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XJ-Fuga

Part 3

by ljc

5/07


Summary: Part 3 of my science fiction AU. Jim, Blair, and other survivors (all of Major Crimes in case you're worried) coping with their new lives.


Warnings, Ratings: FRST.


Note: There is a warning about an original character (not Jim or Blair or any other canon character) after 'finis'. There is a page of Notes at the end that lists some websites with information about the science that the story is based on (so there are spoilers for the story in the Notes). The science is based in fact (with very little research to back it up, extrapolated for an alien sun, and an alien universe ... therefore, 'don't bet the ranch' on it's accuracy <g>). It would be good to read Parts 1 and 2 first; if not, there are spoilers for those parts. Otherwise, hopefully, enough information is included for you to enjoy the story.


Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.


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>1.< Colony of New Cascade, planet Gaia, Gaia System, Otherspace


Jim handed one very wet and muddy child up to Blair, who passed her along to Abel, who passed her along once more to another volunteer. That process was repeated for the second lost child. The boy was just as wet, and muddy, and cold as his little sister.


Jim then struggled up the bank of the recently flooded stream with Blair's willing hand to pull him to the top. They joined Abel and the other volunteers in a joyful, if weary, walk back to a staging area where medical and other supplies had been deposited for the search effort.


Abel Carter hurried ahead as he was anxious to hear word of the children's health. They'd seemed uninjured but had been very tired and nearly unresponsive. These two had both been born on the Rainbow Meadow Habitat. There hadn't been many children born in New Cascade yet, and every child in the colony was precious ... and he knew each and every one of them by name.


Abel reflected briefly on this new life they'd made for themselves since evacuating Rainbow Meadow. It had only been three years since they'd fled to Otherspace but that previous life seemed to belong to some stranger. They'd been so proud and ... arrogant ... situated at the edge of the home galaxy. They had thought they'd created a little piece of nature to conform to their own limited ideas. Well, a habitat was far removed from a planetary colony. He'd had ample proof of that since settling here just over two years ago.


Naomi came out of the tent and saw him approaching. “Abel, the children will be fine. They're being warmed up and fed. Their parents are with them, and they're so very grateful.”


Abel sighed deeply in relief. Being the leader of New Cascade was a tough job. There were too few settlers, too much to do, and very little to fall back on except their own strength and determination, but things were slowly getting better. He was also head of the Council that governed several viable communities on the planet Gaia. There was communication with other outposts, and technological resources were available in planetary orbit and farther out in the Belt where the Walkabout and it's facilities called home. Aid was 'just a call away' ... give or take a few thousand or million miles.


The settlers were still learning the ways of this planet, Gaia. The minor flooding hadn't been a problem until the children were discovered to be missing. The flood waters had separated them from the colony. The children, trying to find a way home, had gotten seriously lost. They were very fortunate that the Sentinel and Guide had arrived within hours to help track the children.


Abel walked up to Naomi and embraced her warmly. Then with an arm wrapped around the other's waists, they turned and watched Jim and Blair walk wearily out of the forest and toward the tent.


Abel said, “Jim, Blair ... I - we can't thank you enough. Their parents would be here to say this, but they're occupied at the moment.”


Jim blushed a little and Blair did, too.


Jim said, “Abel, you know we're glad to help. Any time. All you have to do is call.”


Blair grinned, “But some hot coffee would really be welcome, Mom.”


Naomi smiled warmly, “Of course, Sweetie. I'll get some blankets for you, too. I know you must both be cold.”


... and wet,” Blair grumbled softly, but only loud enough for his Sentinel to hear, as his mom headed to the tent.


Abel said, “We'll break camp and head back soon. Night will be falling in a few hours. We were very lucky to find them before dark.”


Jim just nodded wearily as Abel turned to make sure everything moved along quickly.


Then Blair nudged him in the ribs, “Hey, Jim,” he whispered. He continued in a slightly indignant tone, “Did you see he had his arm around my mom?”


As weary as Jim felt, he had to struggle to keep his grin from turning to laughter.



>2.< Interlude, Gaia 1 (formerly A.S. Gaia) in orbit around planet Gaia


The lights were dim in the corridors, as dim as it normally was in public areas during offshift hours, but not the lights in the Study Rooms. The lights were never dimmed in the SRs, but it was quiet enough to hear the proverbial pin drop, and that was normal in an SR on any Deck. Every study space was filled and some industrious students had brought cushions with them to take advantage of empty corners where they could gather together sociably and use their portable readers. The people of Gaia 1, since their arrival in this new Otherspace domain, had turned to education as their new 'hobby'.


The Captain, Simon Banks, had instituted a requirement for independent study soon after their arrival. One facet of each person's obligation was to learn, at least on a basic level, one other technology than the one he or she had trained for back in Allied Systems space, a second was training in a medical field or the natural sciences, and a third was an individual independent study project of their choice.


System wide, the survivors numbered nearly thirty thousand, but that was a tiny number to recreate a civilization as immense and varied as the planetary systems they had once called home. Too much had to be relearned, and so much would be lost if the knowledge they 'did' carry, wasn't passed down. Basic knowledge was a beginning, but hands-on apprenticeships were organized when possible for each student when that knowledge was grasped.


Yet, life was life, and they took joy where they could find it. There was joy in knowledge gained, in new skills learned. It was something to fill the void, especially on Gaia 1, where only the Captain had any surviving relatives among the original crew. Simon Banks was pleased that his education requirement had helped to fill that void. Not only were things learned, but they were shared between people who had few other connections. People with shared interests found other reasons to connect and once again there was laughter on the decks of the great spaceliner once known as A. S. Gaia.



>3.<


Some of the students looked up as the door to SR1-Deck 4 opened. Those that did, smiled in greeting to the Guide as he made his way into the room. He looked around and smiled and nodded in response, then sighed when he saw all the stations were filled.


Daryl stood and whispered, “Blair, you can have my station. I have to meet Dad in an hour for supper and it's my turn to cook.”


Blair was as quiet as Daryl when he responded, “Did you try that recipe that Naomi sent up? There's a new crop of greens that just arrived, along with some seedlings they sent up from Gaia for the hydroponics section. Jim and I got to try them the last time we visited Mom.”


Daryl grinned, “Hey, thanks. It would be quick, and Dad would love it. It's just somehow better than the stuff that comes from hydroponics. I don't care what they say, it may be as nutritious, but there's just something different, you know?”


If I hadn't known, Jim would have told me. You're lucky you don't have to cook for a Sentinel. Thanks for giving up your seat. I have some research to do.”


Hey, anything to help our poor overburdened Guide,” Daryl grinned as he whispered close to Blair's ear.


Blair accepted the teasing with twinkling eyes and a grin of his own. As he sat down to work he glanced over at the station next to his. The computer screen showed incomprehensible text, which caught his interest, because he thought it looked 'familiar'. He watched for a moment while the woman at the desk typed in a request for translation. He was a little surprised to see a title that he knew quite well, “The Mystery of Paraguay: Civilization Lost, Regression and Adaptation to a Precivilized Life”.


The woman saw his interest and blushed, “Guide Sandburg. You must be very familiar with this treatise by Dr. Burton. I'm just doing a little historical background for my journal.”


You're Lt. Johanna Johnson. I've seen you in Control Central.”


