I hope somebody’s getting this.
They’re all dead. I am the last survivor of the Popotchik. Fourteen thousand years after it left the Earth, everyone is dead and soon I will be, too. I don’t like to think the human race ends here. The other ships might have survived. Before he died Vostock said they received a signal from what they think was the Einstein-Hawking. That could mean they’re still alive, or that its computer is and they’re all dead, but I don’t want to think about that. I hope they’ve been getting our signals and are on their way here, but I don’t think I’d still be alive when they get here. Our DNA banks are still intact as far as I can tell; no visible damage to the storage facilities. Crew of the Einstein-Hawking, if you’re getting this, everything we know about the planet is in the file called Earth2.dxb in data stream D-0957-7. Only humans are affected but I don’t think the human DNA in storage have been contaminated. None of the plants and animals we brought show any adverse effects. The livestock are doing well and are thriving. Take care of them for me.
"Scouts found something, Commander. Primates, they look like. They're saying they could be human." The call was from the advanced party already on the planet.
"Copy, Silius. Tell them to stay put and just observe. We'll be there presently." Commander Natharm Wedlen of the space ship Popotchik hid his excitement well. Since they got here three years ago, the scouts haven't reported any large mammalian life forms living on this planet. This planet, the planet where his ancestors came from, the source of their civilization, the planet Earth. Who would've thought they'll be back here again? It is populated by arthropods now mostly. Some marine vertebrates were worthy of note, but no large mammalian species of any kind. And now this. To find humans, over one million years after they left Earth and found their new home in Earth2... They weren't really expecting a remnant to survive, not after what happened. "Portsmont," Wedlen said to his chief science officer, "get a team together and notify me as soon as you’re ready. I'll be coming with you. Unson," to the First Officer, "you're in charge here while I'm gone. I'll be in my chambers til then."
"Yes, Commander." Portsmont and Unson.
Back in his chambers, Wedlen takes out his copy of Fellow Traveller his father gave when he was twelve. Fellow Traveller is the journal of one of the first humans to arrive on Earth2. It is a compilation of written entries and transcripts of video documents of one Pretera Massumahond, who was a farmer in the space ship named Popotchik for which his ship is named, the deep space vessel their ancestors came in on. The book has a cover of the finest hide tree leather and printed on papyrus. He prefers to read the over-one-million-year-old text on paper instead of from a tablet. He has probably read it fifty times since his father gave him his old copy, and worn out the cover. He had the cover restored by the artisans on Greidi. The book made him want to join the Space Marines. He read it cover to cover five times on this ten year trip, and re-reads favorite parts of it from time to time. It amazes him that the trip that took his ancestors over ten millennia would take them ten years. It was only a stroke of luck that they got to Earth2 in the first place. If they hadn't stumbled on the wave caused by the collision of two massive black holes, the trip to Earth2 would have taken them millions of years at the rate they were going. Working from the records left behind by the first Popotchik, scientists were able to piece together where the short cut was and they trained their instruments on the general location, looking for sections of space that weren't expanding as fast as they should be away from Strelle, the star Earth2 was revolving around. By some stroke of luck, the wave caused by the collision of the black holes was heading towards them at the exact same rate space was expanding away from Strelle had the collision not taken place. The wave therefore had the appearance of making stars in that area of space seems stationary relative to Strelle. Those stars are several million light years away, even though it takes their light 3 to 4 light years to reach the instruments in Earth2 that detected them.
Luck?, Wedlen asked himself. Or is it possible that all this was meant to happen? Out of the vastness of space, this lone ship from Earth just happened to find that hole that would take their ancestors to their new home where they thrived, seeding it as it were. The odds against that happening are tremendous. But then again, odds are just numbers we give meaning to when no meaning exists.
He had some time in his hands. He opened his book and read.
They taught us in school that the wanderer struck Earth fourteen thousand years ago. The wanderer was called M2237-62A, but the press started calling it DeathMetal because it was mostly iron. It wasn’t alone either. In its wake were thousands of smaller wanderers aimed at the Earth, the moon, and Venus. My teachers said they never found out what happened to Earth after that, whether anybody survived; whether anything survived.
