Sanctuary

An edge of your seat hard SF adventure as colonists on a new world find that nothing is what they expected and that travelling to a distant star is far more dangerous than they’d ever imagined…

 

[What follows are extracts from the remains of the logbook of the Exodus Project Starship (EPSS) Lindbergh. These logs are archived in the rare books collection of the Landencyte Historical Society. Additional text in brackets where appropriate.]

 

10.25.2266 rel/1232 ST/le879/Y. [Yvonne] Greer, CO

[Third day after expedition rendezvous with Tau Ceti-e.]

No consensus yet from the flight crews of either ship about the naming of this world, although Capt. [Juan] Mendoza notes that majority opinion on Santos-Dumont favors “New Earth.” Juan agrees with me that the issue is best left undecided until all the passengers on both ships are revived and a vote can be taken. He suggests a “best name” contest, but I think not. I’ve met some of the expedition’s wittier colonists; if it were up to me, they’d remain in biostasis for a while. Kidding.

Orbital survey complete. Results confirm—with one very notable exception!—those received from the flyby probe. Radius: 1.8 Earth (11,480 km). Mass: 4.3 Earth. Av. surface temp: 8.85°C/47.93°F. Surface gravity: 1.59g. Atmosphere: 21.2% 02/ 76.8% N2 (w/ trace amounts of CO2, H, He, Ar, and other constituents), av. press. 926 mb. There’s more (ref. Doc. LR2705) but the good news is that TC-e appears to be what the probe said it to be: a potentially habitable planet, albeit nearly twice as large as Earth and with a higher surface gravity. Although TC-e’s orbit is only .54 au from its primary, lower atmospheric pressure may account for surface temperatures that rate lower than previously estimated. Northern latitudes are quite cold, but equatorial regions are rather balmy. Whether the planet is human-habitable, though, needs to be confirmed by the landing teams.

Which leads us to the notable exception: TC-e appears to be inhabited.

Optical instruments on both Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont have revealed what appears to be cleared land, settlements, and connecting roads on TC-e’s major land masses, mainly near coastal areas but elsewhere as well. Faint illumination has been detected from these areas at night, along with heat signatures and CO/CO2/CH4 plumes consistent with the burning of organic materials.

Absence of visible cities, electromagnetic emissions of artificial origin, or spectrographic evidence of large-scale use of fossil fuels led the probe’s AI to report that TC-e has no intelligent life. This judgment now appears to be in error. Although the inhabitants don’t appear to possess advanced technology, the planet is nonetheless populated by an indigenous civilization.

The reason for this major omission of fact is obvious, if in hindsight. Since the Tau Ceti probe was dependent on beamsail propulsion, it wasn’t designed to decelerate and go into orbit around TC-e, but instead sped through the system at .2c, never approaching TC-e more closely than approx. 250,000 km. Therefore, in the few hours the probe was able to spend surveying TC-e from a distance, it was unlikely to spot the more subtle signs of habitation that only became visible after prolonged study from close orbit.

Too late to do anything about it now. Eleven and a half light years is a long way to come just to turn around and go home. Even if we could, the deuterium reserves of both ships are below five percent, with no easy means of refueling available. Drs. [Jane] Wolfe [Lindbergh] and [Lloyd] Kennedy [Santos-Dumont] have already begun preparing ASR [adaptive somatic regimen] infusion for the hibernating passengers, so that they will be acclimated on arrival. However, both ships have agreed to delay resuscitation procedures until after a permanent landing site is selected.

Ground survey teams from Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont will make landfall later today. The Lindbergh team has selected an island, east of the central meridian and just south of the equator. In the meantime, the Santos-Dumont team will touch down on a highland plateau in the western hemisphere north of the equator. Both sites appear to be free of habitation, with little chance of the teams being observed by the indigents.

We will learn more once both sorties are complete and the respective teams have reported in.

