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Diamonds and Gold

Echo-1: Part 19

We pulled into the hangar bay and drove down an aisle of ships all backed into place and lined up perfectly. Near the airlock, all the ships had been removed, the side wall had been retracted, and a glass wall revealed. Jonas and Veronica were floating behind the glass. The outer doors of the airlock were open and you could see through the window on the inner door that the Varan ship was approaching. It was a rectangle much like Mox’s ship, but this one, instead of being a rusty brick, looked more like a giant bar of gold. Flying around it where what I could have only assumed were diamond ships. They sparkled like little stars in the distance.

Mox and X were in the hangar already, along with Dr. Death in his full dress battle gear. There were two additional grunt guards, also in Robo-Combat armor, stationed on each side of the glass wall. Their white armor matched the hull. I assumed this was all ceremonial. I would have felt underdressed, but X was naked and Mox and Blunt were in their matching leather pants.

The Save the Whale gang unloaded the Inuit’s gear and drove the trucks out of the hangar. The four commandos got into the vehicle I had used and parked on the far side. My twin droids took up a station in front of the glass wall. Blunt let his monster polar bear out and mounted up.

Dr. Death was extremely interested in this. “You can ride them?”

Mox ordered the others released from their cages. He walked up to the male and staring into his eyes, hypnotized him. The bear went from acting wild and agitated to being tame and calm. He then did the same to the mother and her cubs, which still kept their playful spirit. Both X and Sunshine proceeded to hug and pet the polar bear cubs to no end. Mox sat the two adult bears down on the deck like trained dogs.

“Lessor minded creatures are highly susceptible to suggestion.” Mox noted.

Death stood very impressed. I think he was starting to come around to the Varan. Aanak and Atuk went over to the glass wall and waved to the huge floating whales within. I walked beside them.

Jonas asked if he could use my droids to translate. I said I didn’t feel I owned them. To which he laughed with bubbles floating out of his mouth. Though the Inuit couldn’t hear our conversation via transmitter, they were very aware of an interaction between Jonas and myself. They began talking to the whale. Wingus and Dingus translated the Inuit language and spoke for Jonas.

Atuk raised his harpoon.

“Great Jonas, thank you for your guidance in the afterlife, we will live well and though we leave you now, we know we will meet again, in the next life after this. We travel with you always. Your spirit travels with us.”

Jonas replied through the droids.

“Go my friends. The Varan will be your new family and will teach you their ways and you will teach them the ways of your people. You will start a new village and you will be the elders they seek. Take the wisdom of your lives to their people.”

I looked out the hangar doors. The golden ship was much closer now. It was probably ten times the size of Mox’s ship, there was no way it would fit in the hangar. It pulled up closer and closer until the entire hangar bay was cast in a golden reflection that filled the room like sunlight. I had not felt sunlight in this new life. The Inuit shielded their eyes and asked Jonas if this was the sun they would journey on to the next life. Jonas replied, yes, they would.

The ships connected with a thud. The airlock pressurized and the inner door opened. I took a step forward. I felt a bit of tension in the air. I didn’t know what was going to happen. A large door in the golden wall opened up and we could see into the ship’s interior, which also appeared to be a hangar bay. Out of it ran what looked like a pack of robotic golden hyenas. The four-legged droids ran incredibly fast around the hangar scanning everything with their eyes and sending the polar bears into hysterics. Mox did his best to calm them. The golden hyena droids then all ran back into their ship. One remained standing in front of Dr. Death who was the only armed commando on the deck. He held his giant blaster rifle in his hands and took a step back from the golden beast. The Varan appeared, slowly walking out of their ship.

“You will not need your weapons.”

Death stepped back further and stowed his rifle on his back. The golden hyena turned and ran back to its ship. There were seven Varan that came out. The first three were wearing golden necklaces and large golden wristbands that were more like gauntlets. They wore nothing else. The four that came in behind them wore diamond necklaces and had silver armbands. They were mostly green and black scaled like Mox, though one of the four was striped, bright yellow and green. Her colors were very beautiful. Though they all had very similar physical appearances, it was easy enough to tell the males from the females. Sunshine explained their stature when she simply let out a whistle followed by a good golly miss molly. I looked back to see her faux fanning herself.

The Varan took no notice and walked up to the Inuit couple and myself. Mox moved over and stood next to me.

“He speaks Varan as do the translator droids.”

Jonas was feeding me lines through my neural transmitter, I spoke them in Varan.