She smiled shyly, then said, “And I've seen you, of course, Sir, when you've visited Captain Banks.”


Please, not Sir,” and Blair gave a mock shudder. “Call me, Blair.”


Thanks, Blair. My nickname is, Jo, if you'd like.”


Thanks, Jo. You're writing a journal?” he whispered the question.


She shrugged diffidently, “I'm just writing about, you know, 'before' ... trying to put down thoughts about family and friends, places that I've visited, where I lived, any anecdotes that might bring ... the past ... to life for people in the future, as well as tell what we're doing to survive ... to move forward, you know?”


Blair was intrigued. He turned fully toward her in an attempt to keep their conversation private, and quiet, “Jo, that's terrific. Too bad everyone couldn't do that. It would make a tremendous addition to knowledge, to history. The future generations will need a sense of history to enrich their own lives.”


Jo blushed but her excitement was genuine, “I'm glad you said that. That's a proposal I'm writing up for the Captain. I want to do a living history project for my independent study. I could do interviews by audio/visual link but it would be better to be present during the interviews. For that I would have to travel to Gaia's colonies, and the mining outposts, and the Walkabout ...” Her grin faded away, “But that would take me away from my duties, and I love my job on Gaia 1. I don't want to lose it.”


Blair thought for a moment, “What if I put in a good word with the Captain?” He grinned at Jo, “You see, we're pretty good friends,” adding more seriously, “and I do believe this is important enough to make it a priority. In fact, you'll need a lot of help to reach everyone.” Blair's excitement grew as more possibilities occurred to him. “It would make a great ongoing project. If you think it would help, I could go with you when you present your proposal, too.”


Would you? Maybe ... you can look at my proposal? I know you must be very busy, and I don't mean to impose ....”

Hey, I'd love to see it.”


Obviously Blair's enthusiasm had grown because several people around them 'Shushed' them at that moment, but he and Jo just grinned conspiratorially.


Jo pulled her proposal up on screen and she and Blair worked over the document for some time, totally forgetting Blair's own research until the door opened and an exasperated sigh was heard even through their concentration.


Hey, Jim. What's up?” Blair whispered.


Jim glanced around quickly and added softly, “Sandburg, my first guess was that you'd be up to your ears in study, but this is the third SR that I've searched through for you.”


Sorry,” Blair grinned, because he wasn't sorry at all. He was too excited about Jo's project even if his own was forgotten for the moment. “Well?”


Simon's got a problem for us to look into. Something he thinks my senses might help with.”


Hey, I'm with you, man. Sorry, Jo. We can talk again tomorrow if you'd like.”


That would be great. You've given me some great ideas. I'll try to get them worked out and written up so you can read them over.”


Great. Come on, Jim.”


Jim shook his head in fond exasperation as Blair went past him and down the hall before he could answer. Even though Blair had a head start, Jim caught up to him easily with his longer stride.


Jim, Lt. Johnson has a great idea for a living history project. This would make a tremendous addition to bare facts and dates from this era.”


Era? You're leaping ahead in time a bit aren't you?”


Well, think about it! What if we had more information on Burton or Incacha or the Eye of God? What if we'd known about Otherspace before the disaster that brought us here?”


Alright. Alright. I get your point.”


The only thing is that she's worried that it will take her away from her job so much that she might lose it.”


Jim pondered that for a moment before answering, “Yeah, that 'could' be a problem but from what you've just said I think Simon would make allowances for a project like that. I really do see the importance of it to the future, and I'm sure Simon would, too. Maybe you can pitch it to him that it would be a good chance for someone to learn her duties ... you know, cross train his staff. I know he's trained them to take over in emergency situations, but they need education to back it up and learning more than emergency protocols. They need to learn the day-to-day routines that keep the station in superb condition, functioning at it's very best at all times. I know it's something he's been planning, especially since it looks like Rafe will be coaxed into joining the Simms on their clanship.”


Oh, man, that's a great idea! I think that might solve other problems as well. See, most of the survivors had very little to cling to 'but' their jobs. The depression around here was pretty thick before the study projects were assigned. Now that people have had a chance to settle in, they have to feel secure enough to be able to 'let go' a bit. They have to accept that this future isn't going to disappear; see that we're growing and we're here to stay.”


Yeah, I was lucky on that score. I had Dad, Steven, Sally, and of course Henri and Serena and their kids. And now you, and your mom.”


Blair smiled warmly, “Yeah, you've got me, and mom, and we have some great friends. We're making 'family' as we go, man. An extended family. That's the aspect of these projects that's really going to pay off in the long run.”


As they walked into the quiet bustle of Central they looked for Captain Banks, but Rafe waved them over. “The Captain will be back soon. He left orders for you two to wait ... if you can. This problem has been plaguing the maintenance crew for days, so a little more delay probably wouldn't hurt.”


No problem, Rafe. Jim and I are ready to go. That's why we're here. Hey, have you talked to Gerald Simms lately about his plans for the clanship? I heard they have the blueprints all ready, and they're due to start production soon.”


Rafe grinned wryly, “Yeah, but where will they go once it's built? The only jump point we know of that's usable is the one between Gaia and the Otherspace jump point. There's only a solitary sun and very minor planetary objects in orbit around it. As far as I know, there's no use going back ... home. ... Right?”


Blair sighed deeply, “So right. We'd be foolish to even think of going back.”


Trying to lighten the discussion Jim asked teasingly, “Rafe, don't tell me you don't know?”


Rafe assumed momentarily that he knew what Jim was referring to. As First Officer, he had been informed of the preparations for the XJ-Fuga, but after Jim's comment he said questioningly, “I know you're preparing the ship for flight. That would be hard to keep secret. I think even the outmost mining ship knows that. I know you plan to have the techs check things out, then you plan to fly it out to the Walkabout. You were thinking of making it's base out in the Belt. I hope that doesn't mean you'll be moving out there, too.”


Blair answered, “The Fuga's base will probably be out in the Belt, but we're based at the Sentinel/Guide Temple on Gaia. That's not going to change, at least not for the foreseeable future. We'll fly the Fuga out and, if all goes well, return on a regular shuttle flight.”


Rafe lost all amusement as he replied, “We all know how important the Temple is to you two. You know, if you ever need anything ... anything at all ....”


Jim and Blair had cause to feel embarrassed again. They were very uncomfortable with all the hero worship, but they couldn't seem to do anything about it, and their close friends were seldom vocal about it. “Rafe,” said Jim, “we're just two guys with some gifts and some skills. We use them the best way we can. And we know who our friends are; who we can depend on for help when needed ...”


Blair added softly, “But thanks for saying it, man. We do appreciate it.”


Rafe nodded, then thinking about Jim's previous question he said, “I know you need to keep the Fuga's systems ready to go, just in case. It's too bad the techs haven't been able to calculate a destination yet ... Wait! Is that it? Did they find a new portal?”


Blair bounced up on his toes, “We got confirmation this morning.”


No kidding!” When the crew of Central turned around to look at him, Rafe whispered sheepishly, “Are you going to announce it soon?”


Jim looked at Blair, who raised an eyebrow quizzically. Jim shrugged a shoulder and looked pointedly at the crew who were waiting.


Blair said, “Why not?” and proceeded with the news, bouncing on his toes once again, when he saw the overwhelmingly pleased reception it got.