 

[The only surviving image of the twin starships Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont is a pencil-and-charcoal sketch rendered by the artist Sergei, an original Landencyte colonist. It depicts the two vessels in low orbit above Tau Ceti-e, with Sergei’s ship the Lindbergh prominent in the foreground. It’s an enormous craft of the Enzmann design, more than 600 meters long, its spherical deuterium fuel tank dwarfing the cylindrical habitation modules behind it. From the drum-shaped command module at the bow, a delta-winged shuttle—tiny by comparisonis departing from the hangar deck.

            Sergei rendered this sketch shortly after the expedition reached Tau Ceti, but it’s unknown whether he drew it before or after the disaster. In his lesser-known role as Payload Specialist Turgenev, he was among the 50 members of Lindbergh’s flight crew to be revived shortly before the ship reached the Tau Ceti system.

This sketch is the only known contemporary image of the Lindbergh and the Santos-Dumont. Because no photos or videos of either of the two vessels survive, this makes Sergei’s artwork unique, priceless, and irreplaceable.]

 

10.25.2266 rel/1847 ST/le881/J. [Julius] Fletcher, senior scientist

Landfall successfully achieved on Landing Site A1 at 1602 hrs. ST by shuttle Orville.

Landing Site 1A is an open stretch of terrain on the west coast of a large equatorial island (I1) midway between Continent 3 (C3) and Continent 1 (C1) in Tau Ceti-e’s eastern and western hemispheres respectively. LS1A was selected because of the availability of level ground suitable for a safe landing and also because of the apparent absence of intelligent habitation.

I1 is approximately 325 km in length, 110 km at its broadest point, with a tapering shape suggesting (as noted by [Lindbergh biologist Tonya] Van Pelt) a chili pepper. A volcanic mountain range runs lengthwise down its center, a sign that the island may be an exposed sea mound created by an ancient volcanic eruption. Lack of seismic activity suggests that the three volcanoes in the range are dormant or extinct.

Tests confirm that the atmosphere is thin but breathable, with no indications of toxicity: strenuous activity should be avoided by colonists until they’re thoroughly acclimated. Biochemical tests of plant samples indicate that their amino acids are uniformly “right-handed” and therefore nonlethal to human life. No indications yet of hostile animal life, although this can only be determined by longer and more detailed surveys.

Island 1’s environment is surprisingly Earth-like: trees, underbrush, lichen, and even small animals (such as birds and lizards) not dissimilar to that of our own world. The temperature at the equator is comfortably warm without being unbearable. Forests appear to cover most of the island; at least one species of tree, somewhat resembling an oak but taller, bears fruit.

Other factors are more troublesome. Higher gravity manifests itself as an increase in body weight by more than 50 percent. Physical effort is therefore more difficult, and even walking farther than a short distance is exhausting. The three weeks the flight crew spent in microgravity following revival from biostasis doesn’t help. And the lower atmospheric pressure makes things worse. At Dr. Wolfe’s insistence we took frequent breaks; future survey teams should factor in rest periods.

First sortie lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes. Survey team returned to Orville over objections by Van Pelt and [Lindbergh astrogeologist Paul] Johnson, both of whom expressed a strong desire to remain longer despite Dr. Wolfe’s concerns. Efforts to avoid cross-contamination included wearing isolation suits; helmets were not removed until it was certain that the air was fit to breathe and unlikely to contain any indigenous microorganisms harmful to human life. Outer hull of the Orville was contaminated by soil kicked up by the VTOLs upon final descent, but it’s expected that native bacteria or viruses will be eliminated by exposure to radiation and hard vacuum prior to rendezvous and docking with the Lindbergh.

Liftoff expected for 1900. All members eager to return at a later time.

Conclusion: Tau Ceti-e appears to be human-habitable, but I strongly recommend a period of physical development and ASR before the colonists are brought down. Even then, it may take a generation before humans are thoroughly acclimated to this world.

 

[Log entries 882–888 lost.]