The Popotchik is just one of twenty three ships that were capable of escaping this catastrophe. Earth’s scientists knew DeathMetal was going to hit even when it was way beyond the orbit of Pluto and so the governments at the time built these huge space ships that could carry up to a few thousand people plus cargo. The Popotchik was built for another purpose and was already in Earth orbit but its builders had the foresight to equip it with the means to get out. It had eight hundred people at first, with room for around two thousand as they anticipated the population would grow en route to wherever. Most of the other ships went for Mars, with a few going to Jupiter and Saturn, planets in Earth’s solar system.
None of the other ships who went beyond the solar system knew for sure that the star system they were aiming for had planets that could support them – it was just a possibility. They just pointed the ships in the general direction of their targets and launched leaving things to luck. Or to some divine providence for those of them that believed in that. I didn’t at first, mainly because my parents didn’t. My father was a biologist and my mother an officer in the army. I raise farm animals, by the way. Our target was the star system in 801 Procephes, six light years away which might have an earth-like planet. But we never made it there, obviously.
I saw video documentaries of the launch in Ancient History class. Popotchik was built in Earth orbit and was supplied from Earth by shuttles. Aside from its cargo — machines, livestock, plants — she also carried DNA of several species of plants and animals, as well as DNA from people. The idea was to reproduce these species whenever we found a planet that was suitable. The shuttles also made several trips to carry fuel for our propulsion system: several thousand tons of hydrogen bombs, several thousand tons of ordinary uranium fusion bombs, and enough Uranium-235 to build several thousand more if needed. If she needed more, the crew mined raw materials from wanderers and other celestial bodies they encountered along the way.
The Popotchik was an Orion type space ship and she ran by dropping modified nuclear bombs out of the rear of the craft and detonating them. The propellant around the bomb would hit a shock absorbing plate on the ship to propel it forward. The detonations were timed by computer. We don’t do that anymore. We’re running on an ion engine.
The Popotchik was one of three ships that launched from space so there wasn’t much of a light show when the bombs were detonated, although it did make Earth’s atmosphere glow a little when the blast hit it. But for those other Orion ships that were launched from Earth, it was quite spectacular as bombs were detonated every three seconds till it escaped the atmosphere. It must have been hell for those left behind though. Those blasts produced shock waves and radioactive fallout for them, but I suppose they didn’t have time to worry about them because by the time of the launch, Earth had a month, maybe less, before the wanderer hit. It was very little consolation for those left behind that the ships carried samples of their DNA on board. If they didn’t have a chance, at least their genes would, and maybe if we perfect cloning, we could bring back people with the exact same genes, not that that would make a difference to them who were about to die. Hundreds of thousands have already died in the riots when news leaked about what was about to happen and that not everybody could be evacuated. My teacher said a lot of people considered the evacuations a suicide mission, with people in it doomed to a slow death but it really came down to a choice between doing something and just sitting around waiting for the inevitable, and here we are, fourteen thousand years later.
From what they were able to find out during those first days, six of the ships didn’t make it with three failing to launch when their bombs failed to detonate properly. These three fell back to Earth. The other three had the same problem after they cleared Earth orbit. A single malfunctioning bomb would throw off the orientation of the ship’s plate relative to the next detonation, with the blast hitting the ship directly. Our ship was in touch with the others at first, then as they drifted farther and farther apart, communication was such that it would take several minutes for a message from another craft to reach us, then hours, then days, then weeks, then months, and by this time, we were only in touch with the Einstein-Hawking, and even communication with the Einstein-Hawking was lost eventually. This was just before the warp.