When he'd finished he heard a deep harrumph, “And the Captain is the last to know, I see.”


Blair grinned as he saw Simon Banks in the doorway, “Not really. You learned when they did. ... Simon ... uh, Sir.”


<><><>


The Captain of Gaia 1 initiated an audio/visual link to the Captain of The Walkabout.


Simon, it's good to see you. You look serious. I hope it isn't a crisis that prompted this call,” said Captain Connor.


Simon sighed, “Sorry, Meg. It isn't really a crisis. I just learned something today, and it's ... got me worried.”


I'm listening, Simon.”



>4.<


Come on Blair, it's not as bad as you think,” said Jim.


Not as bad ... Jim, I crashed the XJ-Fuga into a sun! A BIG sun! A spectral type B main-sequence blue supergiant!” Blair ranted in horror.


Jim leaned back against the wall outside the Simulation Chamber and listened to his Guide work out his frustration in ever increasing volume.


I couldn't hit a bit of space debris? Oh, no, not me! I go for the big prize! A kid could miss a supergiant, but not Blair Sandburg! Jim, this just proves that this is, like, such a really, really bad idea. Man, I bet I couldn't even copilot an escape pod!”


Jim tried half-heartedly to interrupt, “There's only thrusters on an escape pod ...,” to little effect. It had been a pretty lame attempt to make his copilot feel better, and if he'd stopped to consider what he was saying he'd have realized it probably would have made him feel worse. It didn't make much difference anyway because Blair had barely stopped to take a breath.


There's just no way I can copilot an Experimental Jumpship. You've got to be having second thoughts about wanting me as your copilot. I'm a disaster when it comes to Jump procedures. I'll just get you killed! I'll get us both killed. So much for Gaia's Sentinel and Guide. Poof, in a tiny blaze of atoms from here to - to - wherever - for - forever!”


Jim tried yet again, “Sandburg ...”


This is just crazy. You've got to get Henri back as your copilot. We can't afford to lose you, man.”


Chief ...”


Blair stopped pacing finally, but still wasn't listening, “Jim, please. This is too important. You need someone you can trust ...”


Jim pushed off from the wall and grabbed Blair's shoulders, angling him so that they'd be face to face, “Blair, that would be you.”


Blair tried to throw up his hands but Jim wouldn't let go, so he ended up grasping Jim's forearms, “But, Jim ...”


Jim grinned and shook his head in exasperation, “Sandburg, what do think a sim is for? It's to sim - u - late extreme situations.”


It's to simulate 'possible' situations, Jim!”


Chief, you're the one I trust.” Jim had punctuated those words with a tiny shake at the end for emphasis. “We'll 'simulate' some more, until you're ready.”


But Jim, what if I'm never ready?” Blair asked in despair.


Jim spun Blair to the side and grabbed him in a headlock, then ruffled up his curls.


Jim, not the hair,” and Blair twisted easily out of Jim's gentle grip. Blair's worry was turning to frustrated anger, “Don't try to distract me. This is important.”


Jim sighed. He knew that Blair wasn't going to settle down until he got a serious answer, so he lowered his voice and made sure he had his full attention, “Chief, you're the one I trust, with this, and with everything else. And don't pull out that line that 'I'm' so indispensable. You're one-half of the Sentinel/Guide equation, my friend, and don't you forget it. If I'm indispensable then you are irreplaceable ... one of a kind ... unique.”


Blair tried to hide the little bubble of half-hysterical, skeptical laughter that wanted to escape, “That's cute, Jim.”


Any trace of humor left on Jim's face vanished, “I'm not trying to be cute, Sandburg. It's the truth.”


Blair's semi-hysterical smile died, and his face flushed a bit, “Don't kid me, Jim.”


Not kidding, here. Not about this. Not about you. Hmmm. Maybe I need to assign a little homework for you ...”


Homework?” Blair squeaked, “As if the sims aren't bad enough.”


Yes, homework. I want you to look up the statistics for pilot training. You need to see that you're way ahead of the curve. You picked up insystem procedures in record time. You're doing great, Chief. But everything takes practice, and unfortunately that takes time.”


Blair was still for a long moment, but then allowed a small smile, “Record time? Really? Well, maybe we could try the sims again.”


Tomorrow. Rest tonight, and we'll start fresh in the morning.”


Blair sighed, but he did feel a little better. Leave it to Jim to talk down his half-hysterical copilot. He couldn't let Jim down, and from what he'd said, maybe he was doing better than he thought. Anyway, it was a relief not to go back to the sims right away. They'd been working them for hours. Maybe it was a good idea to rest for a while ... and check out those statistics. Not that he didn't trust Jim ....



>5.<


Henri Brown and Sarah Simms left the Import Office talking animatedly. Henri asked, “Hey, Sarah, why don't you come to dinner tonight? Serena's study project is gourmet cooking and I think she's going for extra credit! I just can't eat everything she puts on the table every night ... and I mean that in a good way,” he said with a laugh as he patted his stomach. “I talked to Rafe and he'll be there,” he added with a sly grin.


Sarah grinned, “Dad and Rafe have been talking about the clanship every time they get together. It would be kind of nice to talk to Rafe about something else for a change.”


Is Rafe still as tongue-tied as ever?”


Rafe? Only when he's around me, but I'm not much better. I don't know what comes over me.”


Well, maybe a good meal, and Serena and me carrying half the conversation will help.”


Sarah grinned conspiratorially, “That would be great, Henri. Thanks.”


Great. I'll let Serena know. She'll probably double up the cooking, though,” Henri chuckled softly as he thought fondly of his wife, then thought of something else he'd wanted to talk to Sarah about. He quickly changed the topic as he asked, “Did you hear about Blair and the sims? Blair's been so freaked out that he tried to get me to consider being Jim's copilot again. You know what Serena would think of that! I've talked to the kid. I've tried everything to get him to relax. He's doing great at the sims. All he needs is practice. I thought maybe you could talk to him, too?”


Sarah nodded agreement, “Blair's really upset about 'crashing',” she tried unsuccessfully to stifle a little giggle, “and I know it's not funny, because it really shook him ... but a supergiant.”


You better not laugh when you talk to him,” Henri warned with a grin of his own.


Oh, no, of course not. Just getting it out of my system now.”


<><><>


Hey, Blair. How's training going?” asked Sarah.


Blair glared at her, “You heard, didn't you?”


Sarah sheepishly answered, “Well, yeah. I just thought you might want to talk.”


Blair sighed, “I'm just worried, you know. I 'have' to get it right. We've got only the one Jumpship. If we have a problem, get stranded ... well, there aren't any Allied Systems ships coming to the rescue.”


Sarah nodded, “Yeah. Dad and I felt nearly the same way, and we had Captains Adams and Endicott on their mining ships, backing us up. But still, if we'd messed up, if there was major equipment failure or something, if ICE32's orbit went bad or if it had broken up under gravitational stress ... those two little ships might not have been able to save us. There are so many things that 'could' have gone wrong, but we worked the sims over and over until we had every worst case scenario covered.”


The sims ... you really trust them?”


You never worked sims before?”


No. I was into the social sciences. I had no real need before this. It's a lot to expect for the sims to really mimic what can happen out 'there'. I guess I should trust them ... but maybe it's just that I don't trust myself.”