“On behave of our Captain Jonas…” I motioned in his direction, which proceeded a deep bow from the entire Varan party. “…we would like to welcome you aboard the Banga. This is Atuk and Aanak.”

The first three Varan stepped forward and Atuk and Aanak took turns placing their hands palm open on the chests of the Varan which they did in return. Then the females rubbed noses with both of them. I have to say the whole exchange was rather cute. The Varan spoke in perfect Inuit to Atuk and Aanak. The droids did their best to translate the ancient dead language.

“Grandmother and Grandfather, we are so happy to finally meet you in person. We have come to take you home to live with us. You will take your positions as village elders and help us start a new tribe on our planet. You will encounter all types of new animals, some that will seem familiar and some that may surprise you. We will teach you our culture and you will be our guiding light of balance. We want to learn your ways of living in a snow-filled world.”

“Tiguak (adopted ones), will you stand for us and protect us, hunt for us and learn our lessons.” Said Atuk.

The Varan assured them of their intentions.

“We would like to invite some friends to the surface with us, to escort us on our journey to our new home.”

Aanuk walked over to Sunshine and lead her by the hand over to the Varan. She then reached for my hand and pulled me forward. Mox brought X along with him.

The droids chimed out Jonas’ words. “A safe journey to you both and my greetings to the Varan people. Take good care of these two.”

The Varan leader faced Jonas.

“Your navigator species has met our people time and time again, our bond of trust transcends the millennia. The Varan are with the Whales, our kindred spirits, true travelers of the Universe. Journey well, Jonas, and journey far.”

The Varan held out his open palm to the tank and Jonas rolled his huge mass holding his fluke straight up in the water.

Mox, X, Sunshine, myself, and the two Inuit all followed the Varan party into their ship. The Save the Whales gang loaded in all the Inuit gear as well as several containers that Mox had brought to the hangar bay. Another smaller rust robot, I had not seen before came forward moving a platform with a glass tank on it with two iguanas inside. He was a humanoid robot similar to the tin pilot droid on the Brick, but he was constructed entirely of the rust metal. He had a single horizontal rectangular red electric eye. His hands were three-fingered rusty vise grips. Though much smaller, he was just as intimidating as the Sentinel droid. He followed us onto the ship. The polar bear family was herded aboard and my two droids were left behind.

Inside the golden ship, the Varan were bringing up a large glass-lined tanker truck that was full of countless white lobster. They parked it in the hangar of the Banga, returned to their ship, and closed the door behind them.

I got my last orders from Jonas. “Enjoy the trip Hands, almost no one gets to visit the Varan worlds.”

The hangar door closed all the way and I felt the ship detach from the Banga. We were moving in space toward the Varan solar system.

My link to the Banga’s computer was blocked. Inside the Varan ship, we were on our own, though we could still communicate with each other. X sent me a message that it was not ill-intended and that the Varan’s were a peaceful people, though somewhat secretive.

Sunshine was holding Aanuk’s hand. We were walked to a side room with an observation window. Atuk reached under his parka and when his hand came out again there was Charlie. He was wearing a little fur jacket, pants, and boots and looked like a little gnome Eskimo. Mox gently took Charlie in his clawed hand and set him on the links of his necklace. Charlie seemed quite comfortable with this.

He waved at me and said “Hi.” I awkwardly waved back.

I once ate these magic mushrooms on a trip to Amsterdam. I felt like they had all worn off and I went into our hotel bathroom and encountered a little red-capped gnome. He smiled at me and waved and said hi. That was the last time I went to the bathroom alone that night. To answer the question, do synthetic humanoids with personalities from Echo-1 have flashbacks to life in the simulation: Yes, we most certainly do.

I really wasn’t sure if Charlie was real or not at the time.

“I have to report in, you can enjoy the descent from here. We will be back shortly.”

Mox with Charlie and the other Varan walked out and we were left a room full of people from the Earth simulation, birthed into the real world in our new bodies. With Sunshine’s lead, we all walked to the window to bask in the glory of space travel. We pulled away from the Banga at an incredible speed, even though I could hardly notice the ship moving at all.

“Kenalogak, the white whale.” Atuk spoke and broke our silence.

I suppose our huge white ship could be considered somewhat whalish, but I felt he was stretching it. I had to remind myself that these two were from the early 1800’s and were having a completely different experience than I was. Sunshine was right there with them, she saw a giant whale, not just a gargantuan spaceship. She spoke to them in English and they seemed to understand her. Her presence seemed to comfort them. It made perfect sense for her to be on this voyage. Out the window, we saw the outer asteroid belt come into view and the double ringed gas giant beyond it. We entered the Varan solar system and fixed our heading on Varanidi. We sat on couch type benches that were in front of the viewing window.