I liked working in the farm. It gave me a lot of free time to paint and be alone. Most other people bore me. And I liked the gravity in the farm: one gee. It’s the same as the gravity back on Earth. The animals and plants need it to grow properly. On Earth, farms were vast open areas. We have videos of them and they were beautiful; fields of green that go on forever, animals grazing on the fields, clouds against that beautiful blue sky. On the ship, the animals were kept in pens. They didn’t even have room to move, poor creatures. To think that they would be killed soon, it seems unfair that they should spend their lives in such a miserable state. I talked to them whenever I can, tell them stories, and sometimes I think they appreciated it. Northus thought they’re just dumb creatures though, and said I was nuts for talking to them. Well, fuck him. (I did, once. I was glad when he got transferred to engineering. But every time I remember...ugh! I could be so stupid sometimes. At least my animals don’t lie to me. Anyway, he’s dead now, and I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, even though he was really an asshole.)
The hospital was also in the one-gee zone. As well as the nursery. And the DNA bank. Pregnant women needed the one gee for their babies to develop properly in their wombs. So most of the people I saw there, aside from those assigned to the farm, are sick people and pregnant women. That’s how I met Brelin.
Brelin was about five years younger than I was — she was nineteen — and three months pregnant at the time and was bored out of her gourd in the hospital so she got out and visited the livestock area where I was whenever she can. This was about a month before we came to Earth2. She would come with me as I made my rounds and soon she was reading stories to the animals as well. She especially liked the hogs. I wasn’t a vegetarian like those church people, though. I was well aware that the animals I take care of are food. That was their purpose. If you want to eat, you have to kill something, whether it was a plant or an animal. That’s just the way it is. On Earth, primitive tribes used to pray to spirits before they hunt, and give thanks to the animals who give up their lives so they could live. I don’t quite believe in that, but I do appreciate these animals and give them respect, and I see to it that I treat them well. I couldn’t do anything about their cramped pens though. When we got settled in Earth2, I talked Jonshack into letting the animals roam free-range. We had lots of space, so he agreed without any arguments.
“We’re ready to go, Commander,” Portsmont said over the comm. “Bellsemer, Rudrink, and Shula will man the lab. We also have a squad of Rangers to escort us. Sergeant Polid’s.”
“Ok. I’ll be right down,” Wedlen said. Portsmont was sixteen years old, one of those young officers fresh out of the Marine Academy - most of the crew were - and has a doctorate in Biology. He volunteered for this mission when he first heard about it. He sent Wedlen his credentials and the day after waited outside his office even before Wedlen replied to grant him an interview.
“What makes you think you’re right for this? I have science officers with more experience than you,” Wedlen told him.
Without saying anything, Portsmont took out a worn papyrus copy of Fellow Traveller and stood back at attention. “My grandfather gave me that book when I was six, sir. It made me want to be a Space Marine. I’ve been dreaming about this all my life.”
Wedlen looked at him and Portsmont met his eyes. Wedlen hired him and hasn’t regretted it since. He could delegate responsibilities to him and he would always come through. This mission was as important to Portsmont personally as it was to him: a fulfillment of a childhood dream. How many opportunities for that come in one’s lifetime?
They have visited planets in the solar system where ships were stationed in orbit after DeathMetal. They were hoping some had survived, or at least left something behind to indicate what happened to them, but they found nothing. They spent a lot of time around Saturn and its moons where most of the ships went since Saturn’s moons could have provided them with raw materials, but no such luck. It had been over a million years of course. Maybe they moved on. Or, most probably, they all died. Wedlen didn’t feel anything for them at the thought of that. Everybody dies.
There were no signs around Jupiter or its moons either. On Mars, they left a team to investigate after it was reported to him that they might have found some artifacts. The remains of a structure of some kind. No signs of life.
When they got to Earth, they found it teeming with life. Life was everywhere. The planet was literally covered with them. After a ten-year journey seeing nothing, life on Earth left him with a sense of awe at how tough it is. Earth scientists expected DeathMetal to wipe everything out, with nothing but the hardiest bacteria surviving, but here it was. The scouting party said it had plants, what looked like mollusks and crustaceans, marine vertebrates, and insects, some as large as a metrobus. They reported small mammals that were probably descended from rodents.
