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Denizens: 31 - Earth

...They were quiet for a moment, then Karen asked, “Jonathan, have you given any thought to what the effect on the earth’s environment will be with the release of these creatures? Up until our time, nothing like them has ever existed on our world. Maybe we run the risk of changing history, or creating a paradox or something. Aren’t we likely to do some serious damage?”...

The three surviving crew members of the spaceship Hermes return to their home planet after a historic mission. They have been charged with giving the most astonishing creatures in the galaxy a chance of life.

Brian William Neal's sci fi epic continues to enrance. To read earlier chapters please click on Denizens in the menu on this page.

* *
Part 6
Home

“Home is the sailor,
home from the sea,
And the hunter home
from the hill.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Three weeks later they crossed the orbit of earth, and set a course directly for the planet. After two more days, it was clearly visible on their screens, a blue-white globe, the most welcome sight they had seen in a long time.

Cal closed to one thousand miles and they entered a parking orbit while they decided their next course of action. They had made the first half of the two hundred and fifty million mile journey in free fall, accelerating to just over half a million miles per hour then cutting the engines and coasting. Somewhere past the orbit of Mars, they turned over and decelerated the rest of the way at slightly less than one gee. There had been no need to hurry; the earth would still be there when they arrived, and none of them wanted to suffer the discomfort of high gee travel again.

During the journey, the three remaining members of the Hermes team had become closer to each other than they had been on the outward leg. Bill’s death had pulled them together, and they had taken to spending most of their waking hours in each other’s company, whether monitoring the ship or taking their meals. Now that they were only three, they were reluctant to let each other out of sight for long.

Now they had reached earth orbit, they gathered in one of the rooms they used for meals. They sat at one of the dining tables, and Cal poured alien wine for each of them. No one spoke for a while, each of them lost in thoughtful contemplation. Then Cal asked, “Does anyone have any suggestions where we might find a good place to settle?” He looked at Jonathan, so recently a hopeless cripple, now miraculously healed, and walking better every day. “Jonathan, what do you think?”

The Englishman sipped at his drink before replying. “Well, I think our first order of business has to be the embryos. We must keep our promise to ’tau, and release the creatures into the sea.”

Karen nodded, seated between the two men. “Yes, but where? Which sea?”

“Oh, the Pacific, I think, and somewhere near the equator.” said Jonathan. “It’s the closest the earth has to their home world, in climate and all.”

They were quiet for a moment, then Karen asked, “Jonathan, have you given any thought to what the effect on the earth’s environment will be with the release of these creatures? Up until our time, nothing like them has ever existed on our world. Maybe we run the risk of changing history, or creating a paradox or something. Aren’t we likely to do some serious damage?”

Jonathan considered the question for a moment. “I don’t believe so,” he replied. “Just because we haven’t seen anything like these beasts, doesn’t mean they haven’t existed. They could have been living in any one of a number of unexplored places. There are still plenty of those, you know, especially the deep parts of the ocean. And besides, the rumors, legends and what have you about dragons and sea serpents had to originate somewhere. Perhaps after we introduce them, they’ll flourish for a while, and then die out. I don’t believe we’ll be doing any harm by giving them a chance at life. Who knows, they may even breed with the existing ocean inhabitants and create the sea creatures we knew in our time.

“I think I’m beginning to understand a little more about the nature of time. I don’t think it’s possible to alter the future, not significantly. I also believe that whatever we do will result in the world turning out pretty much the way we left it.”

Cal said, “So that means that we’re supposed to introduce the embryos. In fact, we have to.”

Jonathan smiled. “Ah, my friend. When you’ve got a year or two to spare, I’ll debate you to a standstill on that one.” He thought for a moment, then went on. “I suppose the best way I can put it is to say, we’re supposed to introduce them, if we introduce them.”

Karen said, “You mean, if for some reason we didn’t release the embryos, then that would also be what we were supposed to do, and the world would still turn out all right.”

Jonathan smiled. “Exactly.”

Cal topped up his glass, and said, “It sounds to me like you’re talking about predestination.”

Jonathan nodded. “The inescapability of one’s destiny, yes. That’s exactly what I mean.”

“You think it was our destiny to release the embryos?” asked Karen.

Jonathan shrugged. “Well, I can’t say for certain; no one can. I simply have feeling about them, that they were meant to come to earth.” He looked at them both. “Don’t you? Don’t you feel a sense of destiny here?”

Karen nodded. “Yes. Yes, I do. I’ve felt it ever since I saw them that they had to come here. I suppose I needed someone else to say it first.”