The Varan asteroid belt, how can I even explain it? At close range, it arcs across the sky like a crystal rainbow. Moon size diamonds intermix with water crystals forming wondrous reflective snowflakes. It’s like taking the giant crystals of the Niaica mine in Chihuahua, Mexico and setting them free to float in space. Think snowflakes the size of the empire state building bouncing off each other. It was the micro world turned macro.

On a whole, the field of transparent reflective asteroids looks continuous, but looking closer, not a single one was a duplicate of its neighbor. Each one was completely unique. Truly, no two snowflakes are the same. It was a snowstorm of galactic proportion. The twenty minutes we sped past the asteroid belt mesmerized us all into silence.

I couldn’t help but think of all the little diamond rings given to women as engagement presents and how a system of scarcity, slavery, brutality, and ruthless marketing had driven the value of these stones to ridiculous heights. Diamonds were certainly not rare in the universe. An infinite amount of them sparkled and drifted across the vastness of space.

“That was beautiful.” We all definitely agreed with Sunshine on this.

The next wonder was coming into view. A marvelous red and black gas giant with two rings. As we got closer and the planet filled our vision, we could see how the rings were really just at two different distances. They circled around the planet and gave it a look born from school science books. It was the kind of thing that would inspire a child to chose a career in astronomy.

I thought about Dixon saying if she had known then what she knew now, how she would have lived her life completely different. I understood.

Time passes slowly with space travel, even at mind-bending speeds. There is time to reflect. It’s really kind of great.

Varanidi was showing in the distance. A white snowball floating in space. It came closer and closer. It got bigger and bigger. Until all we saw was white and we pierced the atmosphere with a burst of fire. We rumbled on quickly and pushed through to clear night skies over an ocean of ice. As we approached the one continent you could see the two major cities from far above. Millions of lights below.

Even though we were on a spaceship piloted by lizard men, the human in me couldn’t help but think, intelligent life; on other planets! I was like a kid on his first flight, flying over New York City at night for the first time. Of course, once again, I was forgetting about the whole Echo-1 simulation thing.

As if the distant city lights weren’t enough, the sun began to rise over the curvature of Varanidi. We were passing the mountain city when the sun hit its diamond towers. It was a storybook city of glass, shining in the morning light. Hundreds of crystal spires shot out of the mountaintops high into the sky.

“Shangri La.”

I smiled and remembered my time in the Himalayas. The city we were flying over was the dream version of the what I had experienced in the Kathmandu valley.

X put her hand on my shoulder. “You got that right, Hands. Fucking Shangri La.”

I think the place was completely worth traveling 20 years from the nearest inhabited system to see. We sped on just ahead of the morning lights and landed on the coast. There were several land vehicles and a good size camp in the distance that we could see before we landed. The Varan returned and we all went back into the hangar bay. Atuk and Aanuk both took slow turns saying goodbye to each of us. We were to stay on the ship.

The Varan leader translated Inuit for us.

“Warrior woman, you carry the mark of the whale and the symbol of the ship of the gods. You will bring the spirit of the whale to battle and protect the others.”

X rubbed noses with each of them.

“Sunshine, you are our daughter, we’d love for you to come with us on this journey to the new world, but we know your place is with Jonas, for you are his keeper. We keep your memory in our hearts.”

Sunshine was teary-eyed and she hugged them both and kissed them on their cheeks.

“The Hands of Jonas, your path will lead you to many adventures including back to our world, remember what we have told you, the comet is nearing.”

Atuk held his hand up to me and Aanuk placed her open palm on my chest in the style of the Varan greeting.

The ship landed. The doors opened. The cold of the planet and the smell of snow and sea flooded the chamber. I’d never smelt anything so briskly alive before. A party of Varan met and greeted the Inuit couple just outside the door. They walked off with the landing party.

They never looked back.

Sunshine took a step forward and paused as the ship’s doors closed again, leaving just the salty scent of a frozen ocean behind. The ship immediately took off again.

That was last we saw of Aanuk and Atuk, two Eskimos heading off to a new life on a new world.

{ Part 1 ~ Part 20 }

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Sci-fi short stories to inspire your inner rocket building, planet-hopping, astrophysicist space pirate. 🚀

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