And in a craggy outcrop in one of the islands in an archipelago southeast of the landmass that the chronicles called Eurasia, close to shore, the scouts reported what looked like primates: forward looking eyes, opposable thumbs. They walked upright, moved in groups, and seemed like they were communicating with each other. What are the odds that those are humans?, he thought.
“Everything all set?,” Wedlen asked as he reached the shuttle that would take them to Earth.
“Yes sir,” Portsmont said. “We’re just waiting for your go- ahead.”
“Well, then let’s go ahead.”
The warp made the ship’s main computer go bonkers. We were headed for 801 Procephes one moment, then the next it just disappeared, although I didn’t know it at the time. It tried to get our bearings back, but when it failed, it just shut itself down. The power went out through the entire ship as the computer shut everything down. Everything just went dark and quiet as the generators stopped humming. Even the animals were quiet.
Brelin was a few feet away from me on the bridge over the fishpond and called out to me scared. I assured her that I was still there. I was scared of course. You get used to the hum of the generators that you don’t really notice them anymore so when they shut down, as the cliché goes, the silence is deafening. And those generators were responsible for keeping us alive. You don’t want them to stop humming, trust me.
Several people with torches came and were calling out to anyone. I called out to them and asked them what was going on. A man said — I didn’t see his face as he was pointing his torch right at me — he said there’s nothing to worry about. Just a computer glitch. Everything will be back to normal soon. The engineers are working on it. I don’t know much about the computer but I know it doesn’t glitch, hasn’t glitched for thousands of years. Maybe those geniuses at engineering wrote a new routine for it and ran it without the proper tests. But soon the generators were humming again and the lights went back on and air started flowing. I told Brelin to stay put while I try to find out what’s going on.
I found my mother talking to the Captain and waited impatiently as they finished their conversation, standing a respectful distance away. I suppose I was fidgeting because my mother gave me an annoyed look. I went up to her as the Captain disappeared through the door to the conference room.
“Short answer? We’re lost,” she said. “The computer has no idea where we are.” I gasped, but my mother continued, “And there’s nothing to worry about. We’re just drifting through a different part of space, that’s all. It’s not as if we’re not used to drifting by now. The computer kept trying to shut itself down when it couldn’t get a fix on our location, so the engineers deleted its star map files and rebooted. That seemed to work. Go back to your station. Everything’s fine. Wait for the Captain’s announcement. I’ll see you later.” She kissed me on the cheek and went into the conference room.
The announcement came an hour later. The Captain said pretty much the same thing my mother did with more details the navigation people supplied him with. “As far as we can tell, we were caught in some kind of wave of warped space,” he said over the comm. “As such we have no idea where exactly we are in relation to where we used to be. One thing is sure, we are not heading for 801 Procephes anymore.” I heard a lot of groans, then the Captain continued, “Our navigators have picked up another star system that could have planets similar to the ones in 801 Procephes, and we are heading for that instead. We are lucky to end up where we are since we will be in this star system in 400 days if we initiate a two-gee burn. The burn will start at 0900 ship standard time and will last for 10 minutes. Take all necessary precautions. That is all.”
A burn. That means dropping bombs out the back. Brelin held my hand.
It stood on a mound. It couldn’t have been more than a meter tall and was carrying a staff with ribbons of what looked like strips of hide tied to it. The ribbons were flapping in the wind like a banner. It was scanning its surroundings using its free hand to shield its eyes from the sun. It then raised its staff a few times then continued scanning the horizon. Soon others joined it on the mound.
“We estimate at least 300 individuals in this community,” Silius said. “Maybe more.”
“It’s a foraging party,” Portsmont said still looking through his binoculars as the group on the mound separated. Then to Silius, “Let’s go catch one.”
Back at camp, Wedlen was continually updated by Portsmont’s team. He still can’t believe it. To be here, now, a million years since their ancestors left. Humans! Of course they still had to verify that but in his gut he knew, and he can’t get his mind around it. Once they dominated this planet, and now here they are, living underground, hiding from predators, insignificant it seems... but surviving. Against tremendous odds, they survived.