 

10.26.2266 rel/0047 ST/le889/Y. Greer, CO

Orville has returned to Lindbergh, with Julius reporting a successful mission. I stayed up through third watch to monitor both this mission and Manny Cortez’s sortie to Landing Site 6A. I read Julius’s summary with no small amusement. I understand his desire to adhere to mission protocols, but I can imagine his team’s frustration at landing on what appears to be an island paradise, only to have to stay in their isolation gear—at least Julius finally let them remove their helmets!—and leave after just two and a half hours. No wonder Tonya and Paul argued with him.

Still, he managed to get his people back on the boat. Juan tells me that Manny’s team has insisted on staying longer. They didn’t lift off from LS6A until four hours after touchdown and are still en route to Santos-Dumont. Wanted to stay a while and pick mountain flowers, I guess.

Both Julius and Manny agree that it will take considerable physical effort for colonists to adapt to TC-e’s higher gravity and thinner atmosphere. Fortunately, both ships can be inhabited by all 2,000 passengers for a short period of time. We can use that period—Jane recommends 30 to 60 days at least—to put everyone through an exercise regimen. It’ll be difficult in zero-g, but she assures me that it can be done. Looks like the treadmills down in the rec room are about to become essential equipment.

All in all, not a bad beginning. The bottom line is that Tau Ceti-e is human-habitable; this is a relief to everyone. But we’ve got a long way to go before we can start ferrying down 2,000 people . . . and we still haven’t dealt with the question of what the neighbors will think.

Something to sleep on. I’m off to bed.

 

[Log entries 890–893 lost.]

 

10.26.2266 rel/0929 ST/le894/G. [Giovanni] Patini, shuttle pilot

Second survey mission to TC-e scrubbed. Orville control systems not responding to preflight checks. Mechanical difficulty of unknown nature.

Santos-Dumont has scrubbed its second sortie as well. Same reason: Wilbur unable to launch. Spoke to Jake [Moore, Wilbur shuttle pilot]; says the same thing happened to him during preflight checks. Cockpit comp screens went dark, manual controls refused to budge.

Weird.

 

[Log entries 895–911 lost.]

                                                                       

10.27.2266 rel/1136 ST/le912/Y. Greer, CO

Tonya and Aaron [Willig, Lindbergh astrobiologist] inform me that TC-e’s native civilization may be more advanced than previously believed. This could spell trouble.

Until now, it’s been thought that the inhabitants are at a pretechnological stage of development, with perhaps no more than an agrarian culture. This was the opinion of our science team after studying the coastal settlements on TC-e’s major continents while waiting for technicians on both ships to ascertain the causes for the shuttle breakdowns and effect repairs (ref. Doc. LR2713). However, further telescopic observations confirm the existence of large ocean-going sailcraft, with some appearing to be two- or three-mast catamarans. This is evidence that the “Cetans” (as Tonya calls them) have learned to harness wind power and build seafaring vessels. It is therefore possible that the Cetans may be engaged in fishing and trade, perhaps even at global distances.

One observation in particular has caused immediate concern. Julius reports that among the native vessels is a large, three-masted catamaran that was spotted off the coast of C3. This craft has steadily and consistently changed position with each orbit Lindbergh makes. It appears to be on an east-by-southeast heading that, in a couple of more days, will bring it to Island 1, approx. 900 km off C3.

Since (a) I1 is thought to be uninhabited and (b) C3 lies on the ground track Orville took while making atmospheric entry, Julius believes that inhabitants may have spotted our shuttle and that this ship may be following the course it took. Certainly the stratospheric vapor trail, however short-lived, would provide a good direction-indicator. Even if the Cetans have been previously unaware of I1’s existence, if their ship finds the island and its crew goes ashore to investigate, they may find evidence of the science team’s visit (e.g. blast marks left behind by Orville’s engines, impressions of landing gear, footprints, etc.).

I will meet with Julius, Tonya, and Aaron later today and hear their recommendations for how and when to make further sorties. I may also follow Julius’s recommendation and revive certain passengers who have psychological or sociological expertise that may be useful to us if we are indeed facing a first-contact situation.