Cal agreed. “I think you’re right, Jonathan. So, where?”

Jonathan thought for a moment. “Cal, did we manage to salvage any maps of earth from the Hermes?”

Cal stood up. “In my quarters. I’ll get them.”

A few minutes later, he laid the charts on the table; Jonathan selected a map of the Pacific and spread it out. With his finger, he began to trace a path across the vast ocean, speaking in a preoccupied tone of voice.

“It will have to be somewhere with a climate similar to their home. Too much variation in temperature could harm them.”

“How about Hawaii?” asked Cal. “I went there on vacation once, and it was sort of the same, hot and humid.”

Jonathan continued to trail his finger across the chart, shaking his head at each suggestion. Then he stopped, and his face creased into a smile. “There,” he said. “That’s it. The perfect place.”

The others craned to see, and nodded their approval. They had found it, the ideal spot where the embryos could be released, a place where they could live and grow, undisturbed by man.

So resolved, they folded up the charts and made their way to the bridge to prepare for re-entry.

*

The ship glided smoothly through the atmosphere, headed westwards at a height of fifteen thousand feet above the blue of the Pacific Ocean. They crossed longitude 150 degrees, and Jonathan said, “It won’t be long now.”

They had entered the atmosphere directly over Central America, and Cal had turned the ship to the west before he was tempted to go north to see his homeland again. They had discussed the possibility of visiting their own countries, and had decided against it, at least for now. To see their former homes so changed, they reasoned, would only make it that much harder for them to adjust to this new earth to which they had returned.

Cal began the descent one hundred miles from their destination. As there was little for them to do, the ship being almost totally automated, they sat at their stations and enjoyed the view. The area of the Pacific over which they were flying was almost completely clear, with only a few puffs of light cloud here and there, like pieces of cotton wool, and the blue of the ocean stretched as far as they could see, in all directions.

Karen grinned at the others as they flew lower. “You can keep the rest of the universe,” she said. “For my money, this is still the most beautiful place of all.”

The others agreed, then Jonathan said, “Dead ahead, Cal. About twenty miles.”

They were now flying at only two hundred meters above the water and they saw, in the distance, the low, brown smudge of the island. Cal eased back on the thrusters, cut in the anti-grav motors and their speed gradually slowed until, at last, they were at their destination, and hovering.

From their vantage point, the island appeared deserted, with no signs of habitation or life of any kind. Cal took the ship to the southern tip of the island and set it down on a golden beach fringed with gently waving palms. After the whine of the engines had died away, they sat quietly for a moment, and Karen expressed they way they were all feeling.

“Home,” she said, and they smiled at one another, and remembered the friend they had left behind. Then, with Cal leading the way, they headed for the cryogenic tanks.

“They aren’t really tanks at all, are they?” said Karen.

“They look more like glass coffins,” said Cal, earning a light punch on the arm from his lover.

There were two of the rectangular containers, each measuring about seven feet by three feet by two feet deep. They were set into recesses in the walls of the cryogenic room, located in the heart of the ship. The space-time warp that made the ship so much bigger on the inside had been deactivated, since they had not needed it for the short journey home. Perhaps later, when they had discharged their duty to their alien friend, they would initiate it again, to give themselves a larger habitat while they tried to decide where they would settle.

Now, Jonathan moved to the room’s controls and made the adjustments that deactivated the tanks, while Cal fetched an anti-grav cart from another room. Then together they pulled first one, then the other tank out of its niche and on to the flat surface of the cart, then pushed their charges through the ship until they reached the exit. Jonathan opened the hatch and, holding the cart, the three walked slowly down the ramp.

The sun was high in the morning sky, and the air smelled clean and fresh, unlike anything they had experienced, fresher even than the alien world. Together they pushed the cart on its cushion of pure force to the water’s edge, where the waves lapped gently at the white sand. They looked out to sea for a moment, then Cal said, “I hope what we’re doing is the right thing. For what it’s worth, I think it is. These creatures deserve a chance at life, a chance to perpetuate their species.” He smiled at the others. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to preach. I just think this is important.”

“If you’re preaching, Cal, then it’s to the converted. We both feel the same.” Karen nodded, and together they lifted first one, then the other tank into the warm, clear water, and opened one end. The water inside, brought from another world, flowed out and mingled with the water of earth, and the embryos flowed with it. When both tanks were empty, they stood looking at the spot for a few moments, the small waves crashing softly at their feet, then loaded the tanks back on to the cart and walked back to the ship.


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