The last human in the universe. That couldn’t be me. I refuse to believe it. Not after what we’ve been through. To drift in space for fourteen millennia, to find this planet against all odds, I was beginning to believe Brelin; there is some master plan somewhere and we’re part of it. Humans are destined to spread throughout the universe, planting seeds of humanity all over. We’re the seeds, she said. We’re supposed to give the human race a new start here.
Earth was a mess even before the wanderer hit. Generations of mismanagement and greed made her unlivable. The people then were divided into what they called the Rich and the Poor. It seems strange to us now but back then most of the Earth’s resources were in the hands of very few people, the rich. More and more people were living in civilization’s refuse breathing foul air and drinking foul water and those with the means – the rich, the haves, the beautiful ones - isolated themselves in their cosmopolitan cities and pretended that billions of people outside of them didn’t exist in the conditions they existed in. I remember my teacher saying that Earth scientists once warned that human activities were causing the climate to change with disastrous consequences. The rich, the haves, the beautiful ones, with hearts ostensibly bleeding for the Earth’s poor, drafted a program to prevent the disaster and it was this: You poor folk, you downtrodden masses, reduce your consumption of the Earth’s resources so that we the rich, we haves, we beautiful ones, could continue living as we have been.
The pressure mounted such that the rich folk knew sooner or later, as millions of people moved in looking for work, looking for food, looking for a chance to live like humans, that these people can’t be ignored anymore. They gave them work in factories outside the cities and in services in the cities, housed them in camps where they were taken care of as long as they kept providing the cities with what they needed. The countryside was spent, its resources dwindling. Farms were dying and the only way to grow food was through industrial factories with huge climate-controlled greenhouses run by computers. Farmers and ranchers who used to own their own farms went to work for these factories for survival wages. That was the way of the world then before the wanderer. The Popotchik was built to escape from the inevitable, a haven for rich people: Live in Earth orbit. Spectacular views of the planet from your luxurious apartment. Golf, spas, and the hottest hotspots in the universe all waiting for you. It was called Celestia then, not Popotchik. They had no idea she would turn into a lifeboat. The owner, some faceless corporation, didn’t count on her making the journey she eventually made so soon.
There was chaos in the cities when news of the wanderer broke. The workers from the camps rioted and took over the factories and went into the cities and looted everything they could get their hands on. First police, then soldiers were called in to stop the mob. But as the streets of the city became awash with blood, even the soldiers refused their orders, abandoned their posts, and joined the rioters.
The crew took over the Celestia in the chaos and there was nothing the board of directors on Earth could do about it. What could they do? Take them to court? The crew – scientists and engineers with ties to leading universities on Earth - knew however that they couldn’t stay in the solar system where other humans would be scattered about in orbiting settlements. They were outlaws after all. If enough people survived, the authorities, whatever of them that were left, would go after them. With the help of the universities, they transported entire laboratories and libraries on board the Celestia: digitized books and documents, equipment, DNA samples of numerous species from pachyderms to protozoa, bacteria to baleen whales, and people of all races. They sent the former occupants home to the mercy of the mobs and replaced them with the universities’ faculty, some students, soldiers who joined the revolt, and their families, a little over 800 people. They renamed the ship Popotchik, and aimed for 801 Procephes. They’d like to think that it was as simple as a wing, a prayer, and they were off in glowing clouds of radioactive propellant, but the soldiers had to put down a horde of rioters to be able to load and board the ship. Life, what else is new? To live, something else has to die. The killings were justified, they thought, as they were mankind’s last hope.
Not really. There were other ships. Einstein-Hawking said they will head for 801 Procephes, too, if their original target in Tau Grius didn’t pan out. See you in a couple million years, Einstein-Hawking. These were extremely long trips and those on board knew and accepted that they, their children thousands of generations hence, would die in space long before they reach their destinations. The pirates of Popothcik, the outlaw ship, was a seedpod drifting in the interstellar winds, hoping for fertile soil in which to grow.
“They’re human. DNA confirms it. We have a 99.54% match to the genome template we have.”