However, given the fact that the Cetans have a considerably lower technological level than our own, I’m not greatly concerned. I’m confident that, if necessary, we can establish a colony on TC-e that is far enough out of their way that we can avoid contact with them until such a time when both of our civilizations are ready. And even if contact is unavoidable, I strongly doubt that the Cetans will pose a threat to us. Like other native inhabitants encountered by EP expeditions, this is a primitive race; I don’t think we’ll have much trouble with them.

This is not my most urgent problem just now. Crew members are reporting electronic and mechanical failures throughout the CM [command module]. The trouble that started yesterday aboard Orville seems to be spreading through Lindbergh’s forward section, and while the breakdowns at first appeared to be random, their frequency and locations now suggest an emerging pattern.

So far, the CC [command center] hasn’t been affected, nor have any failures been reported in the modules aft of the MFT [main fuel tank]. But I’ve got [Lindbergh chief engineer] Kyle [Bennis] on the case, and I’m expecting a preliminary report from him shortly.

 

10.27.2266 rel/1201 ST/le914/Y. Greer, CO

Addendum to my entry: Juan reports nearly identical situation aboard Santos-Dumont. Situation there even worse; CM has begun to experience widespread failures as well.

[Log entries 915–920 lost.]

10.27.2266 rel/1704 ST/le921/Y. Greer, CO

Communications lost with Santos-Dumont.

During my last verbal exchange with Capt. Mendoza, he said that his ship is in serious trouble, with widespread equipment failures occurring at an increasing rate. Before contact was lost, Lindbergh received diagnostic telemetry indicating rapidly declining control over major systems. Then the blackout occurred.

Breakdowns now occurring aboard Lindbergh as well. Because the first incident was Orville’s failure and the subsequent incidents appear to have begun in the shuttle bay and spread outward from there, it’s believed that the survey team may have carried something up from TC-e. Since the team wore isolation gear and underwent decontamination procedures upon their return, the leading hypothesis is that the source of contamination may be the shuttle itself.

[Log entries 922–930 lost.]

 

10.28.2266 rel/0315 ST/le931/K. Bennis, CE

Something is attacking Lindbergh’s control systems.

Over the past 24 hours, we’ve experienced 49 logged failures, along with countless others that crew members haven’t recorded, of electronic and mechanical components. These failures are increasing at an exponential rate, and it is clear that a cascade effect has begun to take place, with even the smallest occurrences causing systemic problems that become more serious as they go down the line.

The attacks appear to be occurring at a microscopic level. Plastic and rubber components are losing their integrity. They are literally rotting away, like ripe fruit that’s fallen from the tree to the ground and been left to lie there. Once an object starts to lose its integrity, the rate of decay is rapid and cannot be halted.

The first indication that an object has been affected by the Rot (as crew members are calling this) are tiny holes that appear in its surface. This is a sign that the hypothetical microorganism responsible for this has found the object and begun to tunnel into it, eating its way through the object. If the object is electronic equipment, this causes failure as soon as the Rot makes its way to the insulation surrounding the wiring or printed circuits. By then, the object has become so brittle that it can be easily broken. A data pad can be snapped in half between two hands.

Everything from computer chips to ink pens to cookware is being affected. If something that has the Rot comes into direct contact with something else, the microorganism jumps from one object to another. People don’t seem to be directly harmed by it (unless they’re wearing dental implants that have some sort of enamel in them, such as posts or bridgework; at least three crew members have already lost teeth this way). However, any articles of clothing made of artificial fibers are likely to deteriorate as well. I’ve seen shirts, shoes, and trousers literally fall off the people wearing them. Funny at first, but no longer something to laugh about.

I’m recording this entry on a pad that I’m keeping in my T-shirt pocket (100% cotton) and being careful not to touch it unless I’ve first washed my hands. I don’t think this solution will work very much longer. I’ve sent Sergei down to ship’s stores to collect as many pencils and paper notepads as he can possibly find, and I’m recommending that recent log entries pertinent to this crisis be printed out ASAP while we still have the ability to do so.