Sarah and Blair walked on for a moment before Sarah answered, “You trust Jim, right?”


Of course.”


He's been working the sims with you. Has he given any indication that he isn't happy with them or with you?”


Blair stopped and turned to her, “Well, no.”


If you don't trust yourself, then trust him, Blair.”


I do!”


Sarah just grinned.

“All right. All right. ... You're right.” Blair sighed dramatically, but stated firmly, “I do trust him.” He finally grinned, “Thanks.”


Rafe exited the door just down the hall and walked toward them.


Blair was almost glad for the interruption. With a calculating grin he said, “Hey, Rafe. I have to get back to the sims,” and with an exaggerated sigh, “... again. Could you walk Sarah back to her cabin in Visitor's Quarters?”


Sarah blushed, and Rafe grinned, never taking his eyes off her, “Hi, Sarah. I'd be happy to escort you. I need to talk to your Dad anyway about the ship fabrication timeline.”


Blair smiled as he rocked up on his toes, “Of course you do. Well, maybe Sarah can tell you something about it on the way. See you two later.”



>6.<


First Officer Rafe was on duty in Central the next day when Jim and Blair entered. “Well, did you figure out the cause of the vibration?” he asked without preamble.


Jim grinned, “Yeah. It was 'a piece of cake'.”

Blair nudged him with his elbow.


Jim glanced toward him and grinned, “With my Guide's help, of course!”


Rafe turned to Blair with a questioning look.


I just had to, you know, 'guide' him along, and that was all it took.”


Jim was quick to gently whap the back of his head. “Yeah, Sandburg. You worked miracles,” he said in feigned aggravation.


Hey! You're the one that said I was irreplaceable, even unique!”


Rafe tried to hold back a smirk as Jim rolled his eyes, “Chief, I was trying to be nice. Supportive. You know, encouraging!”


Blair went still, and his eyes widened. Then he nearly whispered, “You didn't mean it.”


Jim backtracked as quickly as he could, “No, I mean yes, of course I meant it! Sandburg ... You're pulling my leg aren't you?” and he reached to grab him in a headlock but Blair grinned widely as he quickly stepped aside and put one of Central's monitoring stations between him and Jim's long reach.



>7.< Gaia ... Gaia 1 ... The Walkabout


> > > > > > > > > > > >

The audio/visual link was instituted with no problem.

Council for Gaia System government was in session.

> > > > > > > > > > > >


The Council convened with all present.


Captain Simon Banks acknowledged the participants and began, “You are all aware of the many subjects on the agenda today. I think it would be best to start with a discussion of the announcement of the new Jump Portal that's been calculated and certain ... concerns that we need to address.” There were a few moments of awkward silence.


Jim and Blair had been unaware of any 'concerns'. They shared a quick, puzzled glance before Blair asked, “Is there some problem? The calculations have been verified at several independent locations, and by the XJ-Fuga's computer, too.”


Captain Megan Connor's location was in the Belt, far out-orbit on The Walkabout, but she smiled warmly through the 'link' at Blair and Jim before answering, “It's not that we're unsure of the calculations ...”


Blair paled, and rushed to say, “It's 'me', isn't it? I'm the problem!” He turned to Jim in distress, “I told you, man. Even they don't think I can do it.”

Simon reentered the discussion quickly. “No, Sandburg, it isn't you,” he stated firmly, if a bit irritably. “It's not that. We're all aware you've been working extremely hard on the sims, and we have no doubt that you'll be entirely capable of handling anything that comes your way. We have confidence in your abilities and Captain Ellison's experience. That isn't the problem.”


Jim and Blair looked confused as Jim asked, “Then what?”


Megan's serious demeanor conveyed the sincerity of her answer, “We're worried about 'you', mates. Well, worried about all of us, too, to be totally honest. You see, we've been talking amongst ourselves about what we would lose if something happens to you two. We'll lose a very precious resource ... our Sentinel and our Guide. We see that as a very poor return for a possible new Jump Portal.”


Jim snorted, “I think you might value us too highly, Megan.”


Blair nodded in agreement, “Besides, Jim would never let us take this jump if he thought it would be dangerous.”


Simon stated, “But the jump 'is' dangerous. It's into unknown territory. Totally unknown. This isn't even a shortcut-jump to a known star system like Jim was supposedly taking when he found the portal to Otherspace. You 'can't' say it doesn't inherently hold the prospect of danger to you both.”


Jim and Blair glanced at each other then back to the rest of the Council. Jim's coldly expressionless face caused them all to pay close attention as he asked, “Are you really proposing that you would keep us ... prisoner ... in Gaia System?”


The Council members were stunned by the accusation. Simon finally shifted uncomfortably, and looked around at the other participants, “I don't think ... well, I don't think that's really what we were proposing ... were we?”


The others glanced about and seemed to realize that it 'would' be the inevitable result. Shock slowly turned to chagrin.


Megan sighed in reluctant agreement with Simon's, and Jim's, statements, “I think you know that that wasn't our intention. Please believe that we do value you greatly. Your loss would be deeply felt, not just to the community but to us, personally ... but I don't think we'd considered what that would mean to you.” She glanced at the other council members, then with resignation added, “Perhaps we 'were' too hasty. I, for one, hope you'll accept my apology.”


Abel Carter, on the link from New Cascade as Gaia's representative, spoke next, “I hope you'll accept my apology, too, and ... I'd like to take this opportunity for me to officially express New Cascade's thanks for your help with the search for the two lost children. The outcome would have been tragic indeed without your gifts. This is just one example of the many times you've aided the colonies and other survivors here. We would feel your loss ... but you're right, too. We can't ask you to give up this exploration for which you've trained, and from which we'll benefit, as well.”


We're glad to do what we can,” said Blair, “We have skills not duplicated by anyone else, at least Jim and Henri Brown do. We have an obligation to put them to use. The XJ-Fuga can give us other star systems; other refuges for us. We need to grow, but more than that, we need the sense of purpose, the hope for the future. You know that morale has been low. The early months and years were filled with plans and new beginnings. Now it's been three years of hard work, and people have realized that the hard work will continue far into the future. New horizons and new opportunities would rekindle confidence in our future, our survival.”


Simon saw the small nods that showed growing ease and acceptance of the situation from his councilors and added a short nod of his own, “I think we're all now in agreement on this matter.” He saw nods from all present. “Well ... it seems that we'll need to discuss plans for furthering our explorations. But first, there is a matter that Megan wishes to bring to our attention. You said you had an announcement to make?”


Megan's genuine smile eased everyone's worry that the announcement might be troubling, “We've finished the nursery/school section on the Walkabout just in time for the arrival of our newest enrollee ... Rhonda and Joel Taggert's daughter, Arielle, was born this morning. She's in fine 'voice' and Rhonda and Joel would welcome your good wishes, I'm sure.”


Blair grinned, “Oh, man. That's great!” Glancing from Jim and back to Megan, “We'll be sure to call them later. We should be out there in a few weeks anyway. It'll be great to see them.”


Rafe asked, “Do you think you can stay long enough for the start of production on the clanship? Gerald is planning a rather large 'shindig', as he's calling it.”


Jim, who had relaxed at the change in subject, smiled widely as he said, “We wouldn't miss it. After all, when we find a new star system, you'll be aboard the next ship to arrive.”


Simon grumped, “And I'll have to find a new First Officer.”