Wedlen leaned back in his chair and said nothing for several seconds, just looking at Portsmont. Inside, his mind was reeling and his heart was racing. These he placed under control by taking a couple of deep breaths without, he hoped, Portsmont noticing. Portsmont himself was a picture of calm and he could do no less than try to match it. Finally he said, “Write a message to Center. Give them a full report. I’ll add my recommendations later before we send it.”
Brelin and I used to hang out with the animals before she died. Her baby died not long after we landed and she was understandably depressed. Taking care of the animals got her mind off her loss I suppose and it visibly cheered her up. She even took a piglet for a pet, a weak runt, and named her Vorla. On the ship, we usually destroyed sick or underweight animals so they don’t have to use up resources that would otherwise go to the healthier animals, and I was about to do that to Vorla. I had the syringe in hand to euthanize the poor thing when Brelin saw me and asked me where I was going. I told her and she grew quite upset, but she went with me anyway. When she saw the little pink piglet, she begged me not to put her down and said she’ll take care of it herself and we don’t have to worry about anything. I thought about it and finally said yes. We had a planet full of resources and the rules on board a cramped ship didn’t have to apply here. Besides, we fed the animals with the ‘vegetables’ that grew on the planet and they seemed to be doing fine. We didn’t have to feed them with the feedstuff we used to have on board so we weren’t about to run out of feed.
On nights when the moon was full, Brelin and I would stay up all night on the roof and talk and watch the animals frolic under the beautiful blue moon. The open space really did them good and they ran around and played. I don’t know if that was normal behavior back on old Earth, but they seemed right at home here. They were happy, I daresay. Damn if the pigs weren’t singing to the full moon, with Vorla joining in from her bed on the roof beside us as if squeaking the chorus. They never did that on the ship, but then again they never saw anything beyond the ship’s walls before.
Brelin was a member of the Church, one of those who believed that the Universe is alive. Not alive in the sense we are, but conscious and could listen to us, and that the planets are also conscious and are the ones who directly create life. The Earth created us, she said. She calls us children of the Earth, and that one day we’ll join the Universal Consciousness - yes, capitalized. Church members are dualists. They believe life is chemistry and information. When we die, only our bodies die, but the information that made us, plus the data we gathered, doesn’t die. It lives on in the Universal Consciousness, not conscious of itself as a separate entity, but as part of the Universal Self. As an analogy, she compared us to a book. She said, “You threw your copy of The Complete Works of Nubelig in the fire, did you in fact destroy it?” I said yes. “No you didn’t. All you destroyed is the medium it’s written on. The Complete Works continue to exist. As long as it’s in someone’s mind it exists. And as long as there’s a Universe, there is a mind that it exists in.” O-o-oookay, I said, so we were written. By the Universe. “Yes,” she said. She said our DNA is a book of instructions written in the language of the Universe. It’s no surprise that a lot of the Church members are molecular biologists. The language in DNA is a sacred thing to them. Life on Earth, and elsewhere, all exists in the mind of the Universe, and are written in and transmitted across the galaxies. “How do you think life began on Earth,” she asked, “if nobody wrote the instructions on how to do it?” She said new information, much like computer code, from the vastness of space, were sent to Earth with instructions on how to create consciousness that could communicate with the Universal Mind. That’s us. Humans. Why us?, I asked. She said she doesn’t know. It could’ve chosen other species, but it chose to gift humans with the means to understand it, one step closer in our evolution towards being Universes ourselves. (For a complete study on the beliefs of the Church, I refer you to Mulwadi’s Catechism. It’s in the library.)
People started dying a few months after we landed. We didn’t know exactly what was causing it at first. Later it turned out that the native food we were eating was somehow ‘incompatible’ with us at the genetic level. It was altering our genes in such a way that some instructions aren’t running such as those for protein synthesis. We tested the food with the animals and they were doing fine so we thought the food was safe. We never thought it would disrupt our DNA. Those who had a larger proportion of the native foodstuff in their diet were the first to fall, and they fell by the score, then by the hundreds. Until the lab found a cure, we ate exclusively terran food. The Captain ordered the livestock back in the pens and fed exclusively on terran feed, Vorla included. Eating exclusively terran slowed the death rate down, but it didn’t stop it. Somebody would succumb to a failure of the body to produce insulin or antibodies or hemoglobin. And we checked; none of us would be able to reproduce. We knew it was only a matter of time before we, too, fell, and we were just waiting for our time to die.
