them a helping hand you want to punish them for what they were born as.” Benjamin leaned forward, resting his hands on the governor’s desk. “There is a term for someone like you: racist. It is you who the people of Destiny need to be weary about. You are the step in the wrong evolutionary direction, Governor. Human kind has evolved past petty racism. We do not fear or hate other simply because they were born differently. That, and only that, is our approach to new races and cultures. You are but a relict from the past, soon to be forgotten.” Turning to the nearest Sergeant Ben gave him the command to take the Governor into custody.

Yearning for a quiet afternoon with George, Benjamin took a deep breath turning to the camera. “As you saw and heard, the Governor himself said it was claims, not facts, that he had stated. The oh so peaceful governor had his police force guard him. One guard even confirmed that they had the order to shoot. I think it is timemfor all of us to return home, spend a quiet evening with our loved ones, or alone if you need time to think. Our past instincts can not continue to lead us into the future. They can not come with us to RV-p296. These instincts need to remain with our ancestors, in earths tomb, and remembered only by history. We are not the people that have left earth any longer.” He walked a few paces towards the door, most of the guards around him had already left. “If the natives were to see us, and knew how we arrived, they would call us gods, or sky people in the very least. Although we are going to land in a remote part of the planet, uninhabited by the natives, we should act like sky people. Benign and enlightened. If we are wronged, we forgive and do not seek vengeance. If someone seeks help, we aid, and do not condone the actiona that led them there, or in the current case, the actions of their parents and grandparents, that led them there. This is Admiral Benjamin Fuller, signing off for tonight.”

Gently the hand caressed Benjamin’s temple. “Moving speech you gave there.” George commented after watching a replay of the life stream. “I hope people are as enlightened as you want them to be.”

“They accepted a black homosexual Admiral. They’ll accept former linkers in their midst.” Ben smiled. His look fell on the two children on the couch, fast asleep.

All the trouble he had gone through so far, the heirs, the silicone aliens and now the linkers, was for them. So their future would be just as bright as he always hoped it to be. They should never have to grow up in a world with racism, or Xenophobia, in it.

Men like Egger soonernor later would twist and turn people’s perception of reality in a way that one day the natives on RV-p296 would be feared, hated and hunted eventually.

Such was not the world he wanted the twins to settle on.

He and George had adopted them before he had been Admiral, after their paremts untimely end in an accident. Then he had vowed, to himself mostly, that he would do all in his power to lead them into a bright future deserving of them.

Satisfied with his efforts he got up.

“We should bring them to bed.” He donned a benign smile, slowly walking over, George behind him.

Civil unrest due to Governor Egger’s public announcement quieted down over a few weeks, Benjamin worked hard to paint an optimistic picture of the linkers that had come aboard. Together with the Horizon survivors he continued work on teaching the linkers how to function as individuals.

Much to his dismay the implants could not be deactivated completely.

They were too embedded in brain functions, to be turned off, without reverting their owners to an early developmental state, from where they’d have to slowly learn to grow up again.

A step he was jot prepared to take. Instead the program prohibiting them from linking was directly inserted into the implant.

According to the task force he had drafted, that was done in a way they could not remove the program again.

It puzzled him a little in the beginning how the linkers should learn individuality, if they were always in the company of someone. Over time he realised that they were alone in their minds.

Tasked to engage in non productive activities, such as watching movies or doing art, they soon began to show emerging personalities.

Which was grat way to show the public, and the provisional government on RV-p296, their progress in becoming individuals.

Over time he also discovered that the climate controls had begun to simulate the seasons on Equatoria.

A circumstance the linkers and the survivors from Horizon had actual experience with, and could show the others how to react, since he and all others born on Destiny never had experienced any changes in climate.

Some time after Equatoria was chosen as the landing site, the climatic conditions of it were programmed into the comouter, and the automated system designed to get the crew settled in with their new home kicked in, letting them experience the climate in the colony.

Of course, everyone had forgotten about it, so the first time it began to get colder the tecnnicians were called in droves, tomfix an apparent problem, which was none at all.

Elections on alpha were held three times in the remaining time to get to their destination. The first was a tie between two candidates. The second saw a winner, but she was soon voted out of office by the population on alpha as she was seen as unable to get things in her jurisdiction done.

Finally the planet began to appear on the viewscreen of both Destiny and Kismet, clearly visible out of the windows as well. A grea senee of accomplishment filled Benjamin upon that sight. Lie Fah at navigation was staring at his console with a stern expression, concentrating on his task of establishing a stable geostationary orbit above Equatoria.

The other ships came into view. Shining as if polished Explorer first drew the attention of the new arrivals. The rings were barren, when compared to Destiny’s, but the hallways interconnecting the pods thag once had been there were dismantled, so the entire ship was slimmer.

Then Ben’s eyes fell upon a stumpy shadow of a ship.

Horizon. Or what was left of it, now called Dawn Horizon. “Welcome to RV-p296, Admiral, Prince.” A friendly face appeared on the screen, immediately Ben looked at her with surprise. Jane Mulgrew greeted him? “Didn’t you want to retire?”

“I had intended it, yes. I even went so far as to launch an investigation into my own actions, but allas I still am where I was when I arrived, the chair of an Admiral.” She looked around herself. “And Dawn Horizon is doing fine these days.”

“With all respect to your ship Admiral, she looks rather small.”

“Looks are deceiving.” Jane smiled. Of course she had heard of the aliens in the outer regions of the system cleaning up behind the beta ring disaster, butnshe chose not to comment on it at that moment.

Benjamin drew breath to say something when the communication officers on Destiny, Kismet and Dawn Horizon stated that they were receiving a signal.

“Where is it from?” Ben looked to his side. Since it could be originating from Explorer, the surface, the moonbase or the linker moon, the silicone aliens or even the Harpies shadowing them for Commander Ony, he wanted to know the origin first.

“The place we came from.” Csilla spoke now, instead of the communication officer, who was obviously too stunned to speak.

“From a certain Doctor Kurt Braun, chief scientific administrator of the colony of Mars, sent a few months ago.”