Rafe looked a little upset, “I'm sorry about that, Captain ...”


Simon snorted, “Just make sure I'm invited to the wedding.”


Wedding?” squeaked Rafe.

Blair laughed aloud at Rafe's red face. His laughter was contagious, and soon the others had joined in.



>8.<


Jim and Blair, Sentinel and Guide, returned to their quarters. Blair was subdued and Jim wanted to end that as soon as possible. A solemn Guide was not a good thing.

“Chief, you know that we need to think about setting a date for the Jump. Heading out to the Walkabout in a few weeks sounds like a good idea. We should be done with the sims by then, and while we're out there we'll have time to put the Fuga through some tests. That will leave us plenty of time to visit with everyone and you can try out your charms on Arielle.”


Blair just nodded as if his mind was elsewhere.


You know, Gerald is going to need some help with the clanship soon, and with signing on permanent crew. Rafe and Sarah will both be heading out there soon. Rafe will be a big help to Gerald. Maybe we can all go on the same shuttle. We can all have a look around the Walkabout. They've done a lot of work there, and on the MFC. That sound okay?”


Uh, huh. Sounds good.”


Jim sighed in exasperation, “Blair, what's wrong?”


Blair looked sheepish as he answered, “I know I've been freaking out over the sims, but I'm not really sure if that's the problem, or at least, the only problem. Haven't you been feeling a little ... off?”


Jim felt like he'd had the wind knocked out of him. If Blair had - concerns - then Jim immediately questioned whether he'd been overlooking something important himself. But the truth was, he hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary. His main concern had been Blair.


Blair saw the answer before he could express it. “Man, I don't know what's wrong. Would you mind a meditation session?” he asked almost pleadingly, as if Jim would think it unnecessary, or worse, a nuisance. “I feel like maybe we're missing something, and I really hope it isn't a forewarning in a vision.”


Jim was quick to agree. No matter how much he dreaded a marathon session, which this might turn into, especially if Blair needed to search out something they hadn't noted before. Their worst fear had always been that they might miss something, and it drove them to question their visions as well as themselves; their motivations as well as their distractions. And they'd had plenty of those lately.


They settled into position and relaxed deeply into their trance states while never losing touch physically, as they'd discovered that their observations were reinforced by their closeness.


=> => => => =>


~Blue Gaian jungle existed as only a flicker of pleasant recognition before disintegrating to black infinity.~


~Was this null space? Subspace? Between the 'here' and 'there' of Jump?


~Was this a place, or was it a warning? Here, blackness enveloped them in shocking totality, where fear alone could wrench their minds from the path of reason.~


~Total silence enveloped them. The cacophony of life was absent and their own minds screamed denial.~


~The searing, sense-perverting -- b l a c k -- ness defied even that color as reference.~


~Perhaps that was the purpose, for a great absence can enhance ...

T H E L I G H T ~


~Fiery lashes, shockingly brutal, totally silent, bludgeoned the blackness to oblivion. Flame, the destroyer.~


~In space? In vacuum?~


~Where? When? How could this be?~


~Shaken and driven, they explored the vision further.~


<= <= <= <= <=



>9.<


Blair's muscles disobeyed him. He fell forward, completely limp, until his forehead rested on his crossed legs. Jim's muscles betrayed him. He sat ramrod straight, with not a tremble or a flutter as his whole body zoned and could only wait for his guide to free him to life once again. Each handled in his own way the shock of the vision, until their minds could cope.


Blair slowly rose from his strained position. He tried to breathe evenly a few times until he became aware once again of the hands clasped by his own. He realized that his sentinel had frozen in shock, unlike Blair, who had collapsed into limpness. The strain in his voice was evident as he whispered, “Jim ... come back, Jim. Listen and come back. I need you, my friend. Please ... heed my voice and come back.”


Blair held on to Jim's hands as the sentinel shuddered through his return. Jim finally grasped tightly those hands that had held on, and shocked Blair once again when he let out a heartrending scream. He pulled his hands frantically from Blair's, covered his eyes, and rocked as the scream died to whimpers of pain.


Blair had stilled in surprise for just an instant before trying to pull Jim's hands away from his face. “Jim, let me see. Please stop rubbing, Jim. Shhh, please just let me hold your hands. Let me see your face, Jim.” Slowly the hands came down and Jim's eyes were clenched shut, tears spread across his face.


Jim, you have to listen to me. Listen, please. You hear me, I know it.” Blair shook the hands in his bruising grip, “I need to know what's wrong. Can you tell me? Please, man. I can help if you tell me,” was his frantic hope.


My eyes. So bright! It was so bright! Blair, it hurts like - like snow blindness. I - I was on the planet Rainier once, in the mountains. I didn't know that the brightness could hurt so much. It hurts now, like it did then.”


Blair had listened, and remembered that he'd told Jim that he could help. He hoped it was the truth. “Jim, I'm going to call the doctor. He'll know what to do.” He gripped Jim's hands tighter, “Listen to me, Jim. It didn't hurt me. I know I'm no sentinel but my eyes are fine. It was a vision, so I'm thinking it's your mind that's reacting to the shock of the light we saw. I think, that like the snow blindness, this will go away. I'm not sure if it's even physical at all. I think ... that like me ... you could be in shock. Will you be alright for a moment while I call the doctor?”


Jim gripped his hands even harder, then with a visible effort, released them.


Blair nodded, not even thinking that Jim couldn't see him. “Good. He'll be able to do some tests.” Blair wanted to say more. He wanted to say that it would only be a matter of time, but he wasn't sure. No matter how badly he wanted it to be true, he couldn't make that kind of promise to Jim.


Blair called Dr. Dan Wolfe and was told that he would come immediately. Blair had been a frequent visitor to the MedBay when he had first been trying to understand his friend's sense reactions. But Jim Ellison had managed to cope with his slightly enhanced senses for all of his life. Their extra sensitivity since his first brush with an Otherspace jump had been what had thrown him into 'zones', which had proven the necessity of the companionship of a Guide. That first guide had been Henri Brown until they'd met Blair Sandburg, and Blair had proven his surprising ability to help Jim.


Blair had never had to place an emergency call to Dr. Wolfe before. He knew his urgent call had worried the doctor immensely. He knew that Jim had only visited the doctor's office for checkups, and only if he couldn't help it, as happened when he needed recertification as a Jumpship pilot. Jim was a little more stoic than he thought his friend should be. He'd be happier if Jim would act with more precaution than stoicism concerning health matters.


Blair had hurriedly unlocked the door, and lowered the lights to their dimmest level before returning to Jim. He sat quietly beside him, holding one of Jim's hands and stroking his back gently in an effort to reassure him, and himself also. The contact worked to calm them both, and Blair's soft reassurances had gone a long way to dispel Jim's anxiety until the doctor arrived.


Dr. Wolfe is here, Jim. Are you okay with his presence? Will it be alright for him to examine you?”


Dr. Wolfe, uh, thank you for coming. Blair ...?” Jim asked shakily.


Blair knew that Jim was very upset for the moment, so he advised the doctor about the trance and some of the vision, and Jim's reaction.