 

[Log entries 932–936 lost.]

 

10.28.2266 rel/0755 ST/le937/Y. Greer, CO

Santos-Dumont has been destroyed.

For whatever reason—no, scratch that; we know the reason—Capt. Mendoza’s crew lost control of their ship. I’m sure they must have tried to regain altitude control, but its orbit steadily decayed. As my people watched from the CC, Santos-Dumont entered TC-e’s upper atmosphere as an immense fireball and broke apart. So far as we can tell, there were no survivors.

One thousand lives lost. No time to grieve, though. Not if we’re going to save our own lives.

Santos-Dumont was in a lower orbit than Lindbergh. This gives us a little more time. On the assumption that Kyle’s hypothesis is correct, I’ve ordered the CS [core shaft] and other access tunnels leading aft sealed in order to protect the MFT and hibernation modules. I’m also hoping that the cryogenic temperatures in the MFT will retard the Rot’s spread. I don’t know if these efforts to keep the Rot confined to the CM will work, though, for I have little doubt that Juan tried the same thing. However, perhaps they will buy us a little more time . . . or so we all hope.

 

[Log entries 938–941 lost.]

 

10.28.2266 rel/0921 ST/le942/Y. Greer, CO

This may be my last electronic log entry. On Kyle’s advice, I’ve printed out as many previous entries, by myself and others, as I could. The CC printer is still operational, but only by a miracle. Once this entry is done, I’ll print it out as well and add it to the stack. Further entries will be entered longhand with pencil and paper.

In short: Lindbergh is doomed.

Nearly all major CM control systems either fail to operate or are on the verge of total failure. This includes Lindy’s flight control systems as well as power and life support. Emergency batteries and a few flashlights are all that stand between us and the cold and total darkness. I’m keeping warm only because I had the foresight to bring the thick wool sweater my grandmother knitted for me many years ago. At least I’m still clothed. Our uniforms have fallen apart, and some crew members are wearing only cotton underwear or whatever they’ve managed to wrap around themselves.

Before they lost their lab instruments, Julius, Tonya, and Aaron were able to study the Rot enough to come up with a tentative theory. It appears to be a native microorganism that feeds on substances derived from organic petrochemicals, ethylene and polyethylene in particular. In doing so, it breaks down anything made of these kinds of plastic. Perhaps it evolved on TC-e as a natural response to the decay of organic substances, a biological alternative to the fossilization of dead organic material that eventually allowed humans to develop fossil fuels and their by-products.

If this is indeed the case, then the Rot is in the planet’s very soil, and therefore contact with and transmission to Lindbergh and Santos-Dumont was unavoidable. Our expedition was doomed the moment the shuttles touched down. The Rot was probably carried back to the ships within the wheel wells of the shuttles’ landing gear, which would have sheltered them from the sterilizing effects of outer space. Without the ability to study this further, though, we may never know for certain.

It’s obvious that Lindy isn’t going to be around very much longer. Since this vessel hasn’t any lifeboats other than our shuttles, neither of which are flightworthy, abandoning ship isn’t an option.

Fortunately, we aboard the Lindbergh have one last chance. If we act quickly, we may be able to save our lives and those of our passengers . . . or at least some of them.

There is no time to explain. I’m printing out as much of the logbook as I can and will take it with me. With any luck, this will not be my final entry.

 

[The remaining log entries are written in pencil on loose pages from a paper notepad whose plastic binding has long since dissolved. The dates and times are uncertain, and without an automatic numbering system their order can only be determined by the events described. Underlined text in the original.]

 

10/28/’66 1032 Lind./YG

Have transferred command to SOC [secondary operations center], Deck 10, HM1 [Hibernation Module 1]. CM has been completely abandoned. All members of flight crew present and accounted for.