We were on the roof, and the full blue moon was just a meaningless orb, and I couldn’t help thinking about the end.
“This isn’t the end,” Brelin said. Count on the Church people to remain optimistic even as everything falls apart around them. They were the ones on burial duty. They volunteered. Most of us were either on the edge of a nervous breakdown or catatonic with depression.
We were sent here for a purpose, she said. The Earth knew what was going to happen, probably even before our species showed up. She knew the wanderer was coming, was talking to it, knew when it would hit. The Earth made us so she could seed some other world. Some seed we turned out to be, I said. We lived, we learned, we’re probably smarter as a species now than when we left. We certainly could avoid the pitfalls of the old human civilization, their wars, their greed, and for what? So we could die here?
I was hoping she would be the one to bury me, but that was not to be. It turned out I outlived them all, and I still had the crops, and the livestock. The computer takes care of them with very little help from me. I had enough food to last me the rest of my brief life.
I took Vorla with me when I buried Brelin - the blue moon was full when she died - and it was as if Vorla knew what was going on. She sniffed and snuggled her until the time came to put her underground. I said a little prayer to the Universe, asking it to take care of my friend, and I didn’t feel silly doing that at all. It was apt. Then I sang, or rather I tried to sing that song Brelin said her mother taught her. It was an old, old song from Earth she said. She sang it when we were on the roof on nights when the moon was full, but I forgot the lyrics. It’s called Blue Moon, she said, and it was about having someone thanking the moon for giving her someone to love and how great it was. I hummed it as best I can, and Vorla sang with me, trying to squeak the chorus. Then it was time to go and Vorla wouldn’t leave Brelin’s grave. I left her there and went back to the camp, and opened the pens, and let all the animals out. This was their home now. Earth2 has welcomed them as her own. I said a little prayer to the new planet. Take care of them for me, I said. It was apt.
“We’re going to teach them?” Portsmont asked as he read the message they were going to send Center with Wedlen’s recommendations. “Sir, our mission was just to reconnoiter and report on the status of Earth.”
“And we did that,” Wedlen said. “Im recommending that we take some of them with us, teach them what we know, and send them back here so they can teach the rest. I feel we owe it to them. Send the message, Portsmont. We won’t wait for a reply. Round up some subjects to take with us and enough supplies for them.”
“They might not survive,” Portsmont said as he sent the message. Millions of light years away, Center’s paired particle EPR comm link with the ship was receiving the message instantaneously.
“I think our genetic engineers can do something so they can assimilate our food with no adverse effects. They have their genome templates. It should be easy.” Wedlen leaned back in his chair. “Who would’ve thought? Humans!”
“May I ask why we’re doing this?”
“We owe them everything, Portsmont: our culture, our technology, our very existence. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. You’ve seen the reports of the recon teams. None of our ancestors here survived the wanderer. And from what we’ve seen, these humans wouldn’t last long in this hostile environment. Not without our help. They took us to Earth2. That’s why we’re here.”
“Sir, they took us with them for food. They ate our ancestors.”
“That hardly matters now, does it? How could they have known that the Porcine race would thrive, that Earth2 would change us the way it did?” Wedlen sighed. “Earth2 might have sent us here to give them another chance. Take Silius’s team and round up some hardy specimens. We leave tomorrow.”
They rounded up ten humans; five male and five female. “The bastards,” Silius said. “I hope they make it. Look at them. They’re scared shitless.”
“I didn’t figure the Commander for the sentimental type,” Portsmont said. “But this could be an interesting project.”
“Stupid monkey bastards. They brought us with them so they could snack on us.” Silius chuckled. “What do you suppose they taste like?”
He grinned back at Silius. “Probably like chicken.”