I have worked the asteroid belt for several years. But I guess I never really grasped its size. The asteroid belt lies between Mars and Jupiter.
We spent several days on the asteroid that we found Jobo on. Amair needed the time to get use to a new baby and we would need a lot of water. It was possible to recycle the water but even with recycling the water supply would soon be depleted. We all took turns mining the ice on the asteriod.
The next several weeks were hard on the crew. We no longer stopped to mine since we could not risk selling the minerals. With living quarters for four Faree and four hydroponics units we had little room to store any minerals.
Ann and Mav were getting in each other way. One day I walked into the kitchen and they were yelling about the right way to cook rice. Captain Ritzer also started yelling at people in his frustration. I caught him yelling at Charis for not finding his wife yet.
The young parents were handling the stress differently. One day I was down by the hydroponics unit and found Amair crying. I sat down next to her. I am use to talking with Charis she has no emotions. What would I say to this young girl. I know she was over 150 in real years but only 50 in waking time and from what I understand that is young for a Faree. Finally she told me what was wrong. She was worried about her baby was he going to be raised on a human ship? How would he learn to fly? She was also worried about her husband.
I had not noticed a problem since he was not yelling like everyone else. From what I gathered Jobo was not recovering from the shock of being asleep for 100 years. He had left family when he started this trip. His Mother had been ill when he left and had forbidden him to take this mission. He had joined the crew against her wishes. He had recovered briefly at the birth of his son but now Bilance was a reminder that his mother was never going to see her grandson.
Lance seemed to be doing fine. I am always amazed at the British ability to remain calm in any situation. Bilance was the other unaffected person. I had been worried about having a baby on board. But he willing smiled at anyone and he seldom cried. Even an old bachelor like me enjoyed spending time with him.
The same day that I found Amair crying I invited Lance into my room to talk about the problem. Lance confessed that he was bored. We decided to set up my exercise equipment in Lance’s room. He would move into my room. Lance would also set up movie nights. I wonder why this was important anyone could watch any movie in Charis's library at any time. Between my collection and Lar's collection we could watch movies from here to Faree and never watch the same movie twice. Lance asked me when was the last time I watch a movie. I guess he was right I had not watched even a fraction of the movies available to me. It is always more fun with people.
Charis surprised me that night. She requested that she have help on the bridge. Charis had always been able to do all of the flying. She reminded me that now she was also watching the hydroponics unit; searching for recipes, in a Faree database; looking for the last pods beacon and keeping tabs on 8 people.
That was when I made one of the few orders that I made during the entire time I was a captain. I set up a duty scheduled. I had everyone rotate between baby sitting, cooking, hydroponics, ship cleaning, and bridge. I also decided that everyone needed to know how to do every job on the ship. I had Lance and myself training Ann and Mav on bridge duties. Then they trained us in hydroponics.
This schedule had an unforeseen advantage. It gave Ann and Mav time alone in their shared cabin. I noticed that after the first weak the girls were less likely to be angry with each other. They must have also seen the advantages to the schedule. After the first two weeks I allowed people to sign up for duties the girls continued to allow each other down time in there room.
Jobo turned out to be a good cook. I guess being in the kitchen helped him to less depressed. He was also good a cleaning and found things that needed fixing long before even Charis noticed. His engineering ability surpassed mine. He began spending several hours looking over the engines. Charis was not happy with a stranger in her engine room, but I told her to let him learn. It gave him something to think about. I did tell him that he was not allowed to make any changes without consulting Charis and me.
Movie night was a great hit. Charis took the bridge on those nights. With everyone in one place and not asking for information she could watch the bridge. Amair made rice balls and fried ship leaves. They did not replace popcorn but they were a good snack. Both Faree and Humans enjoyed those nights.
Captain Ritzer surprised us the night that we watched The Lord of the Rings. He announced that the elfin race was not a nice race of people. I had had a hard time grasping the fact that Faree existed. I guess I should have guessed if there were two races in the universe there were others. The Elfin race was a more advanced in technology. They often established a base on "backwards" planets. The job of this base was to watch the planet to see how the people advanced in technology. They had left earth when England was being populated because there had been a problem on their home planet. The Faree had no clue where the elfin planet was located. It was rumored that the elfin people had died out.
At one point our path came close to Mars. We spent several days scanning the surface for any trace of the beacon. It was safe to scan Mars since it was never colonized. Despite Ray Bradbury’s vision there was not enough water on Mars for a colony and no one has yet found a cost effective way to transport water to a planet surface. It is easy to transport water to Lunar Base III because it has little or no gravity. Europa of course has its own water supply.
We did find one beacon on the surface of Mar's moon Phobos. Phobos is only a small rock, about 17 miles in diameter that circles Mars. I was on duty when Charis notice the beacon and since the Faree were asleep I decided not to wake them, just find a safe landing spot on the moon near the beacon. I set down near what looked like a cave on the surface. When everything was ready I woke the others.