I ordered Core Inspection Shaft B reopened just long enough for everyone to push themselves down the tunnel through the MFT until we reached HM1, then the hatches were closed at both ends and the shaft was vented to space. I also ordered the crew to bring nothing— nothing!—with them except the clothes on their backs (if they still have any to wear . . . we’re all barefoot now, and some crew members were either naked or nearly so). Most personal belongings were left behind, especially if they were made from or contained any sort of plastic materials. Only a few items were brought (Sergei insisted on his sketch pad, which I’ve allowed).

Hopefully these measures will keep the Rot away from the rest of Lindbergh for the time it takes for us to do what needs to be done.

Lindy doesn’t have lifeboats, but its designers did not leave the ship entirely helpless. Realizing that it may be possible that the main engines could experience some kind of major C1 [Criticality 1] malfunction, they took the precaution of making it possible for the crew to jettison the MEM [main engine module] and detach HM1, HM2, and HM3 together as a single unit. These three modules can then be maneuvered away from the rest of the ship via reaction-control thrusters and deorbited under control from the SOC. Once the stack aerobrakes and achieves successful atmospheric entry, it can be brought to a safe landing via retro-rockets at the base of HM3 and parachutes on top of HM1.

This is all theoretical, of course. No attempt was ever made to rehearse the procedure while any of the Exodus Project ships were under construction, so no one knows if this will actually work. Nonetheless, my training included this contingency, and Kyle, Floyd [McGee, helmsman], and Susan [Kim, navigator] assure me that they practiced it as well . . . although Floyd admits that he and Susie rehearsed this procedure just once during training and no one took it very seriously at the time. I’ve requested that they take it seriously now.

Tonya and Aaron are helping Dr. Wolfe prepare the biostasis cells. They will be switched to emergency power just before the MEM is jettisoned, but on Jane’s advice, the passengers will remain in hibernation until after we land. To revive them now, in the midst of a crisis, would only disorient them and perhaps cause a panic. We can only pray that the Rot stays away from this end of the ship until we’re on the ground. While the passengers are still in their cells, they’re intubated and hooked up to IV lines and catheters, all of which need to be removed before the Rot can get to them. But not now.

I’ve consulted Julius about possible landing sites. He agrees with me that LS1A is our best bet: It’s on the equator, isolated, and has been surveyed already. I’ve ordered Floyd and Susie to plot our emergency landing there.

Running as fast as we can. No sign of Rot, but that won’t last long.

 

10/28/’66 1147 YG  

MEM jettisoned. Module stack successfully detached. Deorbit burn achieved. We’re on our way down.

Last look at ship. CM dark. No control possible.

Lindy will soon tumble into atmosphere. Got out of there in the nick of time. Goodbye, ship.

Fingers crossed. Praying.

 

10/28/’66 1732 LS1A/YG

We have landed on Island 1, with our touchdown point close enough to LS1A that it’s virtually the same. Commendations to Floyd and Susan for superb plotting and piloting. We all owe them our lives.

Landing was successful, but the touchdown was very hard. The parachutes and retro-rockets were just adequate enough to keep it from being a crash. Floyd tells me that, in the last seconds of descent, it felt as though the planet just reached up and yanked us down. The stack remained upright and didn’t fall over on its side, but there’s a 5° list to one side that suggests it won’t remain vertical indefinitely. We will need to evacuate what’s left of our ship as soon as we can.

No fatalities, but many injuries: broken bones, spinal injuries, concussions, severe bruises, etc. Jane has drafted every able-bodied crew member to help tend to the injured. They take priority over the passengers, but Jane insists that the biostasis cells be opened as soon as possible. She continues to be concerned about how the Rot will affect the cells, and I can’t blame her. The idea of a plastic breathing tube disintegrating while it’s still in someone’s esophagus makes me shiver.

For this reason, we’re leaving the hatches closed for as long as we can, so as not to expose ourselves to the native environment until all the injured have been treated and the passengers have been revived. It appears that the modules’ outer hulls are Rot-resistant; thank God, no one ever figured out how to build plastic starships!