Dr. Wolfe listened with care, “Thank you, Blair. Jim? Do you agree with what Blair has said?” At Jim's nod, he began briskly and confidently, “I must agree with your Guide. His presence during the vision would seem to validate his hypothesis. It's certainly reasonable, so I want you to try to think positive thoughts. I'll start with some simple tests. If those turn out the way I think they will then I believe it will just be a matter of time before the shock wears off. The tests shouldn't take long, and I'll keep them as pain free as I can with your Guide's help. Will you accompany me to the MedBay?” Jim had visibly relaxed at his words.


Blair swallowed tightly. The doctor had been reassuring but there was another matter that had to take precedence. He gripped Jim's hand a little harder and asked him, “Man, I know you want those tests done right away, and so do I, but I think we need to wait long enough to tell someone about our visions. Can you wait that long, Jim? I think Simon would come here if we called him.”


Jim looked exhausted, and felt worse, but unfortunately he knew that recounting their visions couldn't wait. They both knew that time was slipping away too quickly. He gave an answering grip to his friend's hand and said stoically, “Dr. Wolfe, perhaps you could set up the tests. We can come to your office as soon as Simon leaves.”


A small delay for the tests won't hurt. From what you've told me this is an urgent matter. While you're waiting for the Captain, I'll bandage your eyes. We want to protect them from the light in the corridors. If it is like snow blindness, more exposure to the light would be painful.” After that was accomplished, the doctor left for his office.


Blair and Jim were shaken, but determined. Their own problems would have to wait, but what they had seen in the vision 'would' happen. Anything they could do would only help mitigate the effects. There was not a thing they could do to stop it.



>10.<


They'd asked for Simon to come to them, to their cabin on Deck 3; to leave Central, and come for a briefing. Simon was surprised at their request until he saw them. Jim's bandages were a shock, and both Jim and Blair looked on the verge of collapse. He could only listen with growing concern as the situation was detailed as fully as they were able, while feeling helpless to aid his friends.


Simon was glad when Henri and Serena arrived. Jim was obviously glad of Henri's presence. They'd been friends and had worked together for years, and Serena had been trained to work in a nursing position. Dr. Wolfe had known of their friendship, and when he had returned to the MedBay, he had requested her help. Serena had called Henri and they'd gone as quickly as possible to accompany Jim and Blair. Simon was grateful that Jim was in good hands, and Blair would have friends at his side.


When they all left for the MedBay, Simon left to set a hastily formed plan in motion to deal with the information he'd been given. When he reached Central he ordered, “Lieutenant Johnson, send the head of the Space Weather Monitoring Station to my office. Rafe, I need you with me. Officer Roberts, contact Captain Connor and Abel Carter for an emergency meeting of the Council. I'm ordering a Yellow Alert. Notify me immediately of anything out of the ordinary.”


As alarm lights began to flash yellow, Rafe asked, “Captain? What about our Sentinel and Guide?”


They're ... busy.”



>11.<


> > > > > > > > > > > >

The audio/visual link was instituted with no problem.

Council for Gaia System government was in emergency session.

> > > > > > > > > > > >


Simon sank into his chair at the table in the conference room. His countenance was as grim as anyone had seen since the early days, before the move to Otherspace. He didn't delay or hesitate, “I declare the Council in emergency session. We don't have any time to waste. Our Sentinel and Guide briefed me but they're not sure how much time we have to act. I requested the presence of Lt. Commander Wend, of the Space Weather Monitoring Station. Commander, have you seen any evidence of anomalies concerning Gaia's Sun?”


Lt. Commander Wend paled, as too many possibilities occurred to his imagination. He could see the shock on the faces of the others, too. If the Sentinel and Guide had precipitated an emergency Council session, it could 'not' be good. “Sunspots and flares are following predictions, although we haven't yet observed a full estimated cycle of 8.4 Gaian years. We'll be entering the maximum predicted sunspot cycle later this year. It's a very active sun, on the upward curve compared to others in the Allied Systems database. As you all know, we've taken precautions with arrays of weather satellites in various orbits to give us as much warning as possible. We have more than adequate shielding for the predicted radiation. Did ... did Ellison and Sandburg give a warning concerning a Space Weather anomaly? Is that why we're here?”


Yes,” Simon answered tersely. He took a deep breath and looked directly at Captain Connor. “The warning was mainly for the Walkabout.”


Megan's look of surprise, and dread, was mirrored on the others. “We're pretty far out, Simon. What are we looking at here?”


Since Space Weather hasn't received any warning yet, we may have a bit more time than we thought, but the warning is for a coronal mass ejection, an Interplanetary CME. It mostly misses the planet Gaia, so the atmosphere should provide enough protection, although, Abel ... it would be a good idea to get your people to shelters when the time comes.”


Of course. One of the precautions we surveyed for before landing was the presence of natural shelters. There are natural caves near the colonies that should be sufficient, unless ... do you know how long this ICME will be a danger?”


It may only be hours, but they also warned that the visions aren't exact. Megan ... the ICME will be on a direct course for the Walkabout. If you can change orbit, do it. They said any change will be a benefit.”


Megan looked appalled, “Just ... change orbit! We're not a ship anymore, Simon. You know how it is. You had to take many precautions before you moved after the incident with the water reserve tank. We're not 'built' to move anymore. It would cost lives!”


Simon grimaced at the reminder of the past incident, knowing she was right. The Walkabout hadn't been built like his own ship, a former space liner. It was built in pods, with more now attached. With production facilities added in close orbit, and living quarters, and mining ships and shuttles docked and orbiting. It had turned into a hub of commerce and transport in a very short time.


Simon nodded understanding. “They had considered all that, Megan. If it's truly impossible, then they suggested the usual ... shielding of people and electronics. Send the orbiting and docked ships away. We'll get the safe bearings to you as soon as they're calculated.”


Megan looked grim, “I'm on it. I need to contact my staff. I'll sign off for now, but don't hesitate to send any updates. Simon, will you be alright on Gaia 1?”


Simon simply nodded and allowed Megan to leave. His own problems were minor, and he had options. He had shielding he hoped would be adequate, and he had his water reserve tank that could be shifted in line with the Sun for even more protection, and even ICE32 could be moved if there was time; they were much closer to the sun than the Walkabout. If the problem was worse than they suspected at the moment, it would be tricky, but he could bring their orbit to a stationary point behind Gaia. But he understood Megan's problem. That kind of move would be a last resort.


A message came in from Space Weather for Lt. Wend from Sci-Tech Apprentice Daryl Banks, which he relayed, “Captain Banks ... one of our Weather satellites in close orbit of the sun has stopped broadcasting.”



>12.<


Space Weather was normally a quiet place of lit monitors and clicking keys, but not today. Lt. Commander Jason Wend was quietly capable, directing his small staff in firm and unharried tones. He knew the disaster was coming, and only his small and solemn staff ... plus, possibly, the Sentinel and Guide ... could give predictions of arrival times and intensity. If they had enough instruments left to give readings.


Several satellites had ceased to function, and they had switched their concern to a secondary line of communications/data collection satellites. When those sent their information - and some of them would fail in their turn - they would have more information available for their use. In the back of his mind he was already planning for a new array in the very near future. If this sun was this abnormal it would bear closer monitoring.


Lt. Commander Wend reported directly to Captain Banks, “Energetic particles could arrive at Gaia in 15-20 minutes.”