Captain Ritzer was thoughtful when he heard about the stop. "I forgot this was here." He went on to explain the signal was not coming from a pod but from an old Faree base. They had used it as a stopping point after men started to colonize England. Form this base they could organized traffic with earth so that the people of earth would not see the ships. In fact there had been a series of Mars shuttles that had the ability to cloak. The Faree would land on (mars moon) then take a shuttle to and from earth. The base had originally been Elfin but when that race left they allowed the Faree to use there base. I guess the elfin race had wanted the Faree to leave at the same time so they would not contaminate the "native people" with technology. When the Faree had refused to leave they had given them the "keys" to this base so the contamination would be minimal.
I wondered why the base had never been found. Mars was the closest planet to Earth. Over the years many people had explored Mars and its moon(s). Captain Ritzer explained that not only was the base below ground but the entrance was keyed to DNA. Only Faree and Elves could pass. Humans would find a blank rock wall.
Jobo thought that he could adapt the engines to take Faree fuel if he could find the right parts. After checking his diagrams Charis and I decided that it was worth a try. Faree fuel was more efficient then any humans had created. There was not enough room on Charis to store enough fuel to take us to Faree and back at our fast speed. With the Faree fuel the trip would be possible though I would have died from old age before the ship returned home.
Mav and Ann volunteered to watch Bilance, so the Faree, Lance and I suited up for a walk. Lance and I as humans could not enter the base but it would be nice to go for a walk. We could help the Faree with any supplies they found.
We entered the cave and it looked just like Captain Ritzer said it would a short unexciting cave. The Faree walked up to the back wall and then walked through it as if it did not exist. They were gone for about 15 min when I started to get bored. For the fun of it Lance and I started to try to find the entrance that the Faree used. Lance walked up to the wall and then walked through it. Try as I might I could not go through. I even tried running at the wall and received only a sore shoulder for my troubles. Now that is something to think about as I sat by myself, rubbing my soar shoulder, and waiting for the others to return. Why could Lance enter?
An eternity later, or so it seemed to me, Lance and the Faree came out. They had no supplies on them but they had decided on a new plan. They could open the doors and let the Skyway into the underground hanger. Captain Ritzer had expected to find the Mars shuttles in the hanger but the hanger was empty so the Skyway would be able to fit. I liked this idea since the upgrade to the engines would take a few days and I did not like staying still that long with people looking for us.
Supper that night was a feast. I guess there had been some food stores left when the base was abandoned. They even found coffee. Earl Grey is great but there is nothing like a good cup of coffee. When the girls served the cake I finally asked Lance how he was able to enter through the front door. Captain Ritzer answered, "The answer is obvious. Since he does not have wings he must be Elfin. I remember the story of Tam Lin. A prince was held captive by the elves queen, some versions say fairy but they are obviously wrong, since in the story the queen rode a horse a Faree would not ride a horse they would fly. Somewhere in Lance's line he had an elfin ancestor. The DNA marker that the door uses must have been handed down through the generations."
I was shocked by Captain Ritzer's answer but Lance looked like he had expected that answer. He replied "I had heard the story that many of the British nobles were descendants of a tribe of men that had gone back to there home in the stars. For some reason when Captain Ritzer told us about the Elfin people who left earth it reminded me of that story."
The next morning started the repairs. Shortly after lunch Jobo ran into the engine room. They have an extra jump drive in storage. From what I understand a Faree ship has two drives, or engines, a jump drive and a system drive. The system drive is used to maneuver a ship within a solar system. The Jump drive allows them to jump between to points in space. The Faree had set up jump gates. A ship with a jump drive could "jump" between the gates. If Jobo could figure out how to connect the jump drive we could use the Faree gate system to get the Faree people home. Jobo looked more excited then I had ever seen him. It looked like his family would get to see his son.
As a group we decided to only upgrade the current engines. Jobo was against this plan but he knew that it would take a while to learn enough about the Skyway. Once he fully understood how the skyway worked he would be able to figure out a way to integrate the jump drive into the system.
The night that we were supposed to leave Ann came to see me on the bridge. With Lance now as my roommate I took to spending most of my free time on the bridge. She wanted the outfit that she had worn when she snuck onto the skyway. After looking for a long time I was able to find it in the bottom of my trunk. Ann pulled a memory chip out of a pocket. She said it was from the Texan. It was her orders to steal Captain Ritzer's pod, something about the message had been bothering her.
I had Charis protect her core memory and section off the memory chip reader. If this was from the Texan I was not going to take the chance that there was no virus on the chip.
The first part of the message stated:
“Your mission is to board the ship Skyway. The Captain has found an interesting find. The fool does not know how interesting. You will retrieve this find and transport it back to my residence in Texas. Be careful to package the pod carefully I will not have this find damaged. Do not be too curious about the find. I pay you to deliver it to me undamaged and to not allow too many prying eyes to see it.”
The rest of the message contained payment and transportation information.
Ann mused, “I thought it weird at the time that he called it a ‘find’ but I just assumed it was because it was a rare rock. Now, I think, he knew what it really contained. I got to thinking last night how could he know without seeing it? Maybe he has seen one before. We have three pods… but there is a fourth unfound.”
The consequence of what Ann was saying struck me. I guess we have to go to earth.