But the stack won’t remain airtight for very much longer. Although Kyle was among the injured, he took it upon himself to inspect the lower decks in HM3 as soon as he was able to make it down a companionway. He confirms that the Rot has already attacked the seals on the outer airlock hatches, and he doubts that the modules will retain atmospheric integrity much longer.

Since we have only about 24 hours of air left to us anyway, this means we’ll have to pop the hatches . . . well, sooner than we like. Once the Rot gets in, it’s only a matter of time before the emergency lights start going out. Then we’ll be trapped in a dark, skyscraper-size tower that’s slowly falling apart from the inside out. Like it or not, we’ve got to leave this place, and soon.

Welcome to Tau Ceti-e. And we still haven’t decided what to call this damn planet.

 

10/29/’66 1201 LS1A/YG

We opened the hatches earlier this morning. We had no choice. The Rot was coming in.

After Kyle and Floyd reported signs of Rot in the passageways outside the HM3 airlocks, Jane and her “nurses”—namely, anyone able to use a first aid kit who wasn’t busy doing something else—worked like madmen all through the night to unseal the biostasis cells and resuscitate the passengers. There were 16 fatalities, people who’d suffered critical injuries during landing and perished in hibernation. We can only hope they died while still asleep and didn’t suffer much. A number of other passengers were less severely injured, but most of those cases were relatively minor and they received treatment as soon as possible.

Note: Jane points out that most of her medical equipment will soon become useless. This includes not only diagnostic equipment but also surgical supplies such as ampoules, sutures, etc. We can also expect to lose some medicines as well, mainly those contained in gelcaps. She continues to treat her patients as best as she can, but believes that she will soon be reduced to 19th century medical techniques.

At 1015, a couple hours after sunrise, Julius, Tonya, Kyle, and I went down to Deck HM3-15 and found an airlock that was already decompressed. It was unsettling to find a breeze coming in through an open porthole where seals had failed, letting the glass fall out. Blowout training instinctively took hold and I reached for an air mask, but what I pulled out of the cabinet disintegrated in my hands. This sort of thing is now happening throughout what remains of my ship.

The four of us pushed open the hatch and climbed out, and for a minute or so none of us said anything. We just stood beneath the long shadow of the module stack and looked about at our new home, a world we’ll never leave again.

TC-e is beautiful: I will give it that. It ought to be. We’ve sacrificed enough to come here.

 

10/29/’66 1642 LS1A/YG

We won’t be alone very much longer. The Cetans are coming.

I’d just finished rigging a canvas tarp as a temporary shelter for myself—as captain, I rate that, at least; some of our people aren’t so lucky to have even this—when Giovanni came running back from the beach, where he and Tonya had gone to assess the likelihood of being able to do some net-fishing (for whatever passes for fish on this world). What they reported caused everyone to drop what they were doing and run or limp down to the black-sand, boulder-strewn shore, where we gazed across the dark blue water at what they’d spotted.

Sails on the horizon. The ship we spotted from orbit a couple of days ago, all but forgotten until now.

The inhabitants of the nearest neighboring continent must have spotted Orville and sent a vessel to investigate. Now the ship is in sight of us, and while it’s still hard to estimate distances on a world where the sea-level horizon is so much farther away than it is back home—damn it, this is home now! I must remember that!—I’m guessing it will be off the coast of our nameless little island by the end of the day.

Whoever the Cetans are, whatever form they take, they’ll find a shipwrecked alien crew: reduced, confused, near-naked, frightened, utterly defenseless. Explorers turned refugees, uninvited immigrants.

I’ve just looked at one of my earlier log entries, the one I wrote shortly after we discovered that TC-e is inhabited, and it’s embarrassing to see the arrogant contempt with which I regarded the Cetans because of their “primitive” technology. Not to mention ironic. Now we know why they don’t have the things we have . . . and they no longer seem so primitive.

All we can do now is await their arrival. I pray that they’re friendly, and that they will offer us sanctuary.

 

“Sanctuary” copyright © 2017 by Allen Steele

Art copyright © 2017 by Gregory Manchess

8 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!