Captain Banks grimly turned to Lt. Johnson, “Red Alert, Lieutenant. Follow that up with verbal orders to go to shelters immediately. Connect me with Mr. Abel Carter. He should be waiting for my call.” He was indeed in contact with Mr. Carter in short order and the warning was passed on.


Simon turned back to Lt. Commander Wend, “What should I tell the Walkabout?”


Wend licked his lips nervously, “Even though they'll be more attenuated, since the Walkabout is further outsystem, those particles will be 300% above the levels we receive since they're on a more direct line with the ICME. The ejected plasma should reach them in 90 hours. The danger for them will start in 3.75 days and last possibly another 2 days. That is, if predictions hold true.”


Two days?”


Yes, Sir.”


And less than four days to prepare. That's going to mean a lot of stress on their electronics ... and then having their people packed into shelters ... Well, of course you have an appreciation of the situation. Please keep me updated. If there's any variation in radiation levels ... just keep me updated immediately.”


Yes, Sir.”



>13.< Interlude


Where Gaia 1 was becoming the 'educational or university center', the Walkabout was becoming the manufacturing center. Smaller items could be fabricated on 3DPrinters, which were ubiquitous on all the ships. Large items had certain other necessary requirements, one of which was just more room for production. Materials were mined from orbiting asteroids, but it wasn't easy. Orbits covered immense distances. It took planning, stockpiling of material, and production of equipment for larger scale manufacturing. It also took intelligence, knowledge, determination, and courage.



>14.< The Walkabout, Belt Orbit Alpha, Gaia System, Otherspace


The community that was the Walkabout was in shock. The people went about their duties during this Yellow Alert phase with determination, and trusted that the community would once again do what was necessary.


Captain Megan Connor had thought those horrible early days would never shadow her thoughts again; the days when a wrong move would be the death of her, her crew and her two passengers, and later, the people of the Rainbow Meadow Habitat. It was a time when 'life or death' choices were an instant away, and who knew which meant life and which meant death. But her people trusted her. She and her staff would bring them through this, too, the best they could.


The Engineering Section designed and placed orders for construction of quadruple shielded shelters. The Maintenance Department did the upgrading of high radiation protective gear, portable shielding, and extra shielding to cover the Walkabout's Control Central and other electronics-heavy areas. The 3DPrinter Production Bays were put on round the clock production of smaller items, especially electronic circuits that would be stored in shielded areas for replacement purposes after the 'event'. While all these, and more, steps were taken to ensure the physical survival of the Walkabout, an emergency evacuation plan was drafted for as many of it's citizens as possible by the Banking and Commerce Division, and implemented by the Department of Transportation and the Mining Consortium.


Captain Connor?” asked Rhonda Taggert.


Rhonda, shouldn't you be home with Arielle?”


Rhonda smiled tightly, “That's where I'd like to be Captain, but not where I should be. We have a hail from the Materials Fabrication Center.”


Put it through.”


Captain Connor. Gerald Simms here.”


Captain Simms. It's good to hear from you. Do you have an update on your status?”


The clanship is secured. It'll be fine. Captain, I've been talking to Joel Taggert and some of the engineering staff. We have a proposition. We think it's possible to pull it off in time, before the first wave of particles arrive.”


Megan was interested alright. “Tell me,” she commanded. She could hear Gerald's grin in his speech as he answered, and she desperately wanted to hear some good news.


The MFC is down-orbit. We intend to move it further out-orbit, closer ... much closer ... where we'll pace the Walkabout. Make it a further shield for you. All you have to say is 'yes'. We've got it all worked out. This place is solidly built, as you know. Production of shielding in underway as we speak. If we lock down production processes in three days time, and we can bring us practically close enough to dock with the Walkabout. Say yes, and we'll be waving across a small jumping space between us. Well?”


Megan was unable to speak for a moment, as too many possibilities occurred to her frazzled mind, “You're sure?”


Yes.”


You can get everyone off and over here in shielded areas in time?”


Well ... it'll be close, and the last ones off will be in radiation gear, but they'll have the MFC shielding them on the space walk over to the Walkabout. Just give the word, Captain.”


Put it in motion, Captain Simms. But I DO want the proposal in my hands ...”


You have it now, Captain. We'll see you soon.”


Megan headed for Rhonda who was already accessing the proposal.



>15.< New Cascade cave shelter, Gaia


Naomi Sandburg roamed the sheltering caves near New Cascade, speaking to the worried inhabitants, bringing them up to date on the situation. Her calm demeanor left it's effects in her wake. She would often return to the communications post that had been established to receive updates and handle problems or inquiries, and also to be near Abel for a time.


She tried not to worry about her son and Jim. She had known for some time that they'd be in the center of any crisis, but as worried as she was, she was also proud. She loved her son, and Jim was his best friend. They'd formed a friendship closer than any she'd ever seen before. She'd seen the changes in Blair in the last three years. She knew that the Sentinel/Guide partnership placed a great burden on them, but they were strong, and their friendship was the key to that strength.


So she kept her worries to herself, and attended to her 'duties'. They may have been unofficial, but they were nevertheless important. Her son was the Guide but she had surprised both him, and herself, by settling into a position that suited her own talents and natural inclination, one where she could counsel and observe the health of the community.



>16.< Interlude


Gerald Simms and Joel Taggert were a good team. They'd come to the same conclusion, almost at the same time: the Walkabout was too important to risk. They needed to do everything possible to prevent damage to it. It was 'home' to too many people, even if they only docked there between mining trips or other excursions.


The MFC was solidly built. Only the Ore Processing Center was more massive, but zero-gee processing of ore was a more complicated business than producing finished products. Shutting down a production line on the MFC wasn't easy, but it 'was' faster.


The material that came from the MFC's facilities were shipped all over the system and were the material foundation of Gaia System's society. For all it's solidness and usefulness, it was still only an installation. It was not irreplaceable. It was not The Walkabout.



>17.< Materials Fabrication Center, Belt Orbit Beta


Captain Connor addressed all the members of the team on the MFC, “Listen up, mates. Time to leave. The clock is ticking. I want to hear from each one of you when you enter the Walkabout's air lock.” She waited for confirmations of her order before giving the last signal to begin the change of orbit for the MFC. “Mr. Taggert, you have the helm ... that would be 'Captain Taggert', Joel, for this maneuver. On your orders, Sir.”


We'll be on time, Captain Connor. Thanks for the promotion.”


Megan grinned tightly, knowing they were all well aware of the seriousness of this situation, “Just remember, you're 'my' crew when this is over.”


Aye, and I'll be glad to come home,” Joel joined gratefully in the spirit of the exchange, then settled in to some serious work.


Joel called Gerald on the com, “Is everything battened down, Captain?”


As ready as she'll ever be ... Captain!” answered Gerald.


Joel grinned, “Don't worry, my friend, I'll gladly give up my captaincy as soon as this 'ship' is where we want it. I'd feel better if I were 'Engineering Officer' instead of you. How did you talk me into this?”


Because you were Second to Captain Connor on the Walkabout, and because I know engines. Don't forget, I had to keep the Wellspring flying; I helped you with the MFC's construction; and I've been working on the blueprints for the clanship. I 'know' engines.”


Joel grinned at his friend's enthusiasm. The big clanship would be the first of a fleet, and all because of his friend's dream. “Countdown is a 'go', Gerald. We'll leave on the mark.”


