Nika Veresk
In the shadow of the stolen light

“Of course,” she nodded.

“But what are you going to tell them?” asked Paul, “Ungrounded assumptions are not going to be enough. If only you had some facts…”

“My memories are still hidden from me. But when I heard Lora’s assumptions, they seemed very realistic. I can’t prove anything; but, in my opinion, waiting for the test results is a waste of time.”

“You’re both very stubborn,” suddenly smiled the captain. “I believe, if a sustainable expedition plan is devised the Council will give an affirmative answer.”

Lora nodded energetically.

“Will you help us?”

“On one condition, which you, I have no doubt, will find very reasonable,” Paul paused and stared at his companions. “It’s not the best idea to present a project like this to the Council at the peak of the evacuation. We’ll wait till our arrival on Vistana and then come forward with our suggestion.”

His companions didn’t think much.

“Sound logical,” Lora smiled, seeing that Derek also nodded in agreement.

“What are you doing after dinner?” Paul asked suddenly. He sensed Derek’s unhappy mood and wanted to cheer him up.

“We were going to the archive…” Lora pulled a plate with salad and a glass of juice closer.

“My crew is going to Gron, one of Taria’s moons, in two hours. We need to collect the equipment of the portable observatory back to Titanium. Would you like to come with us? I promise a walk in a spacesuit.”

“Are you serious?” Derek asked with excitement.

“Absolutely serious!”

The earthling turned to Lora.

“It’ll be nice to do something different together for a change,” she nodded smiling. “The spacesuits with neurocontrol are quite easy to use. Also we’ll show you the Equatorial transport terminal from inside!”

“Then I’ll be waiting for you at platform B-278 in an hour,” said the captain contentedly. “After a short training session, we’ll be ready to set off.”

Chapter 5

An hour later, Lora and Derek went out of the tele-cabin and onto the landing platform. The inner area of the Equatorial transport terminal, where they happened to be, was filled with air. Thousands of docking modules and landing platforms for the freight as well as the public space transport could be found there. A seven-kilometre wide circular system of gateways separated the spherical hangar, ninety kilometres in diameter, from the outer area, where there was no atmosphere and the ships arrived right after passing through the protective field. The young people were standing almost in the middle of the hangar, while the blue nucleus of the artificial planet was, as usual, glowing several thousand metres over their heads.

“So, I was brought on Titanium on board this beauty,” asked Derek, his hand gliding on the silver cover of the shuttle while he was observing the huge spacecraft with great interest.

“Yes, it’s series one hundred and one. Compared to the majority of ships, this is a tiny one,” explained the girl. “Paul calls her a whale.”

The young man looked at Lora questioningly.

“Its shape and smooth lines resemble the blue whale, living in the depth of the Earth’s oceans,” explained the captain appearing next to them as if by magic.

“Where did you come from?” said Lora surprised.

“We’re testing the teleport system on short distances,” smiled Paul. “Are you ready to come on board?”

The briefing and the flight to the moon passed in a friendly informal atmosphere. The shuttle crew clearly liked Derek, and the feeling was mutual. Also, the earthling showed great interest in the modern space technologies and listened carefully to everything Stan, the mechanical engineer, was telling him. Aswell as this, the panoramic glazing of the bridge was not left unnoticed either. When the shuttle left the transport terminal, Derek was watching with genuine amazement the blue glow of Titanium slowly melting in the darkness of the space and the sparkling lines of ships flocking towards it. However, the proximity of Tarias satellite deprived the earthling of the opportunity to enjoy the flight with all his heart. Very soon, the silver ship landed on the crater-covered moon.

“Dismantling the observatory in the vacuum of space will take about four hours,” said Paul as if still briefing, “Oleg and Mary will go with us, Chris and Stan will stay on the ship to watch after the scanners: times are rough, many ships are leaving the planet and its populated satellites carrying refugees. The Tarians are scared and, at times, behave very aggressively. Mary, can you help Derek with the spacesuit, please!” added the captain, seeing how awkwardly the young man was pulling the suit up.

Lora, who spent the majority of her flight time studying some data, also looked at the earthling and smiled almost unnoticeably.

“You’ll see, by putting this thing on, you feel somewhat fitter and stronger already. A similar technology was used by our scientists to create exoskeletons for the medical service on the planet Roma. After the war there were many soldiers unable to walk independently because of injuries. The exoskeleton performed the functions of the damaged motor nerves receiving the impulses directly from the brain.”

“But don’t forget that this suit doesn’t replace your muscles and nerves, it only strengthens them,” added Mary helping Derek to put on a helmet. “Now you’ll see a virtual display in front of your eyes…”

“I see it.”

“It’ll show your physiological indicators. You can voice request the main menu and choose the landscape scanning, ask for a geological map, the route and even music. The personal communicators are switched off only after the captain’s command; the radio connection between all the crew members must be constant.”

“Thank you,” said Derek with gratitude.

“How are you feeling?” Lora quickly put on her suit and looked at her protеgе with curiosity.

“Great,” he answered with excitement.

The girl smiled and slightly nodded to Paul thanking him.

“Any time,” answered Paul moving only his lips.

Cold darkness enveloped the pale grey, as if covered in time dust, moon of Gron. Paul and his companions left the shuttle airlock one-by-one heading to the observatory at the top of the cliff. Derek was carefully watching Oleg and Mary ahead of him. He figured out that the space suit could sometimes reduce gravity, thus allowing small jumps or kind of leaps to be made and also increases it and so helps to achieve a more accurate transportation in the direction of the beacon, indicating the location of the portable observatory. Derek felt more and more confident with every step and every leap, forgetting completely about his weak muscles after a long anabiosis. The spacesuit wasn’t heavy and allowed him to manoeuvre and make precise movements. For instance, it was easy to squat in it and pick even the tiniest object. When the group reached the observatory and Paul with his assistants set to work, Lora and Derek had plenty of time on their hands for a real walk on the moon. However, obliged to stay within view of the rest of the group, they didn’t go very far.

After about an hour, Chris’s agitated voice resounded in everybody’s ears.

“Guys, come back immediately! There’s military action on the orbit: a group of ships with the refugees onboard tried to escape the planet and came under fire of the Tarian border cruiser!”

“In this case, let’s not waste any more time walking back! Chris, teleport everyone in turn, except for me,” he ordered, “Lora, Derek, copy?”

“Yes,” answered the girl.

“Great, I’ll just attach the container with the dismantled parts of the station and then join you. Start calculating the route to avoid the fire zone. Stan, check the defence systems and get the shuttle ready for launching.”

“Yes, captain!”

When Lora and Derek came onboard, Mary and Oleg were already hastily taking off the protective suits. Paul also didn’t take long.

“Show me what’s going on,” the captain approached the holographic projector.

“Here’s the cruiser, and these are the eight passenger ships carrying about two thousand refugees. Things don’t look well for them. It seems the cruiser has made some warning shots since there is no external damage to the ships. The agreement with the Tarians doesn’t allow us to listen to their broadcasts, so it’s difficult to say for sure.”

“They demand the refugees to return back to the planet,” said Paul almost without any hesitation.

“Wait,” Mary called to everybody, “We’re receiving a signal on a neutral frequency.”

“Turn on the speakerphone,” immediately reacted Paul.