Aye.”


On the Walkabout they watched as the MFC's thrusters engaged in silent fury, while Joel and Gerald rode the vibrations that rattled a facility that was never meant for serious flight. The slight shaking they felt provided the only evidence of movement except for positional scans. Telltale lights lit the boards and most were green. “Gerald, there's a bad vibration in the port thruster ...”


I'm on it!”


The vibrations steadied until thrusters cut off. When nothing disastrous appeared on the boards, Joel allowed himself a deep breath, trying to relax all his tensed muscles. It had been a busy three days and they only had hours to move into position and vacate the MFC, but it was looking good. If they'd done it right, they only had to reverse thrusters and glide into position. Red lights had blinked out one by one and Joel allowed himself a relieved sigh when they stayed off. Gerald was right, he was familiar with a number of different engines.


Gerald and Joel had been suited up for this maneuver so they'd be ready for the short spacewalk over to the Walkabout. With orbit achieved, they stepped off together. Gerald was joking about the Captain abandoning his ship. They were tethered together, a standard safety precaution.


Joel had his eyes on their target, and longed to be with Rhonda and their baby, when he felt a tug on the tether that pulled him into a spiraling move. It pulled him into an orbit with Gerald as the opposite pole.

“Gerald? This isn't the time for fancy flying, my friend ...” That was the last Joel said before he saw his friend on the end of the tether. Gerald was silent as he rotated into the light of Gaia's sun. Joel was glad that he couldn't see past the shattered faceplate.


Being hit by a meteoroid was such a slim probability even in the Belt. Three years ago, Gerald's life, all their lives, had balanced on the much slimmer probability of reaching Otherspace. Now, all Joel could do was to hold his grief in check until he could retrieve his friend's body.



>18.< Two days later, aboard Gaia 1


Jim? We need to check in with Central, and Rafe's waiting for us,” said Blair tentatively. “Jim?”


Jim roused himself to reply with effort. The last few days had taken it's toll on him. His recovery had been slow and steady, but it had also been worrisome until Dr. Wolfe had finally given Jim a clean bill of health. Gerald's death had been a tremendous blow to everyone, but Sentinel and Guide felt ... responsible. “I'm coming, Sandburg.”


Jim, we don't have to leave right now, or even today. We can arrange passage on another shuttle. I know how you feel, but it was an accident.”


An accident. Then why do I feel so ... responsible?”


Jim, you were in such shock from the vision that you were totally blind for three days. No one blames you.”


Hysterical blindness! Dr. Wolfe found no physical reason for it,” he said in self-disgust. “If I'd been more in control, maybe I could have gone into the trance again, like we did before, when Gaia 1 was threatened. But I was ... weak. I was ...”


You were in shock. Like me,” Blair said softly. “And you know I tried to go into the vision again. There was no warning there that I could find ... unless I was ... wrong. Or - or maybe I 'can't' do it alone. Maybe I'm fooling myself that I'm helping you.”


Jim finally heard his Guide; heard his pain, saw his grief visibly etched on his face. He swallowed his own pain, his own grief, to give comfort to his friend, “Chief ... you help me. Trust me on that.” He stepped closer, placed a hand on Blair's shoulder, and said, “I know you've told me this before, and you were right ... doubting ourselves and what we do will only make it harder.”


It's just hard accepting that despite all the good we can do something can still go wrong. That there 'will' be ... accidents, and good people will suffer.”


We can only do our best,” Jim added softly.


Blair's eyes met Jim's and accepted his friend's support and comfort. Gerald Simms had died and they hadn't been able to 'foresee' it with their visions. They hadn't been able to prevent it. This ... failure ... was something they had feared. Now that it had come to pass, it would be a burden they would have to share. There was no changing the outcome, and probably no warning that could have been discerned even from the visions. They could only go on, honoring Gerald's life, and honoring his sacrifice.


Jim said, “Come on, Blair. Rafe will be waiting to board, with Sarah.”


Yeah, Sarah.”


She has Rafe, Chief. She'll be okay,” and Jim swung his arm over Blair's shoulder as they left their cabin. “We'll be okay, too.”



>19.< Interlude


What they'd previously expected to be a joyful visit with old friends, and the welcoming of a new member of the community, little Arielle, had turned into a sad occasion.


True, Gaia System had once again weathered a crisis, but the loss of Captain Gerald Simms was hard. Captain Simms had led the ships that had aided Gaia 1, so his name and the name of his ship, The Wellspring, were known system wide. Memorials were held for him in each of the colonies.


The memorial on the Walkabout was solemn indeed. Gerald had been a frequent visitor, and had worked with Joel Taggert for some time on his pet project, the clanship that was being readied for it's first jump outsystem. It was to be the first of a fleet. The clanships were to be built to allow families to travel and work together as the second tier in exploration and research, after the Jumpships located new routes and star systems.


Rafe, as First Officer, now found himself the Acting Captain. He found it a bit overwhelming, yet he felt that his first duty was to Sarah Simms, and his attention never wavered.



>20.< MFC, Belt Orbit Beta


As soon as the memorial services were over, Rafe included Sarah in every stage of the planning for the clanship. Months later, when it was finally ready to be launched, Sarah stood by his side, listening with pride and striving to keep her emotions under control. She did very well until Rafe's final words.


Captain Rafe had stood quietly until the end of the ceremony. Then he turned and looked toward Sarah. He drew her forward and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and spoke as if only to her, “I was privileged to know Captain Gerald Simms for several years. His enthusiasm breathed life into a project that began with nothing but his own dream. He gathered us all, willing or not, into an adventure that pushed the limits of our capability ... and we did it. That dream is here before us. I wish Gerald was with us today. I wish he could have seen this ship fly. All of us here know that this is Captain Simms' ship more than anyone else's. And so, in the presence of those attending, and for those who will travel aboard her in the years to come, I name this vessel ... KinShip I: The Gerald Simms. May his ship, and it's Kin, dwell in peace and prosperity for evermore.”


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finis Part 3


Warning: Death of an original character.


NOTE: To click on any of these sites, copy, paste, and take out the three spaces.


1. I have very little understanding of “space weather”. The story contains 'facts' from my own imagination, but were based loosely on some Q&A information online. Search: space weather and solar weather FAQ:

http:// www.space.com/spacewatch/solar_faqhtml#g13


2. Information for Blair's rant about a “supergiant” and his 'destruction' of the XJ-Fuga was found here: http:// www.esse.ou.edu/fund_concepts/Fundamental_Concepts1/Universe/Classifying_Stars.html


3. I mentioned “3D Printers” only briefly in the story. It might be interesting to you to know that I did NOT make that up (maybe just stretched their capabilities a bit <g>). It came from Popular Science Magazine (The Desktop Factory By Corey Binns, May 2007: “Roboticist Hod Lipson wants you to stop shopping and use his portable 3-D printer to make your own stuff”).

http:// www.popsci.com/popsci/technology/19ad302897772110vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html


4. Do you want to see something incredible? Click on this NASA archive (Astronomy Picture of the Day) and click on “2007 November 06: An X Class Flare Region on the Sun”:

http:// www.antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html

Click on the picture and watch a movie of a 'flare on the sun'. It takes a couple minutes to load but it's well worth the wait. I thought the 'flare movie' was a great coincidence since it was already a major part of my story.